Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





February 1, 2005


Wheat In Iraq; World embracing biotech food crops; What is Sustainability?


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: February 1, 2005

* Wheat In Iraq - Save the Seed
* National Survey Shows Americans Are in the Dark Regarding Genetically Modified Foods
* World is embracing biotech food crops
* Playing God a good thing
* What is Sustainability?
* Guidelines for Monitoring Effects of GMO Out
* German R&D continues to shift abroad

Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2005 10:40:02 -0600
From: "Dr. Tom DeGregori" Add to Address Book
Subject: Wheat In Iraq - Save the Seed

Here we go again! I have increasingly seen claims that Iraqi's will not be allowed to replant their own seed. Finally I have come up with some refernces that are a bit more specific. I do not know how many of you will wish to read all of the following. The first of the two simply leaps to conclusions that are not even remotely warranted by the "facts" presented by our old friend, Jeremy Smith in the second article.

Since Smith makes claims about Texas A&M's role in Iraq, I am sending this email to some AgBioView list members at A&M to find out what they know or whom I should contact. I am also sending a copy to SunGene since they are also mentioned. Needless to say, doing a Google and other searches on these issues came up with largely activists renderings with most everything on SunGene's Sunflowere patent ultimately refering to Shiva's Biopiracy, an obviously unimpeachable source. The only valid site that comes up is the USDA's listing of its utility patents.

The claims below have become sufficiently widespread that they need to be answered.

Tom DeGregori

The pieces below are part of a propaganda campaign that is now very widespread. Replying to it has nothing whatsoever to do with ones view of the Iraq war etc. For those not interested, simply delete.


"U.S. Declares Iraqis Can Not Save Their Own Seeds"

"As part of sweeping "economic restructuring" implemented by the Bush Administration in Iraq, Iraqi farmers will no longer be permitted to save their seeds, which include seeds the Iraqis themselves have developed over hundreds of years.

Instead, they will be forced to buy seeds from U.S. corporations.

That is because in recent years, transnational corporations have patented and now own many seed varieties originated or developed by indigenous peoples.

In a short time, Iraq will be living under the new American credo:

Pay Monsanto, or starve.

"The American Administrator of the Iraqi CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) government, Paul Bremer, updated Iraq's intellectual property law to 'meet current internationally-recognized standards of protection'.

The updated law makes saving seeds for next year's harvest, practiced by 97% of Iraqi farmers in 2002, and is the standard farming practice for thousands of years across human civilizations, to be now illegal..

Instead, farmers will have to obtain a yearly license for genetically modified (GM) seeds from American corporations.

These GM seeds have typically been modified from seeds developed over thousands of generations by indigenous farmers like the Iraqis, and shared freely like agricultural 'open source.'" Iraq law Requires Seed Licenses November 13, 2004

"According to Order 81, paragraph 66 - [B], issued by L. Paul Bremer [CFR], the people in Iraq are now prohibited from saving seeds and may only plant seeds for their food from licensed, authorized U.S. distributors.

The paragraph states, "Farmers shall be prohibited from re-using seeds of protected varieties or any variety mentioned in items 1 and 2 of paragraph [C] of Article 14 of this chapter."

Written in massively intricate legalese, Order 81 directs the reader at Article 14, paragraph 2 [C] to paragraph [B] of Article 4, which states any variety that is different from any other known variety may be registered in any country and become a protected variety of seed - thus defaulting it into the "protected class" of seeds and prohibiting the Iraqis from reusing them the following season.

