Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - May 11, 2004:
* GM deserves our support
* Re: Mae-Wan Ho
* Green revolutionary blasts opponents of biotechnology
* Monsanto halts development of herbicide-resistant wheat
* Monsanto scrubs transgenic wheat
* Call for 'second-generation' GM crops
* Nigeria poised for biotech take-off
GM deserves our support (Letters to the Guardian)
May 11, 2004
Patrick Holden, while responding to Lord Taverne's commentary on organic food, calls me a spokesman for the GM industry (Letters, May 10). To attack the messengers, for they cannot question the message, and to smear academic scientists who support GM is a standard ploy of the organic industry. I am not a spokesman for the GM industry, but I defend the use of this technology because it is safe and can enhance farm productivity while benefiting the environment. Critics such as the organic food industry and environmental activists - if they truly care for the environment, people's health and the third world - should support this technology. By attacking biotechnology to scare consumers into buying their organic food, Holden and company are simply profiteering by spreading myths.
Prof CS Prakash
Tuskegee University, Alabama, USA
Dr Mark Avery of the RSPB (Letters, May 7) accuses Dick Taverne of being misleading over no-till farming and GM. No GM trial here used no-till agriculture. No-till benefits only emerge after several years without the plough and enormous increases in insect populations and pest predators have been recorded, as well as a 70% reduction in fossil fuel consumption and a 75% reduction in soil carbon dioxide evolution. No-till out-competes organic in most environmental measures, but provides food at conventional prices. Why is there no government no-till action plan?
Professor in plant biochemistry, University of Edinburgh
From: Mariano Tapia
Sent: Tuesday, May 11, 2004 12:03 AM
Subject: Which movie is watching this lady?
I find the speech of Dr. Mae-Wan Ho about the efects of GM soybeans in Argentina really hilarious.
The crop area has grown in 7 years from 15 million acres to 33 million acres, and the production from 11 million tn to 33.5 million tn. Is this a story of despair?.
I find it a story of success. And a success that came to relieve the country during the worst economic crisis we had in this century. The tax on exports of grains(20 to 23%) will give the government 3 billion dollars, half of it is given to the urban population as unemployment subsidies, while in the countryside no subsidies are needeed as tractor drivers earn today more than university professors.
There are of course enviromental concerns, and regulations about deforestation must be revised, but GM soybeans has been the salvation of the country.
No-till farming has increased to reach now 60% of the total area of grain crops, reducing erosion and increasing soil "life", including earthworms and bacteria; and this is due to introduction of GM soybeans and maize, and the dramatic fall of glyphosate price that followed the end of the patent in 1999.
Argentina is still exporting "traditional food crops", as wheat or sunflower; and there are no problems of supply of vegetables or milk.(poor people in towns have no money to buy much of it, but this is a problem of different source). And in spite of the crisis Argentina is still the country with the highest consumption of beef per capita(150 pounds per hab. per year) using 30% less land for beef cattle than 10 years ago with the same production.
Super weeds are still to be seen, but we won't miss Johnson grass, that was devastating in the 70's and 80's and is now no longer a problem.
Please Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, study first, speak later!!!!!
Ing. Mariano R. Tapia
Farmer and Agronomist
General Paz 2529
(7600) Mar del Plata
Green revolutionary blasts opponents of biotechnology
- Star Tribune, by Joy Powell, May 10, 2004
In an era of war and global terrorism, Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug sees agriculture as an instrument of peace.
Though he's revered as a peacemaker, this pugnacious 90-year-old is quick to wrestle with procrastinating bureaucrats in third-world countries, and he's worked tirelessly to convince kings and presidents of the value of his agricultural advancements.
These days, Borlaug is speaking out against those who fervently oppose biotechnology, referring to them as "extremist greenies" who have never seen the misery and hopelessness that he's seen up close.
"Today, anti-science and technology zealots are trying to retard -- and even stop -- the application of new science and technology, especially the new transgenic biotechnological tools that offer so much promise for the future," Borlaug said at commencement exercises for 240 agriculture graduates at the University of Minnesota on Sunday.
A University of Minnesota graduate himself, Borlaug is famous for developing a hearty strain of dwarf wheat in Mexico. He took the new hybrid seeds and fertilizing practices to India and Pakistan to launch the "Green Revolution" of the 1960s, and for that he's credited with saving a billion lives.
