Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - May 22, 2004:
* Supreme Court of Canada's Ruling on Percy Schmeiser's Case
* Schmeiser Ruled Guilty by High Court
* Monsanto Wins Fight To Control Plant
* Canola Growers Pleased with the Supreme Court Ruling
* Supreme Court Validates the Benefits of Biotech
* Reaping What Biopharming Sows
* Breakthrough May Bring Life to Barren Earth
* Biotechnology in Ghana: The Challenge of Capacity Building
* Barriers In Marketing GM Horticultural Crops
* Angolan Govt Criticised for Rejecting GM Food
* Indian Bt - Cotton Stories: Untold Completely
* India's Madhya Pradesh: A Green State/Guest Column
* Finally - A Liberal Attack On The Biotech Haters
* The Real Percy Schmeiser?
* "Guinea Pig" - Musical Parody against GM
On the Supreme Court of Canada's Ruling on Percy Schmeiser's Case
- Shanthu Shantharam, Biologistics International, LLC, Ellicott City, MD.
Canada's Supreme Court has spoken. The good news is that Canada will recognize the IP protection for genes and cells and whole organisms that have unique characteristics demonstrating novelty and industrial applications. The bad news is that IPR will still have geographical limitation and cannot be applied all over the world. Most of the developing countries are yet to catch up on this issue.
In fact, in countries like India who have developed their own sui-generis system of IPR, it does not explicitly allow for patenting genes and gene constricts and GMOs. Moreover, the Farmer's Rights law explicitly allows for the farmers to save and sell even proprietary seeds without using the original brand name. It also bans the use of GURTS technologies that cold have been a clever technical fix to protect IPR and also prevent "gene drift". Since many biotech companies have foresworn the use of GURTS, it will be a real challenge to protect their IPR in biotechnology in developing countries. It isn't over yet!
Biotech developers will have to still brace up for a long fight in many parts of the world. Perhaps, the best alternative to intransigent legal battles and policy formulation discussions is for biotech developers to start a fresh round of global discussions to resolve the IPR issues in a humanistic and socially responsible way to facilitate speedier technology transfer.
Schmeiser Ruled Guilty by High Court
- Alex Avery , Center for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute
The verdict from the Canadian Supreme Court is in: Schmeiser is guilty and his previous conviction by Judge MacKay of patent infringement has been upheld. The only thing the SCOC granted to Schmeiser was relief in paying Monsanto the profits from his illegal, pirated canola crop – a total relief of $19,832 Canadian ($15,000 US based on latest exchange rate).
After setting aside the award of profits, the Court stated: "in all other respects, the trial judge's order is confirmed."
Sorry Schmeiser! This is a major victory for Monsanto, for farmers, and a much-needed final blow to Schmeiser's lame claim to victimhood at the hands of a cruel biotech Goliath. Every court in the land of Canada has now ruled that Schmeiser knowingly and illegally stole Monsanto's lawfully-owned technology.
A couple of key excerpts from the ruling in the first appeal of his conviction that was considered by the SCOC:
-- "The Trial Judge found as a fact that Mr. Schmeiser knew or should have known that those plants were glyphosate-resistant when he saved their seeds in 1997 and planted them the following year. It was the cultivation, harvest and sale of the 1998 crop in those circumstances that made Mr. Schmeiser vulnerable to Monsanto's infringement claim." (Translation: after being warned that his crop was Roundup tolerant and patented, Schmeiser knowingly planted the seeds the next year anyway)
-- "The Trial Judge correctly concluded that Monsanto had not breached the August 12, 1998 court order by taking crop samples from Mr. Schmeiser's fields for testing. Mr. Schmeiser admitted that he had been advised of the sampling before it was done, and the evidence disclosed no reason to believe that he could not have accompanied the Monsanto representatives if he had wished to do so. Moreover, the Trial Judge did not err in admitting the testing evidence from the roadside samples or the samples from the Humboldt Flour Mill obtained without Mr. Schmeiser's consent."
(Translation: Monsanto did nothing wrong in gathering information via court order to prove Schmeiser's illegal acts)
-- "The Trial Judge quantified the profit from the sale of the 1998 crop at $19,832 and granted Monsanto an injunction. . . . Monsanto was entitled to some assurance that Mr. Schmeiser would not repeat the actions that have been established to be an infringement of the Mansanto patent. The injunction granted by the Trial Judge gave that assurance." (Translation: Schmeiser can't do it again)
-- "The Trial Judge was correct in saying that it is the profit from the sale of the infringing crop that Monsanto may claim, not the difference between that profit and the profit from the sale of an alternative crop that was not grown. In an accounting of profits for patent infringement, the patent holder has the onus of proving the amount of the gross revenue made from the acts of infringement. The infringer has the onus of proving the costs incurred to obtain the profits. Generally, the only costs to be taken into account are those directly associated with the infringing activity. The award of profits as a remedy for patent infringement is an equitable remedy."
