Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : October 18, 2004
* Order Allows Brazilian Farmers to Plant GM Soy
* The Future of Fraud
* World Food Prize Laureates Credit Biotechnology
* Asian Giants India, China Bank on GM Technology to Feed Millions
* Biotechnology Should Help Ensure Food Security
* GM Food - New Book by Penn State Authors
* Why Measure Q Is a Costly Mistake
* Anti-GMO Initiatives Next Month Firefight Leading to Larger War
* Agricultural Biotech Comes to Europe
Order Allows Brazilian Farmers to Plant Genetically Modified Soy
- Alan Clendenning, Associated Press, October 15, 2004
Brazil's president approved a controversial executive order allowing farmers to plant genetically modified soybeans, just as the planting season in the world's second-largest soy producer goes into high gear. The measure, published in an official government newspaper Friday after being signed by President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva late Thursday, was contested by environmentalists, who want to keep Brazil's ban on genetically modified crops because of fears they harm the environment.
But it was a victory for agriculture biotechnology giant Monsanto Co., which needed the order to collect royalties from Brazilian farmers who use cloned or smuggled versions of the company's popular Roundup Ready seeds to cut production costs.
After losing profits for years from widespread illicit use of genetically modified soy seeds in Brazil, U.S.-based Monsanto started collecting the royalties last year when a similar executive order was passed.
Monsanto needed the new order because the previous measure applied only to the 2003-2004 harvest. It will also allow the company to re-negotiate royalty payments with Brazilian soy farmers using the seeds.
Monsanto called the decision an important step toward permanent approval for genetically modified crops in Brazil, but Greenpeace criticized Silva's government for again finding a way to legalize a crop banned in 2000.
Greenpeace criticized Silva's government for again finding a way to legalize a crop banned in 2000. "It is a sign of disrespect to Brazilian society to allow a variety of GM to continue being cultivated that hasn't passed an adequate environmental review," Greenpeace said.
Brazilian farmers recently started planting their 2004-2005 soybean crop amid predictions that the harvest could generate 60 million metric tons, a 20 percent increase from the previous season's crop.
Latin America's largest country is second only to the United States in soy production, but easily has the potential to become the world's largest soy producer because of cheap land, low labor costs and plentiful water. Production has boomed over the last decade amid rising worldwide demand, especially from China for soy used in products ranging from animal feed to cooking oil.
Monsanto's soy seed is engineered to withstand the spraying of herbicides, which saves farmers money by cutting down on the number of workers and weed killers needed. Brazil's ban on such crops did little to stop farmers, because it was rarely enforced.
The company disputed claims that GM crops harm the environment, saying Rio Grande do Sul soy farmers have boosted their profits while significantly reducing the amount of herbicides used to kill weeds. "Farmers have opted to use genetically modified soy because of the benefits the product offers," said Monsanto spokesman Lucio Mocsanyi.
Monsanto has complained bitterly for years about Brazilian farmers using the company's technology without paying for it, and has also lobbied the government to legalize genetically engineered crops. Although the company can continue collecting the royalties, the order does not allow it to sell its seeds in Brazil.
Experts estimate about 30 percent of Brazil's soy is grown with genetically engineered seeds, but the figure is near 90 percent in Brazil's southernmost state, where the seeds were first introduced in the 1990s after being smuggled in from neighboring countries with no bans on them.
Monsanto has complained for years about Brazilian farmers using the company's technology without paying for it, and has lobbied the government to legalize genetically engineered crops. Although the company can continue collecting the royalties, the order does not allow it to sell its seeds in Brazil.
Monsanto shares closed up 15 cents at $38.38 Friday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange -- near the high end of their 52-week trading range of $23.08 to $39.99.
The Future of Fraud
- Andrew Walden, Hilo, Hawaii ; AgBioView. www.agioworld.org
'The Future of Food', now showing in a handful of independent theaters and activist 'house-parties', is the cinematic centerpiece of efforts to pass voter initiatives banning genetically modified organisms (GMOs) throughout the nation, one county or one state at a time.
According to an Alter net article, 'Future' Producer Deborah Koons Garcia says, "I'm hoping this film can be a combination of Silent Spring and The Battle of Algiers. Once you see it you'll feel compelled to act, even if that means just changing the kind of food you eat." Garcia says she often sees people cry during the film, or they "get so freaked out about food that they stay awake at night and end up going through all their cupboards checking ingredients and chucking food."
