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June 14, 2004


Biotech Crops Coexist with Organics; Food Security; New Green Revolution; Improved Rice Genes; Growing India's Promise


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - June 15, 2004:

* Attacking Organics
* RE: Attacking Organics
* Consultants Say Biotech Crops Easily Coexist with Conventional and Organic
* GM imports under scrutiny
* Bid to Boost Food Security
* The New Green Revolution offers hope to poor farmers and poor consumers
* Improved rice genes developed
* New challenges ahead in bumper cotton season
* Growing India's promise: Seeds of change

Date: Mon, 14 Jun 2004 17:31:23 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Timur Hyat-khan"
Subject: Attacking Organics

Dear Agbio World

Todays issue carries a few counter attacks from GMO supporters against Organic Growing. Are you aware that you are missing the point all together. If a GMO is treated to an Organic Regime of Nutrition will it not face the same problems? To doubt the efficacy of compost without scientific enquiry is as good or bad as mocking GMOs without scientific enquiry. Compost is a vital soil ammendment, especially for Clay soils that abound the world over. In fact dried out clay soils cannot undergo No-Till Regimes without addition of compost. Compost is beneficial for many reasons but is not a plant food of any commercial benefit!

GMOs grown with unstabalized chemical fertilizers are prone to Nitrate inbalances just as those with raw manure. E Coli and Salmonella when cooked will be neutralized but nitrates will not! That is not to say that EColi is wellcome. Ecologically safe and complete nutrition is the key for safety, health and plenty.


Timur Hyat-khan

From: "Alex Avery"
Subject: RE: your comments?
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 2004 12:53:03 -0400

Timur Hyat-khan writes that "If a GMO is treated to an Organic Regime of Nutrition will it not face the same problems?" Of course they will. Any fruit or vegetable consumed by humans that is fertilized with manure faces the same increased bacteriological risks, whether organic or GMO. I believe that manure handling regulations should be harmonized for all farming. If there is a food safety issue -- and clearly the scientific evidence points to potential problems -- then all farming should be required to be equally safe. That is why every state in the US has state-level laws regulating the use of raw and composted animal manure on human food crops (as opposed to feed and processed crops, such as field corn and soybeans).

But equally clear is the evidence that organic's heavy reliance on raw and even composted manure increases bacterial risks and that the current organic regulations limiting application of raw manure to 90 and 120 days prior to harvest for fruit/vegetable crops are likely inadequate. In fact, the U of Minn research indicates that manure may need to be composted/aged for 12 months or more before they become bacteriologically safe for use on fruit and vegetable crops. Whatever the preharvest interval deemed safe, it should be applied to all farming, organic and non-organic.

No one doubts the benefits of adding organic matter to soils. Organic matter, whether it comes from crop residues, native grasses from leys or set-asides, or raw or composted animal manures are clearly beneficial agronomically.

However, Hyat-khan is incorrect to claim that "unstabilized chemical fertilizers are prone to nitrate imbalances" and therefore imply a health risk.

The "nitrates are a health risk" claim is an old myth and one heavily promoted by organic supporter/marketers because a statistically lower average nitrate level is the one difference that organic supporters can claim for organic fruits and vegetables.

The myth is related to the questionable link between exposure to nitrate from drinking water via reconstituted powdered infant formula and the risk of blue baby syndrome in young infants. (See: Avery, AA. Infantile
Methemoglobinemia: Reexamining the Role of Drinking Water Nitrates, Environmental Health Perspectives 107(7)583-586, 1999; or, Nitrate and
Man: Toxic, Harmless, or Beneficial by J. L'hirondel and J.-L L'hirondel, CABI Publishing, ISBN# 0 85199 566 7)

There is a substantial body of evidence indicating that fruits and vegetables fertilized only with organic materials will have 5-30% lower free-nitrate concentrations in the plant tissues than crops grown with synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. This is because the organic fertilizer materials are slow-release, requiring that the organic matter be degraded in the soil before the nitrogen is released in a plant-available ionic
(inorganic) form.