By tossing out the award of profits ($15,000 US), the court returned the verdict against Schmeiser to the core in patent infringement: damages sustained by the patent holder from the infringement of the patent. According the appeals court, "Under subsection 55(1) of the Patent Act, a person who infringes a patent is liable for all damages sustained by the patent holder by reason of the infringement. The Court may also, under subsection 57(1), grant other remedies, including an injunction and, in lieu of damages, an accounting of the profits from the infringement."
So they threw Percy a bone, but made clear the Court's position that Monsanto has a legal and enforceable patent on the gene.
Justice is done.
Monsanto Wins Fight To Control Plant
'Supreme Court rules for U.S. biotech giant in fight over patent'
- Canadian Press, http://www.thestar.com/
Ottawa - The Supreme Court of Canada sided with the U.S. biotech giant Monsanto today in the firm's lop-sided patent fight against Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser.
In what is thought to be the first ruling of its kind anywhere in the world, the court ruled 5-4 that since Monsanto holds a patent on a gene in its Roundup Ready canola plants, it can control the use of the plant. The decision has fundamental implications for the biotech industry, farmers, health care and other areas where genetic engineering is used.
Monsanto had alleged that Schmeiser deliberately planted Roundup Ready on his land in 1997, infringing Monsanto's patent on a gene in the plant.
Roundup Ready is a canola strain resistant to the pesticide Roundup. Farmers using it can control weeds more cheaply and easily. Lower courts rejected Schmeiser's claim that the canola landed on his fields by accident, but didn't deal with the deeper issue of whether Monsanto can control use of a plant because it has patented a gene in the plant.
The high court ruled that Monsanto has a legal claim to such control. The court ruled earlier in the case of the Harvard mouse, that higher life forms cannot be patented and Schmeiser based his case on a claim that a plant, too, is a higher life form, and exempt from patent. The court agreed that the plant is a higher life form and cannot be patented, but said the patent does apply to the gene.
Steven Garland, vice-president of the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada, said the main question was what kind of rights Monsanto enjoyed as a result of its patent on one gene in Roundup Ready canola. Janet Lambert, president of BioteCanada, said the G-8 has taken a position that multicellular entities are patentable. She said a ruling against Monsanto would have been a setback for Canadian biotechnology research.
CCGA Pleased with the Supreme Court of Canada Ruling On Patents
- Canadian Canola Growers Association, May 21, 2004, From Agnet
Winnipeg, MB - The Canadian Canola Growers Association (CCGA) was pleased with to day's announcement from the Supreme Court of Canada, confirming that plant cell technologies are patentable. CCGA was an independent intervener in the Supreme Court appeal between Percy Schmeiser and Monsanto because of concerns that the outcome of the case could have jeopardized canola growers' access to biotechnology.
Ross Ravelli, a canola grower and president of the CCGA said "I am pleased that our patent laws have been clarified. We can now move forward as an industry with confidence that Canada will continue to attract investment in research and development of plant cell technologies, for the benefit of all farmers". Ravelli added that "Canola growers in Canada need to have access to the latest advances in modern biotechnology to ensure we can continue to respond to consumer demands for healthy oils, and remain competitive with other exporting countries". CCGA policy analyst Rick White pointed out that the Supreme Court decision should bring an end to the question of where Canada stands on patents. "It was unfortunate that we had to go through this period of risk and uncertainty, not knowing where Canada was on the issue of patenting plant materials. Technology developers would have been very cautious about making long-term investments over the past couple of years".
White went on to say that "Patents serve an extremely important function for two reasons; they encourage investment in research and development, and they require full disclosure of the invention to the public. Disclosing the science and technology enables competing products to be developed, and provides a building block upon which further advances in technology can be made."
Supreme Court Validates the Benefits of Biotechnology
- BIOTECanada, www.biotech.ca. May 21, 2004; From Agnet
OTTAWA - BIOTECanada is reassured by the Supreme Court decision in the Monsanto vs. Percy Schmeiser case supporting Intel lectual Property protection in Canada. "We have a strong, vibrant biotech industry in Canada that is growing every day. We congratulate the Court for confirming the vital role scientific discovery and innovation play in Canada," said BIOTECanada president, Janet Lambert.
BIOTECanada was an intervener in the case, appearing before the Supreme Court on Jan. 20 speaking to the importance of patent protection to Canada's biotechnology industry as a way of protecting the ideas and science that is done here. "We need to continue to foster a Made in Canada innovation environment," Lambert added.
"Canada has world-recognized strengths in biotechnology across all sectors including our academic community. Canadians are proud of their historical achievements in scientific discovery and they expect to see us continue to build on that great heritage," said Lambert. "Our arguments reflected the respect patent protection offers for invention, as inspired by Thomas Jefferson, the writer, legislator, architect, scientist, l awyer and farmer, whose wording defining invention was incorporated into the laws of Canada in 1869.