But the work that led to his Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 is far from over for this former Iowa farm boy, who now splits his time between working with poor farmers in Africa and teaching college students in Texas.
"We've still got 800 million people that need more food," Borlaug said in an interview. So many people go hungry around the world, he said, not because there isn't enough to food to go around, but because they're too poor to buy or produce it.
A white-haired, energetic man, Borlaug spoke of what drives him to work from sunup to sundown at an age when most others are comfortably ensconced in retirement. It's the sight of starving children who can barely stand on spindly legs -- children barely alive, many of whom die.
"I hate poverty and misery," Borlaug said, his boyish face full of anger. "I've seen people suffering."
Amid his busy schedule, Borlaug continues his alliances with agricultural scientists around the world, such as M.S. Swaminathan -- India's most famous scientist. Borlaug is most consumed, however, with his efforts in Africa, where he, former President Jimmy Carter and the Sasakawa family of Japan are trying to bring a new Green Revolution in food production to millions of small-scale farmers.
"African food production remains in crisis, even though technology is available to double and triple yields of the major food crops," he said at the commencement speech at the University of Minnesota College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.
Technology is available to African farmers who work tiny patches of land, he said, but progress is thwarted by deplorable infrastructure and bureaucracy, which he finds "infuriating."
"Unless Africa's rural infrastructure and institutions are significantly improved -- especially transport systems, energy, water, schools and clinics -- all other efforts to reduce poverty and hunger, improve health and education and secure peace and prosperity will continue to falter," he said.
Worldwide, agricultural technology has improved food availability, yet the need remains great: In 2002, the United Nations estimated that about 24,000 people die of hunger-related causes each day around the globe.
Population growth has eased, Borlaug said, but the world is still adding nearly 80 million people a year, posing the daunting challenge of doubling food production to feed the 9 billion to 10 billion people likely to be on earth by the end of the 21st century.
Beyond that, there's the desperate need for equitable distribution so the food reaches those who need it most, he said.
In the past five decades, Borlaug has trained thousands of the world's young scientists, telling them that they're morally obligated to warn political, education and religious leaders of the magnitude of land, food and population problems.
In southern India, Swaminathan has long shared Borlaug's vision. Trained by Borlaug, he fights not only for availability of seeds and fertilizer, but also for education and social justice for the poor.
Throughout India, Swaminathan, 79, is know as the "Father of the Green Revolution" --Borlaug's title on this continent. In the 1960s, the two scientists worked side by side to teach Indian farmers how to use the high-yielding Mexican wheat varieties and fertilizer to increase production.
Between 1965 and 2000, cereal production in the developing countries of Asia tripled, leading to a 25 percent increase in per capita food availability and literally saving hundreds of millions of people from hunger and starvation.
"I believe that where hunger rules, peace cannot prevail," Swaminathan said recently in Chennai, India, at his research foundation, part of which he named after Borlaug.
Swaminathan speaks of the need for an "Evergreen Revolution" to improve productivity without ecological harm. "We have to produce more from less land, less water," he said.
In 1987, Borlaug bestowed Swaminathan with the first World Food Prize, telling him that his trail-blazing would attract some of the most talented and motivated young people toward careers in the food system.
Today, Swaminathan's students grow experimental mangrove trees in steamy greenhouses and transgenic rice seedlings in petri dishes. They've launched a large project to develop rice that can withstand seawater, which accounts for 97.5 percent of the world's water. In India, surrounded by three seas, one in four people live near a coast, and their future is at stake, Swaminathan said.
Borlaug, for his part, spends much of his time in Africa but also teaches a few months out of the year at Texas A & M University in College Station.
He's been as much a politician as a scientist -- a robust statesmen who never shrinks from tough political issues, said Charles Muscoplat, dean of the University of Minnesota's College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.
"He wasn't a scientist who worked in a vacuum," Muscoplat said.
Borlaug has been honored the world over, and on Saturday, there was yet another ceremony. Muscoplat and others gathered at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis to show Borlaug the new "Window of Peace" and to offer prayers of blessing for his work.
He gazed upward to see the sun shining through a 30-foot-tall stained glass window. There -- along with depictions of Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and other modern-day peacemakers -- was a life-size likeness of Borlaug, holding a fistful of wheat.