'Future' was shown at least a dozen times in Mendocino County, California, as part of a March, 2004 campaign to pass County Measure H, banning GMO planting. According to 'Future' website, www.thefutureoffood.com, 'All the people who worked on The Future of Food are proud that our efforts have had a real impact in the real world.' Besides taking credit for helping pass Measure H, the website crows, 'The California Secretary of Food and Agriculture requested a copy of The Future of Food while he was considering whether to allow the planting of rice genetically engineered with a human gene that creates breast milk and tears. He subsequently vetoed the planting of the GMO rice.'
According to a San Jose (CA) Mercury News article published on April 10, 2004, the 120 acres of GMO rice were to be planted over 100 miles from the nearest table rice crop. The genes implanted do not create 'breast milk and tears', but rather 'lysozyme and lactoferrin' natural antibiotics that occur in breast milk and appear to help nursing children ward off intestinal infections.'
'If Ventria (the company developing the rice) can grow large amounts of the proteins cheaply, the proteins could be added to infant formulas and to inexpensive remedies for treating diarrhea, a condition that kills an estimated 3 million infants each year worldwide.' Ventria website: http://www.ventriabio.com/products/.
When questioned by this writer at a movie presentation in Hilo, Hawaii, 'Future' producer Garcia suggested that Pepto-Bismol might be an alternative solution for dying African babies. She also acknowledged that no human has ever been shown to have been harmed by GMOs--but emphasized that anti-GMO activists were working hard to find someone, somewhere--suffering from food allergies or other as yet undiscovered disorders for which GMOs might yet be blamed.
Garcia's attitude of callous disregard for the effects of her victories on the under-developed world's poorest people is nothing new in the anti-GMO movement. In 2002, anti-GMO activists from Europe and the US convinced the corrupt government of Zambia to reject US GMO corn shipments during a famine--thousands died as a result. Source: http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=1337197. The episode is now being repeated in Angola, where anti-GMO activists again convinced a corrupt government to block US food aid from reaching the hungry. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3581101.stm. When asked about these issues, Garcia suggested that Africa did not need immediate food aid, but long term development aid.
'Future' makes its points through innuendo and insinuation and is weak on supporting facts. It implies that the 'Green Revolution', introducing modern agricultural techniques to the under developed world in the 1960s and 1970s, is now failing. The evidence? A monoculture in potatoes allowed blight to cause the 1845 Irish Potato Famine--115 years before the beginning of the Green Revolution.
The 'scientific' advisors to the producers of 'Future' are a Who's who of debunked anti-GMO researchers. One, Dr. Arpad Puzstai, was the author of a 1999 study claiming that rats fed GM potatoes developed stunted growth--a result no subsequent researcher has ever been able to repeat.
Dr. Ignacio Chapela and grad student David Quist of UC Berkeley claimed in a 2001 paper published in the scientific journal Nature that 'Bt' genes are spreading from GMO corn and 'contaminating' native Mexican varieties in Oaxaca, Mexico. Further analysis of their work forced them to admit that none of the genes they claimed to have been found could be demonstrated to be present in the native corn varieties. After publishing their initial findings, he editors of Nature, in April, 2002, withdrew their support of Chapela and Quist saying, 'Nature has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper.'
Opposition to modern monoculture agriculture--GMO or not--is a central theme of 'Future'. Says one of the activists interviewed on screen, 'A single genotype that's preferential crowds out diversity and that is a threat to food security." Other scenes tell of Mexican 'land race' heritage corn varieties being 'polluted' or 'contaminated' by GMO pollen.
The irony is--with or without GMOs--corn genomes are constantly in motion from one season to the next. They are pollinated and cross pollinated--never static. If a gene from GM 'Bt' Corn pollinates a heritage variety, it is not 'contaminated' any more than any other cross pollinated heritage variety. Instead it becomes protected from the ravages of the corn borer, an insect pest which cannot eat Bt. This protects and strengthens the survival of the heritage variety.
'Future' even uses out-of-context quotes from anti-GMO campaigners seeming to present wild assertions. In one scene, it is noted that genes giving resistance to some anti-biotics are used to make new GM plants. Then the movie cuts to Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the anti-GMO 'Center for Food Safety'. Kimbrell dutifully intones, 'All medical professionals are intensely focused on this issue of anti-biotic resistance'.' It is not noted that the issue of anti-biotic resistance is related to the over-prescription of unnecessary pharmaceutical antibiotics and the use of anti-biotic hand cleaners. There is zero evidence that GMO plants have anything to do with it. Plant bacteria are of different species' than those afflicting animals or humans. Without concern for the truth, 'Future' happily creates the misconception and allows it to stand unchallenged. The movie is riddled with such tricks.