When originally written, Jefferson could never have imagined inventions like the Canadian Space Arm, plants used to detect the presence of landmines or the potential vaccines for cancer currently being researched in Canada," said Ms. Lambert. The association was represented before the Supreme Court by Anthony G. Creber and Henry S. Brown, Q.C. of Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP in Ottawa.
- Hilmar Stolte, MD - President, IALS, Univ. Professor of Medicine, Hanover Medical School (Germany); Prof. Robert Rich - Professor of Law and Political Science, University of Illinois - Champagne-Urbana
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Reaping What Biopharming Sows
- Henry I. Miller, MD; www.TechCentralStation.com, May 21, 2004
Want safer, cheaper drugs? Don't we all. Well, biotechnology applied in an ingenious new way might be the answer -- if activists and regulators don't get in the way.
Gene-splicing techniques increasingly are being used to program common crop plants such as rice, corn and tobacco to synthesize high-value-added pharmaceuticals -- a process punnily dubbed "biopharming." The plants are harvested and the drug is then extracted and purified.
The concept is not new. Many common medicines, such as codeine, the laxative Metamucil® and the anti-cancer drug Taxol® are purified from plants. But biopharming's great promise lies in using gene-splicing techniques to make old plants do radical new things.
There is also great potential for cost cutting in the process: The energy for product synthesis comes from the sun, and the primary raw materials are water and carbon dioxide. An important collateral advantage is the opportunity for farmers to grow new, high-value-added crops.
However, regulators have created storm clouds. Regulators recently denied a request from Sacramento-based Ventria Bioscience to scale up the cultivation of rice varieties that have been modified with gene-splicing techniques to synthesize either of two medically important proteins, lactoferrin or lysozyme. Lactoferrin, a protein that is present in bodily secretions such as saliva, tears and breast milk, has direct antibacterial properties and also stimulates the immune system; it is thought to have a role in protecting breast-fed babies from infections. Lysozyme, an enzyme found in egg whites, tears and other sources, damages bacterial cell walls and thereby inactivates the bacteria.
Even to get to its current early stage of development, Ventria has had to run a seemingly endless gauntlet of redundant, dubious regulatory reviews. USDA regulates biopharmed plants by issuing permits for planting in the field, and federal permits issued in California also require approval by the state's Department of Food and Agriculture.
In order to scale up cultivation of its rice varieties, Ventria also needed permission from a kind of bureaucratic fifth wheel called the California Rice Commission (CRC). The company negotiated its cultivation protocol with the CRC for more than a year, during which time there were five public meetings, which allowed public comment as well as feedback from the commission. After an (overly) thorough evaluation by a scientific subcommittee, the CRC approved the protocol in March.
But USDA declined to give Ventria permission to grow its rice varieties, saying that the company planned to cultivate them too close to varieties intended for food. California regulators followed suit, citing the USDA action and also the need for still more public discussion.
However, the health and environmental risks of such rice varieties are negligible -- rice is self-pollinating, so genes are not readily transferred from one plant to another, and the newly synthesized proteins are natural and completely benign. The regulatory hoops confronted by Ventria far exceed those required for non-gene-spliced rice varieties, which are crafted with less precise and predictable techniques.
Regulators appeared to be responding to the objections of anti-biotech activists, many of them from out of state. One of them is Consumers Union's Michael Hansen, who has mendaciously and relentlessly opposed biotechnology's applications to agriculture and food production for decades. Ironically, he is best known for his continuing bizarre and baseless objections to bovine somatotropin, or bST, a protein that is administered to dairy cows to increase their productivity - a product much appreciated and used by dairy farmers, and whose limited supply is now pushing milk prices through the roof!
There was no reason to delay approval of Ventria's expanded field trials. Biopharming is in no way fundamentally new or mysterious. Gene-spliced plants for food and fiber have for almost a decade been grown worldwide on more than 100 million acres annually, and more than two-thirds of processed foods in the United States contain ingredients derived from gene-spliced organisms (mostly from corn and soybeans). There has not been a single mishap that resulted in injury to a single person or ecosystem.
Enough is enough. Ventria has now lost a growing season and important momentum toward producing valuable pharmaceuticals. It is long past time that the company was permitted to take the next steps toward getting potentially important -- and less expensive -- drugs to the marketplace.
Excessive, ill-considered regulation already has destroyed entire sectors of promising biotech applications, among them "biorational" pesticides (by
EPA) and human gene therapy for genetic diseases and cancer (by FDA). In the long run, if we are to reap what biopharming sows, we need more reasonable, science-based regulation. But that's about as likely as finding rice paddies in North Dakota.
Dr. Miller is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. From 1989 to 1993, he was director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology. His next book, "The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution," will be published later this year.
