Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : March 9, 2005
* Facts Versus Fears on Biotechnology
* Germany: Green Politician Stopped GM Studies
* India Committed to Second Green Revolution: Prime Minister
* Australia: Industry Cries Foul Over ACCC Chicken Labelling Ruling
* Public Sector Researchers Want Say In GM Negotiations
* Pimentel Response to Avery et. al. Letter in Science
* Alex Avery Responds......
* Global Aspects of Technology Transfer: Biotechnology
* Review of Neal Stewart's Book on Environmental Impact of Biotech
* The Unnamed Allergy Expert Now Identified
Facts Versus Fears on Biotechnology
- Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), By Paul Driessen and Cyril Boynes, March 9, 2005
'Misplaced opposition to GM crops violates poor people's basic human rights'
The Congress of Racial Equality's recent conference, video and commentary on agricultural biotechnology* presented personal testimonials from African farmers whose lives have been improved by GM crops, impressive data on progress, and a message of hope for poor, malnourished people in developing countries. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.
But not from all quarters. Predictably, anti-GM zealots continue to offer a steady stream of unsupported and unsupportable invective. To hear them tell it, biotechnology is a 'scourge' that will do nothing to save lives or reduce poverty and malnutrition. "Evil multinationals" like Monsanto are determined to impose "a new form of slavery that will 'displace' poor people from their lands."
The fear-mongering would be hilarious, if the hate-GM campaign didn't have such tragic consequences for a world where 800 million people are chronically malnourished, and 3 billion struggle to survive on less than $700 a year. A healthy dose of facts is in order.
GM crops are created with great care in laboratories, using techniques that are far more precise than anything previously. They are tested repeatedly and are regulated by the EPA, FDA, USDA and other agencies. Americans have collectively eaten over a trillion servings of food containing one or more GM ingredients, without a single case of harm. Indeed, as Greenpeace co-founder Dr. Patrick Moore and others have demonstrated, every single claim of risk to people or the environment ń from monarch butterfly deaths to destabilized insect ecology, diminished biodiversity and dangers to human health ń has been refuted by scientific studies.
And yet, radical groups like Greenpeace and Sierra Club continue to place ultra-precaution against minor, distant, theoretical risks to healthy, well-fed Westerners above the very real, immediate, life-threatening risks faced by our Earth's poorest and most malnourished people.
Thankfully, despite all the invectives, farmers the world over are increasingly turning to GM technology, planting 200 million acres last year. They don't for a minute believe ag biotech is a magic bullet that will make them rich or solve the world's hunger problems. But they know it dramatically increases crop yields, farm profits and people's nutrition ń while reducing pesticide use, crop losses to drought, insects and disease, and the amount of land that will be needed to feed a world population that is expected to hit 9 billion by 2050, before leveling off.
Bt cotton has let Chinese farmers reduce their pesticide use by 50 to 70 percent while increasing their yields by 25 to 66 percent, and their incomes by US$300 per hectare (US$120 per acre). Since most of these chemicals were applied via hand spraying, they've also slashed accidental pesticide poisoning. Farmers in India, Africa and Latin America have had similar experiences.
If the world had to rely on organic farming or 1960s agricultural technologies to produce as much food as it actually did in 2000, notes Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Prize laureate for the first Green Revolution, 'we would have had to double the amount of land under cultivation.'ö Millions of acres of forest and grassland habitats would have been slashed, burned and plowed for subsistence farming ń or millions more people would have starved. As human populations grow, the problem would only worsen. Instead, thanks to biotechnology, farmers can grow far more from the same acreage, thereby preserving habitats and fostering biodiversity and nutrition.
Bt plants also eliminate pests like corn borers, which chew pathways for dangerous fungal contaminants. They thus reduce rot and waste and mycotoxins that cause fatal diseases in animals, and cancer, reduced immunity and birth defects in humans. By contrast, organic corn meals purchased right off British supermarket shelves had fumonisin levels up to 50 times higher than conventional or biotech corn and 20 to 30 times the allowable limits set by UK law. Many organic fruits and vegetables also have E. coli bacterial levels sharply higher than conventionally grown crops.
