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August 21, 2004


Thai PM Goes for GM; Frankenfood Myth - Protest and Politics; Australia Lagging; Bogus Wheat Arguments; Greenies Talk Trash But Take Cash


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : August 21, 2004

* Thailand: PM Gives Go Ahead for GM Field Trial
* The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution
* Australia Lagging As GM Industry Grows
* Three Bogus Arguments about Biotech Wheat
* Starving People - Have No Interest In Organic Farming
* GMO Crops Receive Increasing Support in France
* Green Groups Talkin' Trash But Still Takin' Cash
* Can Roses Be Mated With Pigs?
* Philippines: Results of Local Bt Corn Studies Published
* Superstitious Worship of "The Natural"?
* AgBiotech - Ushering in the Second Green Revolution

Thailand: GM Crops Win Major Concession

'PM Gives Green Light To Open-Field Trial'

- Kultida Samabuddhi, Bangkok Post 21 August 2004 http://www.bangkokpost.com/News/21Aug2004_News06.php

Thailand has fully embraced the technology of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra gave the green light yesterday to an open-field trial that would lead to commercial plantations and imports of GM products.

"Any GM products scientifically proved to be safe for human consumption and posing no harm to the environment will be allowed to be imported, produced or sold in the local market," said Mr Thaksin, chairman of the National Biotechnology Policy Committee, which held its first meeting yesterday. "The government won't let the country miss the biotechnology train. However, we will take all means to protect our biological resources," he said.

The prime minister was confident Thailand would not face trade barriers, reasoning that major importers, including European countries, had already accepted GM products. Mr Thaksin dismissed allegations that the government had been pressured by the United States, the world's largest GM producer, which is due to sign a Free Trade Area agreement with Thailand soon.

Sakarindr Bhumiratana, president of the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), argued that the government's decision was based on thorough studies as well as consumer attitudes towards the technology. "The NSTDA and the government will take responsibility for any damage caused by our decision," he said.

Mr Thaksin made his choice from three policy options proposed by the NSTDA -- making Thailand a major GMO exporter, promoting GM as well as conventional crops, and becoming a GM-free country. The second option "will allow Thailand to grab both GM and organic markets," Mr Sakarindr said. The government would help organic farmers to protect their farms from GMOs, he said.

Regulations controlling field trials, labelling, and commercialisation of GM products would be in force within three months while a biosafety law would be drafted by the end of next year. Mr Sakarindr said the ban on GM field trials, imposed by cabinet in 2001, would be revoked soon to allow government and private agencies to complete three-level biosafety tests of GM crops. Under the international guideline, GM crops must go through laboratory, experimental, and open-field tests, before being allowed to be grown commercially.

Thailand currently allows only laboratory and experimental field trials GM crops expected to go on open-field trial include chilli, tomato, papaya, rice and orchids. Biodiversity advocates and environmentalists are dismayed by the decision.

Witoon Lianchamroon, director of Biothai, said the decision was "very dangerous" to the Thai agricultural sector. "GM crops will invade and destroy our native plant species, and the country will face trade barriers from countries where consumers oppose GMOs," he said.

He accused Mr Thaksin of going back on his promise to keep the ban on GM field trials and commercialisation in the absence of biosafety law and of knuckling under the US pressure at the expense of farmers and the country's biological resources. Greenpeace campaigner Pajwajee Srisuwan said Thailand stands to lose because of opposition from consumers in Europe and Japan.

But Agriculture Department chief Chakan Saengraksawong said the decision would enable the department to further its experiment on GM crops to develop better strains and study impacts on non-GM crops and the ecological system. Giant biotechnology company Monsanto said it was "very happy". "It is the right decision. The policy will allow us to go ahead with the field trial and commercialisation of our Roundup Ready corn, GM corn variety resistant to Monsanto's herbicide," said Kongtat Chanchai, the company's Thailand office spokesman.

Monsanto's Roundup Ready corn is being developed in laboratory by researchers at Mae Jo University in Chiang Mai province. Major agro-business companies in Thailand will likely benefit as well. Executives at Charoen Pokphand Group, a giant agro-conglomerate, have until now not expressed explicit support for commercialisation of GM foods although they have made clear they consider the technology a viable option to increase crop yields.


