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July 16, 2004


European Brain Drain; Science Can Feed the Hungry; Small-Minded Prince


Today in AgBioView: July 16, 2004:

* Biotechnology benefits all farmers
* Slow progress for biotech food in Europe
* Europe is steadily losing its scientific elite
* Another “Drought” that Drains
* Science can help feed the hungry
* Small minded: Prince Charles puts his big foot in tiny matters
* Cotton belts pests into split views

Biotechnology benefits all farmers

- Letter to Des Moines Register, July 15, 2004, By Dean Kleckner

As an Iowa farmer and one who has spoken with farmers from developing countries regarding their interest in having biotech-enhanced crops available for their use, I find Francis Thicke's July 6 Iowa View, "Biotech Won't Help Farmers in the Third World," quite amazing.

Reading the same internationally respected U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report Thicke referenced, including his inference that "the Register fed into (its) fallacies," I am disturbed with his assumption that the Green Revolution primarily benefited large and moderate-sized farms - commenting also that it further displaced subsistence crops and poor farmers.

On June 9 at the International BIO Conference, I moderated a panel of four foreign farmers who shared their stories regarding the scale-neutral benefits of biotechnology, i.e., size doesn't matter. They have learned biotechnology can help feed their families and improve their quality of life.

Farmers know that while biotechnology alone will not be the single, silver bullet that feeds the world, it is an important tool and clearly part of the answer.

A stalk of Bt corn doesn't care whether it's being grown on a plot of two acres or 2,000 acres. It also doesn't care whether it's being grown in the rich soil of Iowa or in the developing world.

That's the essence of scale neutrality. And that's the most important message we need to hear.

Dean Kleckner, chairman,
Truth About Trade and Technology


Slow progress for biotech food in Europe

- Reuters, By Jeremy Smith, July 15, 2004

BRUSSELS — The European Union should take a small but crucial step towards authorizing a new genetically modified food next week, its second approval after lifting a five-year biotech ban in May, diplomats said on Thursday.

But the EU's 25 member states remain as divided as ever on the thorny issue of biotechnology. The approval, of a Roundup Ready maize engineered by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto, would only be given by legal default in October, they said.

EU farm ministers are due to meet on Monday and debate authorizing NK603 maize, altered to resist the herbicide glyphosate and allow farmers to manage weeds more effectively.

If approved, the maize would not be used for growing in Europe's fields but would be imported in bulk for making products such as starch, oil, maize gluten feed and maize meal, and for use in animal feed.

Under the EU's complex decision-making process, if EU member states fail to agree after three months at ministerial level on allowing a new genetically modified food into member countries, then the European Commission — the EU's executive arm — may rubberstamp an authorization.

"If the Council (of ministers) fails to act, which it will, the Commission still has to wait for three months before it can adopt it under its own power. So that would be after October 1," one EU diplomat said.

"Most of the new member states will abstain," he said, referring to the 10 mostly central and east European countries that became full EU members on May 1. The ministers were unlikely to hold a formal vote, he said.

Risk to environment

Although the farm ministers normally decide on new genetically modifieds for use in food, environment ministers must also agree on the NK603 file since Monsanto wants to import maize for processing, not as a finished product. So there is a potential environmental risk.

Agreement among ministers next week looks almost as far away as it was during the EU's moratorium years, which began in 1998 when a group of countries said they would refuse to back any new genetically modified food authorizations until the EU toughened up its biotech laws.

In the case of NK603, the Commission is expected to give its rubberstamp on the environmental risk early next week — meaning that half of the required EU approval process will be complete.

"Regardless of what happens on Monday, the three-month deadline brings us to the middle of October. Then the Commission can act," one Commission official said.

"But the Dutch (six-month EU) presidency could reopen it if they wanted, if something changed (after the meeting), and they could get a negative or positive opinion," she said. "Then they might decide to put it back on the agenda."

In mid-May, the EU effectively restarted authorizations on new genetically modified foods when the Commission cleared the sale of a tinned biotech sweet maize known Bt-11, made by Swiss firm Syngenta, using its own powers to permit imports of a new biotech product.


Europe is steadily losing its scientific elite

- Financial Times; Jul 15, 2004, By Ann Mettler

Few issues have caused as much controversy during the run-up to this year's US election as the complex and elusive phenomenon known as "offshoring". In the US, the practice is deemed unjust, even unpatriotic. But imagine the political outcry if, in addition to the loss of so many jobs, nearly half a million of America's scientists had already left the country, claiming that working conditions there were so poor they could not do their job properly. Imagine, too, if companies were moving their state-of-the-art scientific research overseas, believing the cutting-edge innovations were more likely to be discovered elsewhere.

