Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org ; August 30, 2004
* Meet the New Bully At Western Farm Press
* South Africa: GM Foodstuffs Are Here to Stay, says Grain SA
* Rand: Future of GM Crops: Lessons from the Green Revolution
* Miller and Conko Book now at Amazon: Frankenfood Myth
* Beware the Agrarian Utopians
* Competition Threatens Monsanto as Biotech Crop King
* Making the Cases for Ethics
Meet the New Bully At Western Farm Press
- Harry Cline, Western Farm Press, August 27, 2004
"Biotech Bullies Slander OCA & Growing Biodemocracy Alliance in California."
"Help the OCA Fight the Counter-Attack by Monsanto and the Farm Bureau"
I have been called many things during my 40-year journalism career, but never a bully. I was absolutely thrilled at my new moniker in the headline on the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) Web site. Made me feel young again. Being called a bully at my age is like getting a free six-pack of Viagra.
Those headlines were tattooed on articles from the last edition of Western Farm Press detailing the radical anti-GMO movement in California. (My e-mail was also kept busy with many responses to the articles) OCA is the group out to convince everyone opposition to herbicide and pest-resistant crops is a local, grassroots, California movement. If the case, why doesn’t OCA ask that checks be sent to local committees. Read on.
OCA calls the WFP articles and commentary "a vicious attack in the corporate agribusiness farm journal, Western Farm Press, on the Biodemocracy Alliance and the OCA--accusing us, among other things, of fear-mongering and eco-terrorism But we will not be libeled nor intimidated. Corporate agribusiness and the Gene Giants are attacking us, not because they are confident, but because they are scared. We and the people of the world are starting to win the battle against GMOs and usher in a new era of safe food, family farms, and a sustainable environment. But we need your support to defend Mendocino and Trinity's victories, as well as to spread BioDemocracy across California and the Americas. Please take the time now to send us a donation."
Now don’t everyone reach for their checkbooks at the same time to support this "local" California group. Couple of points about the invigorating headlines. There is only one "bully" at Western Farm Press. Monsanto does not work here. And, it is no secret the California Farm Bureau Federation is not one of this editor’s favorites. FB's lobbying record on behalf of agriculture is dismal. It whines constantly about how agriculture is mistreated in Sacramento rather than trying to forage solutions to problems. It is also interesting to note that the Mendocino County Farm Bureau did not oppose the initiative in the home county of the state Farm Bureau president.
Ag groups in Sacramento say after the $600,000 loss in Mendocino, they have backed away from any organized, corporate funded opposition to these radical anti-GMO initiatives. They are letting state Farm Bureau try to generate agricultural grassroots opposition to anti-biotech movements. Expect a lot of whining from Sacramento FB, but not much leadership. However, several county Farm Bureau chapters have stepped up to oppose these initiatives, more specifically Butte County.
OCA is ramrodding the November ballot initiatives to ban genetically engineered organisms in San Luis Obispo, Marin, Humboldt and Butte. They tried for initiatives in other counties as well. OCA and its splinter group, Biodemocracy Alliance, are pounding their chests over the "wins" in Mendocino and Trinity counties. However, there were significant differences between the two.
Mendocino County was a voter-approved initiative. Trinity is an ordinance. The activists took the Mendocino initiative to Trinity for a rubber stamp. They did not get it. Legally, the law passed by Mendocino voters in the spring would not fly in Trinity. Trinity County agricultural commissioner Mark Lockhart told the county council he could not seize crops, biotech or otherwise, without due process as is the case in Mendocino’s law.
For that and other reasons, the Trinity County council modified the ordinance proposed by the anti-GMO group. Trinity’s board of supervisors passed the anti-genetically engineered crop ordinance on a 3-1 vote. The radicals ran up the victory flag and left town -- in a leaky rubber raft.
The Minnesotans might want to keep their maps to Trinity County handy because an ordinance can be changed or rescinded much quicker and easier than a voter-passed initiative. Trinity County said let’s wait for the dust settle. The jury is still out. If in the future biotechnology benefits Trinity County, the board of supervisors can change or throw out the ordinance. The radicals just thought they had a victory. They were duped.
There will be a lot of press replete with propaganda from the OCA bashing corporate America and biotech food between now and November. However, there are two very important points to remember. One is that biotech crops are here forever. Millions of acres worldwide are in biotech crops, and all indications are that it will increase. Biotech crops are growing in acceptance worldwide, contrary to what the radicals say.