By reducing the need to cultivate for weed control, herbicide-tolerant crops greatly decrease soil erosion (by nearly a billion tons per year), keeping sediment out of lakes and streams. No-till farming also reduces fuel use (by some 300 million gallons of gasoline a year), and increases carbon dioxide uptake by soils ń good news for anyone worried about global warming.
Increased crop yields, in turn, mean African farmers can grow enough crops to feed livestock, so they can regularly include protein in their diets for perhaps the first time in their lives.
But anti-GM activists won't let anything as silly as facts affect their misplaced resolve to stop biotech progress in its tracks. A typical ploy is to portray Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser as a victim, sued by the villainous Monsanto to enforce its intellectual property rights, after GM crops had "adventitiously appeared" on his land.
It's a compelling story ń if you ignore the facts and court decisions. In affirming Schmeiser's conviction for patent violation, Canada's Supreme Court observed that it defied belief that 90 percent of his crop (1,030 acres or 1.5 square miles) was 'adventitiously' converted to biotech varieties by seeds or pollen blown in from neighboring fields. As his own field hand testified, Schmeiser had carefully collected and treated seeds from biotech canola grown on a small section of his farm. He then planted th¯ose seeds in nine separate fields. He got caught, Monsanto sued, and his phony defense got laughed out of court. Percy Schmeiser, the court noted, "was not an innocent bystander."
Yet another canard is the claim that modern farming practices will displace farmers. In 1780, over 95 percent of Americans were farmers; today about 3 percent are, and they grow many times more food per acre than their ancestors ever dreamed was possible. Those who abandoned farms were 'displaced' to cities. But would their descendents ń including urban environmentalists prefer to give up their modern comforts and return to the era of sunup-to-sundown, back-breaking farm labor?
As Grandmother Driessen used to say, the only good thing about the good old days is that they're gone. Kenya's Akinye Arunga puts it this way: '"cute indigenous lifestyles simply mean indigenous poverty, indigenous malnutrition, indigenous disease and childhood death. I don't wish this on my worst enemy, and I wish our so-called friends would stop imposing it on us."
Unfortunately, radical activists are doing exactly that. They are preventing poor Africans from acquiring modern farming methods, adequate electricity, and pesticides to control malaria. Their callous ideology is certainly an efficient form of 'all-natural' population control. But it violates Third World people's basic human rights to nutrition, and life itself.
As to 'enslaving' farmers, ag biotech actually frees them from much of the drudgery of subsistence farming. It cuts the time they have to spend in fields, doubles or triples their yields, feeds their families (and their neighbors' families), and puts money in their pockets. As an African Patrick Henry might say, If this be slavery, make the most of it.
But the anti-biotech campaigners charge ahead, oblivious to the suffering and malnutrition they are helping to perpetuate, and to the hopes and dreams they are suffocating.
The campaign underscores the adage that nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity ń except perhaps deliberate eco-manslaughter. No wonder Dr. Moore says the greens' opposition to biotechnology 'clearly exposes their intellectual and moral bankruptcy.'
Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality and Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, and author of "Eco-Imperialism: Green power -- Black Death" -- www.eco-imperialism.com. Cyril Boynes is CORE's director of international programs.
Germany: Green Politician Stopped GM Studies
- The Scientist, Grit Kienzlen, March 8th, 2005
'German agriculture minister called a halt to studies into the safety of modified crops'
Renate Künast, German minister for Agriculture and Consumer Protection, is facing allegations of exerting undue political influence on science this week after it emerged that she instructed government researchers to cancel at least two projects into genetically modified crops.
Künast is a member of the Green Party, which forms a coalition government with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats. The party strongly opposes agro-biotechnology, arguing that it is unsafe and that risks cannot be properly assessed.
On Wednesday (March 9), the German parliamentary opposition is scheduled to put a series of questions to the government about revelations that first came to light on February 18, when the monthly newsletter Laborjournal reported that in September of last year, two researchers had received letters from Künast's office requiring them to stop specific research projects and not comment publicly on them.
Joachim Schiemann from the Federal Biological Institute for Agriculture and Forestry and Reinhard Töpfer at the Federal Research Institute for Breeding of Cultivated Plants (BAFZ) had been working on methods to eliminate antibiotic resistance genes from genetically modified potatoes, canola, and wine.