The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution  

- by Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko, Praeger Publishers, Hardcover ISBN: 0-275-97879-6; 296 pages $39.95 http://www.greenwood.com/books/BookDetail.asp?dept_id=1&sku=C7879  

Foreword by Norman E. Borlaug; Prologue by John H. Moore;(UK Sterling Price: £22.99)
Availability: Not yet published. (Estimated publication date, 8/30/2004)

"Few topics have inspired as much international furor and misinformation as the development and distribution of genetically altered foods. For thousands of years, farmers have bred crops for their resistance to disease, productivity, and nutritional value; and over the past century, scientists have used increasingly more sophisticated methods for modifying them at the genetic level. But only since the 1970s have advances in biotechnology (or gene-splicing to be more precise) upped the ante, with the promise of dramatically improved agricultural products--and public resistance far out of synch with the potential risks.

In this provocative and meticulously researched book, Henry Miller and Gregory Conko trace the origins of gene-splicing, its applications, and the backlash from consumer groups and government agencies against so-called "Frankenfoods"--from America to Zimbabwe. They explain how a "happy conspiracy" of anti-technology activism, bureaucratic over-reach, and business lobbying has resulted in a regulatory framework in which there is an inverse relationship between the degree of product risk and degree of regulatory scrutiny. The net result, they argue, is a combination of public confusion, political manipulation, ill-conceived regulation (from such agencies as the USDA, EPA, and FDA), and ultimately, the obstruction of one of the safest and most promising technologies ever developed--with profoundly negative consequences for the environment and starving people around the world. The authors go on to suggest a way to emerge from this morass, proposing a variety of business and policy reforms that can unlock the potential of this cutting-edge science, while ensuring appropriate safeguards and moving environmentally friendly products into the hands of farmers and consumers. This book is guaranteed to fuel the ongoing debate over the future of biotech and its cultural, economic, and political implications. "

Nick Smith, (R-MI), Chairman House Science Subcommittee on Research: "Miller and Conko brilliantly expose the peril of allowing the precautionary principle to drive risk analysis and policymaking. Their thorough and articulate deconstruction of the precautionary principle should serve as a guide to developing regulatory policy, not only for biotechnology, but for any new idea or technology."

Paul D. Boyer, University of California, Los Angeles, Co-Winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Chemistry:
"Misguided public policies have seriously restricted research on, and applications of, genetic engineering in agriculture. Miller and Conko analyze why and how this has occurred. They point out the danger that the present unwarranted regulatory oppression will become the norm, and they make a strong case for drastic change in present policies. Their call for policies based on realistic risk-benefit considerations needs to be heard loudly by those responsible for the present fiasco."

Michael H. Mellon, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics University of California, San Diego School of Medicine: "This volume simply eclipses anything else on the subject. Miller and Conko offer a masterful exposé of the flaws in current public policy towards biotechnology, a lucid discussion of the reasons for them, and innovative proposals for essential reforms. "

Penn Jillette: "Miller and Conko describe biotech's potential to both alleviate human suffering and improve environmental stewardship, and they offer science-based models for regulation. This book can help us fight the short-sighted bureaucrats and emotion-driven activists. It's time for the rest of us to do our part--read the book, fight the power, and feed the people. The hard work is done; all we have left to do is get policy-makers to do the right thing. "

Table of Contents:
Foreword by Norman E. Borlaug
Prologue by John H. Moore
A Brave New World of Biotechnology? More Like a Brave Old World!
Myths, Mistakes, Misconceptions, and Mendacity
Science, Common Sense, and Nonsense
Caution, Precaution, and the Precautionary Principle
The Vagaries of U.S. Regulation
Legal Liability Issues
The Vagaries of Foreign and International Regulation
European Resistance to Biotechnology
Climbing Out of the Quagmire


Australia Lagging As GM Industry Grows

- Graeme O'Neill, Australian Biotechnology News, IDG Communications, August 19, 2004

One of the founders of Australia's leading private wheat-breeding company has delivered a bleak prognosis for the commercial future of GM crops in Australia. Speaking at the recent BioFestival conference on agricultural biotechnology in Melbourne, Dr Ian Edwards, ex-CEO of Perth-based GrainBiotech, warned that the state moratoriums on new GM crops across southern Australia were already having a serious impact on Australian agriculture's future.