Agricultural biotechnology is probably the most scrutinized technology ever introduced into farming, again contrary to what radicals say. Just look at the number of government agencies in the U.S. and worldwide which have reviewed the science and approved its use. In the U.S. alone at least three cabinet level government agencies examine each biotech crop before it is approved for planting. And there are the state agencies involved in the regulatory process.
Pass all the county anti-biotech initiatives and ordinances you want, neither reasonable court nor legislature will allow a county or city ordinance to supersede federal or state law. You think any government agency or legislative body in California will tell farmers to destroy more than 600,000 acres of crops because a bunch of radicals don’t like corporations.
Does that mean this California anti-GMO movement is a farce or a charade by radicals looking for another cause? (Go to OCA’s Web site and see that it does not limit its socialist philosophy to biotech agriculture).
It is not a joke. It is serious business because of the public perception of biotechnology that will be left in its wake. Unfortunately, it will not be good. And it could slow down progress, but it will not stop it.
Agriculture must take a bold stand, even if the anti-GMO crowd may only win symbolic victories like Trinity and Mendocino. It will take boldness from everyone demonstrated by the California rice industry. The California Rice Commission voted unanimously to oppose the anti-GMO initiative in Butte County.
It was a gutsy vote. California rice growers put many of their markets on the line with the vote. The primary tool that the anti-biotech crowd uses to further their cause is to frighten countries into banning GMO crops. In too many cases it has worked.
California rice growers could lose markets over the vote to oppose the Butte County initiative, despite the fact the rice industry has one of the most stringent crop segregation systems in California already in place, partly to segregate different rice types but biotech rice as well.
It was bold. It was courageous. It told the out-of-state bunch that it was not going to be easy to fool people in Butte County. It was a boldness that should be repeated by every agricultural organization in this state.
South Africa: GM Foodstuffs Are Here to Stay, says Grain SA
- Bruce Venter. Pretoria News, August 30, 2004
Despite controversies surrounding genetically modified (GM) foods, 65% of South Africa's yellow maize crop is grown from GM seed. Yellow maize is primarily used to feed livestock, according to Grain South Africa. Anti-GM activists claim GM maize fed to feedlot cattle results in a GM beef product entering the consumer market.
But Rudi van der Westhuizen of the South African Meat Industry Company (Samic), dismisses the claim. "A small percentage of GM maize is used in feedlots. It has no effect on the cattle and this (beef) cannot be classified as GM," he said.
Dave Ford, managing director of the South African Feedlot Association (Safa), said the industry uses white maize by-products to feed slaughter cattle. GM seed produces only 15% of South Africa's white maize crop, which is used for human consumption. "Only a small amount of yellow maize is used in Safa feedlots. We rely on white maize by-products that come out of the milling industry," he said. Ford said slaughter cattle consume insignificant amounts of GM maize in South African feedlots.
A spokesman for Grain SA said GM seed has been planted by the maize industry for the past seven years. "The use of GM seed is not new and is set to increase as the benefits become more tangible for farmers," he said. Despite a late rainfall season, South Africa's maize harvest for the 2003/04 season could still exceed 9-million tons.
Kobus Steenekamp, product manager for Monsanto, a US-based company that researches and develops GM maize seed, said GM seed is a significant factor in the increase in crop yields. "GM seed can contribute an additional two million tons of maize in a single harvest due to the plant's (GM) higher yield capacity," he said.
GM maize seed is produced by crossing two parent plants in order to produce a hybrid containing certain traits from its donor plants. "Through crossing an insect resistant plant with one that is herbicide resistant, we produce a single plant resistant to both," said Steenekamp. This is done by adding an additional gene to the plant's deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). DNA is the carrier of a living organism's genetic information.
He said the benefits of GM maize are an increase in yield per hectare and money saved on spraying pesticides. Compared to conventional seed, the GM derivative can increase a crop yield by between three and five tons per hectare, said Johannes Roussow, a Monsanto maize researcher for Africa. "Hybrid plants are developed to produce a maximum yield capacity and resistance to herbicides and diseases," he said. Insects, such as stalk borers and weeds can result in a 25 to 30% loss in crop yield in a single harvest.
"Farmers can therefore use herbicide treatments that are environmentally friendly, reliable and cost-effective," said Roussow. Steenekamp said South Africa's 8 000 commercial and about 2,4-million subsistence farmers are set to ensure a sustained maize supply by planting GM seed. "GM crops will contribute to our country's food security and increased crop yields will cost less to produce," he said.
But Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss of environmental group Biowatch said maize crops are still vulnerable to other pests, despite genetic modification. "Reduced pesticide expenses promised by the GM crop proves attractive, but you still have to spray pesticides to keep other pests away," said Pschorn-Strauss. She said that it can cost about R500 per hectare to spray pesticides to combat diseases that can still attack GM modified plants.
Koos van Aswegen, a Free State maize farmer, said there is still uncertainty as to the benefits of planting GM seed. Van Aswegen, who has 1 000 hectares under maize, has planted GM seed for two seasons. "The seed is resistant to stalk-borers, but I still have to spray for other diseases as well," he said.
He said there has been an increased yield of "about one to two tons" per hectare, but there is no price difference between GM and conventional maize. Grain South Africa said there is no premium price on GM maize. "Prices remain the same regardless. Another factor is that GM and conventional maize is often grown by the same farmer who mixes both harvests," said a spokesman. Steenekamp concedes that GM maize fails to command a higher price.
The main concern surrounding GM crops is the impact on human health and the environment. "Insufficient research has resulted in (GM) products being rushed onto the market and we are uncertain what the health effects of GM foods are," said Susan Craig, a plant pathologist.
But Steenekamp said no claims of health effects have been lodged regarding the consumption of GM derived foodstuffs. "In the past seven years, not a single instance of any adverse health effects from the consumption of GM food products has been recorded," he said.
Craig says the environmental risks are also unknown. "The unintended transfer of genes through cross-pollination can damage ecological biodiversity if GM plants hybridise with natural flora," said Craig.
Maize is not indigenous to South Africa, so it cannot affect natural flora, according to Steenekamp. "GM maize cannot cross-pollinate with any other plant other than maize, which is not naturally found in South Africa," he said.
Steenekamp said a GM plant undergoes 65 000 different tests to determine its safety before release into the environment. Bennie van Zyl of the Transvaal Agricultural Union-South Africa (TAU-SA), agreed that although GM crops provide better yields, health safety was a concern. "Although TAU-SA has no problem with GM seed, we must emphasise the need for ongoing research into the health and safety aspects of the technology," Van Zyl said.
The Future of Genetically Modified Crops: Lessons from the Green Revolution
- Felicia Wu and William Butz, Rand Corporation, $20.00 (paperback, 114 pp.); ISBN: 0-8330-3646-7, MG-161-RC, © 2004
Free, downloadable at http://www.rand.org/publications/MG/MG161/
The world is now on the cusp of a new agricultural revolution, the so-called Gene Revolution, in which genetically modified (GM) crops are tailored to address chronic agricultural problems in certain regions of the world. This monograph report investigates the circumstances and processes that can induce and sustain this new agricultural revolution. The authors compare the Green Revolution of the 20th century with the GM crop movement to assess the agricultural, technological, sociological, and political differences between the two movements.
Chapter One: Introduction
Chapter Two: The Green Revolution
Chapter Three: The Gene Revolution: Genetically Modified Crops Chapter Four: Lessons for the Gene Revolution from the Green Revolution
The world now sits at the cusp of a new agricultural revolution--the "Gene Revolution" in which modern biotechnology enables the production of genetically modified (GM) crops that may be tailored to address agricultural problems worldwide. This report investigates the circumstances and processes that can induce and sustain such an agricultural revolution. It does so by comparing the current GM crop movement with the Green Revolution of the latter half of the 20th century. We assess not only the scientific and technological differences in crops and in agricultural methods between these two movements, but more generally the economic, cultural, and political factors that influence whether a new agricultural technology is adopted and accepted by farmers, consumers, and governments. Our historical analysis of the earlier Green Revolution provides lessons about whether and how genetically modified crops might spread around the world. Whether the latter movement will develop into a global Gene Revolution remains to be seen.
Genetically modified crops created by modern agricultural biotechnology have attracted worldwide attention in the past decade. Cautious voices warn that the health and environmental effects of GM crops are uncertain and that their cultivation could have unintended adverse consequences. Alternatively, supporters of the technology assert that GM crops could revolutionize world agriculture, particularly in developing countries, in ways that would substantially reduce malnutrition, improve food security, and increase rural income, and in some cases even reduce environmental pollutants.
Can the GM crop movement develop into an agricultural revolution on the scale of the Green Revolution? To answer this question, first, it is important to consider what an agricultural revolution entails. Viewed historically, movements that come to be considered agricultural revolutions share the following features:
1. The movements gave farmers incentives to produce--i.e., the technologies provided a net benefit to farmers.
2. The movements substantially improved agricultural production, food nutrition, or both; or they substantially decreased necessary inputs such as fertilizer or water.