Every year, the Iraqis must destroy any seed they have, repurchase seeds from an authorized supplier, or face fines, penalties and/or jail time. " Iraqis Can't Save Seed January 19, 2005

The original article on this topic: Iraqi farmers aren't celebrating October 15, 2004

As per an Iraqi proverb, the day will come, sooner rather than later, when the Iraqis will shred Bremer's Laws, soak them in water and offer the glass to Bremer to drink.

posted by Imad Khadduri # 7:39 AM
_ _ _ _ __ _

http://www.theecologist.co.uk/archive_article.html?article=487&category =86

Order 81 Date Published: 21/01/05 Author: Jeremy Smith

Under the guise of helping get Iraq back on its feet, the US is setting out to totally re-engineer the country's traditional farming systems into a US-style corporate agribusiness. They've even created a new law - Order 81 - to make sure it happens. Coals to Newcastle. Ice to Eskimos. Tea to China. These are the acts of the ultimate salesmen, wily marketers able to sell even to people with no need to buy. To that list can now be added a new phrase - Wheat to Iraq.

Iraq is part of the 'fertile crescent' of Mesopotamia. It is here, in around 8,500 to 8,000BC, that mankind first domesticated wheat, here that agriculture was born. In recent years however, the birthplace of farming has been in trouble. Wheat production tumbled from 1,236,000 tons in 1995 to just 384,000 tons in 2000. Why this should have happened very much depends on whom you ask.

A press release from Headquarters United States Command reports that 'Over the past 10 years, this region has not been able to keep up with Iraq's wheat demand. During the Saddam Hussein regime, farmers were expected to continuously produce wheat, never leaving their fields fallow. This tactic degraded the soil, leaving few nutrients for the next year's crop, increasing the chances for crop disease and fungus, and eventually resulting in fewer yields.' For the US military, the blame clearly lies with the 'tactics' of 'Saddam's regime'.

However, in 1997 the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) found: 'Crop yields... remain low due to poor land preparation as a result of lack of machinery, low use of inputs, deteriorating soil quality and irrigation facilities' and 'The animal population has declined steeply due to severe shortages of feed and vaccines during the embargo years'. Less interested in selling a war perhaps, the FAO sees Iraqi agriculture suffering due to a lack of necessary machinery and inputs, themselves absent as the result of deprivation 'during the embargo years'.

Or it could have been simpler still. According to a 2003 USDA report, 'Current total production of major grains is estimated to be down 50 percent from the 1990/91 level. Three years of drought from 1999-2001 significantly reduced production.'

Whoever you believe, Iraqi wheat production has collapsed in recent years. The next question then, is how to get it back on its feet.

Despite its recent troubles, Iraqi agriculture's long history means that for the last 10,000 years Iraqi farmers have been naturally selecting wheat varieties that work best with their climate. Each year they have saved seeds from crops that prosper under certain conditions and replanted and cross-pollinated them with others with different strengths the following year, so that the crop continually improves. In 2002, the FAO estimated that 97 per cent of Iraqi farmers used their own saved seed or bought seed from local markets. That there are now over 200,000 known varieties of wheat in the world is down in no small part to the unrecognised work of farmers like these and their informal systems of knowledge sharing and trade. It would be more than reasonable to assume that somewhere amongst the many fields and grainstores of iraq there are samples of strong, indigenous wheat varieties that could be developed and distributed around the country in order to bolster production once more.

Likewise, long before Abu Ghraib became the world's most infamous prison, it was known for housing not inmates, but seeds. In the early 1970s samples of the many varieties used by Iraqi farmers were starting to be saved in the country's national gene bank, situated in the town of Abu Ghraib. Indeed one of Iraq's most well known indigenous wheat varieties is called 'Abu Ghraib'.

Unfortunately, this vital heritage and knowledge base is now believed lost, the victim of the current campaign and the many years of conflict that preceded it. But there is another viable source. At the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Syria there are still samples of several Iraqi varieties. As a revealing report by Focus on the Global South and GRAIN comments: 'These comprise the agricultural heritage of Iraq belonging to the Iraqi farmers that ought now to be repatriated.'

If Iraq's new adminstration truly wanted to re-establish Iraqi agriculture for the benefit of the Iraqi people it would seek out the fruits of their knowledge. It could scour the country for successful farms, and if it miraculously found none could bring over the seeds from ICARDA and use those as the basis of a programme designed to give Iraq back the agriculture it once gave the world.

