Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : October 5, 2004
* Biotech Food for the Hungry
* Is GM Canola in Canada Successful?
* Global Challenges for Managing Biological Technologies
* How to Succeed Like an Activist
* Your Comments for UN Report of the Millennium Science Project
* Proof in the Organic Pudding: Avery vs. Benbrook
* German Scientists Predict Death of GM Industry
* Unsustainable Practice: Zero Tolerance
* US Sees GM Debate Moving to 'How,' Not 'Whether'
* India Needs an Integrated Strategy for the Agri Sector
* Open Letter to FAO in Support of Biotechnology Report
* How Biotechnology-Derived Crops Reduce the Runoff That Creates "Dead Zones"
Biotech Food for the Hungry
- Jim Nicholson, International Herald Tribune, October 2, 2004
The number of people who die of starvation dwarfs the number who die from terrorism. Last year, 625 people died from terrorism; 10 million from starvation. Every five seconds someone dies for lack of food; 25,000 people will die of hunger today. So just as we must explore every means to defeat terrorism, we must also explore every means to meet the most basic need of every human being food.
As the largest provider of food aid in the world, the United States is just as committed to the struggle to feed the hungry as it is to the struggle against terrorism. But we want to do more than provide handouts. We want countries to be able to feed themselves.
With this in mind, the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See recently sponsored an international conference in Rome to examine the potential of biotechnology to help meet this challenge of hunger. Scientists, farmers from developing countries, senior government officials and theologians spoke in broad agreement that biotechnology is an indispensable tool to meet the world's growing demand for more food. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pope's scientific advisory board, joined with us in trying to seek the truth and dispel myths about biotech foods.
Dr. C.S. Prakash, an Indian-born scientist whose research has increased the nutritional value of the sweet potato fourfold, told the conference that half of sub-Saharan Africans are malnourished today, a figure that is expected to increase to 70 percent by 2010. He said that world population growth has reduced the amount of arable land, making greater agricultural productivity a necessity: "We must produce more food with less land, less water and less chemicals."
Biotechnology can do this.
The best assessment of biotechnology's potential came from farmers themselves. Sabina Khoza, a South African maize farmer, and Edwin Paraluman, a corn farmer in the Philippines, told us that their yields and incomes are up, and their use of harmful pesticides is down.
Unfortunately, the ability of farmers such as Khoza and Paraluman to take advantage of this new tool has been severely restricted in many countries by widespread resistance based upon misinformation about biotechnology safety misinformation sown by ideologically motivated groups and nurtured by EU trade protectionists.
These critics continue to claim that biotech foods are unsafe despite the fact that millions of Americans, Canadians, Australians, Argentines and other people have been eating genetically modified food for nearly a decade without one proven case of an illness, allergic reaction or even the hiccups.
Activists even convinced African governments facing drought-induced famine in late 2002 to return tons of World Food Program corn because it was produced in America using biotechnology. Better to die than eat the food that Americans eat every day.
For those who question the morality of biotechnology, suggesting that it is unnatural, the scientists pointed out that mankind has been genetically altering food throughout human history. In fact, almost none of the foods we consider "natural" today exist in nature; all have been genetically modified for human use.
In exploring the potential contributions of biotechnology, the United States and the Holy See are very aware that world hunger has many causes: poverty, drought, disease, armed conflicts, inadequate transportation and government corruption. All play their part in this tragedy, and all must be addressed if we are to end hunger and malnutrition.
But biotech foods, now the staple of choice for America and millions of others, ought to be allowed in Africa to mitigate the plight of people suffering from starvation. There is not one shred of scientific evidence to suggest otherwise.
Ensuring all men their daily bread is the best way to promote the dignity of humankind. Biotechnology offers a scientifically sound means to feed the world's neediest. As Dr. Peter Raven, one of the world's leading genetic scientists, explained, "to a mother in a famine-struck region of Africa, the disease she and her children suffer from is hunger, and the cure is food."
That is why sharing the fruits of biotechnology with those who hunger is a moral imperative. The conscience of all committed to the common good should demand it.
Jim Nicholson is the United States ambassador to the Holy See.
Is GM Canola in Canada Successful?
- Chris Preston , Senior Lecturer in Weed Management, University of Adelaide, Australia
A full blooded stoush has broken out in Australia over claims made by a lobby group with links to Greenpeace called he Network of Concerned Farmers. On its website, the Network claims, amongst other things, that GM canola is not performing well in Canada (http://www.non-gm-farmers.com/news_details.asp?ID=1228).
Bill Crabtree, a farm consultant in Western Australia, took a farmer group to Canada and the US to view GM crops. He has published a letter on his experiences in several Australian farm newspapers. Below is an example. This is followed by a radio interview regarding The Network of Concerned Farmer's attempts to publish the location of GM crop trials in Australia - and lastly part of the Network's response on their website.
