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April 21, 2004


Earth Day; Drought Tolerance; Phantom Fears in Europe; No-till Farming; China Approves Biotech Corn


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - EARTH DAY - April 22, 2004:

* Earth Day: Has the environmental movement left the world behind?
* Nostalgia for environment of the past is a lot of horse
* RE: "Let's look at canola"
* UC Riverside Researchers Improve Drought Tolerance in Plants
* ‘Phantom fears’ on GM hit Europe
* Question and Answers on the regulation of GMOs in the EU
* Biotechnology expert focuses on the risks of not adopting GM in the EU
* French maize group says GMO separation possible
* Specialist: World should say yes to no-till farming
* USDA says China has approved biotech corn, canola


Earth Day: Has the environmental movement left the world behind?

- San Francisco Chronicle, By Patrick Moore, Nick Schulz, April 22, 2004

Thirty-four years ago, the first Earth Day heralded a new era of ecological awareness -- when, as Earth Day founder Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D- Wis., put it, "the environmental issue came of age in American political life" by showing "the political leadership of the nation that there was broad and deep support for the environmental movement." Enough time has passed to take stock of the impact that the movement has had on nature and mankind. The record is decidedly mixed.

There is no doubt that the environments of wealthy, developed countries are considerably healthier today than on the first Earth Day. Air and water are cleaner. Human life expectancies are longer. Forests are abundant and growing. Developed countries have wanted improved environments and they have been wealthy enough to afford them.

But the story is much different elsewhere. Indeed, for much of the rest of the world, conditions are worse than they should be. Ironically, the very movement that made its presence felt in rallies across this country in 1970 and that thrives in the developed world today must shoulder much of the blame for the developing world's sorry state. It is impeding both economic and environmental progress due to an agenda that is anti-development, anti- technology and, in the final analysis, anti-human.

For example, today's eco-activists boast that they have blocked more than 200 hydroelectric projects in the developing world over the past two decades. It is true that hydro power has a large ecological footprint, creating lakes and filling valleys. But it is a renewable energy that makes it possible to read after the sun goes down, boosting literacy in poor areas. It provides controlled irrigation for better crop yields and mitigates flooding and the loss of life and property damage.

Moreover, green groups have zero-tolerance policies when it comes to genetically modified crops. This includes the genetically modified "golden rice" that could help prevent blindness in Asian and African children (as many as 500,000 go blind every year, according to the National Institutes of Health) plus hundreds of millions of others who suffer from vitamin A deficiency. Because of activist opposition to GM crops, it will be at least five years before golden rice can be planted in many parts of the developing world. That means another 2.5 million kids could go blind even though no human or natural risk is associated with planting this crop.

Indeed, many GM crops such as cotton and corn can make impoverished families wealthy enough to have dignified lives, educate their children and afford clean water and sanitation -- things we in the developed world take for granted. Farmers in Indonesia, China, Brazil, India and the Philippines are now benefiting from this technology with no demonstrable harm. Yet Greenpeace and other environmental groups oppose all GM crops and are succeeding in blocking them in many countries.

The fear of GM crops, fed by environmentalist hysteria in Europe and the United States, has prompted a number of African countries, including Zambia and Angola, to ban U.S. food aid because it may contain GM corn. Desperate Africans have broken into government silos to take GM food aid donated by the United States that is being denied them. Yet you can go into any supermarket in these countries and buy Kellogg's corn flakes and hundreds of other prepared foods that contain GM ingredients. There are no restrictions on these foods. The people who can afford to buy them do so; yet the people too poor to purchase their next meal are denied the same foods. These policies border on genocide in the name of environmental concerns, yet environmental groups support them.

Or consider that the pesticide DDT has been proven to radically reduce malaria in South Africa, while activist groups such as the World Wildlife Fund push for a total ban on its use. It only needs to be sprayed inside houses, where it poses no threat to the external environment, to make it effective. Despite the ability to stop malaria in its tracks with DDT -- as the United States had already done before its use was prohibited here
-- 300 million people will become infected every year and at least 1 million will die, according to the World Health Organization.

Until the environmental movement comes to terms with the harm it has fostered in addition to the victories it has achieved, there will be no reason to celebrate Earth Day for millions of people around the globe.