3. People were generally willing to adapt culturally and economically to the new technologies, and consumers accepted the products of the agricultural movement.
4. There was cooperation among those that provided the technologies, regulated the technologies, and used the technologies.
5. The movements were sustainable, eventually without public subsidization. On a regional scale, GM crops might indeed be considered revolutionary--that is, they could meet all five criteria for an agricultural revolution. In the United States, Canada, China, and Argentina, for example, genetically modified varieties of soybeans, corn, and cotton now make up from about a third to 80 percent of total plantings of those crops, and provide benefits for growers such that these GM varieties will likely continue to make up a substantial portion of total plantings in the foreseeable future. Likewise, policymakers and the general public in these nations are accepting of this new technology. Adoption of these GM crops has led to improved yield, decreased use of pesticides or particularly harmful herbicides, and, in some cases, improved food quality.
While farmers in other nations, such as India and South Africa, have more recently begun to plant GM crops and experience the beginnings of a potential Gene Revolution, the revolution has yet to occur on a global scale. It has stalled because consumer and environmental concerns, along with precautionary regulations, have limited its spreading to the countries that could benefit from it most, notably much of sub-Saharan Africa where famine continually threatens the population.
As stated above, the purpose of this report is to better understand whether and how this GM movement might become an authentic agricultural revolution by comparing it with an earlier agricultural movement that did reach nearly the entire world. The Green Revolution that had its origins in the 1940s, and reached its peak in the 1970s, continues to affect agricultural practices today. By analyzing the Green Revolution’s objectives, science and technology, sources of financing, regulatory environment, and ultimate successes and failures, we offer an assessment of the ongoing GM crop movement --whether and how it might make a revolutionary impact on world agriculture.
The stated objective of the Green Revolution was to increase food production in regions of the world facing impending massive malnutrition. In the post-World War II era, scientists and policymakers considered those regions to be Latin America and Asia. Some argue, in retrospect, that this geographic choice was also motivated by Cold War politics: a largely U.S.-supported effort to prevent the spread of communism by ensuring adequate food supplies in at-risk countries.
Regardless of its motivation, the introduction of high-yield varieties (HYVs) of crop seed, along with pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation systems, transformed agriculture on those two continents. With initial funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, individuals including U.S. plant breeders, agronomists, entomologists, soil scientists, and engineers worked in developing nations while training local agricultural scientists to extend the work in their own locales. The World Bank, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and other national and international organizations later joined the Rockefeller Foundation to make this effort succeed.
And succeed it did, in terms of increasing food production in Asia, Latin America, and even parts of the industrialized world such as Great Britain. In Africa, however, where the movement came later, the Green Revolution has yet to improve food production in a sustainable way. As such, this movement provides several important lessons for understanding the possible course of the Gene Revolution. We compare the Green Revolution and the current GM crop movement in four basic areas: science and technology, funding sources, where the movement occurred or is occurring, and the policies and political motivations surrounding each movement.
Lessons from the Green Revolution
What can we determine about the prospects for the Gene Revolution by studying the Green Revolution’s successes and failures? The Gene Revolution thus far resembles the Green Revolution in the following ways: (1) It employs new science and technology to create crop seeds that can significantly outperform the types of seeds that preceded it; (2) the impact of the new seed technologies can be critically important to developing world agriculture; and (3) for a variety of reasons, these technologies have not yet reached the parts of the world where they could be most beneficial.
On the other hand, the Gene Revolution is unlike the Green Revolution in the following ways: (1) The science and technology required to create GM crop seeds are far more complicated than the science and technology used to create Green Revolution agricultural advancements; (2) GM seeds are created largely through private enterprises rather than through public-sector efforts; and (3) the political climate in which agricultural science can influence the world by introducing innovations has changed dramatically since the Green Revolution.
The similarities and differences between the Green and Gene Revolutions lead us to speculate that for the GM crop movement to have the sort of impact that would constitute an agricultural revolution, the following goals still need to be met and the related challenges overcome.
1. Agricultural biotechnology must be tailored toward, and made affordable to, developing-world farmers. Unless these conditions are met, farmers may not see that it is in their best interest to use GM crops at all despite the unique benefits those crops could provide.
