Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : October 19, 2004
* Borlaug Seeks to Boost Crop Production in Africa
* Farmers Defend Engineered Crops
* Transgenics Gone Wild! Why it's OK for GM to Spread
* China Could Release GMO Rice as Early Next Year
* Syngenta to Donate GMO Rice to Agency
* Spanish Maize Farmers Prove the Concept of Co-Existence
* ... GM Opponents' Theory on Co-Existence "Exaggerated"
* Fueling a New "Green Revolution"?
* Nobel Laureate Maathai and the AIDS Conspiracy Theory Origins
Borlaug Seeks to Boost Crop Production in Africa
- Amy Lorentzen Associated Press Oct 15, 2004
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Dr. Norman Borlaug, known as the "father of the Green Revolution," issued an impassioned plea Thursday for international cooperation to boost crop production in Africa, saying the payoff would be a catalyst for peace.
"You can't build peace on human empty stomachs and human misery," said 90-year-old Borlaug, who spoke to hundreds of scientists and diplomats attending the World Food Prize International Symposium in downtown Des Moines.
Borlaug spent 20 years of his life developing a high-yield wheat that helped turn the tide of starvation in India and Pakistan in the 1960s. His efforts earning him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. As founder of the Des Moines-based World Food Prize, Borlaug was on hand to honor Yuan Longping, a Chinese researcher, and Dr. Monty Jones, a Sierra Leone-born biologist in Ghana, for their work in producing high-yield rice.
The two will share a $250,000 prize, awarded in a ceremony Thursday night at the Iowa State Capitol. The prize, awarded annually since 1987, recognizes achievements in improving food quality and availability.
Borlaug said a fraction of the $900 billion spent around the world each year on arms and military efforts could help build roads in Africa that could bring schools, hospitals and new farming techniques. Without such progress, he has predicted continued social, economic and political upheaval. "Look at how the world spends its money," he said. "We've got a big job."
Borlaug fired back at critics of his support for the use of chemical fertilizers and genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, saying governments cannot shun such developments while people are starving.
"Today's cautionary principle is fine for elite people in an elite country, but if you're dealing with hunger and starvation you better use the information you have at hand and use it courageously and get the political leaders to see the benefit," he said.
Farmers Defend Engineered Crops
- Eric Bailey, Los Angeles Times, Oct 19, 2004
'Ballot measures in four counties would ban genetically modified agricultural products -- 'Frankenfood' to foes.'
Like gigantic lawnmowers, three agricultural combines cut the final swaths through Ryan Schohr's rice fields the other day. The harvest was complete. It was time to take a breath and set aside perennial concerns over pests and weeds and weather.
But as the Nov. 2 election approaches, folks in Butte County's sprawling farm industry are fretting over a ballot measure that aims to ban genetically modified crops in this corner of the California breadbasket. Butte is one of four counties -- Marin, Humboldt and San Luis Obispo are the others -- trying to follow Mendocino County, which in March approved the nation's first ban on cultivation of bioengineered crops.
The electoral assault -- dubbed Measure D in Butte -- worries farmers like Schohr.
Never mind that nothing he plants is genetically engineered. Never mind that Butte County has virtually no crops borne of DNA spliced in the biotechnology lab. His worries are long term -- about staying competitive, about being shut out of agriculture's next big thing, whenever it rolls down the gravelly farm roads.
"There's benefits on the horizon from biotech," Schohr said, peering out of his mud-splattered pickup truck. "We don't want to be excluded."
A different sort of future worries bioengineering foes. They say genetically engineered food could harm the environment and blow on the winds to contaminate organic crops. As for the potential health impacts, nothing short of the fate of the world's food supply is at stake, they contend. "Without their consent, consumers are being forced to participate in the largest uncontrolled biological experiment in the history of humankind," said Scott Wolf, a leader of Citizens for a GE-Free Butte.
First introduced to the world's farm fields in the mid-1990s, agricultural bioengineering is still in its infancy. But genetically altered crops have found a significant place on America's grocery shelves. The biggest foray has been into four major crops -- corn, soybeans, rapeseed and cottonseed -- that have been engineered to resist pests or withstand potent commercial weed killers. With soy and corn a staple in myriad products, as much as 70% of the nation's processed foods contain bioengineered ingredients.
Opponents say government has shirked its duty to test and regulate the rising tide of genetically altered foods.
Opposition in Europe Overseas, genetically altered crops have faced widespread opposition in Europe and Africa, where critics say the long-term risks are unknown. By patenting new-breed crops, they say, multinational companies stand to reap an economic windfall while farmers in the U.S., Europe and the Third World struggle.Now, in the U.S., opponents are attempting to mount a blockade of their own, one county at a time.
Aside from the four measures on the Nov. 2 ballot, others are hot on their heels. Foes of genetically engineered crops in half a dozen other regions, from Sonoma to Santa Barbara, are laying plans for ballot campaigns next year. So are activists in other states, such as Hawaii and Vermont.
The effort looks to have its best shot in Marin County, where supervisors endorsed the ban. In San Luis Obispo County, backers of a ban face a tough fight against a coalition of farmers and business leaders. Humboldt County's proposal features the toughest penalties of the lot -- jail time for growers who step over the bioengineering line. But criminalizing farming proved the measure's undoing.