One of the slyest editing jobs in the entire movie comes when Kimbrell's comments are cut so viewers are left with the impression that genetic engineers are inserting viruses and bacteria into plant genomes--an impossibility. Placing a bacterium inside a genome is akin to placing an elephant inside a mouse.
In genetic engineering to create viral disease resistance in plants, a piece of a viral genome--not an entire virus--is inserted into a plant cell genome to create immunity from viral infection. A bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, is sometimes used to do the job of inserting the desired genetic material--but it does not become part of the modified organism.
In nature, Agrobacterium inserts its own genetic material into plants causing a plant disease known as Crown Gall. This ability, unique amongst bacteria, is why it is used in genetic engineering. Viruses are constantly floating around in the air we breathe. When they encounter an appropriate host, they insert their genetic material--that is the function of viruses.
By inserting genes causing resistance to viral disease into plants, genetic engineering keeps viruses out of plants. It is the anti-GMO activists blocking such efforts who would allow them in. When disease resistant plants are put in the field, farmers gain higher food production and crops require less pesticide.
There is no static genome in any life form. Genes are constantly moving around by way of viruses, viroids, and Agrobacterium, from one organism to the next. This process may play a key role in evolution.
The modern generation of humans may be the first to identify DNA, but we are not the first to genetically engineer crops. Since the beginnings of ancient agriculture, farmers have selected seeds with desirable traits and cross-pollinated varieties in an effort to increase production. Corn has been 'genetically modified'--from an original wild variety with ears the size of a gherkin--to the full-sized ears we know today.
'Future' challenges the right of biotech researchers to enjoy the constitutionally guaranteed twenty-year patent protection given to developers of inventions. This takes up more of the movie than health claims and scientific issues. 'Future' quotes one activist as saying, 'Whoever controls the seed, controls the food." Another says of patented seeds, "It's like a return to the feudal system." The lens focuses on the story of Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser, accused of violating patents on Monsanto's 'roundup ready' canola seed.
His case went all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court. Schmeiser claims he never planted Monsanto seed. But according to an article on the decision, published in the July-August 2004 issue of the anti-GMO publication, GeneWatch, "the (Canadian Supreme) Court was at pains to point out that its decision was based on the facts as found at trial and that in different factual circumstances, a different legal outcome might have resulted.'
The Court's uncontested findings of fact quoted by GeneWatch describe deliberate efforts by Schmeiser to obtain 'Roundup-ready' canola seed by spraying three acres of his crop with Roundup brand herbicide. The surviving plants were harvested for seed which was planted the following year. The Court decision reads in part, "The issue is not the perhaps adventitious arrival of Roundup Ready Canola on Mr. Schmeiser's land in 1998. What is at stake in this case is the sowing and cultivation which necessarily involves deliberate and careful activity on the part of the farmer." http://www.gene-watch.org/genewatch/articles/17-4Bereano.html
The two differing accounts of how the seed arrived on Schmeiser's farm are not mentioned anywhere in 'Future'. Instead, the audience is treated to a sob story of how a greedy corporation dragged a poor little farmer into court. As the story goes, Schmeiser was forced to throw away a lifetime of careful seed selection due to inadvertent 'gene pollution'. Moviegoers aren't told that the Court finds that he dumped his own seed voluntarily and tried to snag some free Monsanto seeds. Rather than opposing GMOs, Schmeiser apparently wanted them quite badly.
'The Future of Food' is a poorly made propaganda piece. It fails again and again on the facts. Let the viewer beware.
World Food Prize Laureates Credit Biotechnology
- Jerry Perkins, Des Moines Register, October 14, 2004
'The rice breeders will share the $250,000 award, which will be presented tonight in Des Moines, ending the first day of the international symposium.'
Two rice breeders who will be jointly awarded the World Food Prize tonight in Des Moines said modern biotechnology provided a shortcut in their work to develop high-yielding rice plants. Yuan Longping of China and Monty Jones of Sierra Leone will share the $250,000 prize, which will be formally presented to them during ceremonies beginning at 7 p.m. in the Iowa Capitol.
