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Date:

August 10, 2004

Subject:

Pinning Hope on GM; European Manifesto; Yield of Dreams - Banishing Hunger with Smart Crops; Protest Thongs - Naked Protestors; Analyzing Anti-GMO Drives

 

Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: August 10, 2004

* India Pins Green Revolution Hopes on GM Seeds,Technology
* European Manifesto on AgBiotech
* UK Expert Backs GM Foods
* Japan: Grafting Natural Eucalyptus Onto Gene-Altered Eucalyptus
* Yield of Dreams: Hunger Can Banished With Smarter Grains
* Protest Thongs: Naked Anti-GM Protestors
* Seeds of Resistance: Readers' Response
* Genetically Engineered Vaccine Fights Allergies
* Food for Thought: Global Hunger
* Anti-GMO Drive Spreads Statewide
---

India Pins Green Revolution Hopes on GM Seeds,Technology

- Uttara Choudhury, AFP August 10, 2004

Biotechnology is needed to combat pests and other challenges facing India's farmers, and could spur another "green revolution," the country's science and technology minister said Tuesday. "It's a new age weapon to fight the odds in agriculture," Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal told an agricultural biotechnology conference.

He pledged the government would ease red tape surrounding clearance of biotechnologies.
"We're evolving a simple, transparent regulatory system to rapidly speed up by January 2005 the approval or rejection of technologies to give our farmers additional choices," he told the two-day global meeting.

The farming sector is vital to economic growth with over 60 percent of India's more than one billion population depending on agriculture for a living.

Sibal suggested India might accept test results of bio-engineered food crops in other countries in granting approvals for new technologies, despite critics who say the findings may not be applicable to other geographic environments.

"It's scientifically necessary these products undergo rigorous biosafety and risk assessment," he said. "However, it doesn't mean we should ignore the scientific validation of the same technology elsewhere and reinvent the wheel."

"The seed is the potential tool that can carry state-of-the-art technologies to every farmer. It can once again usher in a green revolution," he added.

India's previous "green revolution" between 1967 and 1978 is credited with making the country self-sufficient in food through the use of seeds that were more genetically resistant to pests. Biotech advocates say genetic modification (GM) boosts output, cuts costs and can improve nutrition. But critics including Greenpeace fear the environmental impact and worry that genetically modified foods may have long term ill affects on health.

Delegates who arrived for the conference were heckled by Greenpeace activists. "There's no doubt Indian agriculture is in a state of crisis," Greenpeace spokeswoman Divya Raghunandan said, referring to debt-laden farmers committing suicide over failed crops.

"But it's laughable this closed-door conference should consider genetic engineering as the solution," said Raghunandan, referring to government plans to introduce genetically modified BT cotton, short for bacillus thuringiensis cotton. "Illegally planted BT Cotton is rampantly out of control," Raghunandan said. "We face the very real risk of contamination of non-genetically modified crops during field trials and there'll be irreversible impacts on our biodiversity."

While India is the world's third-largest cotton-producing country, according to industry monitors, it has the lowest average yield of any big nation. It hopes to replace the United States as the world's largest producer by using BT cotton.

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European Manifesto on AgBiotech

- From Klaus Ammann

Dear friends, Please have a look at the ABIC Manifesto, which is now established after an editorial phase within the steering committee of the ABIC conference in Cologne:

http://www.abic2004.org/manifesto/

you are cordially invited to contribute with your signature (below Manifesto you will find the the electronic form for the submission of your signature)

see also the newsletters about the ABIC conference AGBIOTECH GOES EUROPE in Cologne September 12-15, 2004
http://www.abic2004.org/

check specifically the newsletter No. 4 with my comments about the biotech debate in Europe and the Manifesto
http://www.abic2004.org/download/ABIC2004_newsletter_no4.pdf

with my best personal regards, Klaus Ammann

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UK Expert Backs GM Foods

- Food Week (ABIX Abstracts) 06-Aug-2004

A UK food institute is supportive of the next generation of genetically modified (GM) foods. According to Ralph Blanchfield, of the Institute of Food Science & Technology, "food problems of the future will not be solved without GM", in light of the 30,000 deaths per day globally from diet deficiency illnesses. Blanchfield says that the first generation of GM foods was mainly for the benefit of food producers. He believes that the advancement has been marred by the negative portrayal in the media. Blanchfield adds that for the next generation of GM foods to succeed, it had to address consumer needs

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Oji Grafts Natural Eucalyptus Onto Gene-Altered Eucalyptus

- Nikkei Report (Japan) 06-Aug-2004

TOKYO (Nikkei)--Oji Paper Co. (3861) has successfully grafted natural eucalyptus onto genetically modified eucalyptus to create trees that grow well in acidic soils without worry that genetically altered seeds will spread in the environment.