This month, the Humboldt County district attorney concluded that the ban violated constitutional rights of due process because there was no provision for a jury trial. Backers are now asking voters to reject the measure so they can come back next year with a retooled version.
The biggest stakes may be in Butte, a county of 211,000 where agriculture is king. Head up U.S. Highway 99 north of Sacramento and the dominance of farming is as undeniable as the rice fields and almond orchards spreading in all directions. Agriculture is a $350-million-a-year industry in Butte County, and farmers are among the county's movers and shakers. The supervisor representing Gridley is a rice farmer. So is the state assemblyman.
Local farmers have opened their wallets to block Measure D. Unlike the battle in Mendocino, where the biotech industry outspent opponents 7 to 1 and still got beat, Butte's opposition has been mostly homegrown.
The county's farm bureau has raised more than $100,000 to put up scads of signs along rural highways, staff phone banks and send speakers out to warn about the risk to Butte's dominant industry. The state farm bureau and California Cattlemen's Assn. have also chipped in money and manpower. "This has united folks who normally wouldn't share a cup of coffee," said Jamie Johansson, an olive grower in Oroville and opposition leader.
Like many of his peers, Johansson sees genetic engineering as agriculture's brave new face, with a host of potential benefits -- increased crop production, less pesticide use, reductions in tillage, diesel use and air pollution. For now, about the only genetically engineered crops in the county, folks say, are a few herbicide-tolerant cornfield mazes.
As for the potential pitfalls to human and environmental health, farmers here are mostly dubious. The ban, they say, is being fed by hysteria. "They like to use Hollywood themes by calling it Frankenfood or killer tomatoes," Johansson said. "They want to scare people. But none of the fears have been proven."
But in its campaign against Measure D, the farm industry hasn't shied away from whipping up its own brand of fear. The industry says the ban is so broadly written that it could unintentionally block traditional types of rice that are the offspring of genetic mutations produced in the lab during the 1970s. They've cautioned that "outside extremists" are trying to whip up trouble, citing the money and manpower that has flowed to Measure D from the Bay Area and other liberal enclaves.
Approve the ban, they warn, and Butte County would be turning its back on the future of its biggest industry.
Look no further than the Rice Experiment Station. Sitting on 500 acres near the tiny town of Biggs, the industry-funded facility has for the last 92 years conducted research into new types of rice, producing roughly 90% of the varietals growing in the region. Though no tests on recombinant DNA are being conducted at the station, its scientists don't want to foreclose that possibility. "We've never had anyone come in and declare we can't do research," said Kent McKenzie, the station's director. "But that's just what Measure D is saying."
Backers of Measure D say such concerns are overblown. Wolf pointed out that the measure allows DNA research by universities, meaning the Butte County research facility could tap into its long history of cooperation with UC Davis to explore genetic engineering. The measure likewise would do nothing to ban current brands of rice, he insisted. "It's a complete scare tactic."
As for their own dire talk, supporters of the crop bioengineering ban say it's better to be safe than sorry. Lou Ann Choss, 51, grew up in Indiana corn country. She has seen the farming industry evolve from small family units to industrialized behemoths. The biotech effort is the latest step in what she considers an unhealthy trend.
Safety Concerns "Instead of the highest and best good for all, it's all about finding the highest and best profit for multinationals and stockholders," said Choss, a leading proponent of the ban.
Despite the conservative bent of Butte County, the movement had no trouble attracting more than 100 volunteers, who quickly gathered the required 7,000 signatures last spring. Since then, they've hit Chamber of Commerce meetings, radio programs and other venues to make their pitch to keep the biogenetic genie in the bottle.
A victory in the heart of California's farm belt could give the movement critical momentum in what has become a geopolitical battle pitting multinational corporations against Third World farmers, scientists against environmentalists.
Environmentalists warn that modified genes in bioengineered crops threaten to spread to wild plants or organic-grown crops, undercutting their marketability and virtually ensuring a DNA-altered future for the food supply.
In California, genetic engineering has pushed mostly into a few corn crops and many of the vast cotton fields of San Joaquin Valley.
But a bigger future isn't far away. Firms are forging ahead with new strains of rice featuring better pest and herbicide resistance, imbued with vitamins or acting as virtual factories for pharmaceuticals.
Transgenics Gone Wild! Why it's OK for Transgenic Plants and Animals to Spread
- Ronald Bailey, Reason Online, October 13, 2004 (Via Agnet)
"GE Grass Spreads Genetic Pollution over Large Distances" warns the headline in the environmentalist magazine Grist last month. Pollen from a grass genetically modified for herbicide tolerance was found 13 miles from where it was planted. Biotechnology foes have always warned us that genetically modified creatures, once free in the outside world, are beyond our control.
For example, the Sierra Club worries, "These organisms cannot be recalled--they will continue to pass on their spliced-in genes, or transgenes, to future generations. Many of the gene changes may turn out to have unexpected secondary effects. Serious errors in judgment might prove unrecallable as trillions of copies are broadcast via pollen and seed." Sounds ominous, right? However, that genetically modified organisms released into the wild might be unrecallable is not necessarily a knock-down argument against them. After all, lots of unmodified organisms are unrecallable too.