Yet nitrates are present in all fruits and vegetables -- organic and non-organic -- with leafy green vegetables sometimes having high levels (>2,000 ppm). These nitrates do not pose a food safety or health risk. In fact, we now know that if we do not consume enough nitrates in our diet, the body will manufacture them from arginine and will concentrate them in our saliva. (see http://www.ifst.org/fsttno3.htm) The theory is that in the acidic gut, the nitrates excreted in the saliva will be converted to nitric oxide that may help protect us from food-borne bacteria!

Beets and spinach typically have nitrate levels as high as 1,000-2,000 ppm (even in organically-grown) but are perfectly safe to eat and even to feed to infants when prepared and stored properly. (the risk to infants is when the vegetables are inappropriately stored in hot, humid conditions or the prepared infant purees are left unrefrigerated and the nitrates are bacterially converted to toxic nitrite.)

The Committee on Nutrition of the American Academy of Pediatrics, being concerned over nitrite poisoning of young infants, stated in 1970, "More than 350 million jars of canned spinach and beets have been used in the United States and Canada over the last 20 years without causing any proven instances of [nitrite poisoning]." To date, none have been reported.


Alex Avery
Director of Research
Center for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute

Consultants Say Biotech Crops Easily Coexist with Conventional and Organic

- Food Chemical News, June 14, 2004, By Stephen Clapp

A report from the U.K.-based consulting firm PG Economics says that genetically modified (GM) crops in North America have coexisted with conventional crops "without significant economic or commercial problems."

Key findings of the study include that: 1) the issue of coexistence has been something of a concern for farmers whose crops are sold to Europe or to specialized markets but that "within the context of the total [agricultural market] the non-GM market accounts for a small share;" 2) North American farmers have for many years been successfully growing specialty crops, such as nexera canola and waxy corn, near crops of the same species without compromising the purity of those crops; 3) the only crop sector where there appears to be disputes about the feasibility of GM coexistence is canola in Canada, but that the lack of publicly available information on relevant issues "means it is not possible to fully assess whether there have been or may be coexistence problems;" and 4) there have been a "small number" of instances in which GM material has been found in conventional and organic crop shipments, sometimes resulting in their rejection by buyers or in the imposition of contractual price penalties.

Discussing GM crops' impact on organic crops, the report says that surveys of U.S. organic farmers show that 92 percent have not incurred any direct additional costs or incurred losses due to GM crops having been grown near their crops. Only 4 percent have lost sales or have had their produce downgraded due to the adventitious presence of GM material. The remaining four percent incurred only small additional costs for GM testing.

The report does indicate, however, that the presence of GM crops has raised the production costs and market pricea for organic produce. It says that in the absence of government intervention: "In effect there has been recognition that if producers wish to avoid GM events in their production systems, the onus for implementing measures to facilitate this falls on the specialty producers (including organic) which are, in turn rewarded via price premia, for incurring costs associated with meeting requirements of their customers and certification bodies."

The report goes on to argue that organic farmers should not be penalized for the adventitious presence of GM material in their produce. It says that this suggested policy would be consistent with the organic industry's policies and principles in relation to the adventitious presence of other unwanted materials and would be "proportionate to the perceived negative impact on the environment and the perceived risks to human health." In another report published in May, PG Economics concluded that GM coexistence would be feasible inside the EU.


GM imports under scrutiny

- EUPolitix.com, 15 Jun 2004

Europe could on Wednesday inch forward towards importing genetically modified oilseed rape marketed by US company Monsanto.

The European Commission’s expert committee will debate the approval of the controversial GMO known as GT73.

Wednesday's meeting will be the first time all 25 EU countries vote on GT73, and a commission official told EUpolitix it was too early to tell whether it would receive the qualified majority backing needed for approval.