The graft has the root system of a eucalyptus tree genetically modified to absorb nutrients in acidic soils, where eucalyptus normally does not thrive. The rest of the graft from the trunk up is derived from a natural eucalyptus tree.

Using a greenhouse isolated from the environment, the company has verified that these trees mature and produce seeds that do not contain any genetic material from the bottom half of the graft.

Oji Paper plans to repeat the experiments in a normal greenhouse this year to verify a second time that the grafts pose no danger of release of modified genes into the environment.

Eucalyptus is a fast-growing tree of economic importance to paper companies, but does not grow well in acidic soils. One-third of the world's soils are too acidic for natural eucalyptus, including locations where the climate is otherwise ideal for eucalyptus cultivation.

The new success promises to enable Oji Paper to harness the power of genetic engineering to grow eucalyptus trees in places like Vietnam without the stigma associated with the cultivation of genetically modified plants in the natural environment.

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Yield of Dreams

'Hunger Can Banished From The World With Smarter, More Productive Grains, Says Yuan Longping, Who Pioneered Hybrid Rice Technology'

- BusinessWeek Online 09-Aug-2004

Yuan Longping is one of China's most renowned scientists. For 40 years, the pioneer in hybrid rice technology has been at the forefront of efforts to improve the productivity of Chinese farmers, which would help the world's largest country feed itself. Today, Yuan is the director-general of China's National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center in Changsha, a sleepy provincial capital best known as the city where the young Mao Zedong first made his mark as a Communist Party radical.

Yuan, who runs an office of 55 scientists, collaborates with researchers such as Cornell University's Stephen D. Tanksley, with whom he shared Israel's Wolf Prize in 2003. This year he was co-winner of the World Food Prize. Seventy-four years old and a dedicated swimmer and volleyball player, Yuan believes in hands-on experience and spends about two hours a day among the experimental crops in the fields near his office. He recently spoke to BusinessWeek's Bruce Einhorn about innovative ways to feed the world's hungry. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

Q: You've played a key role in efforts to address global food shortages. What still needs to be done?
A: Food security in the whole world is still a very serious problem because of the growth of the world's population and the reduction of arable land, especially in China. Some experts estimate that in the year 2030, the world population will be 8 billion. Now it is about 7 billion. In China, the situation will be even worse. In 2030, our population will reach 1.6 billion. And the agricultural land, per capita, now averages about 0.1, less than 0.1 hectares. By 2030, it will be down to about 0.07 hectares. So we are facing a very serious food problem -- how to feed the world, how to feed China.

Q: What's the answer?
A: The only way to solve the food-shortage problem is to increase the yield of the grain crop per land area through the advancement of science and technology. That's the only way. Rice still possesses huge yield potential yet to be tapped. According to some scholars' estimation....the yield potential for rice per hectare could be as high as 22 to 23 metric tons per hectare. The worldwide average yield of rice now is only 3.8 tons per hectare.

Q: How does China compare?
A: The country with the No. 1 yield in the world is Australia -- 10 tons per hectare. China is 6.4 tons per hectare, the same as Japan. Sixty percent of the rice in China is hybrid, the other 40% is conventional rice. The average yield of hybrid rice in China is 7 tons per hectare. Last year, we released what we call the Pioneer Super Hybrid Rice for commercial production. The average yield is 9 tons per hectare.

Now we are focusing our efforts on developing the Phase 2 of Super Hybrid Rice, and very good progress has been made. The yield target is 12 tons. In 2002, in a trial, the yield was above 12 tons. Last year, there were five locations in our province with 6.7 hectares each, where the average yield was above 12 tons. So we have confidence.

Q: What new innovations must you put into practice in order to reach such targets?
A: The big change, I think, is the use of biotechnology. We must incorporate this approach into our breeding program. In the materials we need to use in [hybrid] rice, their potential is almost tapped. So we must find a new source, other than rice, with new genes. But if you want to use new genes from another species, other than rice, you cannot use conventional methods. We must use biotechnology.