MORE ON NORMAN BORLAUG AT:
Monsanto halts development of herbicide-resistant wheat
- Investors Business Daily, By Chris Bagley, 5/10/2004
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS.MW) -- Monsanto will delay the introduction of its genetically modified "Roundup Ready" wheat, the company said Monday.
St. Louis-based Monsanto (MON) said it's responding to a drop in spring-wheat cultivation and lower anticipated demand for its product, which has drawn protests from consumer and environmental groups.
The move brings an indefinite pause to Monsanto's seven-year effort to engineer hard red spring wheat, a high-protein variety used for baking bread. "Roundup Ready" is Monsanto's trademark for crops that have been genetically modified to resist its Roundup herbicide.
Amid broad declines in the equity markets, shares in Monsanto fell $1.01, or 3.1 percent, to close at $31.98 Monday.
The company said acreage planted with wheat in the U.S. and Canada has fallen 25 percent since 1997, when Monsanto began to develop its Roundup Ready wheat. Monsanto is the world's largest maker of genetically modified seeds. The resistant variety could have raised crop yields by 5 percent, the company said.
Monsanto may resume development later, and introduce herbicide resistance the next time it or another company brings a modified wheat seed to market, "if it seems to make sense, if it gets widespread industry support," Monsanto spokesman Christopher Horner said.
"Given the economics of this, we're taking a wait-and-see approach to biotech development," Horner said.
In a statement, Monsanto Executive Vice President Carl Casale said the industry is likely to produce a new wheat trait in "four to eight" years.
Opponents in North Dakota, the heartland of hard red wheat, are pushing for a law that would enable the state's agriculture commissioner to restrict planting of modified wheat, the Fargo Forum newspaper reported last week.
The Food and Drug Administration had begun reviewing the wheat, and analysts expected it would issue a non-binding opinion next year. Monsanto has said it wouldn't release the GMO wheat until it gained the approval of regulators in the U.S., Europe and Japan. As recently as January, however, it disputed what it called "incorrect reports by some media outlets" that it was abandoning development of Roundup Ready wheat.
Horner said the company's decision was "not at all" the result of protests from consumer and environmental groups. But analysts said the decision in any case ultimately goes back to consumers' aversions to eating genetically modified foods. Genetically altered strains of soybeans and corn are used widely in animal feed, while soybeans, corn and cotton also have industrial uses. Wheat, by contrast, is grown mainly for human consumption, and engineered variants of it aren't widely available.
"This is a recognition, since wheat is closer to the human food chain, that it's a lightning-rod issue," said Frank Mitsch, an analyst with Fulcrum Global Partners. "The potential for the European Union to reject it and the farmers who grow it is significant. You'd have to set up a whole separate system to handle it."
Monsanto spent about $5 million of its total $500 million research budget last year on the project, but wouldn't say how much it had spent since 1997 or whether last year was typical. Fulcrum's Mitsch said the cumulative total probably was "significantly" more than $5 million.
"From an earnings standpoint, it doesn't mean much," Mitsch said, referring to the halting of wheat development.
Another analyst called the move a minor setback.
"It is disappointing that the weed (-resistant) opportunity is being put on the back shelf," said Michael Judd, an analyst with Soleil Securities Group. "But Monsanto has got plenty of opportunities to do various things with existing crops. If it was easy to tap into wheat markets, they'd already have done so."
Wheat for July delivery closed at $3.8525 per bushel, down 17.75 cents on the Chicago Board of Trade. July hard red spring closed Monday at $4.235 per bushel, down 12.5 cents on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. Hard red spring will probably make up about 460 million, or 20 percent, of the projected 2.3 billion barrels harvested nationwide this year, according to the Montana Wheat and Barley committee.
Monsanto scrubs transgenic wheat
Farmers' fears spell doom for project worth millions.
- Nature, 12 May 2004, MICHAEL HOPKIN
The biotechnology giant Monsanto has abandoned plans to launch genetically modified wheat strains onto the world market. The company says the decision is a response to resistance to the technology among North American wheat farmers.
"As a result of dialogue with wheat industry leaders, we recognize the business opportunities with wheat are less attractive relative to Monsanto's other commercial priorities," executive vice-president Carl Casale says in a statement.