"The result is difficult to call. GM votes are always unpredictable. It will be interesting to see how the new members vote".

In March this year Europe's leading food agency, the European Food Safety Authority, gave GT73 the all clear, however France and the UK are among a number of countries believed to have reservations.

And although Spain's outgoing centre-right administration was supportive of the biotech industry, EU insiders say that the new socialist administration is not at all certain to follow the same line.

If there is no majority either for or against, the crop will have to go to EU government ministers for approval at a council meeting.

In the case of outright rejection by the experts’ committee, the proposal for adoption will have to go back to the drawing board at the commission.


Bid to Boost Food Security

- The East African Standard (Nairobi), June 15, 2004

The Government is committed to support local scientists carry out research on genetically modified products to combat famine in the country.

The National Council for Science and Technology executive secretary, Prof George Kingoria, however, said the government would ensure that the GM products were strictly observed for a given period of time before being introduced to the market.

Kingoria said this, would ensure safety of the products before they are consumed.

He was speaking at the Kenya Methodist University during a two-day workshop on bio-technology organised for agricultural extension officers in Meru. Kingoria said there was need to discard the myth that GM foods were harmful to human beings. Adding there was no specific proof to justify the claim.

The New Green Revolution offers hope to poor farmers and poor consumers

- Wisconsin Technology Network (VIA AGNET), June 14, 2004, Tom Still

SAN FRANCISCO – More than two-thirds of the people in the world, according to this story, grow what they eat. Despite the successes of the “Green Revolution” that began in the 1960s, millions of them still suffer from hunger and lack of nutrition. The reasons are many, including first world farm subsidies that undercut poor farmers and developing world governments that impede markets and food distribution systems.

But, the story adds, another undeniable fact is that crops genetically improved during the Green Revolution were large-volume commodity crops, not crops grown solely by small-scale, subsistence farmers.

“The New Green Revolution” isn’t capital intensive, but knowledge-intensive. The advances being made today due to biotechnology and genetic engineering are incorporated in the crop seed, which makes it possible for all farmers to reap the benefits.

Here are a few examples cited by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, or BIO, from its work around the world:

Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., has donated transgenic technology for controlling the papaya ring spot virus to research institutions in Brazil, Venezuela and Thailand, and provided training for scientists there.

Japan’s International Cooperation Agency has built tissue culture facilities at an Indonesian research facility so scientists there can develop disease-free potato materials for planting. Indonesian scientists are also working with scientists at Michigan State University to develop insect-resistant potatoes and sweet potatoes.

An Austrian lab is working with researchers in Kenya to transfer technology on cassava mutagenesis and breeding. Cassava is a low-protein, starchy staple in regions where cereal grains cannot be easily grown.

Monsanto, Pioneer, Astra-Zeneca and Unilever are prominent examples of companies that have transferred technology to help poor nations grow more and better sweet potatoes, potatoes, peanuts, papaya, cotton, corn, maize, palm oil and other crops.

And while demonstrators chant outside biotech conventions, the leaders of some of the world’s poorest nations are seeing real results. Consider the success of a single crop, biotech cotton. In China, insecticide use has dropped by 67 percent and yields have risen by 10 percent. In India, insecticide use fell by 50 percent and yields increased by 40 percent. Small farmers in South Africa saw yields grow by 25 percent while decreasing their insecticide sprays from 11 to four during the growing season.

This is not to suggest that development of biotech crops shouldn’t be closely monitored – or that alternatives such as organic farming aren’t a part of the solution. Simply, it is to assert the biotechnology may hold the key to feeding the world’s billions without unduly harming the environment. With a careful eye on unintended consequences, the “New Green Revolution” must continue, informed protests or not.