Q: For instance, what can you do?
A: The first is utilization of favorable genes from wild rice. Wild rice has many, many disadvantageous genes. But there are many useful genes, favorable genes, hiding. We cannot see them by the naked gene. But through biotechnology, molecular genetics, we can find some. We have found two yield-enhancing genes in wild rice, through our cooperative research with Cornell University. We transferred these genes into a line, the Q611, and the hybrid's yield is much higher.

Another is the genetic DNA from barnyard grass. Barnyard grass is a very common weed in the field.... The yield is over 15 tons per hectare. Another way is to use the C4 genes from maize....These genes from maize have been transferred into rice. The yield potential can be increased by more than 30%. So yields of 13.5 tons per hectare will be fulfilled by 2010. I have confidence.

Q: A lot of people in the West are opposed to this sort of genetic engineering. Does this concern you?
A: There are many kinds of genetically modified crops. In transgenic plants [which are plants that contain genes that have been introduced artificially into the plant's genetic makeup], the genes from microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungus, are poisonous. They help the plants to resist insects. People say if insects eat these plants, they'll be killed, how about human beings? They are very concerned about that. But taking genes from maize to rice, it's no problem! For some genes, from bacteria that are very poisonous, we should be very careful. But for genes from maize or barnyard grass or wild rice, it should be no problem.

Q: You've been doing this work for 40 years, and you still spend several hours a day out in the fields. Any thoughts of slowing down?
A: I want to fulfill Phase 3 of super hybrid rice -- 13.5 tons! I have two wishes in my lifetime. The first is to fulfill Phase 3 super hybrid rice target by 2010. The second wish is to develop the hybrid rice outside China, especially to feed the people of developing countries. I feel very happy in this hard, hard, hard work, because the future is bright. That encourages me to do more. I thank God who gives me good health. This afternoon, we are having the swimming competition. Last year, I won a championship. This afternoon, I want to win a medal. Then after that, we're playing volleyball. I'm a major attacker.

Q: What do you think is the key to doing innovative rice research?
A: If you want to have good achievements in plant breeding, the first [requirement] is an abundance of materials. The second is the technical approach. These are the two fundamentals. And there's financial support, equipment, and facilities. But most important is your idea and your experience. You cannot grow rice, wheat, and corn on the computer. You should -- you must -- go to the field. [Some people] devise plant types in the computer. But they have no practical experience, so no success.

Practical experience is very important. You can't blindly create. You must rely on some basics. Practical experience is the base. Then use your wise thinking to think about how to create new methods, new materials, new ways. That's important.

**********************************************

Protest Thongs

'It's not just a gathering of near-naked partiers wearing body paint and playing Twister; it's a political demonstration'

- Chris McNamara, Chicago Tribune, 8 August 2004.Full Story at http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/lifestyle/q/chi-0408080413aug08,1,3974701.story

When a group of political activists gather to disseminate information about the alleged dangers of genetically modified organisms, recruit new members to their cause and share a meal of organic foods they--quite naturally--get naked. And they play Twister.

It's Friday night at Buddy, an alternative art gallery in Wicker Park, and THONG (Topless Humans Organized for Natural Genetics) is celebrating their community while spreading their message and shedding their clothes.

"THONG is not about lobbying or letter-writing," says co-founder Just Joking Jerry, a middle-age trial lawyer who, tonight, wears only a flame-imprinted thong with matching mask. "There needed to be a group that was more action-oriented in its opposition to genetically modified organisms. THONG goes into the street and does something."

That something usually entails wearing next to nothing. The group of about 20 members, mostly young, vegetarian and liberal, performs what they call "actions." In 2003 when executives from Kraft (a focus for the political activists because of the corporation's size and use of genetically modified foods) participated in a fun run on the lakefront they were unexpectedly joined by members of THONG. Running alongside the bigwigs were scruffy, nearly naked protesters and one activist in a huge, blue cardboard box with the label reading "Kraft Macaroni & Genes."

To stay within decency laws, the activists wear thongs. And body paint covers nipples while doubling as a method to communicate. A woman's chest might be painted with the word "biotech" and the image of a skull. "I'd rather go naked than . . . " is also a popular theme.