The ceremony comes at the end of the first day of the World Food Prize international symposium, titled "From Asia to Africa: Rice, Biofortification and Enhanced Nutrition." The symposium, which concludes Friday, brings together scientists and officials from around the globe.
Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize, said Yuan and Jones both have conducted "breakthrough scientific achievements, which have significantly increased food security for millions of people from Asia to Africa."
Because 2004 is the United Nations' International Year of Rice, Quinn said, it is particularly fitting that both laureates worked on rice - a crop that helps feed more than 3 billion people in the world. Yuan's breakthrough achievement came in the early 1970s when he developed hybrid rice varieties that yield 20 percent more than conventional varieties. He has become known as the "Father of Hybrid Rice."
Jones was selected as the co-recipient of the 2004 World Food Prize for crossing Asian and African rice varieties and developing "New Rice for Africa," which has been adapted to growing conditions in west Africa, where it has led to dramatically increased yields for poor farmers there.
Although Yuan was recognized for his work using conventional plant-breeding techniques, he said new technologies like molecular analysis, DNA insertion from a common weed, and cloning techniques to increase photosensitivity of rice plants have led to large yield increases in rice varieties. Yuan said his goal is for the high-yield rice varieties to be commercially available to farmers in five years.
Biotechnology in agriculture has stirred controversy in some nations. But Yuan said, "In the long run, if you want to increase potential yields and improve the quality of food in the world, we must use biotechnology."
Jones said he also used both conventional plant-breeding techniques and newer biotechnologies to overcome some of the hurdles he faced in his work. Sterility and inconsistencies in the seed of rice varieties that had been crossed were solved by using "some modest biotechnology tools," Jones said.
Researchers had tried unsuccessfully for 50 years to cross the Asian and African rice varieties, Jones said. "We were able to do it in four years," he said. "Biotechnology has speeded up the process and improved our ability to attain these lines and multiply the seeds for farmers."
Biotechnology refers to a collection of technologies that can be used to shift genetic material among plants and animals. Critics say biotechnology has unknown consequences for the safety of food and other products produced by inserting different genes in plants and animals.
The USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service said the number of acres in the world planted to biotech crops increased 15 percent in 2003 compared with 2002.
Asian Giants India, China Bank on GM Technology to Feed Teeming Millions
- Uttara Choudhury Agence France Presse, October 17, 2004
Asian giants India and China are accelerating investment in biotechnology research to fight the odds in agriculture and feed their teeming millions, say scientists and officials.
Scientists at a workshop in one of Indias biggest gene research centres in Patencheru in southern Andhra Pradesh state said China and India accounted for more than half the developing world's expenditure on plant biotechnology.
Margarita Escaler of the US-based International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications said the Asian giants were putting the emphasis on genetically modified (GM) seeds and technology to ensure their billion-plus populations have enough to eat.
"There are around 50 public research units in India and they make investments of 15 million dollars per year while private spending in India on agri-biotech research amounts to over 10 million dollars annually," said Escaler.
"In China, funding for agri-biotech research comes entirely from the government and China is only second now to the United States in research investment. China invested 112 million dollars in biotechnology research in 1999 -- that figure will grow by 400 percent in 2005," she forecast.
At the moment, India has not approved any genetically modified food for commercialisation or consumption. But Indian state-run laboratories are pumping millions of dollars into developing 22 different food items ranging from protein-rich potatoes, rice to groundnut.
Scientists expect the GM groundnut to get Indian government approval for commercialisation by 2007. Groundnut yields the staple edible oil in India. The shifts in China and India appear to be at odds with the widespread rejection of GM technology in many other countries, particularly in Europe.
Biotech advocates say genetic modification boosts output, cuts costs and can improve nutrition. But critics including environmental group Greenpeace fear the environmental impact and worry GM foods may have long-term effects on health.
"There's no doubt Indian agriculture is in a state of crisis," Greenpeace spokeswoman Divya Raghunandan said. But she added it was "laughable" that the government was looking at genetic engineering as the solution. "We face the very real risk of contamination of non-genetically modified crops during field trials and there'll be irreversible impacts on our biodiversity," she said.
The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics based in Patencheru, near Andhra Pradeshs state capital Hyderabad, is likely to give the world its first GM groundnut. China also has an active groundnut breeding programme.