Most transgenics so far allowed outdoors are crop plants genetically enhanced to resist insects and diseases, and to tolerate herbicides. Crop plants have been modified through millennia by farmers so that they simply cannot survive in the wild. You won't see corn plants taking over forests or swamps. Nevertheless, some genetically modified crop plants have crossbred with wild relatives. But so do conventional crops.
Norman Ellstrand, a genetics professor at the University of California at Riverside notes that "there is now substantial evidence that at least 44 cultivated plants mate with one or more wild relatives somewhere in the world...crop-to-wild gene flow is not uncommon, and on occasion, it has caused problems. Would we expect transgenic plants to behave any differently? The answer is 'no.'"
Critics often worry that genes for herbicide resistance from genetically modified crops can flow into weed species, making them more difficult to control. However, this is hardly a novel problem. As professor of plant physiology Jodie Holt, also from Riverside, observes, "As use of herbicides has increased, increased cases of selection for resistance in weeds have been documented. Since the first reported case of weed resistance in 1970, 258 weed species have evolved resistance to one or more of 18 herbicide classes." Despite the fact that for nearly a decade millions of acres have been sown with biotech crops, there have been precious few outbreaks of the much-dreaded "superweeds" caused by crossbreeding between biotech crops and wild plants.
So now some scientists are working on deliberately releasing genetically modified organisms above the plant level into the wild. For example, mosquitoes have been genetically modified so that they can no longer harbor disease-causing organisms, such as the malaria parasite, or viral diseases such as dengue fever and yellow fever. The tropical kissing bugs in Central and South America have been infected with genetically engineered bacteria that kill the Chagas trypanosome parasite that the bugs carry. The trypanosome carried by tsetse flies in Africa that causes sleeping sickness might be controlled in a similar fashion.
Researchers at the University of California at Riverside are trying to stop an epidemic of Pierce's disease that is threatening California's vineyards. The disease bacterium is spread by a leafhopper pest called the glassy-winged sharpshooter. The Riverside scientists have modified another bacterium that lives in the guts of the sharpshooters so that they kill the bacteria that cause Pierce's disease. Other researchers are trying to modify honeybees to resist the diseases and parasites that have devastated huge numbers of hives in the past decade.
This kind of genetic engineering approach is an extension of biological control strategies already in regular use. For example, pink bollworm moths that attack cotton, as well as screwworm flies that infest livestock, are controlled using Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). Male moths and flies made sterile through irradiation are released in huge numbers so that they will out-compete their wild rivals for mating with wild females, whose eggs then produce no progeny. The U.S. Forest Service controls gypsy moth infestations by spraying forests with a preparation of a natural virus that infects and kills only gypsy moths.
Unlike crop plants, which can't typically compete with wild species, researchers hope that genetically modified insect species will successfully out-compete unmodified wild members of their species. Any potential negative effects will have to be balanced against the benefits expected--which can be substantial. For example, at least 300 million people contract malaria and nearly three million people die from it every year. Using interbreeding to replace wild populations of malaria-carrying mosquitoes with mosquitoes genetically modified to resist malaria would be a tremendous boon to humanity.
This process of releasing genetically modified insects and microorganisms to control diseases and pests will undoubtedly be modeled on successful programs like the biological control of the weed purple loosestrife. Biologists imported and released two leaf-feeding beetles and a root-eating weevil from Europe that eat only purple loosestrife. These insects were tested in laboratories before they were released to make sure they would not endanger native North American plants. This effort at biological control has significantly reduced stands of the weed. In a similar fashion, future genetically modified insects will be extensively tested and monitored in the lab before they are released, to minimize any ill effects.
While it is possible that genetically modified plants and animals could become disruptive when introduced into the wild, this risk must be evaluated in light of what we know about the history of introducing unmodified new species into ecosystems. In the 500 years since Columbus arrived in America, some 50,000 foreign species have become established in North America. These include nearly all our major crop plants: wheat, oats, soybeans, apples, oranges, and pears; and our livestock: cows, pigs, goats, sheePp, and horses. Of course, some destructive pests have also found their way to our shores, but for the most part introduced species have not been particularly disruptive and have integrated well into our landscapes.
A recent study on the ecological effects of genetically modified trees by researchers at Oregon State University noted, "Invasive exotic organisms represent the coordinated interaction and evolution of thousands of genes in a new environment, usually devoid of its pests and pathogen complex, [whereas] transgenic organisms result from one or a few intensively studied genes that encode highly specific traits."
It is reasonable to expect that creatures like insects modified with just one or two well characterized genes will be less disruptive than introduced exotic species, since their wild relatives will already be living in the ecosystem into which the modified animals are being introduced. If mosquitoes genetically modified to resist malaria or West Nile virus actually succeeded in replacing wild carriers, people would suffer just as many irritating bites from the bloodsucking nuisances. But they'd come down Pwith fewer cases of illness. And returning to transgenic grasses, biotechnologists have now genetically modified popular lawn and pasture grasses so that they lack two common hay-fever allergens. Not even the Sierra Club should sneeze at such positive results.
-- Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His new book, Liberation Biology: A Moral and Scientific Defense of the Biotech Revolution will be published in early 2005.
China Could Release GMO Rice As Early Next Year
- Nao Nakanishi, Reuters News, Oct 18, 2004
China, the world's top producer and consumer of rice, could release its genetically modified rice as early as next year, as pressure mounts to boost domestic production and spur farmer income.
China has long been seen as the pioneer in GMO rice, while the plant has slipped off the priority lists of Western private researchers who have focused their efforts on other commodities such as soybeans, corn, cotton or wheat.
"This technology is more or less ready for commercialisation," Jikun Huang, a director of the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy at the Chinese Academy of Science, told Reuters. "You cannot hold it back too long when you have invested a lot of money. It would boost Chinese agricultural productivity and increase farmers' income," he said from Beijing.
Scientists in China believe Beijing is likely to give the green light for commercialisation of insect and disease-resistant GMO rice as soon as next year after more than six years of trials. The move would be in stark contrast to Monsanto Co's (MON.N) decision in June to halt controversial plans to introduce the world's first GMO wheat in Canada and the United States.
An official at the Ministry of Agriculture in Beijing declined to elaborate but said field studies would take at least a year and there was no timetable set for the commercialisation.
Greenpeace is already concerned about China's next move, however. "GMO rice poses risks to human health and irreversible environmental threats," said Greenpeace spokesman Sze Pang Cheung "It can reproduce and interbreed with natural organisms, spreading to new environments and future generations in an unpredictable and uncontrollable way," he said in a statement.
GRAIN SHORTAGE WOES China is already the world's top grower of insect resistant GMO cotton, known as bacillus thuringiensis cotton, which has been effective in controlling damage from the bollworm pest. Dayuan Xue, professor at the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences, is concerned about GMO rice after studying the environmental impact of BT cotton in China.
He fears GMO rice pollen could contaminate the other 75,000 conventional rice varieties in China, the birthplace of rice. "We are concerned about the commercialisation," he said. "The gene-flow is a problem and it is dangerous."
Pressure to launch GMO rice comes at a time when Beijing faces a tough task in raising the country's grain output and in narrowing the income gap between farmers and urban citizens. After 2003 grain production slid to 435 million tonnes from 457 million tonnes the previous year and a record 512 million in 1998, Beijing is encouraging farmers to grow more grain, such as rice or wheat.
China's 2004 rice crop is expected to rise to about 180 million tonnes from about 161 million last year, the lowest since 1994. The output is helped by many farmers in the south resuming growing early rice, but China still has a supply deficit of about 10 million tonnes.
Some pro-GMO scientists believe biotechnology could really help Beijing's efforts to boost production if it allows hybrid rice varieties, including BT rice, cowpea trypsin inhibitor gene rice and disease resistant Xa21 rice.
Huang said field trials in Hunan and Fujian provinces showed GMO rice boosted yields by 4 to 8 percent, and allowed an 80 percent drop in pesticide use, he said. "I estimate if China commercialises GMO rice now, by the year 2010 China can gain nearly $4 billion per year," he said. "Consumers also get benefits. When production rises, prices drop ... half of the benefit would go to consumers."
Huang estimated China has spent 1.6 billion yuan ($193 million) on biotech research in 2003 - double the figure three years earlier, with 200 million yuan going on rice.
But Xue was not as convinced. "Benefits would not be so big," he said. "The rice bollworm is a problem in some provinces of China but not everywhere."
Syngenta to Donate GMO Rice to Agency
- Jerry Perkins, Des Moines Register, Oct 16, 2004
'The Golden Rice Humanitarian Board will make the crop available to developing nations; biotech opponents have doubts.'
Syngenta, the giant agribusiness based in Switzerland, will donate the seed and genetic lines of its vitamin A-enhanced "Golden Rice" to a humanitarian agency that will make the genetically modified crop available to developing countries.
Syngenta made the announcement Friday during World Food Prize activities in Des Moines. Syngenta's donation to the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board was hailed by Ingo Potrykus , one of the developers of Golden Rice and co-chairman of the humanitarian organization.
Potrykus and Peter Beyer developed a more nutritious variety of rice in the late 1990s using the gene-splicing techniques of biotechnology. They inserted four genes from daffodils that contain iron and vitamin A into rice plants. The genes also give the rice a yellow or golden hue. Golden rice's iron and vitamin A can prevent blindness and disease in children, especially in developing countries where rice is a dietary mainstay. Those benefits are not found in conventional rice.
Potrykus, who attended the two-day World Food Prize symposium that concluded Friday, said he is grateful to Syngenta for making the donation, which will allow him and Beyer to introduce the Golden Rice technology into 16 countries, including Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Potrykus said he and Beyer will work with scientists in those countries to introduce the Golden Rice gene into varieties of rice that are native in those regions.
Syngenta's donation does not mean the technology will be readily accepted by the people of those countries, Potrykus said. "We are talking about a genetically modified organism," he said.
The real hurdle that must be cleared before Golden Rice is grown in many areas will be getting regulatory approval by national food safety authorities in the individual countries. The use of biotechnology in food is a subject of controversy in some nations. "It's not foreseeable how long this will take," Potrykus said, referring to the approval process. "Syngenta is helping us work our way through the regulatory process."