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Seeds of Resistance 13.7.04: Readers' Letters

- The Bulletin (Australia), 27 July 2004 http://bulletin.ninemsn.com.au/bulletin/site/articleIDs/5F35F0296EFC8995CA256ED200000C54

Juliet McFarlane is quoted by Anthony Hoy as proclaiming: "The federal government - any of its agencies - has done absolutely no market research [on GM crops]." Rather than simply taking McFarlane's pronouncements at face value, Hoy should have done more of his own research. Her surprising claim is contradicted even by her own Network of Concerned Farmers web page, which quotes several such research studies, including those prepared by federal agency ABARE and the Productivity Commission. To these, one could add crop market reports commissioned by state governments in Victoria and Western Australia.

Hoy seems also to have completely swallowed McFarlane's spin that the only reason why agricultural scientists might express enthusiasm about GM crops is because they have become financially dependent on Monsanto. Hoy should talk to Australian cotton growers, whose industry has been saved by this technology, and where wonders are being done for the environment by reductions of pesticide spraying made possible by GM cotton varieties. Or to Canadian canola growers, who are now probably overjoyed to see one ofi their international competitors hobbled by losing access to GM canola varieties.

- David Tribe, co-ordinator of Biotechnology, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Melbourne, Victoria

------

Picture this scenario: a young researcher trying to make a difference for her father's farm via an innovative technique that can ensure her family can still sell its crop in growing competitive markets and which is more environmentally friendly than standard practices. But her technology is stopped from progressing for no proven or scientifically sound reason. Her years of research, time, money and innovation are lost without the benefits to Australia, her family or the environment. Her research funding driies up, colleagues head overseas to supportive agricultural communities, and her family business struggles to remain competitive and finally dies. Her battle is fought by AusBiotech, the not-for-profit membership-based organisation. In stark contrast, battles such as Juliet McFarlane's are supported and funded by organisations such as Greenpeace, with some of these groups having marketing budgets bigger than anything a biotech organisation and researcher could ever hope for.

- Dr Tony Coulepis, executive director, AusBiotech, Richmond, Vic

> http://bulletin.ninemsn.com.au/bulletin/site/articleIDs/4FBC1BBACF5B7237CA256EC4008142AC

> THE BULLETIN Seeds of resistance; Juliet McFarlane's crusade against genetically engineered crops has delivered her the scalp of agri-multinational Monsanto. By Anthony Hoy

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Genetically Engineered Vaccine Fights Allergies

' Spurs helpful immune response with minimal side-effects'

- Liz Brown, Betterhumans, August 9, 2004 http://www.betterhumans.com/News/news.aspx?articleID=2004-08-09-4

Building better allergens: Genetically engineered pollen allergens have safely spurred an immune reaction that can fight allergies

An allergy vaccine derived from genetically engineered birch pollen has proven effective in human subjects, showing that genetic engineering can be used to produce hypoallergenic therapies for treating many common allergies.

Seasonal allergies affect a quarter of the population in industrialized countries. Scientists have blamed the prevalence of allergies in developed countries on an overactive immune system, possibly caused by a more sanitary way of life. Current treatments for allergies include exposing patients to natural allergens. This frequently causes side-effects, however, such as inducing an allergic reaction.

To overcome this problem, Rudolf Valenta of Austria's Medical University of Vienna and colleagues used genetic engineering to create a hypoallergenic vaccine from birch pollen. They then successfully tested it in human subjects. "These results could possibly lead to the development of more effective vaccines for the treatment of the most common forms of allergy and even for prophylactic vaccination," say the researchers.

Altered allergen. To create their vaccine, the researchers focused on the major birch pollen allergen, Betv1, genetically altering it to have 100-fold reduced allergenic activity. They gave the vaccine or a placebo to 124 birch pollen-allergic people, giving eight injections of increasing dosages in one to two weekly intervals as a preseasonal treatment. After reaching a maximum dose, the vaccine was given in four weekly intervals until flowering season.

Valenta and colleagues found that people given the vaccine had an increase in immunoglobulin (IgG) antibodies, which inhibit allergic reactions. Naturally derived vaccines frequently fail to create the same response. The researchers believe that their findings support the creation of other hypoallergenic vaccines using genetic engineering technology.