Patrick Moore is a co-founder of Greenpeace who left that organization and became chairman and chief scientist of Greenspirit (www.greenspirit.com), a consulting firm that works for sustainable development. Nick Schulz is editor of TechCentralStation.com, a public-policy Web site that promotes free-market technology.


Nostalgia for environment of the past is a lot of horse

- East Valley Tribune (Editorial), April 22, 2004

On this Earth Day, celebrants should rejoice that one of the most drastically polluting modes of transportation ever known has all but vanished from rural roads and urban streets: the horse.

There's no joke intended here, just the point that the unpolluted past was not so unpolluted, after all, and that progress has been made in a host of environmental areas. That's true even if some concerned citizens might lead you to think that this precious planet is worse off than ever.

It's not. In the rich, industrialized part of the Earth, skies are clearer than in decades, and water is cleaner. And we no longer rely on horses. As a quote in a book called "Challenging Environmental Mythology" points out, a single horse can dump some 45 pounds of manure daily. Think about thousands of those horses in a city like New York 100 years ago, think about an estimate in the book that they generated more than 300 million pounds of manure a year, and then ponder the odor and diseases that ensued.

The horse gave way to the automobile, which, as we all know, has been powerfully polluting itself. What is not so quickly acknowledged is that the United States has made enormous strides in reducing auto pollution, thanks in part to laws, but thanks also to technological strides, free markets and the accumulation of wealth.

Competitive industries are forever coming up with means of employing technological innovations to operate more efficiently, and as wealth grows, so does attention to such issues as dirty air and water. In poor countries, anti-pollution laws can be luxuries that get in the way of necessities.

The sad truth is that some of those who complain most loudly about the Earth's environmental diminution are the same people who stand in the way of fixing things — who oppose the development of genetically modified foods, as an example. Their opposition is a kind of craziness, considering that biotechnology can produce more on less land, help enrich poor nations and lead to far less reliance on pesticides. If some of these people had their way, we would soon go back to dependence on horses, and to all that manure everywhere.

It's something to think about this Earth Day.

From: "Clark, Kerry AGF:EX"
Subject: RE: "Let's look at canola"
Date: Wed, 21 Apr 2004 09:29:17 -0700

To avoid a misunderstanding: a point of correction in Prof. Amman's
discussion: Canola produces oil that IS suitable, and actually especially healthy, for people. Canola is a crop developed (through conventional
breeding) from Brassica species (rape) with undesirable characteristics including erucic acid. Other rape varieties ARE grown for industrial oil
(lubrication) purposes, so Canola certainly does have safety standards. See http://www.canola-council.org.

In recent years, the Canadian Canola industry has adopted, for better weed management, mostly varieties that are tolerant to certain (not all) herbicides. Some of these varieties are genetically engineered, some are conventional.

By the way, in a separate issue from the above clarification doesn't this highlight a fundamental problem in last year's UK Field Scale Evaluations?

My interpretation of the results is that they simply reflect the significant improvement in weed management that comes from use of a crop variety that is tolerant of some specific broad spectrum herbicide, a situation that is the product of crop breeding that sometimes but NOT necessarily, uses genetic engineering. A key variable was not controlled.

Kerry Clark, Crop Protection Specialist
B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries
1201 103rd Ave
Dawson Creek BC V1G 4J

Tel. (250) 784 2559 Fax 250 784 2299


UC Riverside Researchers Improve Drought Tolerance in Plants Reducing Enzyme Involved in Recycling Vitamin C Increases a Plant’s Responsiveness to Drought Conditions

- UCR News, April 19, 2004, By Daniel Gallie

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – www.ucr.edu – University of California, Riverside researchers reported the development of technology that increases crop drought tolerance by decreasing the amount of an enzyme that is responsible for recycling vitamin C.

Biochemist Daniel R. Gallie, a professor of biochemistry at the University of California, Riverside together with Zhong Chen of his research group reported their findings in the May issue of The Plant Cell .

In the study, the authors reasoned that decreasing the amount of the enzyme dehydroascorbate reductase or DHAR would reduce the ability of plants to recycle vitamin C, making them more drought tolerant through improved water conservation. The researchers accomplished this by using the plant's own gene to decrease the amount of the enzyme three fold.

Researchers used tobacco as a model for crops that are highly sensitive to drought conditions.