Breakthrough May Bring Life to Barren Earth
- Ian Sample, The Guardian (UK), 21-May-2004, guardian.co.uk/gm
'Scientists Say 'Eco-Friendly' Genetic Manipulation Will Provide The Answer To Agriculture's Greatest Challenge'
Agriculture is facing a crisis. Mass irrigation is turning swaths of previously fertile ground into salty wastelands. Already a third of the world's irrigated land has been rendered useless because the soil is now too salty for crops to flourish. And the problem is rapidly getting worse. Each year a staggering 10m hectares (25m acres), suffers a similar fate. If the problem can't be fixed, the world will struggle to provide for its increasing population.
Some scientists now think they have the answer to what has become agriculture's greatest challenge. Yesterday a group of world-class researchers in the US announced their company, FuturaGene, has developed the means to make plants fight harder for their survival in harsh environments.
Instead of putting new genes into the plants to help them survive, the scientists have found a way to make certain genes already in the plants go into overdrive, beefing up the plants' defences to salty soils, cold weather and drought.
If the plants perform as well as the scientists hope, it could have a dramatic impact on agriculture, allowing farmers to sow seeds on land that has long been written off. Regions where crops have never been viable, because of extreme cold or frequent drought, could be turned into useful farmland. "The real goal is not only to be able to plant in places where right now we can't grow anything, but to get more out of the land where we can," said Bruno Ruggiero, the president of FuturaGene.
"Cold, drought and salt significantly damage yields. And if we can get more out of the land, that means limiting the need to cut down forests for farmland and using less water." The first prototype tomatoes developed by FuturaGene are due to start greenhouse trials within the next two weeks. If all goes well the company will push ahead with variations of rice, alfalfa and corn.
Not everyone is convinced genetic modification is the answer the world of agriculture needs. Critics say the scientists are throwing technology at a problem that could better be solved by thinking about what causes the problem in the first place. Saline soils are becoming more widespread largely thanks to irrigation. The worst effects are seen in hot regions where rainfall is scarce. As fresh water is poured on to land, much of it evaporates, leaving behind traces of salts. Ironically, the more the soil is irrigated, the saltier it gets. "Anywhere it's hot and getting hotter, this whole issue is just going to get worse. It's a really big deal," said Chris Leaver, a plant scientist at Oxford University.
Salty soils damage plants by dehydrating them and playing havoc with their internal chemistry. The best way to prevent soils from becoming too salty is to flush the soil with more water, but at a time when the world is facing an ever-pressing water shortage-some 40% of the world's water is used for irrigation - and using it to flush salt from soils is unsustainable and is rapidly becoming too expensive for farmers to contemplate. The result is that agriculture is stuck firmly between the rock of less and less land to farm and a hard place of ever more mouths to feed.
The scientists behind FuturaGene, including Ray Bressan of Purdue University in Indiana and Hans Bohnert at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, have patented a suite of genes to make plants more hardy. One of the most significant genes, called SOS1, pumps salt that gets into the plant's roots back out into the surrounding soil before it can do any damage.
FuturaGene are not the first to try modifying crops to withstand saline soils. In 2001 a team at the University of California, Davis, developed plants that stored salt where they cannot cause damage. Unsurprisingly, FuturaGene thinks its method is better. "If you stop the salt getting into the plant in the first place, it will be much stronger," said Dr Ruggiero, who claims his plants can tolerate four times more salty soils than conventional plants. Ultimately FuturaGene hopes to develop plants so hardy they can be irrigated with sea water, although the reality is a long way off.
Biotechnology in Ghana: The Challenge of Capacity Building (Review
George Owusu Essegbey*, AgBiotechNet® 2004, Vol 6 May, ABN 123© CAB International 2004 http://www.agbiotechnet.com/
Science and Technology Policy Research Institute (STEPRI), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), P.O. Box CT 519, Accra, Ghana.
* firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
This paper reviews the state of biotechnology in Ghana and discusses options for capacity building. It emphasises the point that biotechnology application and development should be strongly linked to the national goal of poverty reduction and wealth creation. The paper illustrates the needs for capacity building, analysing existing capacity in terms of the physical infrastructure for research, human resources, policy environment, among other issues. It concludes that capacity building should be strategic and integrated into the national scheme of priorities and within a policy framework.
The optimistic view of biotechnology centres on biotechnology's immense potential to impact important sectors of the country's economy. Incidentally, the question of impact is the basis of the counter view, highlighting issues of risks and de-emphasizing the potential for positive gains. This review is deliberately optimistic in order to underscore the relationship between the socio-economic goals and the application and development of biotechnology in Ghana. There will be no attempt to go into the pros and cons of biotechnology as it usually drifts into 'doctrinal' argumentation.
Whatever the pros and cons, biotechnology is a reality which all countries no matter the developmental status, have to deal with. The questions of how countries are dealing with biotechnology and what more they should be doing are fundamental to national development. In this regard, this paper:
* examines the objectives of Ghana's biotechnology development, * analyses biotechnology capacity building, *proposes some policy options.