Notice the headline on the NCF website - the emotive language and the unjustified claim. Yet the NCF claims that Bill Crabtree is part of an emotional ccampaign against the NCF when in actual fact it is entirely the other way around.
Of course, those of you reading this in Canada will be wondering what all the fuss is about in Australia and how anybody can claim that GM canola is not performing in Canada. Happy reading.
Letter to the Editor - "I'm back" By Bill Crabtree
Along with 43 other farmers and scientists, from all over southern Australia, I recently saw first-hand numerous GM crops in Canada and the United States. We saw field after field of weed-free GM crops. We heard from farmers and weed scientists about how these crops had been powerful in controlling weeds and fighting herbicide resistance weeds. We heard how their crop yields had increased by perhaps 30% in recent years and that they largely attribute this to GM technology.
We learnt that these farmers, our competitors, can clean up dirty fields with Liberty, a knockdown herbicide that kills ryegrass that we still can't use yet (because it is linked with GM technology). We learnt that Canadians have no problems selling their wheat into GM sensitive markets even when it is grown in GM canola stubbles. We learnt that wheat, for many Canadians, has become their break-crop for the purpose of growing their Cinderella GM-canola crop. We learnt that those farmers who are in
the seeds industry have suffered economically from GM canola and most farmers only want to grow GM canola. We learnt that the Canadians receive more for their GM canola than we do for our non-GM canola in our shared markets. We saw no fear about GM canola in Canada after 9 years of experience.
Now if the farmers surveyed by the anti-GM lobby (see page 4 of the Farm Weekly on 23rd September) knew all of the above issues to be true, then they would have answered differently - I'm sure! I sense that many farmers have been scared by frantic, mobile and straw-clutching logic. You can not afford to be bullied by a small group.
The NCF are with-holding invaluable technology from you. Will they repay you, when in 3-5 years time they realise that they were wrong. This is when ryegrass numbers have got out of control on your farm and are resistant to every selective herbicide but remains susceptible to sheep, the plow and the match? These are the old and often unsustainable ways of farming where organic matter is destroyed and irreplaceable soil is lost. This is why we currently have to invest in shields to maintain our soils integrity.
When I was in Canada in 1996, the first year GM canola was released, a delightful no-till farmer, in NW Manitoba, called Brian Harvey said to me he thinking of quitting farming due to herbicide resistance. He felt that he had almost lost control of his wild oats with fop and dim resistance. Four weeks ago, while I was in his Province, I spoke to him on the phone and asked how his wild oats were going and he said fine, the GM canola has got things nicely under control and he even still uses some fops and dims on his wild oats on occasions in his low numbers of wild oats. Resistance is a numbers game!
May I suggest that you go to Canada to find out for yourselves - it will only cost you a few thousand dollars - easily repaid from your first GM canola crop. It seems NCF are determined to confuse you and they are repeating ideas that have been shown to be inaccurate. For example, and again I say, there were two trials conducted at Wongan Hills last year by an independent researcher, as reported in the GRDCs 2004 Crop Updates. They show that both Liberty and Roundup Ready outyielded the conventional TT varieties by 200-300 kg/ha and with better oil content - this is worth at least $80-120/ha per year. Not to mention how easy it is to grow and how that Atrazine is not required.
You would not need a consultant like me half as much as you do now with GM technology. Currently much of my time is purchased by farmers who are devising strategies to combat herbicide resistant ryegrass. My view is clearly not promoting my self interests. Can this be said of others? Come on farmer groups, do your desktop research and speak up and give leadership, the longer you hold off the more you will get behind and the harder it will be to win the city voters! Even Europe are now embracing GM technology at a rapid pace.
From the ABC: http://www.abc.net.au/rural/news/stories/s1210429.htm
GM Opponents Accused of Fear Campaign
The Network of Concerned Farmers has been accused of spreading fear about geneticallymodified crops, for its push to make trial sites public in Victoria.
The Network claims to have found the sites and published pictures on its website. But Western Australian consultant Bill Crabtree says the group's action are intimidating, and their policy backward.
"Julie Newman and the Network of Concerned Farmers are making muck and mystery, saying things, just grabbing and clutching at straws; it's just nonsense. "They're just not a rational group and they're not speaking on behalf of farmers; and I believe that normal people, sensible people, ought to stand up and speak up, and make these people disappear off the face of the earth, because they're destroying and damaging our industry."
Bayer CropScience has strongly defended its sites, saying their location has never been a secret, and that they're the same small-scale research trials the company's been running for eight years.