The US, however, has decided that, despite 10,000 years practice, Iraqis don't know what wheat works best in their own conditions, and would be better off with some new, imported American varieties. Under the guise, therefore, of helping get Iraq back on its feet, the US is setting out to totally reengineer the country's traditional farming systems into a US-style corporate agribusiness. Or, as the aforementioned press release from Headquarters United States Command puts it: 'Multi-National Forces are currently planting seeds for the future of agriculture in the Ninevah Province'

First, it is re-educating the farmers. An article in the Land and Livestock Post reveals that thanks to a project undertaken by Texas A&M University's International Agriculture Office there are now 800 acres of demonstration plots all across Iraq, teaching Iraqi farmers how to grow 'high-yield seed varieties' of crops that include barley, chick peas, lentils - and wheat.

The leaders of the $107 million project have a stated goal of doubling the production of 30,000 Iraqi farms within the first year. After one year, farmers will see soaring production levels. Many will be only too willing to abandon their old ways in favour of the new technologies. Out will go traditional methods. In will come imported American seeds (more than likely GM, as Texas A&M's Agriculture Program considers itself 'a recognised world leader in using biotechnology'). And with the new seeds will come new chemicals - pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, all sold to the Iraqis by corporations such as Monsanto, Cargill and Dow.

Another article, this time in The Business Journal of Phoenix, declares: 'An Arizona agri-research firm is supplying wheat seeds to be used by farmers in Iraq looking to boost their country's homegrown food supplies.' That firm is called the World Wide Wheat Company, and in partnership with three universities (including Texas A&M again) it is to 'provide 1,000 pounds of wheat seeds to be used by Iraqi farmers north of Baghdad.'

According to Seedquest (described as the 'central information website for the global seed industry') WWWC is one of the leaders in developing proprietary varieties of cereal seeds - ie varieties that are owned by a particular company. According to the firm's website, any 'client' (or farmer as they were once known) wishing to grow one of their seeds, 'pays a licensing fee for each variety'.

All of a sudden the donation doesn't sound so altruistic. WWWC gives the Iraqis some seeds. They get taught how to grow them, shown how much 'better' they are than their seeds, and then told that if they want any more, they have to pay.

Another point in one of the articles casts further doubt on American intentions. According to the Business Journal, 'six kinds of wheat seeds were developed for the Iraqi endeavour. Three will be used for farmers to grow wheat that is made into pasta; three seed strains will be for breadmaking.'

Pasta? According to the 2001 World Food Programme report on Iraq, 'Dietary habits and preferences included consumption of large quantities and varieties of meat, as well as chicken, pulses, grains, vegetables, fruits and dairy products.' No mention of lasagne. Likewise, a quick check of the Middle Eastern cookbook on my kitchen shelves, while not exclusively Iraqi, reveals a grand total of no pasta dishes listed within it.

There can be only two reasons why 50 per cent of the grains being developed are for pasta. One, the US intends to have so many American soldiers and businessmen in Iraq that it is orienting the country's agriculture around feeding not 'Starving Iraqis' but 'Overfed Americans'. Or, and more likely, because the food was never meant to be eaten inside Iraq at all.

Iraqi farmers are to be taught to grow crops for export. Then they can spend the money they earn (after they have paid for next year's seeds and chemicals) buying food to feed their family. Under the guise of aid, the US has incorporated them into the global economy.

What the US is now doing in Iraq has a very significant precedent. The Green Revolution of the 1950s and 60s was to be the new dawn for farmers in the developing world. Just as now in Iraq, Western scientists and corporations arrived clutching new 'wonder crops', promising peasant farmers that if they planted these new seeds they would soon be rich.

The result was somewhat different. As Vandana Shiva writes in Biopiracy - the plunder of nature and knowledge: 'The miracle varieties displaced the diversity of traditionally grown crops, and through the erosion of diversity the new seeds became a mechanism for introducing and fostering pests. Indigenous varieties are resistant to local pests and diseases. Even if certain diseases occur, some of the strains may be susceptible, but others will have resistance to survive.'