Improved rice genes developed

- Hindu Business Line, 13 June, 2004

In what is described as a major breakthrough, Indian agricultural scientists have developed "improved genes" in a rice plant that would help tobacco plants brave cold, dehydration and salt stress. Rice seedlings grown under extreme environmental conditions not only adapted themselves to the environment but also helped tobacco withstand the same harsh conditions, according to the American journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (PNAS).

The research, carried out at Delhi University's Department of Plant Molecular Biology, would also help other plants brave extreme environmental conditions and also increase the yield, it added.

Mutated gene, grown under stressful conditions, was isolated from the rice plants and induced in tobacco plants. As an after-effect, the tobacco plants appeared to be healthier and less germinated compared to normal plants grown under the same conditions, said the journal.

The survival of plants was constantly challenged by changes in environmental conditions which provided them "extra strength" to fight extreme conditions, it said, adding that in order to make the conditions more stressful for the rice seedlings, the researchers transferred them into beakers containing cotton soaked water and added sodium chloride.

The researchers also clipped the leaf margins to inflict injuries on the rice plant while dehydration was simulated by drying the plants and keeping them wrapped in dry tissue paper. They then analysed the genetic transcript of the rice plant and found that for a particular gene, the survival rate had gone to a much higher level and was responsible for its extra strength to fight extreme conditions.


New challenges ahead in bumper cotton season

- Hindu Business Line, G. Gurumurthy, June 14, 2004

Higher cotton crop size is largely due to increased sowing of Bt cotton seeds and according to trade estimates, this year a large quantity of uncertified Bt cotton seeds from Gujarat and Tamil Nadu origin are reported to have found their way into Punjab and Haryana farms.

COTTON crop area and the output during 2004-05 (October-September) are expected to add on challenges to the domestic textile industry in marketing their final products.

Added challenges since the current cotton sowing pace indicates another bumper crop for the coming year, estimated to go up by 15 per cent in crop yield and 12 per cent by area over the current year's 165-167 lakh bales and 12.40 million hectares. The higher crop projected for next year will also coincide with the complete lifting of quantitative restriction based global textile trade.

According to informed sources with the leading cotton/cotton yarn trade here, favourable cotton sowing conditions prevailing right now across the northern and western regions have already started sending signals on sobering cotton prices that are likely in the coming season.

The early monsoon seen this time will also precipitate early arrivals of the new crop, which according to market sources, will hit the primary markets from September-end.

The sources told Business Line that already 90 per cent of sowing was over in the canal irrigated cotton tracts of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. While at least 30 per cent of the area has been sown in Gujarat which had extensive rains this time around, sowing has been satisfactory in Madhya Pradesh as well. The trade and industry put the cotton acreage for 2004-05 at 14.01 million hectares against current year's 12.40 million hectares.

Higher cotton crop size is largely due to increased sowing of Bt cotton seeds and according to trade estimates, this year a large quantity of uncertified Bt cotton seeds from Gujarat and Tamil Nadu origin are reported to have found their way into Punjab and Haryana farms. The sources claim that 50 per cent of cotton seeds sowed in Punjab are of Bt cotton variety and in Haryana it is estimated to be around 20 per cent.

The cotton trade sources here maintain that considering the softening prices likely during the new crop season, the ginners and the trade have already moved to offer contract for mills at the price band of Rs 22,000-22,500 per candy for Shankar-4 of Gujarat and MP cotton varieties for September mill delivery.

With the easing price situation for the domestic cotton and the likely relaxation on the fiscal front for textiles through Government intervention in the issue of Cenvat duty structure on one side, and the prospects of a higher cotton output from China, the country's competitor in world textile trade on the other, the textile sector's fortunes both within the country and on the export front may be poised to have many challenges, the sources say.


Growing India's promise: Seeds of change

- St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 06/12/2004, By Rachel Melcer

In the world's largest democracy, even the poorest of the poor are discovering that they're rich in power.

India's 650 million farmers were a driving force behind the stunning defeat last month of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had ruled since 1998. Now, they're demanding policy changes that will carry the fruits of India's economic boom to their villages.