"We have completed successful contained field trails for GM groundnuts and we should get permission from GEAC next wet season in 2005 to field test our GM groundnut in farmers fields," Dyno Keatinge, deputy director general, the institute's told AFP.
"We are eventually looking to introduce this GM groundnut in several countries beyond India including Kenya and South Africa. But we will follow the biosafety regulations and laws in each of those countries," Keatinge.
Scientists in China are working on more than 50 plant species, with a wide-ranging list of GM food plants. Scientists say India's and China's experiences proves that GM crops have a role to play in poorer countries.
"Biotech seeds are potential carriers of state-of-the-art technologies to the remotest part of the country irrespective of the size of the farm and availability of infrastructure. It can once again usher in a green revolution in India," said Bhagirath Choudhary, national coordinator of International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications's South Asia office.
India's "green revolution" between 1967 and 1978 is credited with making the country self-sufficient in food through the use of seeds that were more genetically resistant to pests. The farming sector is vital to economic growth with more than 60 percent of India's more than one billion population depending on agriculture for a living.
Both India and China have pledged to ease red tape surrounding clearance of biotechnologies. "It's scientifically necessary that these GM crops undergo rigorous biosafety and risk assessment," said T.V Ramanaiah from India's ministry of science and technology. "India is evolving a simple, transparent regulatory system to rapidly speed up by the approval or rejection of GM technologies," he said.
In neighbouring China, of 353 applications between 1996 and 2000 for approval of field trials, environmental releases or commercialisation of GM plants and animals, 141 were given the go-ahead by the Chinese Office of Genetic Engineering Safety Administration.
Transgenic rice resistant to three major pests -- stem borer, planthopper and bacterial leaf blight -- have passed two years of environmental release trials. This could hold the key to food security for the rice growing countries in Asia, say scientists.
Biotechnology Should Help Ensure Food Security
- The Hindu , October 17, 2004
Global food security and conservation of biodiversity should be the primary objectives of scientific progress in biotechnology, and unless these are achieved, no human effort will be able to ensure food for all, Leo D'Souza, director of Dr. Kupper's Biotechnology Research Laboratory at the St. Aloysius College, said here on Saturday.
Delivering a special lecture on "Biodiversity for food security" on the occasion of World Food Day, the Rev. Leo D'Souza said biotechnology tools such as genetic modification was being irrationally used without any concern for the original gene bank. As a result of this, the traditional gene pool was depleting particularly in food crops such as wheat, maize, paddy and potato. It was true that global food security was the prime interest of science, but the traditional gene pool would have to be preserved.
He said the food industry could not neglect food security for all that had been the slogan of the governments of the comity of nations. It was only through biotechnology that food output could be increased through innovative methods at cheaper costs. Prof. D'Souza said biotechnology tools would allow farmers to grow more with considerably less inputs.
Citing the instance of poor research on ragi, he said this was owing to the fact that it was not the staple food of the rich. Genetic modification had uses and abuses, but striking a sensible balance between the two was the challenge that confronted scientists. Such a balance was necessary as the population of the world especially in developing countries was increasing at an alarming speed, land availability for agriculture was becoming restricted and farmland in many parts of the world was being rendered useless owing to aridity and salinity. The existing agricultural land was being degraded following overexploitation and intensive agricultural practices.
Genetically Modified Food is Topic of New Book by Penn State Authors
- Penn State Live, Oct. 15, 2004 http://live.psu.edu/story/8539 (Via Vivian Moses)
University Park, Pa. -- A new book by two Penn State authors, titled Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Foods, will be published on later this month by the Joseph Henry Press, a division of the National Academy Press.
Mendel in the Kitchen has been described by reviewers as a pleasure to read; a clear account of the science, issues, and people involved in the development of genetically engineered foods; and a well-documented history of how the DNA in our food has been altered in various ways over the centuries.
The authors are Nina V. Fedoroff, an Evan Pugh Professor of Life Sciences and the Verne M. Willaman Chair in Life Sciences at Penn State, and Nancy Marie Brown, a science writer and former editor of Research/Penn State magazine. Brown and Fedoroff tackle their tangled, tricky, and timely topic by placing today's genetically modified foods into a historical perspective, explaining the science behind genetic modification, and refuting current myths about genetically modified plants. They argue that, contrarym to public fears, genetically modified crops are our best hope for feeding humanity while, at the same time, preserving biodiversity and protecting the environment.