“However, our discovery should be applicable to most if not all crop species as the role of vitamin C is highly conserved among plants,” said Gallie. In work published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Gallie and his research team reported that the level of vitamin C could be boosted by increasing the amount of this same enzyme.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and California Agricultural Experiment Station funded the six years of research that led to the current findings.

Vitamin C serves as an important antioxidant in plants as it does in humans and among its many functions in both, it destroys reactive oxygen species that can otherwise damage or even kill cells. “Once used, vitamin C must be regenerated otherwise it is irrevocably lost. The enzyme dehydroascorbate reductase, or DHAR, plays a critical role in this recycling process,” explained Gallie.

Reactive oxygen species are produced in plants typically following exposure to environmental conditions such as drought, cold, or air pollution. Plants sense drought conditions by the buildup in reactive oxygen species and then respond by reducing the amount of water that escapes from their leaves. Reducing the amount of DHAR decreases the ability of the plant to recycle vitamin C, thus reducing the ability to eliminate the buildup in reactive oxygen species that occurs with the onset of a drought.

“This reduction in vitamin C recycling causes plants to be highly responsive to dry growth conditions by reducing the rate of water that escapes from their leaves. Thus, they are better able to grow with less water and survive a drought,” said Gallie.

“Through use of this technology, we are helping crops to conserve water resources. In a way, we are assisting them to be better water managers, which is important for crops growing in areas that can experience erratic rainfall,” he added. “This discovery will assist farmers who depend on rainwater for their crops during those years when rainfall is low. It will also assist farmers who irrigate their crops to conserve water, which is important in a state like California where rapid population growth continues to increase the demand on this scare resource. Finally, this discovery should help farmers who grow crops in arid areas, such as exists in many third-world countries.”

The onset of global warming is another development that adds impact to Gallie’s research findings. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site states that the Earth's surface temperature has risen by about one degree Fahrenheit in the past century, with most of the warming occurring during the past two decades. The EPA suggests that most of the warming over the last 50 years can be attributed to human activities, but cautions that uncertainties remain about exactly how earth’s climate is responding.

“Increasing drought tolerance in crops is highly valuable to U.S. and world agriculture now and will be even more critical as our environment continues to change as a consequence of global warming,” said Gallie.


‘Phantom fears’ on GM hit Europe

- The Irish Examiner, By Brian O’Mahony, April 20, 2004

UNILEVER boss Niall FitzGerald said Europe had given into “phantom fears” about genetically modified (GM) food and bought into the Frankenstein food scare tactics of its opponents.

He told the IBEC conference on EU/US regulation, the end result was a brain drain from Europe by disillusioned scientists.

In his address, the Unilever chairman and chief executive, said from a multinational perspective, effective regulation meant finding a balance between the cost and the benefit to society.

Clearly, he implied Europe failed to do that in the case of GM foods.

Speaking in an EU/US context, he said there were compelling commercial and societal reasons to go after a balanced approach to regulation.

He warned Europe was in danger of being left behind if it failed to adopt the more pragmatic US approach.

GM food was the most obvious and controversial example where it has caused an incredible furore.

GM crops were introduced without undue fuss in the US.

The US and the rest of the Americas testify to the safety of GM-based foods, he said.

“But we have rejected the living laboratory of thousands of miles of crops and millions of consumers to look at, but we persist in labyrinthine approvals procedures here, as if no external evidence was available,” he said.

As a result, Europe was falling behind in an important area of science and neglecting public benefit in favour of “phantom fears.”

Mr FitzGerald went on to say he found the reaction in Europe to GM foods “profoundly distressing.” As a result, Europe was suffering a brain drain as disillusioned scientists head for the US, where there was a more progressive attitude.

Their gain is Europe’s loss, he said.

As a multinational chief executive operating across the globe, Mr FitzGerald has had to deal with the vastly different attitudes in the two continents

Unilever’s Flora pro.activ was approved in 100 days by the US authorities while the EU took 26 months. And it is not the case that EU consumers are eight times safer, he said.

Europe’s failure to reach agreement on a pan-European patenting system was also slammed by Mr FitzGerald.

It takes twice as long to get one in Europe and costs three times more than in the US.

Member States are resisting the idea of an EU patent, which he said led Commissioner Bolkestein, responsible for its introduction to ask: “how can ministers with a straight face say they want more R&D and innovation in Europe and then in the next breath block the community patent?”

In the years ahead, it was vital that the differences between EU and US regulation were ironed out.