When contacted by The Scientist, neither Schiemann nor Töpfer wanted to comment publicly on the controversy, but Jörg Hinrich Hacker, vice president of the German Research Society, told The Scientist that Künast's edict reflected the Green Party's political position on genetically modified crops. "They do not want this technology as a whole," Hacker said. "Any research eliminating the risk would destroy their argument."
While government research has always been under political influence, this is the first time that work that has already been granted funding by the research ministry has been subsequently cancelled, Hacker said.
Klaus Peter, spokesman for BAFZ, told The Scientist that five such projects in his research institute alone have been abandoned recently-something that had not happened once before in the institute's 13-year history. The other projects are about risk research, he said, but would not give any further details.
But Maria-Luise Dittmar, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection, told The Scientist that she knows only about two projects that will not be conducted-those of Schiemann and Töpfer
Those projects were stopped because Schiemann and Töpfer wanted to develop a product, she said. "We wanted to prevent them having to assess their own product in a few years," she told The Scientist. But Inge Broer, a scientist at the University of Rostock, who has been working with Schiemann and will now conduct his experiments, says that they wanted to develop a system for eliminating resistance genes, not a specific product. The scientists estimate that the development will take about 15 years.
Regardless, Dittmar said, "it is the task of departmental research to cover the government's demand for counseling. It has to serve the will of the department."
Germany's science council, the Wissenschaftsrat, has recently criticized the scientific quality of the work conducted in government department institutes and called upon them to enter more into scientific competition for research grants and publications. The science council is a board with representatives from all major scientific organizations and the universities, which makes recommendations for the development of German science.
"Renate Künast prevents department institutes from entering into scientific competition," said Hacker. "The policies of the Green Party on green biotechnology are a handicap for science. They are hostile to innovation and research."
The German opposition party spokeswoman on research policy, Katherina Reiche, says the incident represents a threat to research freedom. "The Green Party refuses green biotechnology because there is allegedly too little knowledge on the safety of it", she says. "But they want to prevent exactly that knowledge from being created. Their only aim is ideological vote catching."
India Committed to Second Green Revolution: Prime Minister
- Financial Express (Indai), March 08, 2005
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for private-public sector partnership for ushering in a second green revolution in the country. He spelt out that the nature of the second green revolution would be different from the first one.
Inaugurating the South Asia office of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) here on Monday, Dr Singh said, "There is a difference between the first green revolution of the 1970s and the second green revolution which would encompass enhancing production of fruits and vegetables for which a national horticulture mission has already been launched."
He said the Planning Commission was busy formulating a food and nutrition security programme for the benefit of pregnant women and poor people in both urban and rural areas. He asked the scientists to be sensitive to local needs and aspirations.
The PM urged IFPRI to come out with bio-technology products which were cost-effective and affordable even to the poor sections of the society. He alleged that the on-going bio-technology research is largely by the private sector and the public sector does not cater to these needs.
Dr Singh also called for a cautious approach in evaluating the risks and benefits of transgenic technology in agriculture and food. He urged the scientists to particularly focus on this aspect. He said transgenic technology, environment and employment are shared concerns in South Asia.
Australia: Industry Cries Foul Over ACCC Chicken Labelling Ruling
- Australian Biotechnology News, By Graeme O'Neill December 12 2004.
The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC), has dismayed Australia's agbiotech community by ruling that chickens fed genetically modified grain cannot be labelled "GM-free".
The ACCC's Deputy Chairman, Louise Sylvan, this week instructed two major chicken producers to remove GM-free labels from their products because their chickens' may have eaten a feed formula containing genetically modified soybeans.
Australia's second-largest chicken producer, Bartter-Steggles, of Wingfield in South Australia, has been told to remove the words "GM-free" from its labels. Baiada Poultry, based in Pendle Hill, NSW, must remove labels from trays of its Lilydale-brand free-range chicken fillets, even though they accurately state the product is not genetically modified.
The decision has alarmed Australia's peak biotechnology organization, Ausbiotech, which has referred the matter to its agricultural biotechnology advisory committee for urgent review. Ausbiotech Executive Director, Tony Coulepis, said Australia had to consider the potential repercussions of the decision for its international trade in agricultural products.