Spokeswoman Susie O'Neill says they pose no risk to farming or human health. "We would maintain that the DPI supervising our activities and the strict conditions would ensure that there is no risk to agricultural trade in Victoria. "And so, the people, the neighbours, who are required to be informed, certainly are informed; and it's not a secret; the people who - a large number of farmers from the district and agronomists and farm advisers - do in fact know where the trials are and have actually been to see them."
Meanwhile the Victorian Agriculture Minister Bob Cameron is warning the Network of Concerned Farmers to be careful about how much information it releases about where possible trials are being held.
He says naming exact locations could lead to activists disrupting legal trials and farming activities.
The Network of Concerned Farmer's response: 01 October 2004
Consultant wants to wipe concerned farmers from the face of the earth
Network note: Thank you to the many "rational" farmers that have contacted us to support what we are doing. We feel this sort of emotional campaign against us is because we must be effective in ensuring it is possible to avoid negative financial impacts on those that want to market a product that consumers are not rejecting. (Julie Newman)
Global Challenges for Guiding and Managing Biological Technologies: A Workshop
- The National Academies, October 4, 2004, www.nationalacademies.org/banr/
The National Academies’ Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources and Board on Life Sciences will host a workshop on October 25-26, 2004 in Washington, DC. This workshop is unlike all others on the topic of biotechnology because it will provide prognostic views about what biological technologies should and should not do in the future, concentrate on sustainable and socially acceptable solutions to problems, and examine the challenging and contentious issues of transgenics in plant production systems.
The workshop will address the fundamental issue: How can biological technologies help address global challenges such as world hunger, water scarcity, ecosystem impoverishment and loss of biodiversity? In particular, can agricultural biotechnology be part of the solution to these problems in developing countries? If biological technologies hold the potential to better humanity through these problem -solving contributions, how could such potential be best realized? What will need to change, and what future e>vents would have to occur -- for example, in science, business, and public policy – for the technology to achieve its promise? Finally, what are the key issues surrounding the transformative nature of biotechnology and where are these catalytic points of intervention that will enable the most effective application of such technology?
Opinions and ideas from people in developing countries form the cornerstone of the workshop. Discussions surrounding agricultural biotechnology place the topic into a larger socioeconomic and political context. Experts that focus on present and future challenges will be brought together with biotechnologists, social scientists, other scientists, and stakeholders to address the following questions:
1) what are the most important global problems facing society (with focus on the long-term goals of preserving biodiversity, conserving natural resources, achieving food security, improv ing the health of populations, cleaning up polluted lands and bodies of water, and obtaining adequate sources of energy) ; 2) can the use of agricultural biotechnology, as one of many tools, help provide solutions to these problems, and if so;
3) what are the scientific risks and socioeconomic issues associated with its use that need to be considered. If appropriate, the group will discuss an implementation plan, which will consider both research and development needs and the broader socioeconomic and political contexts.
How to Succeed Like an Activist
- Ross Irvine , President / Corporate Activist, ePublic Relations Ltd, Canada, http://www.epublicrelations.ca
Last month I made a presentation titled 'How to succeed like an activist' to the CropLife Canada annual meeting. CropLife is the trade association for companies that make crop protection and agricultural biotechnology products. Some of the subjects covered in the presentation are mentioned in the subject line of this note.
The full presentation (text or powerpoint with text) is available on the ePublic Relations web site. Visit www.epublicrelations.ca (http://www.epublicrelations.ca)
Some quotes from the presentation follow:
* It's fair to demand transparency from NGOs. It also fair to call NGOs to task if they fail to be transparent and accountable. And, it's fair to do it publicly and with fanfare.
* To succeed like an activist, you must talk about values and vision. You must assume a position of moral leadership.
* What you have here in a larger context is a model for the growing anti-business movement that's gaining momentum around the world.
* Boards of trade, chambers of commerce, other trade associations, and even professional PR associations have yet to make the connection between the activism you (the biotech industry) face and ever growing and militant anti-business sentiment.
* Pesticides have done much to feed the world; DDT has saved millions of lives; and, biotechnology has many proven and potential benefits.
* There's a sinister side to the precautionary principle. It (the precautionary principle) is about dismantling the social, economic and political structures that have created health standards, educational opportunities, personal wealth and environmental progress that are the envy of less fortunate people around the world.
They (activists) have taken a single issue 'biotechnology' and turned it into a rallying point for many social causes? If you fight solely on the basis of the science and technology, you cannot answer the range of opponents you face.
Public relations is war. It's about winners and losers. Winners gain public, media, and regulatory acceptance and support for their products, services, and organizations. Losers see their products, services, and organizations sacrificed on the altar of public opinion, pilloried by the media, and trampled by excessive regulation.