There was too much at stake for us not to address all the relevant issues that keep us from competing at the most efficient and effective level, he said.


Question and Answers on the regulation of GMOs in the EU

Available in French, English and German.





Biotechnology expert focuses on the risks of not adopting GM in the EU

- Cordis News, April 21, 2004

Dr Clive James, chair of the international service for the acquisition of agri-biotech applications (ISAAA) and a leading proponent of agricultural biotechnology for the developing world, was in Brussels on 20 April to present his views on the current global status and future prospects of genetically modified (GM) crops.

Speaking to journalists, he began by outlining the challenge facing the agriculture sector. According to Dr James, estimates show that global food production will need to be doubled by 2050 to meet the needs of a predicted world population of nine billion people. What's more, he added, this doubling of production will have to be achieved using the same amount of land as is currently available, as the area of cultivatable land per capita in 2050 will have fallen to 0.15 hectares, from today's figure of 0.25 hectares.

'No single approach will provide the solution,' said Dr James. 'Conventional crop improvement alone will not double food production by 2050, and similarly, biotechnology is not a panacea - GM is not the silver bullet that will solve all of the problems.'

However, Dr James expressed his firm belief that any successful strategy to meet the growing global demand for food would have to make use of multiple approaches, integrating both conventional and GM crops in order to optimise productivity. The challenge, as he sees it, is how to accommodate diverse opinions on GM technology within a global strategy, especially given the sceptical stance of many in Europe.

Dr James accepted that concerns surrounding GM crops, such as food safety, their environmental impact and the issue of who owns the technology, are currently hampering acceptance in Europe, but he argued that these issues represent only one side of the argument.

'What many people in Europe must ask themselves is 'what are the risks of not adopting GM?' said Dr James. He offered the example of a brain drain of scientific talent from Europe to other parts of the world, resulting in Europe not being at the cutting edge of the technology. Dr James described the current status of biotechnology as the tip of the iceberg, adding: 'What people must realise is that if Europe chooses to reject GM technology, it will be turning its back on the whole iceberg, not simply the tip.'

However, Dr James was positive about the future prospects for GM technology in Europe, saying that he chooses to view the region as 'a glass half full, not half empty'. New EU labelling and traceability requirements, which came in to force on 18 April, will open up new developments in Europe and lead to the reestablishment of GM product approvals, he hopes.

The introduction of practical coexistence measures should open the way for the cultivation of GM crops in Europe within the next five years, said Dr James, and he described the limited cultivation of GM maize in Spain as 'encouraging'.

When asked what benefits GM crops offer to consumers in Europe, Dr James accepted that the advantages for ordinary citizens are less evident than those for farmers, for example. However, he argued that the technology would lead to lower cost products, and that European consumers may be better persuaded by 'quality trait' GM varieties currently under development, such as a type of soya bean that can lower cholesterol levels in the body.

Ultimately, though, it is the potential benefits that GM crops can deliver in the developing world, and especially to the 870 million people currently suffering from malnutrition, that Dr James considers the decisive argument in favour of the technology. 'The problem may be that hunger is a difficult concept for consumers in the EU and US to relate to,' he concluded.

To find out more about the ISAAA, please consult the following web

French maize group says GMO separation possible

- Reuters, April 20, 2004, By David Evans

PARIS - Tests by France's maize growers association AGPM have, according to the group, shown genetically-modified (GMO) grain can be cultivated beside conventional strains with almost no cross contamination.

Presenting the results of a two-year study into the possibility of segregating GMO and non-GMO maize varieties, AGPM was also cited as saying it had developed a system to keep the two grain types apart through the production chain from field to customer, adding, "The results obtained show that it is possible to manage the co-existence of growing GMO maize and conventional maize and that it is compatible with European labelling rules."

The AGPM was further cited as saying that in its trials only a small amount of conventional maize grown immediately adjacent to the GMO variety broke the 0.9 percent threshold.

It said it had also shown that from harvesting through drying, silo storage and delivery to the customer, the 0.9 percent ceiling could be maintained at each stage by proper record keeping and strict controls. The extra cost of the segregation was estimated at between 2.5 and five percent.


Specialist: World should say yes to no-till farming

- AgAnswers.net, April 20, 2004

Increase no-till farming practices across the planet or face serious climate, soil quality and food production problems in the next 20 to 50 years. That warning from scientists appeared in the journal Science this week.