Australia's agricultural biotechnology industry was "slowly grinding to a halt" because of the collective effects of politically-based decisions on GM crops and foods. "The world will soon pass us by, and we will remain a commodity-based agricultural country," Coulepis said.
He said the ACCC should base its decisions on scientific evidence, not "knee-jerk" responses to consumer perceptions. It should have taken account of the fact that other nations - even in GM-averse Europe - tolerated the widespread practice of feeding livestock GM grain, without requiring the end products to be labeled as containing GM.
Since last Christmas anti-GM activists, led by Greenpeace Australia Pacific, have campaigned to pressure Australia's biggest poultry producer, Inghams, to drop imported GM grain from its feed formulas. The ACCC's ruling does not affect Inghams, which does not label its chickens "GM-free".
Sylvan said the Australian Consumers' Association, which brought the case against Barter-Steggles and Baiada, had presented evidence that consumers were buying the companies' products because they believed the end product had nothing to do with genetic modification.
Because the chickens may have been fed on GM soy, the companies' labeling was potentially misleading to consumers. The two companies had sought a marketing advantage by claiming their chicken was GM free, when there was no such thing as GM chicken. Sylvan said while the chickens were not genetically modified, the issue was the context of the labeling. "Consumers may well have taken the labels to mean that the whole process of raising chickens was GM-free." "When someone makes a 'free' claim, it had better be free. Consumers are no experts - what matters is what they take from the label."
But a leading defender of GM agriculture, Professor Rick Roush, of the University of California, Davis, criticized the ACCC ruling. Roush, a former director of the Australian Weeds Cooperative Research Centre in Adelaide, said, "One has to ask if consumers are well-served by eliminating an accurate label because some consumers believe wrongly that eating GM makes an animal GM. "Whose understanding is improved by a regulatory action that caters to ignorance?"
Roush said the Australian Consumers Association was "no friend of biotechnology. " His successor at the Weeds CRC, Dr Chris Preston, described the decision as "a little strange." "Although I can see where she's coming from, there's no way that feeding GM plant material to a chick will make the chicken GM," Preston said.
He also noted that there was a potential conflict of interest in the ACCC decision because Sylvan was Executive Director of the Australian Consumers Association prior to her appointment. In January last year, when Greenpeace and the Australian GeneEthics Network were campaigning to block a shipment of unsegregated GM maize destined to be used in livestock feed in Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Sylvan as saying, "Even if there is no GM residue in resulting human food, consumers have a right to know GM ingredients were used in food production and this is not provided for by Australia's labelling laws".
Preston said the ACCC decision appeared to extend the definition of "GM-free" to include the entire production chain leading up to the final food product. "It could be taken to ridiculous lengths," he said. "For example, what happens if you feed chickens on conventional crop from a field where a GM crop had been grown in the previous season?"
He said the claims made on food labels need to be demonstrable - to measure something. "One of the companies claimed its chicken fillets were 'not genetically modified'. " Preston said the label was accurate, so the ACCC's decision requiring the company to remove it was also potentially misleading to consumers.
Another leading agbiotech advocate, University of Melbourne microbiologist Dr David Tribe, said while the two companies may been seeking an unfair marketing advantage by labelling their products "GM-free", the ACCC had been wrong to require the removal of labels that communicated technically accurate advice to consumers -- the chickens were actually "GM-free" as claimed. "Two wrongs don't make a right," Tribe said.
Public Sector Researchers Want Say In GM Negotiations
- Priya Shetty, SciDev.Net, March 3, 2005
A group of scientists is meeting this week as part of an initiative that aims to increase the role public sector research plays in developing international biotechnology regulations. The move is a response to the lack of public sector representation in negotiations on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which came into force in 2003.
The protocol aims to protect biological diversity from potential risks posed by genetically modified (GM) organisms, such as the movement of genes from GM to non-GM crops (see Warning issued on GM maize imported to Mexico). The protocol is of special interest to developing countries, which hold most of the world's biological diversity, and which could benefit greatly from the products of biotechnology, such as increased food supply and better healthcare.
The absence of public sector involvement in the negotiations inspired the creation in 2004 of the Public Research and Regulation foundation, which insists that public sector input is as important as that of large multinationals and non-governmental organisations.