Field tests of Golden Rice were done last year at Louisiana State University, Potrykus said, and the nutritional content of the Golden Rice grown at LSU will be studied at Tufts University in Boston in December. "Now, we have the material we need to study the availability of vitamin A," he said.
Jeffrey Smith of Fairfield, author of "Seeds of Deception" and a biotech critic, said genetically modified crops such as Golden Rice have not been tested enough to assure the public that they are safe to eat. "The technology of genetically modifying plants is fraught with problems," Smith said. "Studies reveal significant damage to laboratory animals who have been fed genetically modified foods."
Potrykus said delays in developing Golden Rice would be costly for the world's poor children. "Six thousand children die every day because of vitamin A deficiency," Potrykus said. "That is unacceptable."
Rice breeders Yuan Longping of China and Monty Jones of Sierra Leone were awarded the World Food Prize this week for their work in boosting rice yields. Twelve African diplomats attending the World Food Prize international symposium in Des Moines on Friday endorsed a proposed partnership to assist developing countries in Africa.
Michigan State University President Peter McPherson proposed the creation of a new partnership between international development agencies and African governments to aid development on that continent. McPherson, who is chairman of the Partnership to Cut Poverty in Africa, said on Thursday the partnership would be similar to the Alliance for Progress, which was formed 40 years ago to reduce poverty in Latin American countries.
The African officials at the conference said assistance is needed to spread agricultural innovations, revitalize agricultural education and improve the competitiveness of Africa's agricultural products in local, regional and world markets.
Spanish Maize Farmers Prove the Concept of Co-Existence, Says Biotech Industry
- Cordis News, October 18, 2004, http://dbs.cordis.lu
Having strengthened its regulations on the traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the Commission has recently lifted the EU's de facto moratorium on the technology and begun authorising new varieties for sale in Europe.
Despite this clear political endorsement of GM food and feed products, however, many consumers and retailers remain opposed to the technology, and while millions of tonnes of genetically modified crops are grown and consumed in other areas of the world, Europe's countryside remains virtually GM free.
That is why the biotechnology industry in Europe is so keen to promote the example being set by maize farmers in Spain, where GM corn varieties have been grown alongside conventional crops for the last seven years. This year, some 60,000 hectares of Bt maize are being cultivated commercially around the country, representing around 12 per cent of Spain's total maize harvest.
In order to demonstrate the effectiveness of both the GM technology and the measures used to ensure its effective co-existence with conventional maize cultivation, a visit was organised for journalists from across the EU to a farm cooperative in the Zaragoza region of Spain, by the biotechnology industry representative organisation Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe (ABE).
According to Miguel Leon, Monsanto Spain's director of government and public affairs and ABE representative, when considering co-existence it is important to understand that it is not a health or environmental safety issue. 'Co-existence is the practice of protecting the rights of all farmers to do the type of agriculture that they want - all health and environmental issues are considered before a product is authorised for cultivation,' he says.
Mr Leon points to the fact that during seven years of cultivation of Bt maize in Spain, there have been no cases where coexistence measures have failed and resulted in economic loss for Spanish farmers. 'Co-existence is nothing new; farmers have been doing it for millennia,' he explained. 'In Spain, co-existence has operated smoothly for seven years, and that's without formal rules. Industry, in the absence of such rules, has issued guidelines and advice on how farmers can manage co-existence issues.'
To support his claims, journalists were invited to visit the Bujaraloz Farmer Cooperative, just outside Zaragoza in the Aragon region of Spain. Eduardo Escanillas, president of the cooperative, explained that both GM and conventional corn are grown in Bujaraloz, with around 13 per cent of its total area given over to genetically modified Bt maize. 'I firmly believe the future is in GM: it produces better crop yields, and in a nutshell, farmers make more money,' he said.
Bt, or Bacillus thuringiensis, is a naturally occurring soil bacterium that has been used as a pesticide spray for over 40 years, in particular, against corn borers, which in areas of high infestation can have a substantial impact of crop yields. In Bt maize, the Bt protein is added to the maize as a highly effective self-defence mechanism against such pests. As Pioneer's Mike Hall highlighted, however, the qualities of Bt maize - its taste, look and nutritional value - are all the result of conventional hybrid farming practices: 'Thet genetic modification is simply there to protect the quality of the hybrid seed,' he told CORDIS News.
In an area of high corn borer presence, such as Aragon, the impact that such protection can have is significant, with yields of GM corn averaging 15 tonnes per hectare compared with 13 tonnes for conventional maize. Furthermore, the increased cost of the GM seeds compared with conventional hybrid varieties is outweighed by avoiding the cost of the pesticides that must be applied two of three times to non-GM fields.
Javier Escanillas is a corn farmer on the cooperative, and this is the first year that he has grown GM crops alongside his fields of conventional maize. When CORDIS News asked him why he had decided to plant GM corn, he said that it was due to having seen the benefits for other farmers on the cooperative. 'I saw that GM was good for nature with less need for pesticides, and good for farmers providing higher yields - a win-win situation.'