2. There is a need for larger investments in research in the public sector. Numerous studies have shown the importance of public-sector research and development to aiding agricultural advancements, including the Green Revolution. Partnerships between the public and private sectors can result in more efficient production of GM crops that are useful to the developing world and can expand xxiv The Future of Genetically Modified Crops the accessibility of those crops and their associated technologies to developing-world farmers.
3. To garner the level of public interest that can sustain an agricultural revolution, agricultural development must once again be regarded as being critically important from a policy perspective in both donor and recipient nations. As population numbers continue to increase today, agricultural development is more necessary than ever to eliminate malnutrition and prevent famine, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. GM crops are seen by many as a means for addressing those problems. However, policymakers worldwide are far from being a combined force on this issue.
4. Policymakers in the developing world must set regulatory standards that take into consideration the risks as well as the benefits of foods derived from GM crops. This goal is crucial to the cooperation of the many stakeholders that are affected by GM crops and also for the sustainability of the GM crop movement in the foreseeable future. Without regulations that explicitly take into account potential benefits to both farmers and consumers, those nations that might stand to benefit most from GM crops may be discouraged from allowing them to be planted.
Revised regulations on genetically modified crops must accompany widespread collective policy efforts to revitalize agricultural development. And before developing world farmers and consumers can benefit from GM crops or any other type of enhanced crop breeding, the technologies must be affordable and farmers must understand how to use them.
The GM crop movement must overcome an intertwined collection of challenges before it can have an impact beyond those regions of the world that already produce excesses of food. If the GM crop movement can overcome these challenges, while proving itself to be acceptably free of adverse health and environmental impacts, it has the potential to provide benefits to farmers and consumers around the globe in previously inconceivable ways, while mitigating the need to use potentially harmful chemicals or scarce water supplies for agriculture. It can then indeed become a true "Gene Revolution"
The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution
by Henry I. Miller, Gregory Conko
Can Now be ordered from http://www.amazon.com
$39.95, Hardcover: 296 page, Praeger Publishers; (August 30, 2004) , ISBN: 0275978796
Beware the Agrarian Utopians
- Michael Fumento, August 23, 2004 http://www.techcentralstation.com/082304D.html
On the grounds of Versailles lies Marie-Antoinette's "Hameau" (hamlet) -- at once lovely and pathetic. It comprises about 20 fairy-tale cottages and small buildings. The Austrian-born queen never felt at home in her adopted land. And so during her free time, accompanied by her ladies-in-waiting, she pretended to be a milkmaid.
The Hameau is a timber and thatch metaphor for what's now called "agrarian utopianism." Its devotees look back with longing on the time when people lived in tiny villages, and virtually everybody was somehow involved in farming. They believe the world would somehow be a better place if we all just hooked a plow to a pair of oxen and eked out a living on a few acres of soil.
The most famous current agrarian utopian is another monarch, Prince Charles of Britain. While Marie Antoinette played a milkmaid, Charles plays a farmer. He has his own plot of organically-grown fruits and vegetables that he pays someone else to oversee. Like Marie Antoinette, he can go there whenever he likes, do what he pleases, and then take off his designer boots and become again a pampered prince.
His farm is not his livelihood; it's a game. Yet this is how he perceives agriculture. Like all agrarian utopians, Charles views the past through thick lenses of nostalgia, sentimentality, and romanticism. He has no worry that his family will starve if insects or weeds ruin his crops. He has no idea of the back-breaking work farming was less than a century ago, of the life 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes so aptly described as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
Yet this cult of nature-worship and agrarian sentimentalism is a powerful one even in a day when shoes have computer chips in them and many children have never seen corn on a stalk or wheat in the field. It features prominently in the current blockbuster film The Village, in which maintaining the agrarian life is worth being devoured by monsters in the surrounding woods. It's also a potent force in the opposition to agricultural biotech and synthetic pesticides that's revealed in every anti- biotech promulgation by the Prince of Wales.
Margaret Mellon is now director of the Food and Environment Program of the staunchly anti-biotech Union of Concerned Scientists, which requires her to pretend her arguments are based on science rather than sentimentalism. But back when she was director of biotechnology policy for the National Wildlife Federation she said, "I feel an affection for the natural world the way it is -- the way four billion years of evolution have made it. I resist the notion of improving nature in the future, just as I lament the loss of nature as it was in the past."