It is this foundation that has gathered researchers for a two-day meeting starting today (3 March) in St. Louis, United States. The foundation aims to ensure that researchers involved in governmental, academic and international research institutes take part in future discussions of the uses of biotechnology. In particular, it wants the public sector to be represented at the second meeting of the parties to the Cartagena Protocol, due to begin on 30 May 2005, in Montreal, Canada.
In preparation for that meeting, the foundation is using this week's gathering to brief public sector scientists on the background and implementation of the Cartagena Protocol and the ongoing negotiations over biotechnology regulation.
Speaking on behalf of the initiative's steering committee, Piet van der Meer told SciDev.Net that public sector representation would be important "to inform negotiating parties of the reasons for and objectives of public research, such as contributing to sustainable food production by developing crops that resist disease or drought".
Public sector involvement would also be crucial for helping governments understand the effect that proposed changes to international rules would have on public research, he said. According to the Public Research and Regulation foundation, the lack of public-sector representation at previous negotiations has perpetuated the myth that modern biotechnology is the exclusive domain of a handful of large, Western multinationals.
In a recent article in Nature Biotechnology, Joel Cohen, director of the programme for biosafety systems at the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute, argued that in developing countries public research is making progress in using modern biotechnology to serve the needs of the poor.
Ultimately, said Cohen, "although some commercially developed GM products have a role to play, GM crops developed by public research institutes should be most relevant to local needs in poor countries". "The private sector can only do so much," Cohen told SciDev.Net. "It is the voice of local [public research and regulatory] experience that must speak now. Others are talking from political or economic agendas alone."
"NGOs can provide insight and experience as to local community needs. The private sector can reach these communities in a few cases, and they do have a role to play. But, it is the public sector research that will have to be proven, or die from lack of impact."
Both van der Meer and Cohen emphasised that regulations need to take into account the inherent differences in public and private research. Van der Meer pointed out that the Cartagena Protocol's regulations on introduction of GM material into the environment, for example, do not distinguish between whether the project is a small-scale confined field trial or a large-scale commercial application. Cohen agreed, adding that the stringent risk analysis and extensive data demanded by the protocol early on in a study may halt public research projects prematurely.
If the public sector is not more involved in negotiations, warned Cohen, the implications for the developing world would be that "more and more work will be put into defining, understanding, and implementing the protocol and its articles, than in actually seeing if such technologies will provide social value". Getting the voice of the public research sector heard at the May meeting is just the first step, says the foundation. The next phase will be the long-term involvement of the public sector in biosafety negotiations through working groups, meetings and newsletters.
Pimentel Response to Avery et. al. Letter
- Science, V. 307, NOo 5714, March 4, 2005, pp. 1410-1411.
Avery et al. incorrectly equate herbicide tolerance (HT) in crops with the no-till cultivation system. No-till may or may not be used with HT. For example, 75% of U.S. soybean plantings include HT, but only 30% of them are planted with no-till (1). No-till conserves soil and water resources, but HT itself does not conserve soil or increase soil organic matter. In fact, HT with clean culture (using an herbicide or other treatments to eliminate all weeds and leave only the crop growing cleanly without competition from weeds) significantly increases soil erosion. HT in crops increases the application of herbicides, and herbicides are the most serious pesticide pollutants in streams and groundwater in the United States (2). Ninety-five percent of corn production acreage in Iowa receives herbicides, and 70% of this land is also cultivated for weed control (3). Soil erosion is a serious problem in the United States. Agricultural soil is being lost about 10 times faster than soil reformation and sustainability (4).
In reviewing the book, I was surprised that Federoff and Brown devoted such a large portion of it to attacking organic agriculture, when organic agriculture has little or nothing to do with plant breeding and genetic engineering. Because of this intense and misleading attack, I felt that I should present the results of the 22-year corn-soybean example of the Rodale Institute in which corn and soybean yields equaled those of conventional corn and soybean production. I agree that not all organic culture of crops produces yields the same as those of conventional crop cultivation (5).
Avery et al. imply that I reported that all U.S. and world agriculture could be grown organically without commercial nitrogen fertilizer. They are incorrect--I never said this in my review, nor have I ever said this in any of the more than 500 scientific papers that I have published.