Welcome to Europe, where this scenario is not a fantasy but a grim economic reality. Each year, thousands of Europeans go to study in the US and the vast majority - more than 70 per cent - will not bring the education they receive there back home. Most will stay in the US, preferring to pursue their career in an environment that nurtures their talents and rewards their ingenuity. As a result, nearly 40 per cent of the scientists working in the US today were born in Europe.

Companies looking for markets that welcome innovation are following suit: only last month, Syngenta joined Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer CropScience in relocating its genetically modified crop research operations from Europe to the US - a move that is currently also being contemplated by Germany-based BASF, the world's largest chemical company.

Yet these facts are being completely overlooked in the contemporary debate on Europe's economic future. Politicians and trades unions are watching companies move jobs overseas, responding logically to Europe's high-wage, low-flexibility work environment. But rather than striving to change the business climate here, they are denouncing companies that move jobs overseas as "unpatriotic".

This is sheer demagoguery. Europe's politicians know that the loss of many low-cost manufacturing jobs should be considered a natural progression - an act of "creative destruction", to borrow the economist Joseph Schumpeter's phrase - as Europe moves from an industrial to a networked and knowledge-based economy. Paul Krugman, the US economist, once noted that, had you told a farmer in the 1830s that less than 5 per cent of the population would work on the land in 150 years' time, he would have shuddered at the prospect, not knowing that manpower-intensive agrarian jobs would soon be replaced by better-paid, less volatile employment opportunities.

The same is true today: jobs in manufacturing will and should go to locations that can provide these services more cheaply and efficiently. European leaders must acknowledge this fact and begin tackling the real problem - the shortage of highly qualified people, especially in the sciences, who will be needed to keep Europe's economy at the forefront of 21st-century developments.

The truth is, Europe's leaders are the ones who are unpatriotic; they consistently promulgate policies aimed at the next election, not the next generation. How else can one explain that they choose to spend almost half of the European Union budget on agricultural subsidies while funding per student for tertiary education is more than a third lower in Europe than in the US? How can they find the money to subsidise economic activities that are pre-industrial in nature while watching Europe's best and brightest leave in droves, taking invaluable intellectual capital and corporate investment with them?

The debate about offshoring is deeply distorted and highly populist. The fact is that offshoring has been occurring for many years, if not decades. The bad news is not that Europe is losing its manufacturing jobs but that it has already lost a good chunk of its intellectual elite. The silent departure of more than 400,000 scientists - the number now based in the US - may not be as threatening to politicians as loud and disruptive street demonstrations, but it deserves to be seen as a form of protest nonetheless. The number of Europe's "educational refugees" may be too small to be felt at the polls, but their absence will be felt in future prosperity and social cohesion.

It is time for Europe's leaders to put their money where their mouths are. If they want more scientists, more research, more entrepreneurship and more innovation it is their responsibility to provide a political and economic climate capable of producing the jobs of the 21st century.


Another “Drought” that Drains

- Truth About Trade & Technology, By Dean Kleckner, Chairman, July 15, 2004

The news from across the Atlantic this spring made it look like the European Union finally was getting around to a grudging acceptance of biotech crops. After six long years of harassment, obstruction, and denial, the continent’s bureaucrats at last approved the consumption of a specific kind of Bt corn.

Unfortunately for them--and for us--it may be a case of too little, too late.

Barely a month after European regulators voted to approve Bt-11 sweet corn, an important group of biotechnologists voted with their feet. Syngenta, one of the world’s leading agriculture companies, announced that it would move all of its work on genetically enhanced crops out of the United Kingdom and into the United States.

The decision affects about 130 jobs. The significance of the move is much greater than this relatively small figure suggests. Up until recently, the United Kingdom has been considered one of Europe’s more biotech-friendly countries. Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that his nation needs to lead Europe into the 21st century with agricultural technologies that the United States, Argentina, Canada, and others already have embraced.

And yet the overall climate in Britain and the rest of Europe has functioned like a withering drought on fertile cropland. Despite its advanced economies and scientific know-how, the European Union has refused to let biotech crops flourish. Now the Europeans are going to suffer brain drain, as some of their best jobs migrate to the United States and its sensible biotech policies.

“This is a sad retreat,” said Anthony Trewavas of Edinburgh University, in the International Herald Tribune. “Work in universities will probably cease as well.”

Destroying something is easier than rebuilding it, as Treswavas also noted: “Once teams are dispersed, it takes a long time to get things back together again.”