No-till farming helps soil retain carbon. Healthy topsoil contains carbon-enriched humus — decaying organic matter that provides nutrients to plants. Soils low in humus can't maintain the carbon-dependent nutrients essential to healthy crop production, resulting in the need to use more fertilizers.

A lack of carbon in soil may promote erosion, as topsoil and fertilizers are often washed or blown away from farm fields and into waterways, said Rattan Lal, the lead author for the Science article and the director of the carbon management and sequestration center at Ohio State University.

In no-till agriculture, farmers plant seeds without using a plow to turn the soil. Soil loses most of its carbon content during plowing, which releases carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere. Increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have been associated with global climate change.

Traditional plowing, or tilling, turns over the top layer of soil. Farmers use it for, among other reasons, to get rid of weeds, make it easier to use fertilizers and pesticides and to plant crops. Tilling also enriches the soil as it hastens the decomposition of crop residue, weeds and other organic matter.

Still, the benefits of switching to no-till farming practices outweigh those of traditional planting, Lal said.

Since the mechanization of agriculture began a few hundred years ago, scientists estimate that some 78 billion metric tons — more than 171 trillion pounds — of carbon once trapped in the soil have been lost to the atmosphere in the form of CO2.

Lal and his colleagues estimate that no-till farming is practiced on only 5 percent of all the world's cultivated cropland. Farmers in the United States use no-till methods on 37 percent of the nation's cropland, which results in saving an estimated 60 million metric tons of soil CO2 annually.

"If every farmer who grows crops in the United States would use no-till and adopt management practices such as crop rotation and planting cover crops, we could sequester about 300 million tons of soil carbon each year," Lal said.

"Each year, 6 billion tons of carbon is released into the planet's atmosphere as fossil fuels are burned, and plants can absorb 20 times that amount in that period of time. The problem is that as organisms decompose and plants breathe, CO2 returns to the atmosphere. None of it accumulates in the soil."

Lal conceded that full-scale no-till farming practices are a short-term fix, but it's one that will give researchers enough time to find alternatives to fossil fuels.

"There needs to be a global effort to adopt no-till farming practices soon. Governments need to mandate these practices or to provide financial incentives to farmers to adopt them," said Lal, adding that no-till methods may reduce a farmer's annual crop yield by 5 to 10 percent, at least for the first few years.

It's also tough to ask farmers who lack the necessary financial resources to switch to no-till methods, especially in African and Asian countries where no-till levels are the lowest, Lal said.

"No-till isn't readily practiced in most of these areas due to the lack of available financial resources and government support," he said. "Farmers often lack the seeding equipment necessary to drill through crop residue. And many farmers use leftover residue from the previous year's crops for fuel or animal fodder. So the cultivated soil gets compacted or eroded by water and wind."

Topsoil also is a lucrative commodity — an acre of it can bring in $1,300 for a farmer in India, where the first few feet of soil are often removed for brick making.

"No-till farming isn't a substitute for finding alternatives to fossil fuels," Lal said. "No-till is definitely a short-term fix, but it may buy us up to 50 years to find alternatives to fossil fuels. If we don't heed this warning, our planet may change drastically. There's no other choice."


USDA says China has approved biotech corn, canola

— USA Today, APril 21, 2004

China has approved four corn and seven canola plant varieties that are genetically modified, sweeping away a potential barrier to trade, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters after a series of meetings with Chinese officials on wide-ranging trade matters, Veneman added that China also was considering approving two additional biotech corn varieties.

"We have a commitment from the Chinese that these will be reviewed in May," Veneman said.

China's demand for foreign farm products, including grains and oilseeds, cotton, hides and skins, has been rising significantly recently. U.S. farmers devote much of their soybean and corn acres to genetically modified plants.

Following a series of trade disruptions involving soybeans, Beijing last year adopted biotech regulations allowing U.S. soybeans to continue flowing to China.

Veneman said Beijing's latest action on biotech corn and canola "is critical to ensure that our exports are not restricted later in the year."

Over the past two years, China has been importing increasing amounts of corn. Its purchases this year are estimated by USDA at 100,000 metric tons, up from only 30,000 metric tons last year.

Chinese corn exports meanwhile are plummeting. Shipments are estimated by USDA at 8 million metric tons this year, down from 15.2 million metric tons last year.