Worldwide, thousands of traditional varieties developed over millennia were forsaken in favour of a few new hybrids, all owned by even fewer giant multinationals. As a result, Mexico has lost 80 per cent of its corn varieties since 1930. At least 9,000 varieties of wheat grown in China have been lost since 1949. Then in 1970 in the US, genetic uniformity resulted in the loss of almost a billion dollars worth of maize because 80 per cent of the varieties grown were susceptible to a disease known as 'southern leaf blight'.

Overall, the FAO estimates that about 75 per cent of genetic diversity in agricultural crops was lost in the last century. The impact on small farmers worldwide has been devastating. Demanding large sums of capital and high inputs of chemicals, such farming massively favours large scale, industrial farmers. The many millions of dispossessd people in Asia and elsewhere is in large part a result of this inequity. They can't afford to farm anymore, are driven off their land, either into their cities' slums or across the seas to come knocking at the doors of those who once offered them a poisoned chalice of false hope.

What separates the US's current scheme from those of the Green Revolution is that the earlier ones were, at least in part, the decisions of the elected governments of the countries affected. The Iraqi plan is being imposed on the people of Iraq without them having any say in the matter. Having ousted Saddam, America is now behaving like a despot itself. It has decided what will happen in Iraq and it is doing it, regardless of whether it is what the Iraqi people want.

When former Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul Bremer departed Iraq in June 2004 he left behind a legacy of 100 'Orders' for the restructuring of the Iraqi legal system. Of these orders, one is particularly pertinent to the issue of seeds. Order 81 covers the issues of 'Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety'. It amends Iraq's original law on patents, created in 1970, and is legally binding unless repealed by a future Iraqi government.

The most significant part of Order 81 is a new chapter that it inserts on 'Plant Variety Protection' (PVP). This concerns itself not with the protection of biodiversity, but rather with the protection of the commercial interests of large seed corporations.

To qualify for PVP, seeds have to meet the following criteria: they must be 'new, distinct, uniform and stable'. Under the new regulations imposed by Order 81, therefore, the sort of seeds Iraqi farmers are now being encouraged to grow by corporations such as WWWC will be those registered under PVP.

On the other hand, it is impossible for the seeds developed by the people of Iraq to meet these criteria. Their seeds are not 'new' as they are the product of millennia of development. Nor are they 'distinct'. The free exchange of seeds practiced for centuries ensures that characteristics are spread and shared across local varieties. And they are the opposite of 'uniform' and 'stable' by the very nature of their biodiversity. They cross-pollinate with other nearby varieties, ensuring they are always changing and always adapting.

Cross-pollination is an important issue for another reason. In recent years several farmers have been taken to court for illegally growing a corporation's GM seeds. The farmers have argued they were doing so unknowingly, that the seeds must have carried on the wind from a neighbouring farm, for example. They have still been taken to court. This will now apply in Iraq. Under the new rules, if a farmer's seed can be shown to have been contaminated with one of the PVP registered seeds, he could be fined. He may have been saving his seed for years, maybe even generations, but if it mixes with a seed owned by a corporation and maybe creates a new hybrid, he may face a day in court.

Remember that 97 per cent of Iraqi farmers save their seeds. Order 81 also puts paid to that. A new line has been added to the law which reads: 'Farmers shall be prohibited from re-using seeds of protected varieties or any variety mentioned in items 1 and 2 of paragraph (C) of Article 14 of this Chapter.'

The other varieties referred to are those that show similar characteristics to the PVP varieties. If a corporation develops a variety resistant to a particular Iraqi pest, and somewhere in Iraq a farmer is growing another variety that does the same, it's now illegal for him/her to save that seed. It sounds mad, but it's happened before. A few years back a corporation called SunGene patented a sunflower variety with a very high oleic acid content. It didn't just patent the genetic structure though, it patented the characteristic. Subsequently SunGene notified other sunflower breeders that should they develop a variety high in oleic acid with would be considered an infringement of the patent.