Worldwide crops are cultivated on 11% of the world's land area, not 33% as Avery et al. report. Yes, the world has a severe food shortage problem; the World Health Organization recently reported that 3.7 billion people are malnourished. This is the largest number of malnourished people in history. Certainly, we need sound genetic engineering, as well as soil and water conservation, to increase the yields of our food crops and make agriculture ecologically and economically sustainable.
David Pimentel, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-0901,
1. Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Chemicals and Production Technology: Questions and Answers, available at www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/AgChemicals/.
2. U.S. Geological Survey, Fact Sheet 181-97, June 1998.
3 "Cultivation: An Effective Weed Management Tool," available at www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM1623.pdf.
4. National Academies of Science, Frontiers in Agricultural Research: Food, Health, Environment, and Communities (National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2003). 5
. D. Pimentel, G. Berardi, S. Fast, J. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 9, 359 (1983).
Alex Avery Responds to Pimentel
....AgBioView, www.agbioworld.org, March 9, 2005
Dr. David Pimentel's response to our letter in Science misconstrues some of our points and is simply wrong in other areas.
First, Pimentel incorrectly claims that we equated herbicide tolerant crops (HT) with no-till cultivation systems. We clearly stated that HT crops facilitate both low- and no-till cropping systems, not just no-till. Low-tillage cropping encompasses a large spectrum of conservation tillage cropping, all of which significantly lower soil erosion compared to organic agriculture's inherent heavy reliance on tillage for weed control.
The inaccurate focus on only no-till cropping results in a major underestimate of the beneficial impacts of HT crops, as demonstrated when Pimentel incorrectly states that "75% of U.S. soybean plantings include HT, but only 30% of them are planted with no-till."
According to Dan Towery, just-retired director of the Conservation Technology Information Center located at Purdue University and funded by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, fully 85% of U.S. soybean acres were planted to HT crops in 2004 and 61% of U.S. soybean acres were in low- or no-till cropping systems - more than double the percentage claimed by Pimentel.
Pimentel states that "herbicides are the most serious pesticide pollutants in streams and groundwater in the United States." More accurately, herbicides are the most common pesticide pollutant. This is mostly in the form of seasonal triazine herbicide contamination of surface waters. Characterizing this contamination as "serious" is debatable, given the relatively benign risk profile of triazine herbicides. Nor does this have much relevance to the spectrum of herbicides commonly used in biotech HT crops, such as glyphosate.
Glyphosate is rarely a significant contaminant of ground or surface waters owing to its rapid breakdown in the environment. As noted by Fernandez-Cornejo and McBride (1), the "substitution caused by the use of herbicide-tolerant soybeans results in glyphosate replacing other synthetic herbicides that are at least three times as toxic and that persist in the environment nearly twice as long."
They further note that "Glyphosate binds to the soil rapidly, preventing leaching, and is biodegraded by soil bacteria. In fact, glyphosate has a half-life in the environment of 47 days, compared with 60-90 days for the herbicides it commonly replaces. In addition, glyphosate has extremely low toxicity to mammals, birds, and fish. The herbicides that glyphosate replaces are 3.4 to 16.8 times more toxic, according to a chronic risk indicator based on EPA reference dose for humans." (1) The World Health Organization, in its comprehensive study of pesticides and chemical contaminants in water (2), places glyphosate in a category where "it is unnecessary to recommend a health-based guideline value for these compounds because they are not hazardous to human health at concentrations normally found in drinking water."