The research is reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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Food for Thought

- The Economist, July 29, 2004 Full article at http://economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=2963282

'Global hunger is on the wane but it is still hampering the growth of people, and of economies'

There are not enough classrooms at the Msekeni primary school, so half the lessons take place in the shade of yellow-blossomed acacia trees. Given this shortage, it might seem odd that one of the school's purpose-built classrooms has been emptied of pupils and turned into a storeroom for sacks of grain. But it makes sense. Food matters more than shelter.

Msekeni is in one of the poorer parts of Malawi, a landlocked southern African country of exceptional beauty and great poverty. No war lays waste Malawi, nor is the land unusually crowded or infertile, but Malawians still have trouble finding enough to eat. Half of the children under five are underfed to the point of stunting. Hunger blights most aspects of Malawian life, so the country is as good a place as any to investigate how nutrition affects development, and vice versa.

Many of the things that would ease hunger are worth doing anyway. Policies that promote economic growth or better education would be desirable even if they had no impact on nutrition. Democracy and freedom of speech are attractive in and of themselves. But it is also worth noting that rich, well-educated countries never go hungry, and that no democratic country with a free press, no matter how poor it may be, has ever suffered a famine. Unfettered reporters provide early warnings, and accountable governments know they have to respond to emergencies. The recent crushing of the independent media in Zimbabwe is one reason why the WFP expects trouble this year.

In other places, the battle against hunger is steadily being won. Better nutrition is making people cleverer and more energetic, which will help them grow more prosperous. And when they eventually join the ranks of the well off, they can start fretting about growing too fat.

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Anti-GMO Drive Spreads Statewide

- Harry Cline, Western Farm Press, August 10, 2004

A radical environmental group based in Minnesota and linked to the destruction of student project crops several years ago on the University of California, Davis campus has succeeded in getting initiatives to ban genetically modified crops on the November ballots in at least four California counties.

Efforts in at least five other counties could spawn similar initiatives by an organization called Organic Consumers Association (OCA), based in Little Marias, Minn. OCA spearheaded a highly emotional campaign that led to Mendocino County voting last spring to ban biotech crops.

The campaign there, led by a semi-retired health care worker, Doug Mosel, who moved to Mendocino County five years ago, was largely a symbolic vote since there are no biotech crops grown in Mendocino County. Bolstered by that win, similar ballot initiatives will be on the ballot this fall in Butte, San Luis Obispo, Marin and Humboldt counties. It is more then symbolic in at least two of those counties because there is herbicide-resistant crops being grown or evaluated in Humboldt and Butte counties.

Environmental radicals in Sonoma, Alameda, Santa Cruz, Trinity, Santa Barbara, Placer and Napa counties backed by OCA California splinter group, BioDemocracy Alliance, are trying to get similar initiatives on ballots in those counties.

Statewide ban
Ryan Zinn, OCA-paid campaign coordinator for the new group, said the goal is to ban biotech crops in California where there are already 600,000 acres of herbicide-resistant or insect-resistant corn or cotton being grown. OCA wants the state legislature to ban biotech crops and are using county ballots to try and force the issue in Sacramento. Zinn was quoted in the San Jose Mercury News: "California is the nation's largest agricultural state. If it were to decide to ban these crops, it would have a huge impact throughout the nation."

While largely symbolic, it is no joke to California agriculture. "This whole thing is very serious. It is a political power play by someone who wants to control America's food supply like a third world dictator," said Jamie Johansson, an Oroville, Calif., olive grower who is spearheading the effort to defeat the anti-GMO initiative in Butte County.

The anti-biotech radicals cloak their campaign against such things as insect-resistant and herbicide-resistant crops by saying biotech crops will harm organic crops.

"There is no threat to organic farming -- that is a red herring," said Johansson. "I have friends who are organic olive oil producers and they are opposed to this. However, they are caught in a Catch 22 situation if they come out in opposition. They are afraid. "Two wineries in Mendocino County came out in opposition to the biotech ban initiative there, and they were threatened with physical violence. An organic grower there who opposed the measure was intimidated and threatened until she changed her position," said the Butte County farmer.

"I used to live in Humboldt County, and I experienced first hand what these people did to the timber industry there," he added. "This whole anti-GMO movement in California spearheaded by the Minnesota group is very unnerving to a lot of people," said the olive grower.

Crops destroyed
The group involved in the anti-GMO movement has been linked to the destruction crops at the University of California, Davis several years ago. Their target was GMO crops, but they destroyed non-biotech student project crops. Mosel, the semi-retired health care worker, who was the chief spokesman for the Mendocino County initiative said that report is "absolutely inaccurate."