In other words, those high-tech jobs won’t return to Britain anytime soon. They may be gone for good--along with the whole biotech industry. In fact, German company BASF sent out a “warning signal” of its own this week, indicating they may also be moving their research and development out of Europe.

I’m happy for North Carolina, which will benefit immediately from Syngenta’s decision. But the long-term effects of Europe rejecting biotechnology won’t be happy for anyone. American farmers need foreign markets in order to survive--and they especially need foreign markets that aren’t closing themselves to cutting-edge technologies that boost our yields, reduce back-breaking labor, and preserve the environment.

Yet this is exactly what’s happening. In a separate action this spring, the European Union announced a new labeling regime for biotech foods. This decision was spurred by the United States complaining to the World Trade Organization that Europe’s de facto moratorium on biotech crop approvals was a crass violation of free-trade rules--a case of protectionism camouflaged as a concern over public-health risks.

The labeling requirements, however, impose a complicated set of demands that seem to adopt a different means of pursuing the same goal. The labels themselves are probably illegal under WTO guidelines. As presently written, they simply don’t make any scientific sense. There is no apparent rationale.

Consider this: Vegetable oil made with genetically enhanced canola or soy grown in the United States must have a label--think of it as a biohazard warning sticker--but cheese and wine made in France with genetically modified enzymes doesn’t have to carry one.

Wait a second: Did I say these labels had no rationale? I take that back. They do have a rationale, which is to privilege European products over American ones.

Even if Europe were to approve a big batch of biotech crops and rescind or revise its labeling requirements, it would still face serious problems. Its approval of Bt-11 was strikingly limited. It allows people to eat the sweet corn but doesn’t allow farmers to grow it. What’s more, the Europeans have imposed considerable legal obstacles to growing biotech crops. They have refused, for instance, to determine who (if anyone) will pay damages in the case of pollen drift. Questions like these need to have answers before people are willing to adopt new technologies.

The bottom line is that the Europeans really haven’t changed their tune on the central issue that divides them from many other farmers around the world.

“I am afraid that the Luddites have effectively won,” said Michael Wilson of the UK’s Warwick University.

I hope not but I’m afraid that he might be right--and when the Luddites win, everybody loses.


Science can help feed the hungry

- Rediff.com, By David C Mulford, July 16, 2004

India has been a leader in applying science to meet the challenge of feeding its large and growing population. The dire predictions of the 1960s, when it was feared that India would not be able to produce enough food for its people, did not come true.

Several reasons accounted for this miraculous turnaround: pro-science policies, investments in water and fertiliser, and adoption of new seed-based technologies.

Instead, the outcome was that foodgrain production more than doubled. Clear public policy commitments, together with a willingness to make new investments, enabled India to feed hundreds of millions of people.

Once again, India faces momentous choices. Despite past progress, this country is still home to the largest number of hungry people anywhere in the world. Some 300 million face food insecurity, more than in all of Africa.

An emerging consensus now exists that the economic well-being of farmers must also be improved. Thanks to continuing advances in science, here in India and around the world, India has the potential to feed its hungry and lift its farmers out of poverty.

Agricultural biotechnology is helping researchers understand and design the genetic potential of crops to produce more food than ever before.

Scientists in India are developing new ways to reduce losses from devastating pests and diseases. They are moving rapidly to develop drought resistant, high nutrition crops. New strains of rice, wheat, maize and mustard will offer a means of designing a nutritional safety net for the poor.

These crops have the potential to reduce the insidious burden of iron-deficiency anaemia or Vitamin A deficiency, which affects huge numbers of people, especially women and children. They are also developing foods with built-in, biotechnology-based protection against insect attack, which can be safer with far lower levels of dangerous mycotoxins resulting from fungal infestation after insect damage.

Despite tremendous opportunities, opposition to these technologies inhibits their delivery to India's farmers and consumers. Unlike medical biotechnology, where new vaccines and other advances are welcomed, a most unlikely alliance of environmental groups and pesticide manufacturers has sought to block what are ultimately life-saving advances in food production.

Ironically, individuals and organisations committed to protecting the environment have sought to prohibit new strains of biotech cotton, which require far fewer applications of toxic pesticide. Less pesticide use can mean more income and better health for farmers and their families, not to mention a general improvement for the environment.

Farmers and scientists around the world are coming together to stand up against campaigns of disinformation. Recently, Brazil finally approved biotech soybeans, after smallholder farmers in that country showed that they were losing many hundreds of dollars of income per hectare because activists had used the courts to block the new technology.

These farmers knew that this same technology had been approved as safe elsewhere in South America, North America, Europe and Japan. Scientific analysis and science-based regulatory systems are the foundation of food safety and also help promote global trade.