But does she lament the loss of life in one of history's greatest slaughters, the killing fields of Cambodia? Between 1975 and 1979, over two million people died under the regime of Pol Pot. As the BBC put it, "When he came to power in 1975, he quickly set about transforming the country into his vision of an agrarian utopia by emptying the cities, abolishing money, private property and religion and setting up rural collectives." Books and modern medicine were abolished; the professionals who could make use of them were executed. Today all that's left of this "utopia" are mountains of human bones.
Agrarian utopianism is inherently extreme. Its practitioners see nature as it never was. Yes, nature offers rain and sunlight to feed the crops and wind to blow the pollen. But it often gives that rain as flood, or withholds it and causes drought. It "provides" brutal winters that kill livestock and windstorms that whisk topsoil away forever. It brings hideous diseases of crops, animals, and people -- including carrying off a third of the European population in a single epidemic.
In his oft-cited little book Farmageddon: Food and the Culture of Biotechnology, former farmer Brewster Kneen admits, "I am against all biotechnology," including even what he concedes are lifesaving pharmaceuticals. "Not on principle," he says, "but because, as an artifact of society, an expression of a particular culture, I think 'modern biotechnology' is a bad attitude -- a bad attitude towards life, towards Creation, towards other cultures and other ways of knowing and experiencing the world."
Psychobabble? Sure. But at least Kneen is honest. He's also honest in admitting what so many of his fellow critics will not -- that he really is against progress for the sake of opposing progress.
In his "Farmageddon lexicon," Kneen defines "Novel Foods" as "something that would not be recognized as edible by Great-Aunt Sarah." Yet if you look in your pantry or kitchen, you'll find that the vast majority of things you eat would not have been available in that form or available at all when Great-Aunt Sarah was little. That goes for something as simple and fundamental as corn. Virtually all corn eaten in North America, biotech and otherwise, is descended from hybrids that only became available in the 1930s.
Our ancestors in the industrialized world once lived under the conditions the agrarian utopians glamorize and yet they abandoned it as soon as possible for the cities. People even now pulling a plow behind an old water buffalo in Africa or Bangladesh desperately wish they could trade places with a minimum-wage earning American.
The ostensibly charitable British organization, Christian Aid opposes biotech seed that makes herbicides more effective, saying women would be denied income derived from stooping over and yanking weeds all day long. Not that they'd want THEIR wives and children pulling weeds; they're rather happy that the modern farms in their country free up females to become doctors, teachers, and -- who knows? -- perhaps even prime minister.
The ultimate manifestation of agrarian utopianism is organic farming. It's hard to think of being sentimental towards manure, but that's the only "advantage" animal waste has over chemical fertilizers. Organic farmers' insecticides (yes, they use insecticides) are old-fashioned. Rather than poison weeds with herbicides, they dig them up, thereby loosening and ultimately losing the topsoil.
And what does organic food provide? More nutrition? No. More attractive food to steer kids from Snacky Cake Supremes to fruits and vegetables? "Not likely!" chuckles Mr. Worm from the comfort of your organic apple. Is it safer? No way.
A recent published report from the University of Minnesota measured the prevalence of the deadly bacteria E. coli 0157:H7 from over 600 produce samples collected from 40 organic and conventional farms. Those infected with this bacterium may suffer diarrhea, vomiting, kidney damage, and sometimes death.
"Organic samples from farms that used manure or compost aged less than 12 months had a prevalence of E. coli 19 times greater than that of farms that used older materials," it found. And while some organic growers claim there's no problem if fresh manure is avoided, even with the older stuff the researchers found the percentages of E. coli-positive samples in conventional produce was only 1.6 percent whereas it approached 10 percent in the organic food. The FDA recalls bean sprouts regularly, again because of E. coli contamination.
Well then, does organic food save consumers money? That's an unfunny joke. The Birkenstock yuppie set doesn't care, but by raising the price of fresh produce it hurts those already eating the least -- the poor.
Well then, does it save land for critters and hikers? Quite the opposite. As the "Father of the Green Revolution" Norman Borlaug has stated, "Even if you could use all the organic material that you have -- the animal manures, the human waste, the plant residues -- and get them back on the soil, you couldn't feed more than 4 billion people." Over a third of the world's population would starve.
Yet there are those whose princes insist that the paupers pay more to get less, and others who would say of those who can't afford organic bread that which the ill-fated Marie-Antoinette never did: "Let them eat cake!" --- Michael Fumento (Fumento[at]pobox.com) is a senior fellow at Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., author of BioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing our World, and a nationally syndicated columnist with Scripps Howard News Service.