Fedoroff, who is a pioneer in the application of molecular techniques to plants and one of the world's leading experts in plant molecular biology and genetics, says "There are only two solutions: increase crop yields or plow more wilderness into farmland." She argues that the new molecular approaches hold the promise of being the most environmentally conservative way to increase our food supply for generations to come while also helping us to become better stewards of the Earth.
"What genetic engineering actually is and how it differs from earlier techniques of plant breeding is not understood by many outside the laboratory and breeding plot," Brown comments. "By writing this book we seek to answer the questions that most people--whether for or against the idea of genetically modified foods -- often forget to ask."
People have long modified plants by selectively breeding the ones whose genetic mutations made them more useful as foods. For example, long before scientists understood how genes worked, early humans had developed wheat, which carries the genes of different plant species. "To change a wild plant into a food plant requires changes in the plant's genes," Fedoroff explains. "Our civilization is the beneficiary of the genetic modification of plants by early peoples over thousands of years." During the 20th century, plant breeders discovered how to speed up genetic changes in plants by using chemical and radiation treatments. These techniques gave us red grapefruits and other new varieties of fruits and vegetables that are common in supermarkets today.
Advances in plant breeding and the expanded use of fertilizer produced the "Green Revolution," which allowed farmers around the world to keep pace with the recent doubling and redoubling of the world's population -- on essentially the same amount of farmland. Yet by the end of the 20th century, increases in the yields of corn, wheat and rice had begun to decline year by year, even as Earth's population continued to grow by some 80 million people each year.
"We will need to feed three billion more people in 2050 than are living on Earth today, and crop yields must be increased in order to feed them," Fedoroff says. "The challenge of the coming decades is to limit the destructive effects of agriculture even as we continue to coax ever more food from the Earth. Using our growing knowledge of plants and plant genes, and our increasing skill at modifying them with molecular techniques, we can make agriculture more focused and more productive -- if we are both wise and careful. Whether the technology will be helpful or harmful depends on how well people understand it and the choices they make about how it is used."
In Mendel in the Kitchen, Fedoroff and Brown tell entertaining stories about the history of plant modification and provide accessible explanations of the molecular techniques used in the genetic modification of crop plants today.
Why Measure Q Is a Costly Mistake
- Editorial, The San Luis Obispo Tribune, 16 October 2004
In the final analysis, most of the heat surrounding Measure Q boils down to one sentence: "It shall be unlawful for any person or entity to propagate, cultivate, raise, or grow genetically engineered organisms in San Luis Obispo County."
That line has reverberated among the medical, farming, legal and scientific communities locally and across the nation. We'll get back to that language in a moment, but first a nutshell overview.
Proponents of the measure say that genetically engineered crops can cross-pollinate with non-engineered crops. They point to recent cases where GE grass pollen was found a dozen miles from its source.
Opponents say the ordinance is so badly written that it would ban genetic engineering in medical research. Proponents say the ban would give county farmers protection from GE crops until all the risks are known.
The farming community by and large says that the ban will hurt them competitively if or when they decide to use GE seeds. In response, proponents point to countries that have banned GE modified food imports.
Both sides have trotted out testimonials from doctors. The pro-Q physicians say that GE foods need to be further investigated for potential harmful effects. Anti-Q physicians point to the medical marvels that bioengineering has created.
Realizing that the measure would be a tough sell if linked to GE medical applications, the authors of Measure Q have been trying to separate the bioengineering implications from their goal of curbing GE farming. Unfortunately, the term "organism" in the above mentioned sentence won't allow the two industries to be unlinked.
San Luis Obispo attorney Robin Baggett, a lawyer and president of the San Luis Obispo Vintners and Growers Association, said in a recent letter to the county Health Commission -- which has voted 7-3 not to take a stance on the issue -- that the term "organism" is defined as "any living thing, exclusive of human beings and human fetuses ... and courts will enforce that definition."
The Washington, D.C., law firm of Arent Fox found that "all genetically engineered organisms are biological systems; a prohibition on growth or propagation is a prohibition on production, regardless of whether that growth or propagation takes place in a field or in a factory. ... Measure Q-04 unambiguously prohibits all commercial research and production of genetically engineered organisms."