Another tactic used by those seeking to block scientific advances in agriculture is to assert that biotechnology is simply a tool with which multinational corporations will subjugate unwitting farmers.

Moving beyond this rather demeaning characterisation of farmers as unable to make sound choices for themselves, the arguments advanced in the name of anti-globalisation are not convincing, especially in India. India has a tremendous scientific capacity that is generating agricultural biotechnologies.

The government is investing wisely through the work of the department of biotechnology, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research and others. Many companies, Indian and American, are also seeking new solutions to the problems facing India's farmers.

India and the US are launching a series of joint research efforts aimed at developing crops that resist pests, increase yields and improve nutrition. These technologies will link both public- and private-sector efforts to develop crops that benefit farmers and consumers and, in particular, help feed India's poor.

A significant step in this collaborative direction occurred on June 29, 2004, when secretary M K Bhan of the Department of Biotechnology and I signed a Letter of Intent to enhance cooperation in agricultural biotechnology research and development.

Continued investment in agricultural biotechnology in India will ultimately depend on the development and commercialisation of products that serve the needs of India's farmers and consumers.

In so doing, it is critical that India makes scientifically sound choices that reflect the country's food security and environmental and economic interests.

Possibly well-meaning, but seriously misguided groups, often with links to countries where current agricultural productivity and food security are no longer significant concerns, have spread unfounded fears and misinformation.

Agricultural biotechnology alone will not, of course, solve the challenge of feeding a growing population. The causes of hunger are complex, as are the solutions to its eradication. There are no panaceas. Sound technology and policy, natural resource management, investments in new techniques, efficient markets and expanding global trade are all important.

But turning our backs on science will hardly aid the cause of agricultural development, food security and rural economic growth in India.

On the contrary, unscientific and emotional opposition to agricultural biotechnology will slow the development of new means of combating drought, pests and crop diseases. The resulting delays may not be felt by the well-off, but they will do serious harm to the poor. All of us urgently need the benefits science has to offer.

(The writer is US Ambassador to India)



- ISAAA Crop Biotech Update, July 16, 2004

The Union Minister for Finance in India has, for the first time, given specific thrust to advance biotechnology in the country. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) said that the Union Minister's presentation of the 2004-05 budget emphasized that science and technology, including biotechnology, "will receive priority and will be provided with additional funds."

A specific provision was for companies doing scientific research and development and approved by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research before April 1, 2004 to be entitled to 100% deduction of profits for 10 years. FICCI noted that this will favor small and medium biotechnology companies who can channel savings to augment R & D activities.

For more information, email Bhagirath Choudhary, assistant director for biotechnology in FICCI, at bhagirath@ficci.com or biotech@ficci.com.


- ISAAA Crop Biotech Update, July 16, 2004

In the next six months, India is said to announce its new policy on biotechnology. This was according to Biotechnology Secretary M.K. Bhan, as cited by Kerala.com, during the Bio 2004 - an international conference that was held in Bangalore, and attended by approximately 300 delegates from India and abroad. According to Bhan, the new policy will provide the framework for the research and business institutions, and illustrate the trade and investment guidelines for the newly emerging biotech sector.

Says Bhan, "A group of experts will also be set up to suggest models for public-private partnerships in the biotech sector. The biotechnology department will invest in the creation of innovation centres within the existing academic and research institutions.” To date, Delhi University has been identified to be the first center to receive the funding. Other cities such as Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Lucknow will also be the focus of the development.

Download more news on India at the Kerala.com website at http://kerala.com/.

Based on a related news story, Vision Group Chairperson, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, stated that the booming biotech industry has the potential to attract investments worth $250 million - and this is in Karnataka alone. Shaw, however, stated that despite this positive figure, the biotech industry in India still has a long way to go in terms of funding, government support and regulatory issues.

As of 2003, total revenues from the biotech sector of India was at $750 million - out of which Karnataka's revenues stood at $300 million. Shaw added that Bangalore is currently being eyed for development by at least 17 biotech companies.

Read the news release at http://www.ciol.com/content/news/2004/104071204.asp.


- ISAAA Crop Biotech Update, July 16, 2004

According to the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoARD), a document on agricultural biotechnology has been recently drafted. State Minister Belay Ejigu said the Ministry prepared the document for biotechnology to help bridge the gap in competition by promoting the challenges in agricultural production. The Minister also stated that the government is committed to support and promote biotechnology capacity building endeavors to enable Ethiopia to break out of the vicious circle of poverty.