UN Draft Report of the Millennium Project on Science
The draft Report of the Task Force on Science, Technology and Innovation of the Millennium Project commissioned by UN S-G Kofi Annan is now available for public comment at
Proof in the Organic Pudding: Alex Avery vs. Chuck Benbrook Battle It Out on the Radio
Listen to the discussion at
Scroll down to Show #412: The Proof in the Organic Pudding
German Scientists Predict Death of GM Industry
- Agra Europe 17-Sep-2004
The bill to reform German biotechnology law, which is currently going through the committee stage, has rung alarm bells with the Union of German Science Academies (UDAW), Dow Jones reports.
The proposed Biotechnology Law, designed to implement the EU's guidelines on genetic modification (GM), will mean "practically the end for research and development in the field of agricultural biotechnology," and will strike at the heart of the seed industry that is built upon it, claimed UDAW representatives at last week's presentation in Berlin of a memorandum on the safety of GM food.
Germany, which has played a leading role in agricultural biotechnology research up to now was in danger of being forced "more and more into an outsider role due to the continual deterioration in the research climate," the scientists warned. If the law should be enacted as it stood, there would be an exodus of biotech scientists from Germany, along with the plant breeding industry, they claimed.
A total of 25 000 jobs are at stake, according to the UDAW. The union is particularly concerned that the contamination thresholds and liability regulations in the new law appear to disadvantage GM cultivation unilaterally. As a result, it would be difficult to achieve any practicable coexistence of GM, conventional and organic crops, they said.
The biggest stumbling block were the liability regulations, which were based strictly on the 'polluter pays' principle. Releases of GM material from scientific trials were treated the same as those from commercial cultivation. This is an "innovation killer," the scientists said. "No field trials of GM plants could be carried out in Germany under these conditions," stated UDAW president Gerhard Gottschalk in an open letter.
Gottschalk argued that, according to scientific evidence, there was no danger to consumers from eating food containing permitted GM organisms. There was therefore no rational basis for the new liability regulations. "If we have GM crops and products ... that are at least as good as the classical or organic ones, or better, then I fail to see the argument ... that a product (mixed with them) has been damaged," Gottschalk said.
Unsustainable Practice: Zero Tolerance
- Jay Scanlon (Christchurch), The Independent Business Weekly (NZ), Oct 6, 2004
The article GE Contamination: Maintaining zero tolerance (The Independent 22 September) by Simon Terry, director of the not-for-profit Sustainability Council, requires a response from the side of the debate depending on facts, reason, science and the public good.
My company imports small quantities of vegetable seeds for multiplication of our customers' varieties. We grow these and export them to hungry markets globally. We have a vested interest in the matter. But I also wish to contribute as a New Zealander.
Terry's article is full of value-laden terms. It is intended to lead readers to believe that zero tolerance of adventitious (accidental, non-native) genetic material, which may be discovered in minute quantities in imported seed, is possible to attain and is desirable law.
This is not true. Zero anything is not possible in nature. Promulgating such an un-truth is destructive, even anti-social.
Firstly, "contamination" means (Stedman's Medical Dictionary, Houghton Mifflin): the act or process of rendering something harmful or unsuitable. Miniscule quantities of non-native genetics have never been shown to be harmful. More than just miniscule, hundreds of millions of people have been consuming genetically engineered cereal grains and soya for more than a decade. The outcomes? Hard to say, but we note that those populations (Argentina, the United States, China) are richer and healthier than they were 10 years ago.
So, the word "contamination" is inflammatory and mis-used in this context. "Adventitious" quantities of such GE would be much more accurately called trace novel genetics (TNG).
Secondly, Terry feigns indignation because the NZ government paid for the recall of maize seed a few months ago. In the case of the maize seed case Terry raises, this seed had been imported according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's (MAF) rules. It was tested at a MAF-sanctioned lab. Who else should be liable for this pointless and wasteful activity, gathering up all seed from across the country, a folly undertaken as a result of laws and regulations promulgated by our government?
Thirdly, Terry champions one seed company's Gateway project for high-level breeding germplasm. He portrays it as a means of assuring zero adventitious genetic material. This is nonsense. High math is not required to figure out if one greenhouse-grown maize seed plant yields, say, 200 viable kernels, the cost of producing commercial quantities of seed in a greenhouse would be staggering. Gateway would be only for breeding lines and Terry knows this. Presumably so do his employers, the oxymoronically named Sustainability Council.
"Sustainability" is defined as (American Heritage Dictionary): 1. to keep in existence; maintain; 2. to supply with necessities of nourishment; to provide for. Zero tolerance in genetic materials is impossible and is not a "sustainable" policy. What is sustainable is science in plant breeding. This is here to stay like antibiotics, air travel and nuclear fission.