In interview with Western Farm Press, the soft spoken 61-year-old Mosel calls himself "first and foremost a Nebraska farm boy who spent the first 20 years of his life on a farm," he said. He admits he has no formal education in agricultural science; has not visited a farmer growing biotech crops nor has he talked personally with any university or other government scientist who has researched biotech crops.

"I do not count my having no formal ag education as a disadvantage. It would be an extraordinary feat for anyone to emerge from any of our ag school programs without a pro-biotech, pro-industrial ag bias.

"Without such a background, but with my direct experience of smaller scale, diversified dryland farming, I believe I can see more clearly the threats of biotech-dependent farming as well as the long-term advantages of GE-free agricultural practices," said Mosel.

"I have talked to people who have talked to farmers growing biotech crops and they say a lot of farmers do not want to grow biotech crops. I have also read reports from scientists who have researched these crops, but I have never talked with one personally," he said. Nevertheless, Mosel said biotech crops "harm people and the environment." He says he opposes "industrial agriculture" and calls biotechnology a "threat to the farms of the future."

'Biotech bullies'
The Mendocino County initiatives and the ones on the ballot this fall are cloaked as needed to protect organic growers, it is mostly an anti-corporate campaign against what the organizers have called "biotech bullies."

CropLife America and the Western Plant Health Association poured $600,000 in to the effort to defeat the Mendocino County initiative. This time the corporate face of the biotech industry is taking a less visible role and opting to let California Farm Bureau, and its county chapters and local farmers take up the fight.

However, there is a bit of disunity within the agriculture community on the biotech issue. While Johansson said the Butte County Farm Bureau has come out officially opposed to the biotech ban, the FB chapter in Mendocino County was divided on the initiative there and so is the Humboldt FB chapter.

Several Mendocino County wineries supported the Mendocino measure, including one of the more well-known wineries in the state, Fetzer. Fetzer has embarked on a transition to organic wine grape production in recent years. California Association of Winegrape Growers reportedly also is divided on the biotech issue.

Some believe the current drive to create fear frenzy over biotechnology is an effort by OCA and other to raise money to support itself since biotech crops are now a permanent part of agriculture in California and Arizona and the world and growing each year. It is unlikely that a ban could be enforced or that the state legislature would outlaw 600,000 acres of California crops.

Last year 52 percent of the California's cotton acreage was planted to either herbicide or insect resistant varieties. In Arizona it was 94 percent. Nationwide, 76 percent of the cotton acreage is in biotech varieties; 45 percent of the corn acreage and 85 percent of the soybeans.

All those numbers represent increases from the year before. There are no figures for herbicide resistant corn in California, but that acreage has reportedly been growing significantly in recent years with new low-input, herbicide-resistant varieties grown under minimum tillage for silage corn for the dairy industry.

Mosel acknowledges that biotechnology is "pervasive" in cotton, corn, soybeans and canola, but he wants to stop it at there.

He cited the reluctance of wheat farmers in the Northern Plains to embrace herbicide-resistant wheat for fear of losing overseas markets as an example of stopping the biotech expansion.

"There has been no new biotech crop introduced in the past four or five years," he said. That is not true because new stacked gene cotton, corn and soybeans are being introduced each year and new generations of herbicide resistant and insect-resistant crops are expected within the next few years.

Biotech popular

Thousands of farmers nationwide have embraced biotech to reduce costs insect pests and weed control costs, only after exhaustive testing and evaluation by several government agencies before biotech crops were approved for commercial production.

However, the public still has doubts spawned by organizations like OCA and that uncertainty is being exploited by environmental radicals, according to agricultural leaders.

"This whole thing is about power and money," said one ag leader. OCA is already canvassing the Bay area for money.

OCA claims 500,000 members and 90,000 in California. However, unlike the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, most ag leaders in California had not heard of OCA until the Mendocino initiative.

The oldest environmental group in the nation, the Sierra Club claims a membership of 700,000. EDF says it has 400,000 members.