So the Iraqi farmer may have been wowed with the promise of a bumper yield at the end of this year. But unlike before he can't save his seed for the next. A 10,000-year old tradition has been replaced at a stroke with a contract for hire.

Iraqi farmers have been made vassals to American corporations. That they were baking bread for 9,500 years before America existed has no weight when it comes to deciding who owns Iraq's wheat. Yet for every farmer that stops growing his unique strain of saved seed the world loses another variety, one that might have been useful in times of disease or drought.

In short, what America has done is not restructure Iraq's agriculture, but dismantle it. The people whose forefathers first mastered the domestication of wheat will now have to pay for the privilege of growing it for someone else. And with that the world's oldest farming heritage will become just another subsidiary link in the vast American supply chain.

Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics
University of Houston
Department of Economics
204 McElhinney Hall
Houston, Texas 77204-5019
Ph. 001 - 1 - 713 743-3838
Fax 001 - 1 - 713 743-3798
Email trdegreg@uh.edu
Web homepage http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg


National Survey Shows Americans Are in the Dark Regarding Genetically Modified Foods

- Kansas City InfoZone, February 01, 2005

Americans pay little attention to genetically modified foods, have difficulty separating fact from fiction when it comes to the science behind them and are willing to believe unsubstantiated rumors about them.

New Brunswick, NJ - According to a national study of 1,200 Americans commissioned by the Food Policy Institute (FPI) at Rutgers-Cook College, while most Americans say they are interested in the technology and have opinions about it, most lack the tools and background needed for an informed assessment.

Genetic modification (GM) involves the transfer of genes from one plant or animal to another with the purpose of expressing a desired trait, such as pest resistance or increased productivity. Estimates suggest that as much as 80% of processed foods in the United States contain a component from a genetically modified crop, such as corn starch, high-fructose corn syrup, canola oil, soybean oil, soy flour, lecithin, or cotton-seed oil.

Despite the abundance of products with GM ingredients, the FPI study found that fewer than half of Americans (48%) are aware that such products are currently for sale in supermarkets, and fewer than a third (31%) realize they regularly consume GM foods. Even those who say they are aware of GM foods are confused as to which foods are out there; the majority (79%) incorrectly believed that GM tomatoes are available, possibly due to Calgene's highly publicized (but now defunct) GM tomato marketing effort in the mid 1990s.

On a quiz about the basic science behind GM technology, 87 percent of Americans could not score a passing grade. Seven in ten (70%) don't believe it is possible to transfer animal genes into plants, six in ten (60%) don't realize that ordinary tomatoes contain genes, and more than half (58%) believe that tomatoes modified with genes from a catfish would probably taste fishy. Fewer than half (45%) understand that eating a genetically modified fruit would not cause their own genes to become modified.

"People seem to have a great number of misconceptions about the technology," said the study's lead author, Rutgers psychologist, Dr. William Hallman. "As a result, they seem to be willing to believe just about anything they hear about GM foods." Most Americans (87%) find it believable that people have had allergic reactions to GM food and more than half (56%) find it believable that a large fast-food chain used chickens so altered by genetic modification that they are not considered chickens anymore (both untrue rumors widely disseminated on the Internet).

According to Hallman, "This willingness to believe the worst when it comes to GM food is indicative of a public that is poorly informed about the technology and therefore unable to separate fact from fiction."

Most Americans say they have heard little and know little about GM foods, and nearly two-thirds say they have never talked about the technology with anyone. Nevertheless, many respondents reported strong support or opposition for the technology, with 27% approving and 23% disapproving of it. However, most Americans (49%) said they were unsure or could not take a position.

"The reason Americans are undecided is because they don't really know anything about it," said co-author, Carl Hebden. "Maybe they hear bits and pieces about it once in a while, but nothing of any substance. A lot of people are hearing about it for the first time while taking the survey."