In 1997, Monsanto began developing wheat that allows farmers to treat fields with Monsanto's Roundup herbicide without damaging the crop. In the past year alone the Missouri-based company has spent almost US$5 million on the project.
But industry groups fear that the hostility to transgenic food, particularly among European consumers, will damage the lucrative export market. In 1999-2000, around half of the 5.5 million tonnes of US wheat exports went to Europe and Japan.
Anti-transgenic lobbyists have hailed the U-turn as a victory for consumer choice. "It's not just a victory for campaigners," says Sue Mayer of UK campaign group Genewatch. "The message has ultimately come from ordinary people."
Monsanto says that by using Roundup herbicide together with transgenic wheat farmers can boost their yields by 5-15%. But although yields may go up, exporters fear that revenues would plummet, as European food producers have insisted that they do not want transgenic grain.
"It is one of the clearest and most dramatic examples of the [biotechnology] industry's failure to convince people about their product," says Mayer. And yields can just as easily be increased using traditional breeding methods, she argues.
The decision was purely commercial, and not a move away from transgenic technology in general, says Colin Merritt, Monsanto's UK biotechnology director. Since 1997, the amount of land devoted to spring wheat in the United States and Canada has declined by a quarter.
Monsanto says that it will now "realign" its US$500-million annual research and development budget to accelerate development of its transgenic cotton, maize and oilseed rape crops. It is expected to market these crops predominantly in the United States and the developing world.
But the company remains hopeful that attitudes to genetically modified wheat will change. "We will continue to monitor the wheat industry's desire for crop improvements to determine if and when it might be practical to move forward with a biotech wheat product," Casale says in his statement.
Call for 'second-generation' GM crops
- The Scotsman, May 11, 2004, By VIC ROBERTSON
THERE is a desperate need for the creation of "second-generation" bio-technology products to demonstrate real consumer advantages, says a government farm policy adviser.
Unless these come along soon Britain will continue to fall further and further behind in the world technology race.
"We have a potentially efficient farming industry backed by a skilled science base but progress is being undermined largely because of unfounded fears," according to Sean Rickard of Cranfield University.
Many of these fears are fed by the Green movement, including organic farmers, using their lobbying power on the government through the media, he said.
"As a result, while the government does not feel it can shut the door on GM developments, politicians do not feel confident enough to give the technology its full backing, and unfortunately the industry is subject to the same pressures, particularly in the wake of BSE.
"The industry needs to be prepared to stand up and be counted. We are supposed to be a science-based economy but many of the scientists in this area are likely to quit and go abroad to countries where the technology is accepted."
This meant that most of the supporting entrepreneurial activity that would lead to the creation of second-generation GM products which could help improve health or produce bio-fuels would also move abroad.
"Organic farming occupies, at best, about 1.5 per cent of the market. So, in effect, the majority is being held back by a tiny fraction of the industry. We must be barmy to let this happen," he said.
He admitted that, as an academic, he did not have to depend on supermarket acceptability. But he claimed that supermarkets had also privately accepted the new technology.
"What we need is an entrepreneur who is able to see the opportunity these new products can bring and is able to push them along."
He cited the case of gene transfer in elm trees which prevented damage from Dutch Elm disease. "If we can produce a loaf of bread from GM wheat that helps prevent bone deterioration in later life, consumers will then be able to see the advantages.
"We need somebody to invest in the market here and a change in the mindset of consumers, or we will end up falling further behind. We are about ten years behind world leaders in the technology already. It could be a further four or five years before we begin to catch up."
Nigeria poised for biotech take-off
- The Times of Nigeria, May 10, 2004
A project to lay foundation for proper take off of biotechnology activities, with a view to
improving agriculture, environment and health in the country is now in place.
The initiative, titled: Nigeria Agriculture Biotechnology Project (NABP) and the West African Biotechnology Network (WABNET), launched last week, is to be jointly executed by the federal government, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
Already, USAID has promised to provide 2.1 million dollars (about N380
million) for three years to support the project.
Science and technology minister, Professor Turner Isoun, at the launch of the project in Abuja, during an international workshop on biotechnology, commended the initiative, saying the project would help to raise the effectiveness and efficiency of bio-resources and biotechnology in Nigeria and West African sub-region.