Without going into the philosophical questions surrounding bioengineering, we find that Measure Q is bad legislation for the following reasons:
Cal Poly, as a state-owned property, would be exempt from the ban. This means the university can, and does, grow GE food, which makes the measure discriminatory against farmers in the private sector. It also means that research capital probably won't be spent at a university located in a county hostile to bioengineering. This is at a time when head-of-household biotech jobs are expected to increase 32 percent over the next 10 years, and business and community leaders have suggested that the area should looFk to the biotech field as a source of good-paying jobs that could stimulate the local economy.
The enforcing agent would be the county Ag Commissioner who, with no offense to Commissioner Bob Lilley, has neither the expertise nor budget to oversee compliance of medical bioengineering.
Besides the term "organism" having far-reaching unintended consequences, the safety factor of keeping the ban in place "until all the risks associated with these organisms are fully understood" is simply unattainable in its subjectivity.
In sum, Measure Q is a poorly written ordinance with unintended consequences of banning research on life-saving medicines. That, in turn, will kill any hopes of this county growing a clean, well-paying bioengineering job base.
Like the supporters of a similar ordinance in Humboldt, the authors of Measure Q should acknowledge the fatal flaws of the ordinance's wording and pull their support. Then, if they're serious about county residents having an informed say on GE foods being raised in this county, they should work with the affected stakeholders -- farmers, shippers and organic farmers -- to craft an ordinance that says what it means and means what it says.
In the interim, The Tribune strongly urges a NO vote on Measure Q.
Four Anti-GMO Initiatives Next Month Firefight Leading to Larger War
- Harry Cline, Western Farm Press, 12 October 2004 http://westernfarmpress.com/news/10-12-04-column-four-anti-GMO/
It should come as no surprise that Western Farm Press has been dropped from "Californians for GE-Free Agriculture" media mailing list.
Couple points about last issue's commentary. I apologize for the neo-Nazi comment about renting a city hall or a board of supervisor chambers to this anti-society, anti-science crowd being tantamount to renting a public building to a neo-Nazi group or the KKK. I could have made my point without the Nazi comment.
Secondly, some who support biotechnology say I was off base in criticizing public and private entities for renting to anti-GE groups so they could parade their anti-GMO charade as informational forums. That may have been harsh, but this is a serious issue that has far reaching societal consequences if these radicals are successful in banning GMO crops in a few counties in California. No one objected to my KKK comment because I know of no one who would support the philosophy of the Klu Klux Klan. I think thmere is a strong anti-societal, exclusivity sentiment in this anti-biotechnology movement just like the KKK.
This anti-biotech movement is not about biotech - it is about right-to-farm. It is a free choice issue. Who is to say this group will stop at banning GMOs? What would be next; no tractors more than 10 horsepower in farming; everyone must plant a certain percentage of organic crops, regardless of the economic consequences; dairyman can milk only a limited number of cows per day. If these groups are only marginally successful, they will not stop at banning GMOs.
Or the most absurd of all, that farmers can be arrested for growing herbicide-tolerant corn. That is exactly what the anti-GMO measure would demand if passed in Humboldt County, one of four counties where anti-biotech measures are on the ballot next month. Humboldt has the highest percentage of biotech crops of any other county in the state. It is all herbicide resistant corn, and this group of anti-science whackos want to arrest farmers for growing biotech corn.
Third-generation Ferndale, Calif., Dairyman Dennis Leonardi grows genetically engineered corn to feed his 400 cows. Leonardi was quoted in a recent Associated Press article that the anti-GMO measure in his county has "gone over the edge. It's absolutely ridiculous to make criminals out of farmers."
It is so absurd it is frightening because these radical groups who want to dictate how producers farm may actually win one or more of the ballot measures. They have succeeded in Mendocino County. They also count Trinity as in their win column, but that is only until the board of supervisors there decides to modify or toss out the anti-GMO ordinance. There was no ballot initiative in Trinity, only a county ordinance passed and it can be rescinded by the same supervisors vote as it was passed.
The strongest opposition to this anti-science movement seems to be in Butte County where farmers are organized and successfully fighting back. San Luis Obispo County agriculture is just now getting up a head of steam; however, it may be too late there. Marin is probably a lost cause. Agriculture is playing catch up. The four county initiatives represent a firefight - win, lose or draw the battle is far from over.
The anti-GMO crowd will not stop with these four counties. They want a statewide anti-GMO initiative and with the distortions they freely regurgitate, they just may fool enough Californians to sign petitions to call an initiative. Remember, groups behind this movement are well-funded because raising money to sustain their radicalism is what they are really all about.