Even though they lack a solid information base, most Americans report passive interest in the topic of GM food. That is, while very few have actually looked for information about GM food, most say they would be very interested in watching television shows about the technology, particularly shows addressing concern about potential risks.

"GM food continues to fly under the public radar," said Hallman. "It's fascinating that such a revolutionary technology that so many people say they are interested in continues to evade public attention. Given that people know very little about GM foods, and most Americans seem to be willing to believe the worst about them, how will they feel when they realize that they've been eating them for years?"

The study is the third in a series funded by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems Program (IFAFS) to examine consumer perceptions of agricultural biotechnology. Copies of the report Americans and GM Food: Knowledge, Opinion & Interest in 2004 can be downloaded at no cost at the Food Policy Institute Website: www.foodpolicyinstitute.org.

World is embracing biotech food crops

- The Guardian (Charlottetown), February 1, 2005 (VIA AGNET)

Denise Dewar, executive director, plant biotechnology, CropLife Canada, writes regarding, International groups keeping close watch on GMO hearings by P.E.I. legislature, to say that the year 2005 marks the 10th year that biotech crops have been safely grown in Canada. As P.E.I. studies the science behind GMO foods, its Federation of Agriculture shows wisdom and leadership by broadening the debate to include competition and market availability. Contrary to opinions voiced by the Council of Canadians, the world is embracing biotech food crops, and quickly.

Just two weeks ago, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (www.isaaa.org) released its report on global adoption of GM crops, chronicling a trend of nine years of sustained double-digit growth. During 2004, the highlights were:

- a 20 per cent increase in total GM acreage as 8.25 million farmers in 17 countries planted biotech seed on their farms;

- 90 per cent of these farms were located in developing countries;

- China was second only to the U.S. in annual biotech research and development expenditures and is close to releasing GM rice;

- And significantly, the EU accepted applications for GM corn while Spain increased its plantings to 52,000 hectares of GM corn.

Farmers eagerly adopt herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant technology because it helps them remain competitive and it helps them preserve their land. Domestic and export markets are readily available for these crops as evidenced by Japan's growing appetite for canola seed and oil.

P.E.I. farmers currently have the choice to grow either conventional or biotech crops and many choose to grow both, according to market demands. That choice should be protected in an increasingly competitive world.


What is Sustainability?

- CSRwatch.com, January 31, 2005, By Steven Milloy

An interesting question for those who advocate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) is, “Who decides what is socially responsible?” There are no universally accepted standards for CSR and SRI. We need to start thinking about what these terms should mean.

CSR activists often talk, for example, about “sustainable” and “ethical” business practices without defining precisely what they mean. There is no universally-accepted CSR governing body that has issued any rules or guidance -- and this has lead to abuse of the language.

The word “sustainable,” for example, has been hijacked to mean “organic” by environmental activists and those marketing “organic” and “natural” products.

But for many scientists and others who rely on sound science to make decisions, “sustainable” means getting more by using less.

Biotechnology allows us to do just that.

Seeds that have been engineered to withstand attacks by various blights and pests allow food producers to grow more crops using fewer resources and less land. Dairy farmers can use available technology to produce more milk with fewer cows, less feed, less water and less space.

So aren't companies who refuse to use available technology then guilty of social irresponsibility? What about companies who deny suppliers the right to decide on production technologies? Aren't those companies guilty of squandering natural resources?

In 2002, Dr. Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, said, “There's a misconception that it would be better to go back to more primitive methods of agriculture because chemicals are bad or genetics is bad. This is not true. We need to use the science and technology we have developed in order to feed the world's population, a growing population. And the more yield we get per acre of land the less nature has to be destroyed to do that … It's simple arithmetic. The more people there are, the more forest has to be cleared to feed them, and the only way to offset that is to have more yield per acre.” Dr. Moore, then, says the benefits of biotechnology amount to “simple arithmetic.” It’s also common sense.

If CSR activists are serious about “sustainability,” then it’s time they stop playing word games and start to support rather than to oppose biotechnology to feed the world’s growing population.