Competition Threatens Monsanto as Biotech Crop King
- Carey Gillam, Reuters, August 27, 2004
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The golden stalks of corn and lush green soybean fields that shape the U.S. farm landscape would not normally be described as battlefields. But that's what they are turning into as the world's biggest agricultural technology companies wage a fierce fight for market share of biotech corn, soybeans and other crops.
And it's about to get bloody. Facilitated by a series of acquisitions and favorable court rulings, Dow AgroSciences, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co. and Syngenta Seeds, Inc., a unit of Swiss-based Syngenta, the world's biggest agrichemicals company, are leveling a direct challenge to Monsanto Co., the acknowledged king of biotech agriculture.
"Monsanto has had a monopoly," said David Brawner, owner of a Missouri-based arm of AgVenture Inc., an independent seed company. "But I don't believe they can continue to be the dominant force they have been."
Popular But Pricey
St. Louis-based Monsanto currently holds sway over more than 80 percent of the market for biotech soybeans and corn in the United States. Monsanto technology results in seeds genetically modified to resist certain destructive insects and tolerate weed-killing treatments. The seeds are popular with many U.S. farmers because they help them harvest a bigger crop and reduce chemical use. But Monsanto's fees -- being raised this year by more than 25 percent on some products -- are a sore spot.
"I'm glad to see Syngenta and Dow come into the market. Monsanto needs more competition," said Iowa farmer Gordon Wassenaar. Monsanto has deflected previous challenges with lawsuits and patent disputes. But Syngenta and Dow both have court rulings in their favor now and say they are pushing into the market with full force.
"We're bringing superior technology to the market compared to what the competition has out there today," said Pete Siggelko, Dow AgriSciences vice president of plant genetics.
One of the first big challenges to Monsanto comes from a Dow corn seed dubbed "Herculex," named for Hercules, the mortal son of the god Zeus, who slays an evil giant in Greek mythology. Herculex corn resists an array of harmful insects and competes against a line of Monsanto corn products called YieldGard.
Monsanto has argued that it owns the technology that confers the insect-resistance. But courts have sided with Dow and Dow plans to launch a biotech cotton in 2005, followed in 2006 with a Herculex corn that also protects against rootworm. Syngenta is coming at Monsanto with more. With a series of acquisitions of seed and technology companies under its belt, Syngenta is poised to introduce a range of specialized corn seeds. Its top weapon is a glyphosate-resistant corn seed that would compete directly with Monsanto's "Roundup Ready corn," a popular product that helps farmers control weeds and is one of Monsanto's key growth vehicles.
Monsanto has filed a patent infringement suit against its rival and it has told seed dealers they should destroy certain seed stocks that could help Syngenta's entry. But Syngenta said its seeds will be available for planting in the spring. Syngenta is also planning to introduce corn that gives growers both glyphosate-resistance and protection against a destructive European corn borer pest, and it has a rootworm product in the works. "We know we're late to the market; that is clear," said Syngenta product development manager Rob Wilde. "But we have a wonderful portfolio to create compelling offers."
Illegal Monopoly Allegations
Adding fuel to the fire, Syngenta filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Delaware last month, claiming that Monsanto has obtained its market dominance illegally. Monsanto defends its business practices and says Syngenta is infringing on Monsanto's patents. And Monsanto spokeswoman Lori Fisher said Monsanto does not fear the competition. "We believe the established benefits of our products and the significant experience we have gives Monsanto a leadership advantage," she said.
The biotech seeds business is key to Monsanto's future financial strength, company officials say. Monsanto has watched its hold on the herbicide market diminish dramatically after its patent on glyphosate expired, and company officials and investors say future profits depend on seed sales. Indeed, the company's stock has risen more than 58 percent over the last year as seed profits have grown.
As the corporate battles wage, farmers watch with interest. "We would love to see more companies be able to reach the marketplace with traits that have real broad appeal," said Nathan Danielson, the National Corn Growers Association's director of biotech and business development.
Making the Cases for Ethics
- Reviewed by: Rahul K Dhanda, Nature Biotechnology 22, 951 (2004); www.nature.com. Reproduced in Agbioview with the permission of the editor.
'Ethics and the Business of Bioscience by Margaret L. Eaton; Stanford University Press, 2004; 552 pp. paperback, $34.95; ISBN 0804742502'
Dedicated to the responsible delivery of medical care, as well as the thoughtful pursuit of biological knowledge, bioethics has for decades been a vibrant field that has grown to touch almost every aspect of life science. The advent of the Human Genome Project in the mid-1980s boosted the discipline even more, dedicating roughly 3%–5% of its multibillion dollar budget to the study of the ethical, legal and social issues surrounding genetic technologies.