The area planted with GM crops worldwide was still expanding at a double-digit rate and would reach 70 to 75 million hectares by the end of 2004, in what Edwards described as "one of the most rapid and dramatic uptakes of a new technology in history". Much of the expansion is occurring in developing nations like India, China, South Africa and Brazil. South Africa, which is growing GM cotton and maize, already had four times Australia's area of GM crops.

"GM has fundamentally changed the way we look at crops," Edwards said. "Previously, we were very much commodity-based, but people are now thinking about end-user traits in second- and third generation GM crops." Edwards said Australia has the most rigorous regulatory system in the world for GM crops, and the national GM watchdog, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) has granted 34 licenses for field testing of GM crops.

The OGTR had investigated the release of seven varieties of GM canola and concluded that they pose no greater risk to human health, safety and the environment than non-GM canola. But GM cotton, first planted in Australia in 1996, is still the only GM field crop in commercial production in Australia.

While the OGTR has approved commercial production of herbicide-tolerant GM canolas, the five southern states -- Western Australia South Australia, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania – have either imposed moratoriums on canola, or declared themselves GM-free. This was despite a 2002 report by the Commonwealth Productivity Commission which concluded GM crops had the potential to make agriculture in Australia more sustainable, and to expand the nation's range of agricultural products.

Australia had built an entire non-GM canola industry based on the herbicide triazine, now banned in Europe because it contaminates groundwater, while foregoing the opportunity to establish an industry based on much safer herbicides. "Australian [agriculture] ministers haven't listened to the realities of the world, to the markets, and they have certainly not listened to the OGTR," Edwards said "Who have they listened to? I think we can guess."

Edwards said the state moratoriums would force investors to consider the implications of further GM trait investments in crops with no assured commercial outcomes. "The lack of consistency between the states in GM commercialisation makes international investment unlikely, and will adversely impact the environment," he said. "There is concern about the recruitment of new graduates into the agbiotech industry – there will be fewer jobs as companies put investment on hold."

Edwards said it was a pity that critics of GM technology focused on the mechanism by which products were developed, instead of looking at the safety of the end-product.

He said Australia had a "moral responsibility" to develop and commercialise GM crops.

Edwards showed a map of the current area of agricultural soil lost to salinity in WA, and another projecting a fourfold increase by 2030. "GrainBiotech has been testing a GM wheat that grows at 40 per cent of the concentration of seawater in the glasshouse, and we want to get it through the regulatory nightmare to test it next year," he said. Future opportunities for agbiotech companies to commercialise new GM crops, or new traits, would be limited by the cost of compliance with Australia's stringent regulatory system.

Cotton, canola and wheat would remain key targets - in wheat, the improvements would be in the area of increased tolerance of salinity, drought and frost, and improved nutritional value. Monsanto announced earlier this year it was withdrawing an application to grow the first GM wheat in North America -- a variety carrying Monsanto's Roundup Ready herbicide-tolerance gene.

Edwards said the acreage of spring wheat planted in the US was actually declining as more growers switched to growing GM soybeans, a more profitable crop. He described Monsanto's withdrawal, due to lack of grower support, and concerns about buyer resistance in GM-averse global markets, as a "temporary setback".

Experiments with GM wheat predict a 14 to 16 per cent yield increase over conventional wheat due to improved weed control, and a 62 per cent reduction in dockage and cleaning costs because of reduced weed-seed contamination. These savings translated to an increased profit of US$51 per hectare, greater than for GM soy. But wheat was lagging behind other GM grains and oilseeds because of its more complex genetics, the lower profits available from the sale of seed for a commodity crop.

Wheat was also lagging because of strong competition for biotech investment capital from corn, soybeans and canola.


Three Bogus Arguments about Biotech Wheat

- Doyle Lentz, Growers for Wheat Biotechnology, www.growersforwheatbiotechnology.org

While Monsanto pulled the plug on its Roundup-Ready Wheat program a few months ago - and in fact discontinued its R&D on biotech wheat altogether -- some public and private biotech wheat R & D continues, and most in the wheat industry view this positively. That’s because biotech processes can help us address production challenges like drought and scab. According to a recent study at North Dakota State University, scab resulted in $5.3 billion in producer and main street losses in North Dakota and Minnesota from 1993 to 2001.