Playing God a good thing

- Sonoma Index Tribune, Feb 1, 2005, By Bill Lynch (Editor)

What do people who want to stop stem-cell research, those who want creationism taught as a science and those who want to ban crops that have been modified through biotechnology have in common? The answer is they are basing their actions on faith (not necessarily religious) rather than science - like going to war because we believe in the existence of weapons of mass destruction without evidence that they're really there. Oops!

If the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, then that vigilance must apply to those who would prey on our fears with half-baked theories and unproven allegations every bit as much as it does to all other threats to freedom; otherwise we will become victims of our own superstitions.

When ideologues, political parties or groups seek to impose unproven beliefs on others, thoughtful people cannot remain silent.

Now comes a petition signed by many Sonoma County residents that would force a special election to ban genetically modified organisms in the county for 10 years.

The promotion of, and belief in, all things "natural" is accepted as "truth" by the average person, which explains why it was relatively easy to get folks to sign a petition banning the fruits of genetics and biotechnology, of which few average citizens have knowledge. That doesn't make it right or smart to sign such a petition.

In a recent article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Stanford Biomedical Ethics Professor David Magnus was quoted as saying that many Americans don't want scientists "playing God" with plants and animals.

Is that the God who created polio, for which scientists (playing God?) created a vaccine, or the God who created the amoebas that cause dysentery for which scientists have created water-purification systems and medicines for treatment; or the God who created the tomato, which has been so modified by agricultural scientists that it would be unrecognizable from, and probably more delicious than, its original (natural) state?

Maybe Dr. Magnus is talking about the God who created heart disease, for which scientists and doctors developed heart transplants and valves made from the organs of pigs. Or is he speaking of the deity that created smallpox so that scientists playing God could modify a pox from cows to create a vaccine that virtually eliminated the "black death" in modern societies?

Nature, created by God or by some other entity beyond the understanding of small-town journalists, is sometimes hostile. Droughts, disease, pests like mosquitoes and locusts, and even a nasty little critter called the Phylloxera vastatrix (root-eating louse) are just some of the many "natural enemies" with which we must contend. Are we playing God when we use our (God-given?) mental and physical abilities to protect ourselves, cure the sick, clothe the naked, grow our crops, feed the hungry and make a tasty cabernet sauvignon?

If, as Dr. Magnus suggests, the actions of scientists in developing cures for disease or creating plants that withstand drought, grow faster, survive pests and produce more food, are defined as "playing God," then it is most rational to applaud and shout, "Play on, play on!"

The ethics of biotechnology and the need for controls and checks and balances may be topics that should be on the public agenda, and higher safety standards may be needed. But fear, in the absence of conclusive scientific evidence, is insufficient cause for a genetically engineered crop ban here in Sonoma County.


Guidelines for Monitoring Effects of GMO Out

- This Day (Lagos), February 1, 2005, By Crusoe Osagie

In a move to keep biotechnology safety and environmental concerns of stakeholders in food and agriculture in focus, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has rolled out methodologies and guidelines for the monitoring of the environmental impact and effects of Genetically Modified Crops.

A consultation of experts convened at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), recommended that any responsible deployment of Genetically Modified (GM) crops needed to comprise the whole technology development process, from the pre-release risk assessment, to biosafety considerations and post release monitoring.

According to an FAO report, the environmental goals must also encompass the maintenance and protection of basic natural resources such as soil, water and biodiversity. In this way monitoring could become the key element in generating the necessary knowledge to protect agro-systems, rural livelihoods and broader ecological integrity.

"Potential hazards associated with GM cropping have all to be placed within the broader context of both positive and negative impacts that are associated with all agricultural practices" the report said.

The report stressed that environmental organizations, farmer groups and community organizations should be actively and continuously engaged in this process. These stakeholders - the report stated - are absolutely intrinsic to the system.