Commenting on how he had found the experience, Mr Escanillas said that although he hadn't harvested yet, if the results are as good as he expects them to be, next year he will move over to Bt maize production on all 45 hectares of his land. Co-existence was an important issue for him, because while his GM corn, like all GM corn grown in Spain, was sold as animal feed and clearly labelled as genetically modified, much of his non-GM corn could end up being consumed by humans as corn starch.
Having learned from other farmers on the cooperative and by attending conference and seminars organised by the biotech industry, Mr Escanillas learned to apply various techniques to ensure that cross pollination and other forms of contamination between his two crops could not occur. For example, GM fields are surrounded by a 'refuge' barrier of conventional crops that helps to prevent cross-pollination, and the different varieties are planted at different times to ensure that neither is pollinating at the tsame time. In the most striking demonstration of the effectiveness of Bt maize, the farmer showed the contrast between the tall straight rows of GM corn, and the sagging, corn borer infested conventional plant. 'The ironic thing is that the healthy-looking plants are for the pigs, while we humans must eat the other lot,' he said.
As far as Miguel Leon and Mike Hall are concerned, the experience of Bujaraloz Cooperative proves that farmers are more than capable of ensuring the effective co-existence of GM and conventional crops, and it is an example that could be followed throughout the rest of Europe. 'This is the way that farmers have always worked, and it is nothing new for them,' concluded Mr Hall. 'Co-existence is an important issue, but not an overly complicated one.'
GM Opponents' Theory on Co-Existence "Exaggerated" According to New Report
Zaragossa, 14 October - Five key principles are all it takes to ensure the successful co-existence of GM, organic and conventional crops. This is according to a new research paper released today by PG Economics.
Co-existence is currently high on the agenda of opponents to GM technology who believe that GM crops cannot 'co-exist' along side their organic and conventional equivalents and are calling on EU governments to set up liability rules to protect non GM farmers from 'contamination'. The research paper "Co-existence of GM and non GM crops: current experience and key principles" - highlights fundamental flaws in many of their 'exaggerated' arguments.
According to the report, on-farm experience in North America and Spain since 1995 has demonstrated that through the application of sensible farm level practices (e.g. the separation of crops by space and time, good communication with neighbours and the use of good husbandry practices) successful co-existence between GM and non GM crops has been possible, and without government involvement.
Speaking in Zaragossa, Spain, Graham Brookes, author of the report said: "Like all good farm management practice, the co-existence of different agricultural production systems requires mutual respect and shared responsibly by all parties including both GM and non GM growers. If you apply the five key principles outlined in the report and adapt these to local circumstances on a crop by crop basis, effective co-existence practices can be achieved."
The five key principles are: 1. Context: Determine the relative commercial and agronomic importance of different crop production systems based on planted area, production and economic value. 2. Consistency: Producers should be consistent in dealing with the adventitious presence of all unwanted material, including GM, organic and conventional. 3. Proportionality: All co-existence measures established should be proportionate, non discriminatory and science-based. 4 Equity (fairness): Any economic liability provisions (that compensate non GM growers for adventitious presence of GM) should be equally applicable to GM growers for adventitious presence of non GM crops. No one sector should be able to veto another - access and choice works both ways 5. Practicality: All co-existence measures should be based on legal, practical and scientific realities.
Co-existence is based on the premise that farmers should be free to cultivate the crops of their choice using the production system they prefer whether they are GM, conventional or organic. Despite claims from opponents, co-existence is not a crop safety issue but one that relates solely to the production and marketing of crops approved for use
Fueling a New "Green Revolution"?
- Andrew Roberts, Bangkok Post, October 17, 2004
Thai farmers have benefited immeasurably from past agricultural advances, and GM technologies are just as worthy of a fair trial, writes
One key issue that has not been lost, whatever your viewpoint on biotechnology and GMOs, is that a thriving, competitive agricultural sector is beneficial to the Thai economy, Thai farmers, and Thai consumers. It could be argued that Thailand's agricultural reputation and productivity, built over the last 40 years, has been founded upon implementing appropriate agricultural technologies. In the context of agricultural productivity, GMOs must be evaluated in the same light as those technologies that have preceded them into farmers' fields.
Proponents of GM crops argue that the introduction of approved GM seeds will provide yet further choice for farmers, making the country more competitive in the regional/global markets, and address poverty and malnutrition. Opponents reject these views, and often advocate farming systems that make use of few (if any) man-made inputs.
At its simplest, there are two streams to the debate. On the one side there are those promoting the technology as a means of becoming more productive, whilst the other side would prefer to return to traditional systems of cultivation, minus modern inputs. Historical developments in agriculture in Thailand may provide some insight.
Let's turn the clock back to 1964. Like most industries today, Thai cultivation, minus modern inputs. Historical developments in agriculture in Thailand may provide some insight.
Let's turn the clock back to 1964. Like most industries today, Thai agriculture was completely different 40 years ago. Back then, there were many more farmers, 75 percent of the workforce was engaged in agriculture, generations of families were born into a life on the farm, often helping out from a very early age. For the most part, farmers did not have access to improved plant varieties, except the seeds imported by a few dealers from China, or other parts of North Asia. Certainly there were no pesticides or fertilisers; most farmers could not afford to buy them in any case.