Farmers had better catch up quickly, or the war will be over before they are in the fight. Some have stepped up already; rice growers, cotton producers, cattlemen and others. However, conspicuous by their absence in this fight are grape growers, almond producers, vegetable producers, unfortunately, California Department of Food and Agriculture and others.
My passion on this issue is not just from the hope that some day biotechnology can find a cure for diabetes for my granddaughter or at least make her insulin-dependent life easier. I have also seen biotechnology work in the field even beyond expectations of scientists. I have seen it dramatically reduce the use of pesticides. I have seen it improve the environment. And, this is only the beginningŠif this anti-science crowd does not win.
Disregard my passion and convictions. Read what two of the most influential men of this generation have to say. In this edition of Western Farm Press are two articles, one from Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Normal Borlaug and the other from the quintessential environmentalist, Dr. Patrick Moore
Borlaug has been credited with saving billions of lives through his successful efforts to breed drought-resistant grains. Moore brought the environmental movement into public view as one of the founders of Greenpeace. You cannot find two more different scientists, yet they agree totally that to ban biotechnology would be a crime against humanity.
I realize that I have been largely preaching to the choir in my tirades about this anti-biotechnology injustice being palmed off on California by outsiders, but it must be the choir, farmers and ranchers, who sing the loudest to get the congregation, Californians, to hear the message. It must be farmers who stop this movement.
Agricultural Biotech Comes to Europe
- Alan Barclay, BIOTECH International vol. 16 (4), 4 (Sept. 2004)
Although, like most other scientific conferences and symposia, the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC 2004) being held mid-September in Cologne, Germany, boasts an impressive programme of technical presentations given by prestigious scientists, the most important aspect of ABIC 2004 is not likely to be the quality of the scientific debate. Rather it is probable that ABIC 2004 will be remembered simply for the fact that, for the first time ever, this important conference on agriculturFal biotechnology is being held outside North America.
The choice of Europe as the site of ABIC 2004 is no mere accident of conference location planning, but is a deliberate attempt to finally win over Europe to the cause of genetically modified organisms in the light of increasing accumulated amounts of hard, objective data. These data concern not only the positive effect of GMOs on agricultural productivity but, perhaps more importantly in view of Europe's GMO scepticism, the lack of negative effects on tFhe environment.
One of the main objectives of ABIC 2004 will be finalisation of the grandly-named Biotech Manifesto that is designed to correct the poor image that GMOs have in Europe. It is expected that most European scientists in the field will sign up to the Manifesto. In doing so, all signatories will in effect be nailing their colours to the mast of innovative plant genetic engineering. What's more, this will be done not just with some vague wishful thinking about the theoretical scientific advantages of modern techFnology, but based on the huge amount of hard evidence concerning the advantages of GMOs that has been gathered over the last few years outside of Europe.
In fact, given the myopic nature of the GMO debate in Europe, it is frequently forgot ten that elsewhere in the world GMOs have been a remarkable success story. It is only eight years since the first GM crop was introduced, but since then there are no fewer than 7 million farmers in 18 countries who are regularly planting almost 70 million hectares of GM Fcrops. This is probably the most rapid adoption of crop technology ever.
Apart from the sheer weight of these numbers, what is impressive is that all the initial premises of the anti-GMO movement have been proven to be misguided. Initially it was predicted that the introduction of GMOs would lead to a massive increase in the use of herbicides. In practice it has been found that overall herbicide use has decreased and even then the herbicides that are used are the so-called green-label herbicides rather than the persistent red-label herbicides such as atrazine.
Likewise, it was originally claimed that GM technology would make poor third world farmers become dependent and beholden to uncaring Western commercial companies producing GM seeds. In fact the very nature of GMO technology means that the benefits are proportionally more advantageous to poor third world farmers than the big industrial type agricultural concerns of the Western world. Ironically, the universally-acclaimed "Green Revolution" (estimated to have saved approximately one billion people in Asia from starvation in the couple of decades following the Second World War) depended not only on the introduction of new classically bred crop strains but, crucially, on the massive use of nitrogen-based fertilisers and the implementation of huge irrigation projects. The scale of these infra-structural changes was such as to put them out of the reach of the small subsistence level farmer.
The weight of the accumulated practical data is difficult to refute. Maybe Europe will begin at last to accept the scientific and economic arguments.