"FAO is ready to facilitate this process along with other agencies and national and international research centres, encouraging the adoption of rigorously designed monitoring programmes. Besides FAO and UNEP, the CGIAR Centres are expected to play an important role in partnership with national research centers"

The consultation was organized in the light of the controversy and public concern over Genetic Modifications (GM). FAO asked a group of agricultural scientists from many parts of the world to provide clear preliminary guidelines on the most accurate and scientifically sound approach to monitoring the environmental effects of existing GM crops.

"FAO's aim is to provide a tool to assist countries in making their own informed choices on the matter, as well as protect the productivity and ecological integrity of farming systems" said Ms Louise O. Fresco, FAO Assistant Director-General of the Agriculture Department.

She added "the need to monitor both the benefits and potential hazards of released GM crops to the environment is becoming ever more important with the dramatic increase in the range and scale of their commercial cultivation, especially in developing countries."

The experts acknowledged that a great deal of data is already available. What needs to be done is to bring together and coordinate this volume of often scattered information. They also emphasized that monitoring the effects of GM crops on the environment is not only necessary but feasible even with limited resources when it is integrated with the deployment of these crops.

The experts agreed that it is important to identify the most accurate existing data. They noted that field and traditional expertise should become a strong resource in addition to scientific expertise. These data could be used in indicators to measure the effects of GM crops on the environment. Significant changes that might cause concern should be promptly notified. In this regard, a full stakeholder engagement - farmers, scientists, consumers, public and the private sector and the civil society - will be necessary and integral to the process.

One of the difficulties in monitoring agriculture is the heterogeneity of farming systems in the different regions. The group of scientists recommended that the objective of environmental monitoring of GM crops should be nested within processes that address broader goals. There would be a need to adapt any methodology to the specific farming system through a well-designed process.


German R&D continues to shift abroad

- Financial Times, By Bertrand Benoit, February 1 2005

About half of all German companies which invest in research and development abroad have been reducing their research capacities at home, according to a study published on Tuesday.

The shift of highly qualified R&D jobs is strongest among companies that have moved production capacities to low-cost labour markets, and leads to an "off-shoring" spiral, according to a survey conducted by the DIHK, the umbrella organisation for German chambers of commerce.

Nearly one in five German companies said they would move R&D jobs abroad during the next three years, the study of 1,554 companies found.

The poll comes as the Federal Labour Agency is expected to report on Wednesday that unemployment in January has risen above the politically sensitive 5m mark for the first time since the end of the second world war.

The jobless increase - partly the result of a change in statistical methods - and the DIHK survey will bolster the arguments of business leaders who have called for further structural reforms to boost Germany's appeal to investors and the competitiveness of its labour force.

"Germany's appeal as a place to conduct research is fading," said Ludwig Georg Braun, president of the DIHK, commenting on the survey. "And it will fade further if the government fails to react."

The poll will also add weight to the warnings of economists ranging from Hans-Werner Sinn, head of the Ifo institute, to Bert Rürup, one of the five economists who advise the government, that Germany is turning into a trade-based economy as its manufacturing and research capacities are thinning.

While the argument is controversial, the DIHK's study shows there is a link between the "off-shoring" of production capacity and the subsequent transfer of increasingly qualified jobs.

Asked why they were investing in research outside their home base, 66 per cent of companies with more than 1,000 employees said the investments were intended to support their production capacities abroad.

Nearly half of German companies active abroad had R&D investments made within the core 15 members states of the European Union, the study found. Another third of German R&D facilities was in central and eastern Europe, where low wages was the primary motivation for the investments there. Twenty-eight per cent of German companies with a foreign R&D presence were in Asia and in North America.

While the increased availability of cheap qualified labour was clearly a factor in off-shoring, Mr Braun said industry-averse legislation, both at the EU and national level, continued to drive entire value chains away from Germany.

Business leaders have been particularly critical of a German bill that sets some of the strictest limitations in Europe on the growing of genetically modified crops, and of plans by the European Commission to raise safety standards for the chemicals industry.