And if these reforms are carried out, experts say, Indian farmers will grow into a global economic force.

Every 10th person in the world is an Indian farmer. That equates to huge capacity for production and consumption of food, said Vasant Gandhi, chairman of the Centre for Management in Agriculture at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad.

The situation is significant for American farmers. It also poses a growing market opportunity for biotech-seed titan Monsanto Co. of Creve Coeur.

The American Soybean Association closely monitors Indian agriculture. The industry group, based in Creve Coeur, is concerned about India's low-priced soybean meal, much of which is sold for animal feed in Southeast Asia and the European Union. The association also is trying to convert Indians into consumers of U.S. soybeans.

"When you look at India, you see 1 billion people and you immediately think, 'Just like China, it has enormous market potential,'" said Peter Thornton, the association's Asia marketing manager.

Yet, India has far to go in improving the lives and productivity of its subsistence farmers. They need access to capital to buy modern seeds, fertilizer and pesticides. They need training to use them and insurance in case crops fail. Roads, power supplies and water supplies are in terrible shape. Information on commodity markets and prices is hard to come by. Middlemen often sap profits.

Most farmers are hungry for knowledge, and they embrace change. Among the improvements they seek is access to genetically modified seeds.

Cotton, genetically engineered by Monsanto, is boosting yield and reducing the amount of pesticides sprayed by Indian farmers, according to a recent survey by ACNielsen. It is the only genetically modified crop approved for use in India. Applications for other varieties are pending.

The next generation of biotech crops could carry traits that boost nutrition and improve plants' ability to grow during a drought or in coastal areas with salty ground water. These are being developed at Indian research institutes, as well as by Monsanto and researchers at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, also in Creve Coeur.

M.S. Swaminathan, a world-renowned scientist, is father of the "Green Revolution" that brought high-yielding hybrid crops to India, breaking a cycle of famine. He said biotechnology would help India to reach the next level of prosperity through an "evergreen revolution."

Scientists at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, India, also are developing genetically modified seeds. The Indian government is funding similar work at universities.

Hugh Grant, the president, chairman and chief executive of Monsanto, said at a recent biotech conference in St. Louis that his company is keeping an eye on such efforts.

"The chance of the next big innovation coming at Monsanto versus at a university in Beijing or Bangalore is about the same," he said.

Plenty and poverty

India's successes in science and technology, which make a fraction of the population wealthy, belie the poverty of its rural masses.

The discord is clear at Azadpur Mandi, Asia's largest produce market, near New Delhi. Glistening heaps of apples, oranges, eggplants, squash, onions and potatoes pack long rows of trucks and buildings. Farmers and their agents barter with wholesale buyers and then weigh goods on rusted scales.

The heat is omnipresent, and this sprawling, crowded bazaar lacks cold storage. Rotting food litters the ground, fodder for free-ranging cattle. Eventually, what's left will be swept away, composted and sold as organic fertilizer.

India processes less than 4 percent of its food. The rest is immediately eaten or spoils.

A lack of infrastructure leads India to dump soybean meal on the world market at low prices, said Thornton, of the American Soybean Association. It must be sold before it's ruined.

"We waste as much fruit and vegetables as Australia produces in a year," said R.S. Kuhad, a deputy secretary of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee at Azadpur Mandi.

A daily average of 1,884 vehicles - ranging from brightly decorated trucks to bicycle rickshaws and animal-drawn carts - brought nearly 4.3 million tons of produce from throughout the country and abroad to Azadpur Mandi in 2002-03. Sales in the government-owned market average $2.2 million a day, or more than $800 million a year.

Yet, the area is surrounded by slums, whose residents largely are malnourished. Of the market's more than 1,200 shops, only one - licensed to the Self Employed Women's Association, a grass-roots labor organization
- is run by women.

The market's problems are symptoms of greater ills for Indian farmers.