The project, according to the minister, would promote economic growth, ensure sustainable use of the natural resource base, enhance the health, environmental, industrial and agricultural development in the sub-region.
Isoun, who expressed dissatisfaction over the slow state of biotechnology development in the African sub-region, said “biotechnology has been generally affirmed as the technology that would determine whether or not a country is developed. Although, biotechnology has become well established in the developed countries, modern biotechnology remains in an embryonic stage in the West African sub-region. such a situation demands urgent action so that the region could enjoy the desirable benefits of this cutting-edge technology.”
He explained that countries, due to lack of infrastructure and capacity, might have little influence in the international research, “nevertheless, they should not lose interest in modern biotechnology, because of the high prospects it offers in health, agricultural and industrial issues.”
In agronomy, genetic modification has said tohave led to pest and herbicide resistant and higher yielding crops. In health, biotechnology, according scientists, also plays a vital role in the development and production of medicines, vaccines and diagnostic kits. It has also been considered as a veritable tool in understanding the causes of diseases and their treatment. Industrial applications of biotechnology include the use of certain enzymes, acids and other biochemicals, while pollution can be control through bio-remediation and bio-degradable materials.
The minister said it was surprising that in spite of the beneficial applications of biotechnology, “many people still against biotechnology.”
Of particular concerns to those who are not favorably disposed to the use of biotechnology, are fear of risks that may come along with it, safety of food from genetically modified plants and issue relating to moral and ethics.
But the minister stated that some of the fears were born out of ignorance of what biotechnology is all about.
He explained that because of the fears that the developing nations had about biotechnology, the commercial biotechnology sector did not show any appreciable interest in applying the technology to the problems of food security and poverty in the developing countries, “because it might be difficult to recoup their investment.”
This situation, Isoun explained, would not promote economic growth. “Developing countries need to assess the potential benefit and risks of biotechnology and position themselves to use the new discoveries and innovations from home and abroad to reduce food insecurity and poverty. They must make concerted efforts to mobilise the private and public sectors as well as national and international resources to tap available international know-how to address the specific problems that damage human health, constrain agricultural productivity and threaten the environment.”
Emphasising the need to ensure that the project is successful, the minister charged the stakeholders to give consideration to everyone involved in the project. “The concerns and worries of all stakeholders in the project should be addressed as much as possible, so that no room would be left for misinformation,” he advised.
He also stressed the need for the biosafety guidelines to be implemented in a transparent manner in order to generate the necessary confidence which the regulatory system required.
Also speaking on the occasion, the USAID mission director, Ms Dawn Liberi, commended the government for its vision to develop a far reaching national policy supporting biotechnology.
She explained that USAID involvement in biotechnology project in the country was to support Nigeria in revitalising its agriculture sector, promising that in the next five years, USAID would provide about 50 million dollars (about N6 billion) to promote sustainable agriculture and economic growth activities in Nigeria.
In his remarks, Mr. Rick Roberts, Charge D’Affaires, US embassy, said the United States was ready to partner with Nigeria to develop its agriculture, stressing that it had become imperative that African agricultural productivity increased in order to alleviate food insecurity and poverty as stated in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
He charged Nigeria to embrace biotechnology as a means of improving agricultural productivity, reducing the use of pesticides and improving nutritional quality of food products.
“Nigeria stands to benefit greatly from biotechnology. The yield of both cow pea and cassava crops could be more than doubled by developing varieties that are resistant to insect pests and plant diseases. These plagues undermine food security and threaten the livelihood of millions of small scale farmers,” he said.
The IITA director general, Peter Hartman, asked Nigerian scientists to seriously engage in biotechnology activities and armed themselves with facts that would place them in a position to advise government, investors and public about the technology.
This, according to him, is important “because we live in a world where we have to make decisions on technical matters and often we are not armed with the facts that we need to make such decisions.”
He said although, biotechnology might not be the final solution to food insecurity, the technology “is an important tool that we need in the fight against poverty. It does not take much to realise that we have to use all possible tools when over 24,000 people died every day from starvation. Five per cent of all the deaths of children in sub-Saharan Africa can be attributed to either poor nutrition or a lack of food. We must be engaged in the science and make our own decisions about what is good or bad for us.”