Someday, biotech may also help differentiate the wheat we grow in the U.S. for a specific market use.  As it is now, wheat can be grown almost anywhere in the world - it is often said that we’re just 30 days away from another wheat crop harvested somewhere in the world. Just look at this year: despite the fact that U.S. wheat acres are at record low levels with a low carryover supply, the price outlook is only in the $3 range, because of adequate wheat supplies elsewhere globally. 

So will farmers in the Dakotas, Montana, Minnesota and elsewhere in the U.S. want to be growing $3 wheat 10 to 15 years from now? Heck no! They will turn to other crops. They already are.This is the second year in a row that many areas of the Northern Plains will see excellent wheat yields, yet wheat acres continue to decline. For many farmers east of Highway 281, biotechnology has given crops like corn and soybeans an edge in profitability over wheat, and will make it possible for corn and beans to be grown successfully even further west and north than they are now.  Forty-bushel soybeans in Dickinson, N.D.?  One hundred-bushel-plus corn in Great Falls, Mont.?  Sooner or later, biotechnology will make this possible.  If growers in Dickinson, Great Falls, and elsewhere can eventually cash flow these or other crops better than wheat, well, why grow wheat?

I hope you can see my point. Biotechnology may be the edge to help keep wheat as a viable crop in the Northern Plains. Nevertheless, some can't see the forest through the trees and continue to oppose biotech wheat at every turn. Here are three of the more common arguments they squawk:

"But we might lose markets!" It's true that some wheat importing countries, like Japan and a few in Europe, are reluctant about biotech wheat.  But guess what? Japan is viewed as a "mature" market, with little expected growth, and European markets are small and limited.  The U.S. is already a residual wheat supplier (meaning they shop elsewhere, and buy from us when need be) to many of these countries.  Meanwhile, the largest market for U.S. wheat (our own backyard) and many other countries (including China, perhaps the largest growth market for U.S. wheat) are accepting of biotech crops. We might lose a few markets, but we have more to gain in overall profitability - I might lose a dime off the wheat price if a few countries don’t buy my genetically-enhanced wheat, but I might gain an extra ten dollars per acre in overall profitability from the extra bushels of a wheat variety genetically enhanced for drought and/or scab tolerance. 

"But what about cross-pollination?"  This claim is often cited by organic interests to guard their markets.  But the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center (CIMMYT), one of the most respected public research institutions in the world, points out that one of the greatest biosafety measures is provided by the wheat plant itself. Wheat is a "perfectly self-pollinated crop," with 99% of fertilization occurring within the sheathed spike of the plant, where male and female plant components share the same floret. Cross-pollination is further limited because wheat pollen is heavy and does not travel far, and because the pollen remains viable for only 20-30 minutes. 

CIMMYT is using biotechnology to develop drought-tolerant wheat. Ironically, while Japan is a wheat importer that has expressed opposition to biotech wheat, it was a Japanese research agency, the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences, which provided the gene construct that CIMMYT is using to develop drought-tolerant wheat.

"But how do we know it’s safe?" Fringe group activists try to paint biotech plants as being released willy-nilly, but that’s just not the case. The U.S. is generally regarded as having the best system in the world for food and feed safety. A genetically-engineered plant is scrutinized for years before it can be marketed commercially, and in fact is evaluated and scrutinized much more rigorously than conventionally-developed plants. 

There are three U.S. federal agencies responsible for regulatory oversight of genetically-engineered plants and their products. The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates and evaluates planting and agronomics; The Environmental Protection Agency evaluates and oversees effects on the environment; and the Food and Drug Administration regulates and evaluates food and feed uses. Their responsibilities are complementary, and in some cases overlapping, which can be viewed as an effective "checks and balances" system.

The Institute of Food Technologists, the nonprofit scientific society with 28,000 members working in food science, approves of the current system of regulating biotech foods. The highly respected American Dietetic Association approves of biotech foods as well.  Global science-based food and feed safety assessment ensures evaluations are conducted and harmonized globally. Of course, in today’s litigation-happy society, in a climate that's super-sensitive about food safety, the most demanding critic of a genetically-engineered plant is its developer, and the manufacturers who use that plant as an ingredient in their food products. 