For most, farming was pure subsistence agriculture, feeding one's family first, then selling whatever extra the farmer could produce. Farming was exceptionally hard work, involved most of the immediate, if not extended, family and did not pay that well. In fact, there is not much to romanticise about the good old days as far as agriculture is concerned. Poor soil, seeds that never germinated, and crops wiped out by floods or drought or insects and diseases were commonplace. Despite all the hard work, even skilled farmers found that yields were so low and variable that food supply was distinctly seasonal and often in short supply. A range of healthy nutritious fruit and vegetables was a luxury. For those farmers' children who were able to survive poverty and malnutrition, there was little chance for them to go to school because they were too busy helping their parents in the fields transplanting, ploughing, weeding, or harvesting.
The reality is that the period of widespread subsistence agriculture, or farming minus appropriate technologies, was not a happy or productive time for those who were imprisoned by it. Every day was a fight for life, a fight that still goes on in many parts of Asia. For most Thai people, the fight is over; progress has seen to that.
No turning back.
The progress that has allowed millions to move into commercial agriculture, whilst allowing new generations to enjoy formal education and the resulting human resource development, is multifaceted improvements in agricultural technology. Arguably the two most important elements of these improvements were the introduction of improved plant varieties specifically made for Thai conditions, and the effective use of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers.
These technologies have brought considerable economic, social, & environmental benefits to Thailand over the last 40 years. Once farmers discovered the improvements possible using quality seed, pesticides and fertilisers, there was quite literally no turning back. One or two entrepreneurs importing seeds turned into dozens of private seed companies developing new plants for the tropical lowlands. Government plant breeding programmes flourished as productivity increased. National development plans were able to move confidently towards an industrial-based economy. Best of all, farming and farming communities became more productive. Children were able to go to school and grandparents were able to retire.
One landmark development was the introduction of hybrid corn varieties for tropical cultivation. In the 70s, the cultivation of corn on a commercial scale assisted the impressive growth of Thailand's animal feed industry. One of the major constraints was that even though the traditional varieties of corn being widely cultivated in Thailand were productive, they were susceptible to drought, and also to fungal infection. On average, yields (production per unit area) were in the range of 180-200 kg per rai. Both public and, more prominently, private sector breeding programmes sought to address these problems through the introduction of improved characteristics in a hybrid corn variety (a corn plant bred from parents that differ in genetically inherited characteristics).
The resulting hybrid was nothing short of a spectacular improvement over the traditional variety. With drought tolerance, resistance to fungal diseases and increased hybrid vigour , yields of 400 kg per rai were commonly produced (today, yields average 550 kg per rai). Variability in production was reduced, and increases in yield had profound effects on corn growers and indeed also the feed, pig, and poultry industries. Pesticides played a vital role in controlling other pests and diseases, ensuring that the new hybrid could exploit its genetic superiority. Uptake by farmers of the new seed was impressive; once they had seen the new variety in the field they were not afraid to purchase new seeds for each planting. Thus the hybrid varieties were the overwhelming choice of farmers despite the fact that it meant a change in the traditional practice of saving seeds.
A similar success story was seen when the Ministry of Agriculture introduced characteristics from high yielding varieties of short stem rice from the Philippines into local fragrant varieties of rice. Not only did the new rice varieties maintain the grain quality, aroma, and cooking quality of the fragrant Thai varieties, they displayed improved yield and resistance to rice hopper insects. Integration of the new variety with improved irrigation systems realized yields up to 6 tonnes per hectare (t/ha) in central regions during the dry season. In northern areas, where poor soil and weather often hamper rice production, yields of 4.5 t/ha were seen for the first time. The economic impact of such increases in productivity have been important to Thailand in competing in the world rice market.
In addition to the economic benefits realised by new agricultural technologies, there have been clear social benefits for Thailand, as technology became a cornerstone of Thailand's agricultural policy. Through improved productivity in the agricultural sector, the burden on farm labour has reduced. The economy was able to move towards light industrial development , utilising labour resources no longer required on the farm. Farmers laid down their tools to take newly created jobs in the textiles and service industries. There were new choices. The socio-economic fabric of the village would never be the same again, as people born into farm families now had more lifestyle options.
Technological crossroads. Today, Thailand stands at a crossroads in its agriculture policy. The so-called Green Revolution of the 60s and 70s has left an indelible impression on agricultural methods and productivity. Refinements over the years have assisted Thai farmers further and progress has been impressive. However, despite the subsequent advances in plant breeding, development of advanced chemical pesticides and fertilisers, growth in agriculture has hit something of a plateau. Production in some major crops is in decline.
With a growing population, reduced farmer workforce, and a shrinking agricultural production base, production of major crops in the last 10 years has increased only marginally, yet prices on world markets have declined. Though Thailand annually produces in excess of 27 million tonnes of rice per year, it does so at a yield of just 2.7 tonnes per hectare (source: FAO). Despite Thailand's proud tradition of rice cultivation (50 percent of farm land is planted to rice), current productivity puts the Kingdom very much below that of our neighbours. The situation is no different for other crops. These are warning signs that revisions to agricultural systems, the very fundamentals underpinning core production, are overdue.