Adventitious genetics are sustainable in that these inadvertent traces of novel genetics are offshoots of producing food. This is like the offshoots some germs attain resistance to older antibiotics or airplanes sometimes collide with birds or nuclear power plants require rigid controls. We've decided to put up with most of these offshoots: antibiotics and air travel are "sustainable" innovations, no?
By contrast, the concept of zero anything doesn't exist in nature. A law mandating that it does is what's not "sustainable." Further, pinning New Zealand's agricultural future on the fickle whims of rich consumers who ignorantly perceive some foods to be zero in TNG is not "sustainable" either. It's not founded in scientific reality.
Soon they'll come to their senses. These markets will decide paying more money for the perception of zero is not "sustainable." In plain terms, the un-earned premium on such foodstuffs does not conform to the definition: "... to supply the necessities of nourishment."
We humans discovered the keys to life. History cannot be reversed. The genetic maps cannot be put away. Whether you dread this future, like Terry and the Sustainability Council, or embrace it. It is my hope (I'm an optimist), and I also predict, reason will prevail in this matter. The sooner, the better.
I hope New Zealand's law will be repaired as MAF has recommended, so the waste of continuing with un-sustainable, make-believe zero tolerance laws and regulations can stop. I hope the shrill distortions of the mis-named Sustainability Council will not be much longer indulged by the responsible and engaged people who are New Zealanders.
US Sees GM Debate Moving to 'How,' Not 'Whether'
- Agra Europe 17-Sep-2004
Global discussions over agricultural biotechnology are beginning to focus on how GM technology can be applied--rather than whether it should be applied, in the view of US agriculture secretary Ann Veneman. Speaking to the St Louis Agribusiness Club in Missouri on Monday, Veneman said she had observed "a significant change ... in some developing countries, especially in Africa," with regard to GM agriculture.
African states endorse GM
Four African heads of state at a USDA conference in Burkina Faso in June had "endorsed what biotechnology can provide for people in Africa," she declared. Veneman said they agreed that it was "not a matter of 'if' we adopt such technologies but 'how' and how will it be most effective in our own countries."
She cited as another positive example the announcement of the Swiss government that it was opposing a ban on GM crops. "And only a week ago Brazil's biotech regulatory authority said it could begin clearing new varieties of GM commodities for commercial use this winter," she added.
Turning point in debate
"The world is at a turning point in this debate," Veneman said, "where the precautionary principle yields to the compassion for people who are so desperately in need."
The USDA was working to ensure the safety and reliability of GM crops through "a rigorous, open, transparent regulatory process" that she said was necessary if the technology "is truly to be embraced worldwide." The regulatory processes were "meant to protect consumers, but they are also to protect those who produce products because consumer confidence is so critical to the bottom line of agriculture and agribusiness."
India Needs an Integrated Strategy for the Agri Sector
- BioSpectrum (India), Sept 8, 2004
Interview with Dr Clive James, founder, ISAAA
Dr Clive James founded the International Service for the Acquisition in Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) in 1990 with the objective of spreading awareness about biotechnology in agriculture. ISAAA has recently opened a Knowledge Center in India. During his trip to the country, Dr James spoke to BioSpectrum about his views on the crop biotechnology sector.
How is ISAAA's new venture in India shaping up?
India is making rapid strides in agri biotechnology. In a bid to promote biotech applications in agriculture, ISAAA has formally launched a knowledge sharing initiative in India. An ISAAA South Asia office, co-hosted by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), is now part of the network of Biotechnology Information Centers located in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The Indian initiative would allow the country to share its experiences in agri biotechnology with the rest of the world. Partnership is the key strategy to cover more ground so that India can benefit from all the technologies that are becoming available to improve the quality of agricultural produce.
What will be the focus of the Indian Knowledge Center of ISAAA?
India's first hand experience could serve as a powerful example for both the developed and developing countries. Apart from this, the Knowledge Centre will be assisting national biotech programs in creating an enabling environment for crop biotech and for sound decision-making. Moreover, ISAAA will also facilitate the flow and exchange of information between all quarters of the world. We will be operating the Knowledge Center from ICRISAT's liaison office in New Delhi.
What is the current status of crop biotechnology in Asia? How is ISAAA helping to improve it?
Agriculture will continue to play a central role as Asia pursues the complementary goals of poverty reduction, sustainable food security, environmental conservation and increasing trade competitiveness. New technologies, including crop biotechnology, will be essential to meet these challenges. The prospects for their utilization are particularly promising, since Asia's high priority development needs and existing biotechnology potential can intersect to make a difference in the lives of its 700 million rural poor.