The objectives of biotechnology development are linked to the fundamental question of what relevance biotechnology has to Ghana's development. It is a question that underscores the biotechnology debate. For policy makers and other stakeholders not only in Ghana, but also in other countries in the same development bracket, the question of relevance should be the point of departure for the national efforts in biotechnology capacity building.
Conclusion: Biotechnology has become established in Ghana, but it has not gone far enough to impact significantly on national development. Yet it has all the relevance for the achievement of the goals of poverty reduction and wealth creation. To this end, there is need to build capacity from all the various conceptual dimensions of technology. The physical infrastructure in terms of R&D laboratories have to be improved, and the information system and organizational framework enhanced. Human resource development strategies have to be tied to addressing specific problems. More importantly, the policy framework must be well defined to guide all stakeholders in both the public and private sectors.
Barriers In Marketing GM Horticultural Crops
- Crop Biotech Update, Isaaa.org
"High costs for research, development and regulatory approval combined with the small acreages planted and the diversity of varieties, will limit the potential for profitable applications of biotechnology to many fruits and vegetables, tree fruits and nuts, and nursery crops," says Julian M. Alston, Professor, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California (UC) Davis, and Associate Director, Science and Technology Policy, UC Agricultural Issues Center.
Alston added that these high costs are also accompanied by market barriers, apart from future political decisions that may discourage food manufacturers and retailers from adopting biotech products that have high consumer demands, and are deemed profitable for growers.
At present, he observed that successful genetically modified (GM) crop varieties emphasized "input traits" which are related to reducing the use of chemical pesticides. On the other hand, horticultural biotechnology include an enormous diversity of fruit and vegetable crops, and other plant species (ornamentals, flowers and recreational turfgrass) which may have advantages in terms of potential market acceptance due to their being non-food products.
The author concludes that the government may facilitate a faster rate of development and adoption of horticultural biotechnology products in terms of reforming property-rights institutions to increase efficiency and reduce research and development (R&D) costs. The government could, likewise, reduce some barriers to adoption, especially market acceptance of biotech food products, by providing consumers information about their food safety and environmental implications.
Read the research article entitled “Horticultural biotechnology faces significant economic and market barriers” at http://californiaagriculture.ucop.edu/0402AMJ/pdfs/barriers.pdf.
Angolan Govt Criticised for Rejecting GM Food
- This Day (Nigeria), May 19, 2004
The Angolan government has been criticised for rejecting refugee food donations of American maize seed containing genetically modified (GM) material, according to the Science and Development Network.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation reports, however, that a high-ranking civil servant in Luanda has hit back, noting that it is not an outright ban but a request for the seed to be milled so it cannot accidentally cross-contaminate their own crops, which might result in struggling peasant farmers being sued by a giant agro-business such as Monsanto. In addition, it accuses charities of secretly smuggling in GM seeds without informing the government.
According to Elizabeth Matos, the chairperson of the National Plant Genetic Resources Centre, the move protects Angola's great diversity of plant life. "We are holding in our gene bank almost 800 different types of maize and local ecotypes that we have picked up from all over the country and we don't want this material crossed with GM," she says.
Furthermore, she said, Angola has a complete lack of GM regulatory systems
- there is no national biosafety framework and no legislation concerning GM products, unlike South Africa or the US. According to Mike Sackett, the Southern Africa director for the UN World Food Programme (WFP), however, the decision will "quite dramatically" affect efforts to fight hunger in Angola. "Even before the question of the new legislation came out, there were serious constraints on our food pipeline - such that we were going to cut rations for April and May for 1.9 million people by 30 per cent," Sackett said in Johannesburg. "The result of this cancellation is that we have cut rations in half for April and May and there is no food at all for June."
Ban causes delay Sackett doubts whether anyone in Angola will starve as a result of the ban.
However, he adds that "it makes the process of resettling slower and tougher, and that much more risky". The ban is expected to cause a delay of two to three months before another food shipment - this time of GM cereal processed or milled - can be received.
Milling the grain on arrival - which would mean that any GM maize could not be planted as seed - is not possible, as the WFP does not have the funds to pay the few Angolan millers operating in the three ports selected for food deliveries.
And if the grain is commercially milled in the United States, less food is received, costs rise significantly and the lag time between order and delivery is extended. Normally, the WFP sends the food as seed and it is milled by hand in the household of the recipient - which is precisely the moment, government argues, when cross-contamination may accidentally occur.
Angola has aligned itself with four southern African nations - Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe - which have controversially banned imports of GM food. Gilberto Buta Lutucuta, Angola's minister of agriculture, and rural development, said the food was rejected "because so far we don't know for sure what impact these products might have on either human or animal health."
However, Zambia has recovered so well that it is exporting its maize surplus to Angola.
Indian Bt - Cotton Stories: Untold Completely
Reference to Asha Krishnakumar's story on Bt-cotton in May 8 issue of the Frontline does not reveal the whole truth. It seems Ms. Krishnakumar is prone to believe only one side of the story which is that of "failed" Bt-cotton based on many NGO and AP government reports last year. But, she has not bothered to check the veracity of the methods used in those reports and she has certainly not seen the reports of GEAC monitoring committees and State Government Committee reports that are now posted on Ministry of Environment and Forest web site.