Concerned ministries have recognised the problematic trends and have sought answers. Seed supply for major crops has been a major problem. Government agencies, that by legislation, are in sole control of rice seed supply to Thai farmers are only able to meet 8-10 percent of the farmers' seed demands.
Conventional production methods, safely producing the vast majority of food we eat utilising modern pesticides and fertilisers have been widely criticized for all manner of reasons, from health to environment to food safety. Alternative methods have been explored by universities, research stations, and in the private sector. Results have been mixed and few if any new methods have reached the farmers' fields.
There are those that propose that the answers to Thailand's declining agricultural productivity lie in the rejection of most agricultural technologies (with the exception of seed) and the use and promotion of organic farming. Calls have been made for the highlands in the North, together with Tungkularonghi in the Northeast to be made into an organic agro-industrial domain. Thailand's Department of Export Promotion, along with the Food and Drug Administration, established a five-year project in 1999 to set up a World Class Standard for Organic and Chemical-free food.
Organic agriculture has found favour with many who have been enticed by the apparent opportunities for Thai exporters in countries like Germany, where estimates of retail sales of organic produce topped 3 billion euros in 2001 (International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements - IFOAM). The organic market is currently centred in the USA, Japan and EU, with national markets such as the UK estimated to be registering double-digit annual growth in organic produce sales. Organic produce currently totals approximately 2 percent of total food sales in Europe, with most being sold as meat and dairy products.
In Thailand there are a number of highly professional growers who have invested significant amounts in protected cultivation systems that look to benefit from the high value niche of organic markets overseas. These professional companies use evaporative cooling and retractable shade systems to keep greenhouse conditions close to 25 degrees Celsius during the day. Most have also invested significantly in screens that can keep insects as small as thrips out of the greenhouse. Movement of air across the plant canopy decreases the likelihood of fungal diseases. However, investment in such installations can approach US$ 1 million, and operating costs are high. Just like any cutting edge business in any sector, such companies should be applauded for their vision and expertise for being leaders in their field. However, fulfilling the demands of a growing nation, meeting its economic goals, and reliving poverty and malnutrition are not part of the mission of these high value agricultural enterprises. They are far removed from the mainstream farmer, who must rely on conventional cost-effective methods, whilst having to grow in the open field which is very stressful to his crop. Organic agriculture has its place, but even its staunchest proponents recognise its limited role in the larger scheme of meeting a developing nation's growth targets and goals.
With agricultural exports valued in the region of US$ 7.5 billion annually, the government has rightly explored all avenues to extend production and productivity, and power a new Green Revolution. Policy makers have sought to consolidate the impressive economic gains made in agriculture, and make further moves to strengthen the foundations of this growth through sustained seed breeding & production, education and training on Integrated Pest Management (IPM), augmenting Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), and exploring the possibilities offered to Thai agriculture through biotechnology and GMOs.
Whilst many have criticized the government for its earlier intentions to allow GMOs field trials, given the technical factors that have contributed to the growth of Thailand's agricultural sector, and the contribution of the sector to Thailand's economy overall, it would have been incredibly remiss for the Thai government not to consider biotechnology and GMOs as a means of regaining lost agricultural competitiveness.
Thailand is rightly regarded as a agriculture powerhouse in the South East Asia. Many countries will look to Thailand as a swing nation in GMO adoption. Other nations will be rightly concerned if the Kitchen of the World adds another technological utensil to its cupboard.
If the scientific and regulatory procedures of Thailand permit, the choice of planting enhanced biotechnology crops may, as hybrid corn and improved rice varieties before, allow farmers to determine their own destiny and contribute towards Thailand's social and economic growth. The ultimate success of GMOs will not be determined in supermarkets in the EU, or the corridors of power in Brussels or Bangkok. Farmers in Thailand will either embrace or reject GMOs based upon their performance in the field. They will compare and contrast them with hybrids and traditional varieties, and even grow them organically.
Farmers' productivity and competitiveness is the key, why not let their 45 million voices decide?.
-- Andrew D. Roberts, PhD is chairman of the Food & Agribusiness Committee, American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand.
Nobel Laureate Maathai and the AIDS Conspiracy Theory Origins
- From: firstname.lastname@example.org (dr. peter langelüddeke)
Yesterday I found a detailed report by Jochen Staadt in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) (October 15, 2004) on the story of HIV and Miss Maathai under the title
"Long incubation period. Disinformation campaign of the SED (the former communist party of the (East-) German Democratic Republic) have a long lasting effect in Africa until to-day.
One day after the announcement of the honour, this years Nobel peace price winner Wangari Maathai stated, that the HIV plague is a product of the Western biological warfare. In the past, this statement flitted around African media several times.
The real origin of this fairytale goes back to East-German records from 1986. It was created in the Politburo, the steering body of the communist party, after a retired professor of biology, Jacob Segal, suspected that the origin of HIV could be traced to military laboratories in Fort Detrick, USA. What first was only a hypothesis, was later used as a fact by the State Security Service (Staatssicherheitsdienst) of the GDR and the soviet KGB in a disinformation campaign especially in Africa. Later, the soviet president Michael Gorbachev apologized to the US for this dirty campaign."
Perhaps somebody could explain miss Maathai the origin of her story.
-- Best regards, Peter Langelüddeke