Specifically for this, ISAAA has a Crop Biotechnology Program going on exclusively for Asia. The overall goal of this program in Asia is to help reduce rural poverty and ensure food security. This is being achieved by developing the necessary national and regional capacities to acquire, develop and safely deploy important crop biotechnology applications and products. These efforts respond to the high-priority needs of the region's countries and focus on delivering benefits to resource-poor and small-scale farmers.
What are the challenges ahead of Indian agriculture? How can they be overcome?
India is somewhat lacking in the food distribution system. Proper attention should be given to this aspect. An improved food distribution system can contribute a lot to food, feed and fiber security. The next challenge for India is to spread correct awareness about biotechnology among the society. And informing the society about agricultural applications of biotechnology will be the core focus of ISAAA's Indian Knowledge Center. The other challenge that I foresee is to convert the said action plans into reality. Government is showing keen interest, industry is moving towards expansion, all we need is to work on them and get them into practice.
What strategy can India adopt to increase its agricultural produce? What opportunity does India have in this sector?
An integrated strategy between conventional and biotechnology/GM approaches to optimize productivity along with population control can bring good changes. In simpler words, a consolidated crop management strategy is an utmost requirement for India. And as I mentioned earlier, a systemized and professional food distribution system can also help a vast country like India to achieve prominence at global platform. In terms of opportunities, India can increase investment from public sector. Another opportunity lies in the country's well-known great research potential. I think that if these things can be worked out successfully, India can be a leader in Asia.
How far are issues like biosafety and technology transfer taken up at ISAAA?
The ISAAA's Biosafety Initiative is aimed to support governmental commissions, policy makers, scientists and special interest groups charged with regulatory oversight to gain institutional capacity by sharing cumulative experience for biosafety with a focused training program. The intent is not to tell developing countries what to do, but to provide resource information and hands-on experience that allows each country to formulate their own system. Emphasis is placed on harmonized procedures. An essential component of pragmatic biotechnology transfer is to build long-term capacity.
Open Letter to FAO Director General in Support of SOFA 2003-04 - Biotechnology Report
Please sign on to this letter at http://www.economia.uniroma2.it/conferenze/icabr2004/open_letter/default.asp
Dear Director General,
We, the signatories of this letter, are scientists and scholars involved in independent academic research related to the international implications of agricultural biotechnology. We are writing this letter to support FAO’s recent report: The State of Food and Agriculture 2003-04; Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the Needs of the Poor? In our opinion the publication provides a comprehensive overview of biotechnology’s potentials and constraints, and it reflects current scientific knowledge on this important subject area.
Genetically modified (GM) crops have been field tested since the late 1980s, and since 1996 they have been grown commercially in over 16 countries, including several developing countries. The FAO report points out correctly that this new technology is associated with certain environmental and health risks, so that effective biosafety and food safety regulations have to be integral components of responsible biotechnology development and utilization. Yet, the evidence so far suggests that environmental and health risks can be managed, so that there is no reason for an outright rejection of GM crops based on safety concerns. Risk assessments have to be carried out and risk management have to be implemented on a case by case for every individual biotechnology product.
In terms of the economic and social impacts in developing countries, independent studies that have been conducted over the last eight years show a fairly consistent picture. Roundup Ready (RR) soybean farmers in Argentina profit from lower costs of weed control. Bt cotton growers in China, South Africa, Argentina, Mexico, and India benefit from significant reductions in chemical insecticides and higher effective yields. In spite of higher seed prices, on average these advantages result in sizeable income gains for GM crop adopters, including resource-poor farmers. Studies even show that the net benefits for small farmers can be bigger than for larger farmers. That the majority of the farmers is highly satisfied with their GM crop experience is reflected in the rapidly increasing adoption rates. Likewise, agricultural consumers can benefit from lower commodity prices. The FAO report provides a good summary of the academic studies available in this direction. Most of these studies were published in high-ranking, peer-reviewed scientific journals. More research is needed before conclusive statements about secondary socioeconomic effects can be made, but the evidence so far demonstrates that GM crop technology can be very suitable for poor farmers and consumers in developing countries.
However, as the FAO report also emphasizes, the examples of small farmers benefiting from GM crops are still very limited in number. Most of the poorest countries lack the scientific and regulatory capacity to adapt available GM technologies to their local needs. Moreover, biotechnology products that are especially designed for poor farmers and consumers have hardly been developed up till now. Without significantly bigger public sector support for research and capacity building and effective public – private cooperation the advantages of agricultural biotechnology will bypass the most vulnerable population groups. Also, the international proliferation of intellectual property rights is an issue that requires closer scrutiny and new institutional mechanisms in order to improve biotechnology access for the poor.
Agricultural biotechnology is not a panacea for developing countries. Technological instruments cannot substitute for other important policies that address the institutional and structural problems of food insecurity and poverty. But, with appropriate policy support, agricultural biotechnology could make an important contribution to sustainable development. The FAO report highlights the major areas where public interventions are needed, in order to bring the “gene revolution” to the poor on a larger scale.