Starving People "Have No Interest In Organic Farming"

- Noebert Zinck (Nashville, Illinois), Successful Farming, August 1, 2004

In your Mid-March issue ["Mail and modem," page 4] Tyrone Brummeyer writes about the benefits of organic farming. I have farmed both ways. If you want to grow a lot of weeds, raise a lot of insects and diseases, and produce less of a crop, organic farming is the way to go. If we all farmed organically we would have less food and higher food prices.

I do volunteer agricultural work in developing countries for USAID (United States Agency for International Development). I have been on 11 assignments since 1999 in countries like Armenia, Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Mexico, and Rwanda. The people in those countries show no interest in organic farming because many people are starving. They want to produce more food and are looking to us for technology on chemicals, fertilizer, and hybrid seeds.

If everyone in America farmed organically, we would become a country of starving people.


GMO Crops Receive Increasing Support in France

- Cordis, August 20, 2004 http://dbs.cordis.lu/cgi-bin/srchidadb?CALLER=NHP_EN_NEWS&ACTION=D&SESSION=&RCN=EN_RCN_ID:22495
Following the destruction on 14 August of two fields of genetically engineered corn by several hundred protesters calling themselves the 'volunteer reapers' and headed by the anti-globalisation campaigner, José Bové, there are indications that both the French government and the general public are wavering in their opposition to open-field tests of genetically modified organism (GMO) crops.
France, where anti-GMO campaigners destroy experimental crops on a regular basis, has become Europe's main battleground over the issue of transgenic food. But with a new group, describing itself as 'volunteer farmers and researchers in favour of GMO tests', clashing with Mr Bové's supporters and the recent publication by the French Health and Food Safety Board (AFFSSA) of a report stating that certain GMOs could be beneficial to health, public opinion seems to be coming around to the idea that the phenomenon is unstoppable.
Even the conservative French wine-growing industry has announced it wishes to keep an open mind over the possible benefits of GMOs. 'The continuing destruction of crops is playing into the hands of France's competitors,' said Pierre Pagesse, a farmer and managing director of the French biotechnology firm Biogemma.
'At this rate European farmers will fall behind. To have sustainable agriculture you first of all need to sustain the farmers.' Both Hervé Gaymard, the Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Rural Affairs and François d'Aubert, the deputy Minister for Research, strongly condemned the attacks in a joint statement which read: 'Research on biotechnologies offers great potential for health, human food and the environment.'
'This damage,' they added, 'destroys years of research for hundreds of researchers and farmers. We wish to remind everyone that the experiments carried out in France that use transgenic crops are rigorously controlled. The authorisation of each field experiment is submitted to strict regulations, defined in a European framework. We lend our entire support to the researchers, engineers and farmers - victims of these destructions - and reiterate our attachment to the free choice of consumers.'
'To defend GMO research is to enable French and European farmers to remain independent from other parts of the globe who will otherwise sell us patents and invade us with their production,' added Jean-Michel Lemetayer, president of the French National federation of farmers syndicates (FNSEA)
The report by the AFFSSA, published at the end of July, highlighted the benefits of transgenic crops, pointing out that pest-resistant GM crops such as BTcorn and cotton reduce pesticide use and prevent contamination of toxic mould, helping the environment and the farmers.
The report writers were, however, less confident about the health advantages of pesticide-resistant crops, since they often involve one pesticide being traded for another. However, the report goes on to say that no problems, either in terms of allergic reaction or toxicity, had ever been traced to GM crops.
'Avoiding any hurried generalisation, it appears that genetic manipulation has positive effects in two areas,' said AFFSSA. 'The introduction in North America and the Far East of plant varieties resistant to insects has permitted a significant reduction in the use of phytosanitary products like insecticides,' states the report.
Furthermore, transgenic crops produce fewer mycotoxins, harmful substances produced by different types of moulds that grow on crops at certain temperatures and levels of humidity. Apart from being a threat to health, mycotoxins destroy up to 25 per cent of food harvests worldwide, according to FAO, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.
AFSSA remarked that lower mycotoxin contamination of transgenic corn has allowed them to observe greater growth among swine and poultry that receive it as feed. However, the French food agency also noted that some new herbicides dissolve in water more easily than others, which makes them more of a threat to the environment, even though they are not volatile substances and are not very soluble in human fatty tissue.
The European Commission, which in May authorised the planting of a genetically modified sweetcorn manufactured by Syngenta, must decide by November whether or not to authorise to selling of transgenic NK 603 corn in the EU by Monsanto. To read the full AFSSA report, please consult the following web address:


Green Groups Talkin' Trash But Still Takin' Cash

- Roch Hammond, CNSNews.com Correspondent, August 11, 2004 http://www.cnsnews.com//ViewPolitics.asp?Page=Politicsarchive200408POL20040811a.html

Even though most environmental groups are determined to oust President Bush from office this November, those groups are benefiting from an unprecedented level of federal assistance, according to a Washington, D.C., research group.

It's possible that some of that money is also being used in the campaign against a Bush second term, the Capital Research Center (CRC) reported in an editorial, citing audits conducted by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The audits, according to the CRC's David Healy, show that in the fiscal year 2004 budget, $143 million was channeled to environmental groups that disclose their finances. That's nearly twice as much as the $72 million that the groups got in fiscal year 1998.

Between 1999 and 2004, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation saw its federal awards increase nearly six-fold while its private donations were increasing at a much smaller rate. And the Nature Conservancy's federal grant money doubled between 1999 and 2004, even though the group has been plagued by scandal, Healy reported.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) all received taxpayer dollars from the Bush administration, yet the groups have been working together to mount an anti-Bush "Environmental Accountability Fund," Healy wrote.

For example, according to Healy, the groups have organized "anti-Bush efforts in key battleground states. In New Mexico ... LCV is recruiting volunteers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, while the Sierra Club has added two full-time campaign staffers, and NRDC has aired at least two radio spots."

Mark Sokolove, press secretary for the League of Conservation Voters, told CNSNews.com Wednesday that the LCV is "not working with the NRDC" on the Environmental Accountability Fund. Additionally, Sokolove said the LCV has "never received taxpayer dollars" and has a separate Environmental Victory Project that is financed solely by the contributions of private individuals, a campaign to defeat Bush in five battleground states.

The green groups are not shy about enlisting the help of famous Democratic politicians or liberal-minded celebrities either. Former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, currently associated with the Audubon Society, was quoted by Healy as blasting the Bush administration's environmental policies. "I cannot remember, I cannot recite to you a single positive new policy or program sponsored by the current administration," Udall reportedly said.

Long-time movie star and political activist Robert Redford, a board member of the NRDC, was also quoted in the Healy editorial, criticizing the Bush administration for appearing "to almost enjoy dismantling the environment."

The NRDC received $2.6 million from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), among other grants, according to the Capital Research Center, but Alan Metrick, director of communications for the NRDC, downplayed that amount. Metrick called the $2.6 million "miniscule" in comparison to his group's overall budget while admitting that "we sue the EPA pretty much all the time." He said the NRDC is "happy to participate" with the government when there are common interests, adding that "there are good-spirited people on all sides of all debates." Metrick claimed he knew "nothing" about the Environmental Accountability Fund.

Tina Kreisher, communications director for the U.S. Department of the Interior, said Interior Secretary Gail Norton encourages "communication, cooperation and consultation" with all groups for the advancement of environmental conservation.

But an expert on the topic of federal grants to non-profit organizations, who wished to remain anonymous, told CNSNews.com that property owners are "extremely unhappy" about environmental policy and with their perceived lack of influence on federal policy during a recent Interior meeting. "This kind of funding has turned around and is starting to bite [the Bush administration,]" the expert asserted.

Kreisher conceded that anti-Bush groups are getting federal environmental grants, but maintained that it is illegal for those groups to use the money for political purposes. The Department of the Interior and other relevant agencies "control the parameters" of the grants, she said.

"It's monitored. They have to show us what the money is spent for. There are absolute controls over every grant that goes out," Kreisher asserted. She also acknowledged that the massive funding increases for environmental groups are "the Bush administration's fault." "[W]hen the Bush administration came in we established two or three more [programs] because of their importance to the president," Kreisher said. The decisions on who gets the grants are not "based on politics," she added.