Going by rigorous scientific standards all reports both from the NGOs and the GEAC Monitoring Committees and the State Governments, none of them would a get a passing grade as an undergraduate project. But, that is how business of science is done by some in India is not surprising. No one holds their feet to the fire and demand accountability. Scientific competence in State Agricultural Ministries is appalling. Most of them live in 18th century and that is how they end up there. To expect a retired bureaucrat of AP State Agricultural Department to know any science is like living in fool's paradise. The then AP agriculture minister made the mistake of taking a stand on the issue on the floor of the AP assembly based on this former Deputy Director of Agriculture's report, and ended up eating a humble pie. He allowed for the sale of Bt-cotton next year, and thankfully rains came and Bt-cotton and all other cottons did very well this past growing season.
A dispassionate and objective analysis of all these reports tells you that the minute quantum of sampling analyzed in them cannot be taken seriously to pass sweeping verdict on the performance of Bt-cotton throughout the country. It is indeed true that Bt-cotton and non-Bt-cotton did fail in certain rain-fed areas of AP and Maharashtra due failure of rains and because of poor bollworm infestation. But, an objective observer would step back from such a close view of the failed Bt-cotton regions and take wide-angle look at how Bt-cotton performed in other parts of the country where it was grown, it becomes obvious that it did perform very well. Granted most of them were irrigated cotton areas, one should not overlook the overall performance, and selectively use the data from miniscule failed regions and propagate falsehoods. If it had failed, one wonders why the Bt-cotton acreage continues to increase all over the country? As they say proof pudding is in eating! Cotton farmers are not fools to buy bad seeds twice.
If one wants to do a good job of assessing the performance of Bt-cotton, one should take a look at the recent independent study carried out by AC Nielson. It is open and transparent and methodology used is world class and can withstand any scientific scrutiny. It is another matter that most of the anti-GM advocates will not buy what Monsanto has paid for. But, no one can fault the statistical significance of AC Neilson study. I wish Ms. Krishnakumar had read this study and included it in her report.
For the future, it would serve the Frontline readers are served with properly reviewed articles on science and technology as most of such stories are not so urgent that it cannot wait some peer review from experts.
India's Madhya Pradesh: A Green State/Guest Column
- HP Garg Hindustan Times 21-May-2004
Biotechnology has revolutionised R&D activities in the area of agriculture. This includes plant cell, tissue and organ culture; genetic engineering leading to transformation followed by regeneration of plants to give transgenic plants carrying desirable traits like disease resistance, insect resistance and herbicide resistance; increasing photosynthetic efficiency and nitrogen fixing ability; improves storage proteins, hybrid crops, crops for sexually incompatible species; permitting transfer of desirable traits from wild or unrelated crop species to our crop plants.
It has always been my concern, why all leading biotechnological demonstrations were not being carried out in Madhya Pradesh (A state in India..csp). Did population of Madhya Pradesh not require golden rice having natural Vitamin A or Carotein. Could edible vaccine in the form of tomato not be grown where health conditions, particularly in rural areas, were miserable?
I feel proud of the biotechnology initiatives of MAPCOST, where agriculture biotechnology was correctly identified as a priority area and within a very short span, a number of functional projects were launched, like - fermentation technology, bio-fertiliser, plant tissue culture, BGA, bio-pesticides, mushroom cultivation, bio-village and bio-energy etc.
Looking at processed food, one seldom realises the journey that the food has gone through from the farm to the consumer, how it is handled and gets value addition. With food as a totally holistic organic matter, five important considerations emerge: (i) land, water and agricultural management; (ii) tradition and scientific management of the field; (iii) skilled labour force including women in the agricultural sector; (iv) pre- and post harvest practices and technologies adopted subsequently for value addition and (v) the 'farm to consumer to farm' agenda as a chain of operation.
Conventional farming of foodgrains is no more attractive or dependable business, as it is not considered profitable or economical. In such a situation farming of medicinal plants became a lucrative alternate and creates a ray of hope among progressive farmers. There are hundreds of medicinal plants that have a long history of curative properties against various diseases and ailments.
However, screening of plants for their activity is very essential and needs urgent attention in order to know the real value of our national plant genetic resources, which is eroding fast. The growth of the agriculture and food processing industry will bring immense prosperity and benefits to the economy raising the agricultural yields, meeting productivity, generating employment and raising the standard of large number of people throughout the State, especially in rural areas. Economic liberalisation and rising consumer prosperity is opening up new opportunities for diversification in food processing sector.