From our perspective, the FAO report currently provides the most comprehensive and up-to-date review of issues related to agricultural biotechnology and developing countries. The potentials and constraints are tackled in a very balanced way. Therefore, this publication will be an important contribution to rationalizing the international debate on this topic.
Signed by more than 200 scientists. View at http://www.economia.uniroma2.it/conferenze/icabr2004/open_letter/lista.asp
How Biotechnology-Derived Crops Reduce the Runoff That Creates "Dead Zones"
- Kimball Nill, AgBioView, October 5, 2004. www.agbioworld.org
The so-called "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico has been a controversial topic for many years. Often the discussants have pointed fingers at agriculture--both cropland and CAFOs ( concentrated animal feeding operations). In turn, those agriculturalists have noted the runoff resulting from suburban lawns (which tend to be over-fertilized and sprayed with pesticides at rates 9X that of croplands), recreational cabins' inadequate septic systems, and other non-point sources. Without getting involved in that finger-pointing discussion, I would like to share with you extensive farmer experience and research showing how biotechnology-derived crops:
* Are enabling U.S. farmers today to greatly reduce the relevant runoff from their croplands, by using "no till" practices that generally employ herbicide-resistant biotech crops, and
* They will enable CAFOs in the future to also significantly reduce their relevant runoff.
Therefore, the best available agricultural management practices have been improved via biotechnology-derived crops, and will improve even more in the future. For example, biotech herbicide-resistant varieties will constitute 86% of total U.S. soybean acres during 2004 and 40% of total U.S. corn acres during 2004. It is foreseeable that these and other tools available to U.S. farmers via their adoption of biotechnology products will help them to reduce any potential liability risks or regulatory violations for causing hypoxia ("dead zone") in the Gulf of Mexico to essentially zero.1
Research published during 2000 by G. Phillip Robertson, Eldor A. Paul, and Richard R. Harwood of Michigan State University showed that "no tillage" methods of crop production reduce modern agriculture's impact on global warming by approximately 88%. 2 The rate of global warming (i.e., the postulated increase in the Earth's average temperature resulting from activities of mankind) would tend to be increased by activities that place more carbon dioxide (a "greenhouse gas") in the atmosphere. However, the adoption or increased utilization of "no tillage" and "low tillage" methods of crop production— which is facilitated by the new herbicide-tolerant biotech crops 3—removes net carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by sequestering it into the soil of cropland. As more of that carbon is added to the topsoil each year, the cropland is able to absorb increasing amounts of rainfall, with a concomitant reduction in runoff. 4
A 2003 study done by the Cotton Foundation found that 78% of U.S. cotton farmers who adopted conservation tillage practices (e.g., "no tillage" or "low tillage") since the 1997 introduction of biotech herbicide-resistant cotton varieties had done so specifically because those biotech varieties had made conservation tillage more feasible.5
A 2001 study conducted by the American Soybean Association had found that a similar fraction of U.S. soybean farmers had adopted conservation tillage practices since 1997 specifically due to the fact that biotech herbicide-resistant soybean varieties had made it more feasible. During that time period, use of conservation tillage in soybean fields approximately doubled-- so by 2001, 49% of total U.S. soybean acres were "no till" and an additional 33% of total U.S. soybean acres were "low till".6
Another environmental benefit to the switch to biotech crops by U.S. farmers is that in general, the herbicides that can be applied to these herbicide-resistant crops are herbicides which are applied in lesser amounts and also have fewer adverse environmental impacts than the older herbicide(s) they replace/displace. That is due to their lesser persistence (longevity in the environment), lower toxicity to wildlife, and/or their tendency to adhere so tightly to soil particles that they do not run-off; as some of the older herbicides did.7
Modern agriculture accomplishes control of weeds either through mechanical cultivation or via the application of herbicides. Weed pressure will vary by location, but the maize and soybean farmers who use only mechanical cultivation (e.g., "organic" farmers in America) have to cultivate their fields as many as fourteen times per growing season.8 By contrast, the "no tillage" and "low tillage" crop production methods utilize one, and 2-4 cultivation passes-over-field respectively; which decreases soil erosion (due to wind & water) by 90% or more. 9