The marvels of genomics and other biotechnologies may have pushed ethical boundaries, but they also inspired the corporate opportunism that has since leveraged new discoveries, venture capital investments, stock market speculation and all of the trappings of capitalism. These examples do not exhaust the epiphenomena that have surfaced: another that requires special attention is the fear that corresponds with the 'profit-over-responsibility' charge that many critics level against corporations.
Concerns over corporate motives become even more acute when the potential abuses of the science of life are coincident with the pursuit of capital. Too little has been written about this topic, and Margaret Eaton has acted to correct this lacuna with her book Ethics and the Business of Bioscience.
Eaton has collected an impressive amount of information--interviews at leading biotechnology companies and research to bring the academic fields of business ethics and bioethics together with real world experience--to construct a series of case studies for use by students of biotechnology, from industry professionals to college undergraduates. The result is a book that is as thorough as it is informative.
Examining a diverse range of firms, the author tackles various technologies and issues--from stem cells to genetically modified foods to justice in access to technologies. Any student of corporate biotechnology, business ethics and bioethics is likely to find useful information, as the text meticulously deconstructs the challenges created by, and strategies to confront, the ethical issues faced by biotech firms. The analysis of Monsanto's experience with recombinant bovine somatotropin (Posilac), a growth hormone that stimulated milk production in cows, opens the analytic portion of the text, and it presages the plight the company would face when it released genetically modified (GM) seeds. Although the latter case has received more attention, the Posilac incident raised a similar furor over whether milk derived from treated cows should contain a label detailing that fact.
Ethical issues and corporate strategies around genetic testing, access to drugs and many other rich examples fill the book, but these may reflect a minor drawback in that most of these cases are high-profile incidents--occurrences that are likely to be familiar to most interested readers. Unfortunately, this is a necessary and unavoidable tactic. Because ethics is not always readily recognized as a natural complement to the formal components of the business world (e.g., finance and R&D), any attempt to examine it in a corporate context must tread on familiar examples.
Thus, these examples may not convince the reader of the book's noblest intent--that the complicated issues facing corporate biotechnology are present even in the most mundane of settings. That the example of fair access to AIDS therapy seems so dire and so different from, say, access to basic healthcare may dissuade a firm developing a new rheumatoid arthritis therapy from seeing the relevance of the higher-profile case. The cases differ, but they touch upon common questions throughout the industry. All such cases involve fundamental questions of the social significance of health, just access to healthcare, and the balance between fair profits and corporate social responsibility, and it would be a shame if those commonalities were lost in the glitz of high-profile cases.
Although as many people as possible ought to be educated about the ethical issues that surround the healthcare technologies that touch their lives, Eaton has created a book targeted at those who need this education most—namely, managers of biotech companies. More precisely, the public needs these individuals to be educated. However, she has also displayed, by virtue of her choice of companies, that the belief that ethics considerations are beyond the competency of corporate operations is untrue.
Some may argue that the chosen examples are more the exception than the rule, but the book is heartening in that it highlights numerous industry representatives who are aware of the significance of ethical issues. "I don't think you can be involved in genetics and not in ethical issues," says Elliott Hillback Jr. of Genzyme. Steven Holtzman (now CEO of Infinity Pharmaceuticals) discusses his own experiences at Millennium Pharmaceuticals and the importance of ethics to his position as chief business officer. According to him, "Written into my job description—literally—was a mandate to bring an awareness of sensitive ethical issues to the staff that our work would raise."
Experiences such as these pepper the book, but it is hard to claim from these cases that such attitudes are the rule rather than the exception. It is this point that highlights the greatest value of Ethics and the Business of Bioscience. In the wake of the scandals surrounding Enron, ImClone, WorldCom and the resulting Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, ethics and corporate responsibility are receiving greater attention. However, until recently, anyone searching for resources on ethics and bioscience had to dig deeply into the literature to find it. Hopefully, Margaret Eaton's book will find its way to the business schools, libraries and corporations where many interested readers are still searching for this knowledge.
Rahul K. Dhanda is at the MIT Sloan School of Management, the Jamestown Project at Yale Law School, and Interleukin Genetics, and is chair of the bioethics advisory group of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. He is the author of Guiding Icarus: Merging Bioethics with Corporate Interests (Wiley-Liss, New York, 2002).