Readers may think these are all wild conjectures and hallucination on my part. But, can a country or state, which has so many deprived people living below the poverty line and so many illiterates really do it? What gives me the confidence that it can happen? Twenty-first century will be the century of mind, and Madhya Pradesh (although considered a Bimaru
state) will have the potential to lead. This century will belong to India, which will become a unique intellectual and economic power to reckon with
- recapturing all the glory that it had lost in the millennia gone by.
But let all ravines be turned into harvesting fields, let not an inch of agriculture land be doled out for non-agriculture use. A resolution today will leave no predicaments for tomorrow.
The MAPCOST, hereinafter, will be better known, as the 'the theater of prescriptions'. Our humble beginning here would lead the State to a never-imagined, profound opulence. How I wish I could prolong my stay here and was born in Madhya Pradesh, the land of many probabilities for all committed and right-minded people. And before I bid adieu, I have laid my dreams under your feet, tread softly because you will tread on your dreams tomorrow!
Finally - A Liberal Attack On The Biotech Haters
- Dan Murphy, Meatingplace.com, May 21, 2004 (Via Agnet) http://www.meatingplace.com/
Maybe it's the corrosive effect of the presidential election, which, like the Olympic Games, used to occur once every four years but has now devolved into a never-ending cycle of fund-raising, campaigning and yet more fund-raising.
Maybe it's the impact of 24-hour news coverage on cable and the Internet, which provides even the most strident of advocates a quasi-legitimate place on the policy spectrum. Or maybe, like the relentlessly marketed prescription drugs available for virtually every disorder imaginable, it's simply an unpleasant and unavoidable side effect.
Whatever the cluster of reasons one might identify to explain the phenomenon, there is no disputing that American society has become permanently polarized on virtually every issue that dominates civic discourse, government policy and the agendas of the myriad NGOs that sometimes appear to exist solely to marginalize anyone on the opposite side of the debate.
No matter how bland or how volatile the issue, the idea of a compromise -- or, God forbid, an agreement -- on a solution is non-existent. Politically, such posturing makes for entertaining theater. But the nation's unyielding polarization on the key policy issues impacting our economy, our social institutions and at times our very survival ensures that it is absolutely tortuous to move forward, even when all agree that progress is critical.
Take the issue of global food production and the corollary challenge of food shortages in the developing world. Biotechnology, if you include cultivation of GMO feed grains and livestock cloning, has a huge potential to affect meat and poultry production and an even greater power to ameliorate world hunger. But whatever the benefits biotechnology might deliver, they've been severely constrained by a constant flow of half-truths, pseudo-science and good old-fashioned scare-mongering manufactured by a gang of anti-GMO groups.
Their approach is typical of how most issues are "managed" these days: A coalition of activists, if it sniffs even the slightest self-interest, joins together across environmental, sociological and political lines to "fig ht for what's right."
Which means deceiving the public and strong-arming policymakers to play ball by their rules. Allied against the activists in the biotech battle has been an uneven collection of dedicated researchers and seriously inept manufacturers and marketers of various GMO seeds and genetically engineered foods. The consequence is a stalemate that has resulted in such tragedies as famine in Zambia, while mountains of GMO corn rotted in warehouses because the government feared reprisals from European Union import markets if Zambian farmers planted the corn.
Traditionally, the blame would have been directed (as it has been by numerous activist organizations) at flawed U.S. policies, rather than the knee-jerk opposition to GMO foods fostered by the biotech bashers. But that changed last month, when the Congress of Racial Equality, a venerable if not exactly high-profile civil rights group, charged Greenpeace with "eco-manslaughter'" as a result of the organization's support of policies limiting development and the deployment of food production technologies in the developing world. "[These] well-fed eco-fanatics shriek 'Frankenfoods' and 'genetic pollution,'" C.O.R.E. said in its statement. "They threaten sanctions on nations that dare to grow genetically modified crops to feed their people or replace crops that have been wiped out by insects and blights. They plan to spend $175 million battling biotech foods over the next five years. Not a penny of this money will go to the starving poor."
Indeed, St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. recently abandoned plans to market new genetically modified wheat to North American farmers because of fears that importers in Japan and Europe wouldn't buy it. Calling the move "another triumph of baseless fear over science," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized that the blame "rests with a core of overwrought activists who insist against good evidence that genetic modification is evil."
Overseas, even as the European Union moved to lift its six-year ban on biotech products by approving imports of an insect-resistant strain of sweet corn for human consumption, Green Party politicians and the activist group Friends of the Earth Europe warned the European Commission that it would face "increased public hostility if they force through [this] approval."
Such rhetoric is typical of the doomsday approach the anti-biotech campaigners have utilized, and until the C.O.R.E. announcement, sympathizers almost always included a full cadre of liberal eco-friendly/peace-and-justice propone nts marching in lockstep. The break in those ranks is significant, because most of the activists allied against genetic engineering trace their roots to mainstream environmental campaigns that found broad traction among the general public. Greenpeace achieved prominence in the 1970s with a landmark "save the whales" campaign, which generated real resonance with a broad cross-section of people. But an international ban on whaling that it helped achieve accomplished the desired effect, and by the 1990s ma ny commercially targeted species were enjoying a remarkable resurgence. As a result, the public's idea of funding for marine mammals shifted from supporting guerilla warfare against whale hunting ships to booking cruises on whale-sighting exc5ursions.