Robert Bidinotto, editor of Organization Trends and Foundation Watch published by the Capital Research Center, said that while federal grants may not be used directly for political activism such as the Environmental Accountability Fund, the funds nevertheless help the environmental groups launch political campaigns.

"Grants, at the very minimum, boost these groups' size, visibility, influence, clout, cache; all of these things are directly transferable to activities such as Bush-bashing during the election year," he said. The result, Bidinotto said, is "that as the funding from the administration has been going up, so has the volume of [the environmental groups'] voices."

Bidinotto also pointed to a "revolving door" problem, in which environmental activists move back and forth between the liberal groups and government jobs depending on whether a Republican or Democrat is in the White House. "There are people within government agencies who maintain very, very close connections with advocacy groups on the outside," Bidinotto stated.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Sierra Club did not return phone calls requesting comment for this article.


Can Roses Be Mated With Pigs?

- Bambi L. Harper, Sense and Sensibility; Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 14, 2004

In response to the article on Biotechnology (PDI, 6/19/04), Dr. Benigno Peczon, president of the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines said that roses can't mate with pigs because "the sexual mode of reproduction is limited by the compatibility in the number of chromosomes (where the DNA is located).  Thousands of genes are necessary from both parents to form the DNA of offspring.  Biotechnology identifies one or two genes which encode some useful trait then adds the genes to another organism's DNA so that the transfer of a few genes won't turn the pig into a rose."

Returning to the subject of bio-engineering (if you prefer the more proper tem its "recombinant DNA technology," a mite too difficult to pronounce), what it really means is that a foreign gene is spliced in the DNA of an organism "so that when the organism grows, the new trait encoded by the inserted gene is expressed."  Insulin, for instance, is the result of the splicing of a human gene, responsible for producing human insulin, into the DNA of E. coli, a bacterium which produces insulin identical to human insulin.  As you can see there are benefits to be derived that no one can argue.

We are also told that biotechnology can improve the safety of foods by taking out some harmful substances or adding beneficial ones.  Thus the GM peanut is being developed so that people who are allergic to it may enjoy eating peanut spread or peanuts, period. Genetically altered tomatoes would contain more lycopene which is believed to delay the onset of cancer.  Dr. Peczon explains that GM foods "are only as safe as their conventional counterparts."  And that GM foods currently in the market contain no antibiotics.

This same technique is being used to produce modified food that promises to increase production and to resist pests, disease, droughts; and contains vitamins and nutrients severely lacking in the diets of the poor. If this is the case, why aren't Third World countries embracing GM foods without protest?

One of the things opponents of GM technology are asking is that imported, genetically modified food items should be identified. According to Dr. Peczon labeling GM foods would increase their price by around 10 percent, and their manufacturing costs by 11-12 percent. He asks "will the price increase justify the fact that the labeling is not related to safety?" Some people also ask: Is it safe to combine genes that have not previously been combined, thus creating new traits-and do we know the long-term impact on our biodiversity?

Dr. Peczon cites figures showing "more than 3,500 scientists are convinced of its safety as listed in the AgbioWorld website."  Several prestigious institutions, such as the World Health Organization and the National Academy of Science, are convinced about the safety of GM foods.  European Commission-sponsored research studies, conducted by over 400 research teams, also attest that the GM products pose no threat to human health or environment.

Another concern is:  Genetic engineering is under the control of the private sector; it is being developed almost solely by that sector.  Since a company's objective is to make money, one cannot expect them to be concerned with the welfare of poor Third World countries more than making a profit.

The other question we have to ask is whether the transgenic crops will tie the farmer to specific chemicals and a specific company such as Monsanto?  Genetically modified seeds cannot reproduce, cannot be saved for the next year's crop.  Moreover, the technology is controlled by another country.  What happens if you become dependent on some crop or rice variety and the controlling country refuse to send the seeds"}?  In effect, there is no local control and therefore no food security.