The State Minister added that the participants of the workshop are expected to identify and appreciate the potentials and limitations of agricultural biotechnology development of the country in order to assess and enrich the draft document. Experts in the sector are required to formulate priority interventions and potential research and development projects based on the existing realities of the country.

Belay added that the adoption of this technology obviously lies with the national research and extension system. The workshop discussed, among others, biotechnology policies and strategy of Ethiopia, biosafety regime for the development of biotechnologies, the role of higher learning institutions for capacity building in agricultural biotechnology, and how to share experiences on agricultural biotech research and development. / Kenya Biotechnology Information Center


- ISAAA Crop Biotech Update, July 16, 2004

The acreage planted to genetically modified (GM) crops in the US is envisioned to increase in 2004. This is according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, DC in the US. Herbicide resistant soybean is expected to increase to 85 % in 2004. While, the total percentage of GM cotton is also predicted to rise to 76%. GM corn will also rise further to 45%. On the other hand, wheat acreage is expected to drop by 3 percent from its 2003 figure.

Corn planted area for all purposes is estimated at 81 million acres, and growers are expected to harvest 73.4 million acres for grain. The 2004 soybean planted area is estimated at 74.8 million acres, up by 2 percent from its 2003 figure, and is foreseen to be the largest planted area on record if this materializes. Area for harvest also increased by 2 percent - 73.7 million acres. All cotton plantings are also expected to total 13.9 million acres, 3 percent above the 2003 figure.

On the other hand, all wheat planted area is estimated at 59.9 million acres, down by 3 percent from 2003, and harvested area is expected to total 50.7 million acres (4 percent decrease).

The report is available at http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/reports/nassr/field/pcp-bba/acrg0604.txt


Small minded: Prince Charles puts his big foot in tiny matters

- The Economist, Jul 15th 2004

LAST weekend, readers of the Independent on Sunday were treated to an article warning them over the risks posed by the science of nanotechnology. Authors of such pieces rarely find their words echoing around the globe; but this one did, because it was none other than Prince Charles.

Before last Sunday, only 30% of people in Britain recognised the term nanotechnology. More probably do now. Prince Charles has given them, and everybody else, something new to worry about.

Why is the prince agitating about a broad area of study where the common thread is things that are a billionth of a metre in size? Remove the “nano” prefix and you probably get to the heart of his concerns: technology. Or rather, what he termed in his article the “so called ‘technological advances' of recent years”.

Over the years, Charles has expressed concerns over genetically modified food, and promoted alternative medicine and organic food (which, fortuitously, he also produces under his Duchy brand). He provoked controversy recently when he suggested that a cancer patient was cured by a regimen of vegetable juice and coffee enemas.

Whether the royal brow furrows in response to technological innovations or contemporary architecture, the prince's theme appears to be a fear of modernity. Innovation has, of course, ensured a longer and less painful life for the prince as well as to the commoners. But progress has probably benefited the peasants more than it has the aristocracy. And change is, on balance, hazardous for the next incumbent of an office built on mystical tradition and continuity.

Prince Charles's adherence to traditional ways is understandable as a self-preservation mechanism, and has served him well when it comes to making biscuits. It does not, however, make him a suitable commentator on some of the more innovative things his subjects get up to.

Cotton belts pests into split views

- Canberra Times, July 15, 2004 (VIA AGNET)

New research, according to this story, suggests that farming of cotton plants genetically engineered to kill caterpillars has halved pesticide use in Australian cotton over the past six years.

The story says that despite public concern about the risks, industry bodies plan to raise the current 30 per cent cap on GE cotton as a proportion of the total crop when a souped-up variety goes on the market next year. CSIRO scientists predict this will see pesticide use on cotton drop by up to 80 per cent.
Bob Phelps, director of the Australian Gene Ethics Network, was cited as saying the 50 per cent reduction in pesticide use is limited to GE crops and therefore equates to a modest 12-15 per cent reduction in pesticides across the Australian cotton industry, and that the 80 per cent claim is hard to substantiate until the new variety is in commercial use.

Dr Gary Fitt, a world leader in the understanding and management of insect pests in cotton crops and a director of CSIRO entomology based in Narrabri, was cited as saying the primary impetus for developing genetically modified cotton varieties was to reduce the environmental impacts of the cotton industry, adding, "With conventional cotton and integrated pest-management strategies you can make incremental improvements and gradually reduce pesticide use. But Bt cotton was essentially a quantum leap forward."

After eight years' experience growing the variety, trademarked Ingard, farmers say they have been able to reduce aerial sprays against caterpillars by up to 56 per cent compared with conventional cotton.