Of course, Greenpeace didn't fold up its rubber boats and go home. As every activist group does, it simply shifted to newer, sexier (read
"scarier") subjects that could be used to stoke public indignation and
fear: the dangers of biotechnology, the disaster of global warming and the environmental threat posed by an evil energy cartel, which is better known to the rest of us as the Bush administration. Indeed, Greenpeace has strayed so far from its original focus that Patrick Moore, one of the organization's founders and a legendary figure within the environmental movement -- in 1978 he was published worldwide in a newsphoto straddling a baby seal to prevent it from being clubbed to death -- has dissociated himself from Greenpeace and other environmental groups such as the Sierra Club.
Far from stoking fears about the alleged dangers of GMO crops, Moore has publicly embraced biotechnology as an essential tool in feeding the approximately one billion people who struggle daily with hunger and starvation. "There are so many real benefits from genetic modification, compared to the largely hypothetical and contrived risks, that it would be foolish to ban genetic modification," Moore told Delta Farm News in a recent interview.
That is precisely the message that Cyril B oynes Jr., C.O.R.E's director of international development, expressed in detailing why the civil rights group went public in opposing the greenies. "People are dying from starvation every day in African countries, and for an organization to oppose biotechnology solutions to providing food for hungry people is wrong," Boynes told Meatingplace.com. "It is similar to the opposition to dams and other economic development because some species of fish might be affected. You cannot measure the lives of human beings against fish."
No, you cannot. But finally, some voices on the left, which were once raised by such civil rights stalwarts as James Farmer, one of C.O.R.E.'s founders, and Bayard Rustin, the organizational genius who planned the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington, are speaking out against the politically motivated demonizing of the very science and technology we may need to feed the added two or three billion mouths demographers predict will be added to the Earth's population by 2050 .
The message is simple: It's wrong to deny people their civil rights, and prominent among those rights is the opportunity to secure adequate food to feed their families. Genetic engineering is hardly a panacea for the problem of preventing hunger and starvation around the world. But derailing its potential to contribute to a solution is as socially reprehensible as the denial of equal access to housing, education and jobs that spawned C.O.R.E. and its ideological cousins more than 60 years ago.
On that, there can be no taking sides.
Dan Murphy is a freelance writer and former editor of MMT magazine based in the Pacific Northwest . His column, THE VOCAL POINT, appears in this space each Friday.
The Real Percy Schmeiser?
'Judge Allows Schmeiser Into Council Meetings'
- Gerry Klein, The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) May 20, 2004 http://www.canada.com/saskatoon/starphoenix/news/story.html?id=9d5ce5b3-211d-4684-92da-12d10f1e2895
A Queen's Bench judge has ruled that the town of Bruno must allow a councillor banned from the town office into its council meetings rather than forcing him to participate by telephone.
Percy Schmeiser, who became internationally famous after Monsanto sued him for violating its patented Roundup Ready canola, had been banned from the town office since the 1990s. The Occupational Health and Safety branch of the Labour Department had served Bruno with a notice claiming the farmer's presence was negatively affecting the health of the people working there.
According to court documents, in the fall of 1994 Schmeiser began "making a series of demands upon the administrative staff of the town." He also became openly critical of some of the town's employees, the report says. "It is alleged that his criticism and behaviour caused the town administrator of 10 years standing . . . to suffer an emotional breakdown." She was forced to take a leave of absence. When Schmeiser's actions began to affect her replacement, the Department of Labour issued its notice, which included a "direction to council to pass a resolution that Percy Schmeiser be prohibited from attending at the town office."
Schmeiser was told to communicate with the town office in writing only. For about six years this kept peace in the town of about 650 people, 88 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon. In the winter of 2003, however, a water line at Schmeiser's residence froze, after which "Percy Schmeiser and his wife began to frequent the town office, disputing a water bill they had received," the court report says. By then the town had another clerk, but Schmeiser's conduct "is alleged to have been personally offensive" to her as well, it says. Letters were exchanged and Schmeiser was told he wasn't allowed in the office because of the order from council.
However, Schmeiser took no heed, Queen's Bench Justice Noel Sandomirsky wrote. "Against this background, and perhaps to the consternation of the mayor, some councillors and the administrative staff of the town, Percy Schmeiser was elected to the town council in the fall of 2003," he added. Although the town's lawyer, Marilyn Scott, couldn't comment on the case until directed by the mayor, and Schmeiser couldn't be reached before press time, it is clear from the Sandomirsky's order that this was no ordinary election.
by the Canadian band Moxy Fruvous
Listen to it at http://www.maplemusic.com/asx/mox_guineapig_aud56.asx