There are people who are genuinely worried that these genetically modified foods will contaminate and destroy local varieties, including the wild species of local crop.  We don't know.  What tickles our curiosity is that IRRI's miracle rice was supposed to increase production and make self-sufficient way back when.  The hybrid rice is also heavily dependent on fertilizers which has to be imported.  The question is why are we still importing rice?

Two issues/questions have also been brought up at protocol negotiations and at World Trade Organization meetings.  One is the right of a country to know what it is importing and whether a government has the right to refuse an import it considers unsafe for its population.

On the other hand, you should know that bio-engineering was introduced in 1996 and as of 2003, GM crops have already been planted to 67.7 million hectares across 18 countries.  The Philippines started planting GM crops in 2002, with only 126 hectares.  But as of last year, the total land area planted to such crops has gone up to 11,000 hectares; by the end of this year, it is expected to reach 30,000 hectares.  In case you wish to learn more about GM crops, you can access Biotechnology Coalition's website at http://www.bcp.org.ph


Philippines: Results of Local Bt Corn Studies Published
http://www.searca.org/~bic/press_releases/2004/august_18.html )

The SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center (BIC) recently published two brochures that highlighted the results of studies conducted on Bt corn in the Philippines.
In the "Philippines Bt corn and feed safety," Prof. Lydia J. Querubin, university researcher, Institute of Animal Science, University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) investigated the feed safety and feeding value of Bt corn to broilers and its effects on meat quality. Results showed that growth performance and meat quality of broilers fed with Bt corn and non-Bt corn diets are comparable suggesting the safety of Bt corn as feeds. Download the brochure at http://www.searca.org/~bic/info_kits/btcorn_feed.pdf

On the other hand, the brochure on "Philippines Bt corn and insect diversity"
http://www.searca.org/~bic/info_kits/btcorn_insectdiv.pdf presented the results of insect diversity studies on Bt corn fields conducted in Villaluna, Cauayan, Isabela, and Panagan, Tigaon, Camarines Sur. Using the Shannon Index to measure species diversity, Dr. Stephen G. Reyes, assistant professor, Department of Entomology, UPLB, showed that in Bt- & non Bt-corn fields, insect diversity was generally the same. He and co-workers found more beneficial insects in Bt corn fields than in non-Bt corn fields sprayed with chemical insecticides.


Superstitious Worship of "The Natural"?

- Timur Hyat-khan  

> Julian Baggini the editor of the 'Philosophers' Magazine' and the author of 'What's It All About? Philosophy and the Meaning of Life" says that "the feeling that we defile the inner sanctums of our bodies by eating food treated by pesticides is rooted in an almost religious, superstitious worship of "the natural. Dressing this up as an "ethical" choice is self-serving self-deception.".

The excellent article written by Julian is marred by the quote above. This is not rational at all. Included in the inner sanctum of our bodies is the endocrine glandwhich is directly affected by excessive pesticide residues of most pesticides. The masculanization of women and femminization of men is a direct result. In rural Sindh and Punjab Provinces of Pakistan there is growing incidence of the above. Of course this needs careful monitoring and study, never the less, it is not just an ethical choice, it is also a rational choice. The amounts of toxic residue consumed by the buyer is nothing short of criminal on the part of growers and unethical sellers. To top it all carefully manufactured pesticides based upon millions of dollars of research are roughly copied by quite a few low tech producers like China and sold at very cheap rates.

The levels of safety in built in high tech products are ignored for the sake of a few bucks. Additionally unsafe application, overuse due to ignorance and unscrupulous dealers further compound the problem.
Mr. Julian the problem is not that simple, please be informed that there are many shades of grey and this, like most other issues, is not a case of Black and White.

What we need is pure and concise scientific and rational analysis and not run away misinformation. This is not to reject what Julian has to say, rather most of his points are well made and eloquently written.
Let us not have one sided diatribes but rather go in for rational analysis that weighs pros and cons and suggests either a way out or a way ahead or a via media that is acceptable and worthy of rational thought.

Best Regards, Sardar Taimur Hyat-Khan, Chairman - Khidmat Foundation (Triple 'A' R&D NGO from Pakistan & Azad Kashmir).


Agricultural Biotechnology - Ushering in the Second Green Revolution

- International Conference on held at New Delhi, India on 10-12 August 2004

Download speaker presentations and papers at