Sixty-five percent of the nation's population is engaged in agriculture, and contrary to the pattern followed by other countries as they developed, the number is growing. The farm sector accounts for half the nation's employment but less than 25 percent of its gross domestic product.

India in recent years began producing soybeans as a cash crop, but they have yet to become part of the country's mostly vegetarian diet. Malnutrition threatens health, yet consumers don't realize that soy contains vital nutrients, Thornton said.

The American Soybean Association has an office in New Delhi to promote eating soy foods and using byproducts as feed at dairies, fish and poultry farms.

Meeting basic needs

Agriculture often is a drag on India's economy. The sector depends heavily on good monsoon rain, because 60 percent of cultivated land isn't irrigated.

Last year's favorable monsoon and resulting bumper crop, coupled with rapid growth in information technology, manufacturing and other industries, led India to growth of more than 8 percent.

The boom - and a belief that India as a whole had prospered - led Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to call for early elections, said officials at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi. The result was a change in governing parties.

Vajpayee's party miscalculated, said Ravi Ramamurti, a professor at Northeastern University's College of Business Administration in Boston and a native of Chennai, India.

"In hindsight, you wonder if they didn't pay enough attention" to farmers, he said. "They were wrong in assuming that people in the countryside would take this one year of relatively good performance as the basis for judging their entire term."

Urban manufacturers turn out tractors, but most Indian farmers sow and plant with hoes, sickles and other hand-held tools. Many growers are sharecroppers or hired hands; those who own land, on average, lay claim to just more than an acre.

Their access to information also is limited: One FM radio station, run by the government, reaches most rural areas. On-again, off-again power supplies hinder the usefulness of the few televisions and computers.

As a result, farmers lack news that might affect planting and selling decisions, such as reliable weather forecasts and reports on global or local commodity prices, said S. Sivakumar, chief executive of the agribusiness division of ITC Ltd., which is working to bring solar-powered computers to rural villages.

Financial resources, too, are lacking. Most growers rely on local middlemen as one-stop shops for inputs, loans and access to markets. The middlemen charge high rates of interest and are unforgiving when the debt comes due, Sivakumar said.

Crop insurance is unavailable to the vast majority of farmers, though the central government is promoting a fledgling program. When crops fail because of a lack of water, poor quality seeds, depleted soil or infestation, hundreds of farmers commit suicide, said Chengal Reddy, chairman of the Federation of Farmers Associations.

Poor farmers also exist on the margins of society. They are considered "dalits," or oppressed, a remnant of the outlawed caste system, he said. Women, in particular, often are blocked from education and shut out of business transactions.

But if farms are consolidated, mechanized and modernized, they'll need fewer workers, and the nation isn't creating jobs fast enough to absorb people who are displaced, said Amir Ullah Khan, a fellow at the India Development Foundation.

The biggest problem is hunger and nutrition, said Sompal, chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. Growers are producing wheat, rice and sugar in abundance, in part because of government subsidies and demand. Yet there are not enough oilseeds and legumes, which are critical to the largely vegetarian diet.

"Ultimately, it's not a matter of production or productivity, but rather the purchasing power of consumers to buy the food we grow," he said.

India isn't without hope, however.

Sivakumar's company, which exports commodities such as soybeans and coffee, is using technology to educate and assist farmers, for humanitarian reasons and to ensure its supplies. Other private companies also are stepping in to help, Khan said.

Farmers are forming grass-roots organizations to push their agenda.

Researchers, funded by the government and philanthropies, are developing hybrid and biotech seeds to combat the worst agricultural problems. Technology developed at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation will be given to the poor. Other biotech crops will come from Monsanto and its competitors.

India won't be able to lift its poorest people to the heights of its best-educated urban residents, Swaminathan said. But it can vastly improve their quality of life.

"You can't have the same per-capita income for all with 1 billion people," he said. "Developing a country means meeting the basic needs of all people. That's what we want."