OCA's Web site calls itself a grassroots organization dedicated to a three-point "Food Agenda 2000-2010:"

A global moratorium on genetically engineered foods and crops.
A phase-out of the most dangerous industrial agriculture and factory farming practices.
The conversion of American agriculture to at least 30 percent organic by the year 2010.
The Organic Consumers Association claims to be a non-profit organization. It lists no paid staff on its Web site, but lists the following as advisory board members:

Maude Barlow-Council of Canadians (Canada).
Jay Feldman-National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (D.C.).
Jean Halloran-Consumers Union (N.Y.).
Tim Hermach-Native Forest Council (Ore.).
Ellen Hickey-Pesticide Action Network (Calif.).
Julia Butterfly Hill-Author & Forest Activist (Calif.).
Annie Hoy-Ashland Community Food Store (Ore.).
Mika Iba-Network for Safe & Secure Food & Environment (Japan).
Pat Kerrigan-Youth and Farm Market (Minn.).
John Kinsman-Family Farm Defenders (Wis.).
Al Krebs-Agribusiness Examiner (Wash.).
Bruce Krug-Dairy Farmer (N.Y.).
Frances Moore Lappe Howard Lyman-EarthSave (Va.).
Charles Margulis-Greenpeace (Md.).
Victor Menotti-International Forum on Globalization (Calif.).
Robyn Seydel-La Montanita Co-op (N.M.).
Vandana Shiva (Research Foundation for Science, Technology, & Natural Resource Policy (India).
John Stauber-Center for Media and Democracy & Author (Wis.).

There is one organic farmer OCA need not attempt to recruit: Fresno County farmer Don Cameron, who has been growing organic and conventional crops for several years.

Cameron, chairman of the California Tomato Growers Association and chairman of California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors, has produced organic cotton, tomatoes and lettuce along with conventional crops, including herbicide-resistant cotton, on his farm.

Co-exist well
"Organic and conventional co-exist now without contamination and problems. We have done it for several years," said Cameron.

That is what Cameron offered up on a San Francisco radio talk show recently that featured backers of the Mendocino anti-biotech initiative. "They were trying to tell me I was contaminating my organic cotton. When I told them cotton was self-pollinating, they had nothing to say. It was obvious they had no scientific background on the issue," he said.

Cameron said the anti-biotech movement is operating on emotions and very little factual information. "Biotech represents the future of farming and these people want to take it away," he said. "They have no idea that biotech is not only a money-saving issue for farmers, but because of it we are producing a safer food supply than ever before. We need this technology to stay in business and compete worldwide," said Cameron. "We have reduced the use of herbicides; cut down on dust and there is less diesel exhaust because we cultivate less. This organic group is missing the boat," he said.

Kings County, Calif., producer Michael Boyette called into the same program and all he got was silence after he tried to detail the benefits of biotech cotton.

"These people want to attack corporations and could not care less about organic production or the science and regulation of biotechnology," he said.

'Cheaper, safer' "Technology is bring cheaper and safer food to Americans some say safer than every before," he said.

The challenge in confronting this anti-biotech movement is convincing the majority of votes that biotech is safe, according to Boyette.
"I think they will listen, but we have got to get the message out," he said.

Butte County is the heart of California rice country and is likely to be the pivotal county that could stem the anti-biotech tide.

The rice industry has been embroiled internally with the biotech issue. Considerable California rice is shipped to Japan, which so far has banned GMO-rice. This prompted the rice industry to recently oppose rice being planted in California that was genetically modified to produce pharmaceuticals. This rice was to be planted in Southern California, far from the rice producing area of Sacramento Valley. Nevertheless, it was opposed in fear of losing overseas markets.

However, this proposed GMO ban in Butte County hits closer to home. If passed, Johansson said it would hamper the research work at the Rice Experiment Station in Biggs, Calif., in Butte County.

"I am hopeful that a lot of the rice groups that opposed the rice pharmaceutical plantings will join our side in opposing the Butte County initiative," he said. "We think they will."
The California Cattlemen's Association has voted to oppose the Butte County ban, according to Johansson.

Legislative battle
The anti-GMO initiatives are expected to attract widespread news coverage, but court challenges are expected if they pass. The real battle will likely come in the State Legislature where agricultural groups believe they can void local anti-GMO initiatives. They also believe that they can turn back any attempt to legislatively ban biotech crops statewide.

USDA and the Food and Drug Administration evaluate and approve all biotech crops in the U.S., and agriculturists believe that is where the regulation should remain. Biotech crops have probably been the most thoroughly evaluated technology every introduced into American agriculture. COPYRIGHT WESTERN FARM PRESS