When a farmer switches from intensive mechanical cultivation to "no tillage" or "low tillage" crop production, the population of earthworms subsequently increases in direct proportion to the amount by which mechanical cultivation is avoided.10 As mentioned above, that same switch in crop production methods also helps remove carbon dioxide from the Earth's atmosphere, because avoidance of over-cultivation allows the natural fungi that grow on plant roots to produce glomalin, a protein that sequesters carbon taken in by plants and keeps it within the soil. Glomalin also helps to improve the fertility of soil by acting as the sort of "glue" to cause soil particles to properly clump together; for subsurface spaces to be created which allow water, oxygen, and plant roots to permeate the soil. Glomalin is one of the primary differences between fertile cropland soil and lifeless desert sand. 11
Another result of that switch to "no till" or "low till" is a reduction in soil compaction, a process in which the soil particles were compressed together. That is both because heavy tillage equipment is no longer driven over the "no till" field, and because the large topsoil particles are no longer ground-down to smaller size via cultivation/abrasion. Again, this benefit of conservation tillage results in the relevant field absorbing more rainfall, with little or no runoff. 12
Poultry and swine producers in most countries currently add mined & processed phosphate to their feed rations to enable optimal animal growth. That is additional to the natural phosphate already present in traditional soybean and corn varieties, because the phosphate extant in traditional soybeans and corn exists in the form of an insoluble phytate (chemically bound with phytic acid). Monogastric animals such as chickens and pigs lack the phytase enzyme needed for digestion of phytate. Virtually all of the extant corn/soy phytate and part of the added (mined) phosphate is excreted by the animals, which can sometimes cause pollution problems.13
A number of biotechnology companies are currently working to develop corn and soybean varieties which would have drastically-reduced phytate content. When low-phytate soybean meal is mixed with low-phytate corn to make animal feed rations, phosphate emissions in swine and poultry manure are reduced by approximately half. The iron, calcium, and protein in the ration are also absorbed more completely by the animal, which thereby reduces both anemia and nitrogen excretion.14
1. Rattan Lal, Et Al, Managing Soil Carbon , Science, April 16, 2004, P 393, and Drew Kershen, Legal Liability Issues In Agricultural Biotechnology (Available In .pdf Format At Http://Www.nationalaglawcenter.org): The Clean Water Act's Reach Over Pollutants Deposited On Land Is Broad Enough To Capture Run-Off From Plow Furrows Borden Ranch Partnership V. U.s. Army Corps Of Eng'rs, 261 F.3D 810 (9Th Cir. 2001), (Deep Ripping Form Of Plowing (Common In The Wine Country Of California) Would Fall Under The Authority Of The Clean Water Act (Cwa). 33 U.s.c. § 1319 (D) (2001).
2. G. Phillip Robertson, Et Al, Greenhouse Gases In Intensive Agriculture: Contributions Of Individual Gases to The Radiative Forcing Of The Atmosphere Science, September 15, 2000, P. 1922-1925
3. Soybean Digest, January, 1999, P. 42; And Farm Chemicals, August, 2000, P. 22
and Achievements In Plant Biotechnology, 1999, P. 5
4. No-Till Uses Less Fuel And Increases Your Profit Potential, Commercial Agriculture, May, 2001, P. 4 and The Value Of Carbon In Soil, Farm Chemicals, August, 2000
5. Biotech Boosts 'con Till', March, 2003 Progressive Farmer
6. ASA Study Confirms Environmental Benefits Of Biotech Soybeans, November 12. 2001 At Http://Www.soygrower.org/Ctstudy/, And Nonpoint Source News-Notes, (Pub. By Epa) January, 2003, P 16-17
7. USDA Agricultural Outlook Summary, July 20, 2000 And St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 11, 1999, P A11
8. Organic Grower Spends Many Hours On His Tractor, Soybean Digest, March, 2000, Page 38
9. Soybean Digest, January, 2000, P 40 And Soybean Digest, September, 1999, P 14
10. Healthy Soil Boosts Yields, Corn & Soybean Digest, October, 2003, P. 28-29 And Farm Industry News, March, 1998, P. 40 and Agra Europe, April 7, 2000, Pa4 and Seed Today, August, 2002, P 29
11. Nutrient Knowledge, Farm Industry News, September/October, 1999, P 11 And Scientist Credits Glomalin For Soil Organic Matter, And Scientist Credits Glomalin For Soil Organic Matter, Seed & Crops Digest, March/April, 2003, P 15
12. Study Demonstrates Negative Effects Of Soil Compaction On Corn Yields, Commercial Agriculture, May, 2001, P. 4
13. Enhanced Animal Feed Good For The Environment, Bioscience News & Advocate, February 27, 2004
14. Low-Phytate Grains Cut Phosphorous Excretion, National Hog Farmer, December 15, 2000, P 14, And Environmentally Friendly Phosphorous Feeding, National Hog Farmer, March 15, 2003, P 14-15 And Biotechnology, November, 1993, P 111, And Pig International, October, 1997, P 11, and Progressive Farmer, February, 1999
Technical Issues Director, American Soybean Association, St. Louis, Missouri.