Pimentel cites a completely outdated statistic from 1994 - prior to the introduction of biotech HT crops - when he claims that "95% of corn production acreage in Iowa receives herbicides, and 70% of this land is also cultivated for weed control." This statistic is no longer relevant, given the significantly increased spectrum of herbicides and HT corn combinations available to Iowa farmers today, nearly ten years after the introduction of HT biotech crops. As Iowa State University weed scientist Dr. Mike Owen states, "tillage practices in Iowa corn production have changed considerably since 1994." (Owen, personal communication, 2005)
Pimentel claims that "soil erosion is a serious problem in the United States""and states that "agricultural soil is being lost at about 10 times faster than soil reformation and sustainability." While Pimentel may or may not have accurately cited what is claimed in the 2003 National Academy of Sciences publication, a nearly identical claim by Dr. Pimentel was extensively debated in the pages of Science in 1999 between Dr. Pimentel and soil geomorphologist and erosion specialist Dr. Stanley Trimble of the University of California, Los Angeles. (Science, vol. 286:1477) http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/286/5444/1477c
In their 1999 exchange in Science, Pimentel and Skidmore cited a USDA report (3) in which U.S. soil erosion rates were estimated at 13 Mg per hectare per year (13 tons per hectare per year), as well as another paper (4) where erosion rates were estimated at slightly less than 12 Mg per hectare per year. Pimentel and Skidmore then cited Troeh et al. (5) when claiming that "this erosion rate is a factor of 12 higher than soil sustainability, on the basis of the average rate of soil formation."
Dr. Trimble responded to these claims first by noting that, in fact, the 13 tons per hectare pre year figure is not an actual measurement of soil loss, but is an estimate "from models, and they do not predict movement of sediment to streams. If U.S. soils have indeed been eroding at such rates over the last two or so decades, where are the detritus and efflux?"
Trimble further noted that "Troeh et al., on the basis of USDA information, state that the soil-loss tolerances for U.S. soils range from 2.2 to 11.0 Mg ha-1 year-1 (2, p. 115). U.S. agriculture is mostly on soils with a soil-loss tolerance of 11 Mg ha-1 year-1 or more (3, p. 678). Hence, there appears to be little disparity between soil-loss tolerance and what Pimentel and Skidmore say is the rate of erosion. Even according to the USDA study cited by Pimentel and Skidmore, only one-third of U.S. agricultu
In other words, Pimentel's past claims that agricultural soil is being lost 10+ times faster than soil reformation and sustainability is not supported by the papers he himself cites. It is important to note that this exchange came in response to an extensive, 20+ year physical analysis of actual soil loss for one entire highly-erodible basin in Wisconsin (Coon Creek) conducted by Dr. Trimble and published in Science. (Science, vol. 285:1244-1246, 1999) This exhaustive study found rates of soil loss to be far lower than those estimated by the USDA models cited by Dr. Pimentel and Skidmore. As such, U.S. soil losses are likely well below tolerable soil loss rates and are sustainable.
Moreover, there is simply no denying that genetic engineering has and will make possible even further reductions in soil loss from cropland, far below those possible through the tillage-dependent organic farming propagandized by Dr. Pimentel.
Finally, Dr. Pimentel mistakes our statement that "Humanity already farms more than one-third of the Earth's total land area" as referring only to cropland, which Pimentel correctly notes is 11% of the earth's total land area. Farmed land is both cropland and land in pasture and rangeland (26%), making the total estimated farmed area 37% of the total global land area. Accounting for pasture and rangeland is clearly relevant when the primary organic fertilizer is animal manure.
1. Fernandez-Cornejo, Jorge and William D. McBride. 2004. 'Adoption and Pesticide Use', pp. 26-29 in Adoption of Bioengineered Crops By Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo and William D. McBride. ERS/USDA (Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture) Agricultural Economic Report No. AER810. 67 pp, May 2002. http://ers.usda.gov/publications/aer810/aer810h.pdf.
2. WHO (World Health Organization). 1998. Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality, 2nd edition, Volume 1 - Recommendations - Addendum - Health Criteria and Other Supporting Information, Annex 2. Tables of Guideline Values - Table A 2.2 - Chemicals Not of Health Significance at Concentrations Normally Found in Drinking Water. Geneva: World Health Organization.
3 . Summary Report: 1992 National Resource Inventory (USDA, Soil Conservation Service, Washington, DC, 1994). 4. N. D. Uri and J. A. Lewis, J. Sustainable Agric. 14, 63 (1999) 5. F. R. Troeh, J. A. Hobbs, R. L. Donahue, Soil and Water Conservation (Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle, NJ, 1999)
Global Aspects of Technology Transfer: Biotechnology
- September 4-9, 2005, Queens College. London, UK
The Gordon Science Education & Policy Conference on "Global Aspects of Technology Transfer: Biotechnology" will offer opportunities to present and discuss biotechnology impacts on World economy and how it relates to scholarly research on technology transfer between government, industry, and universities/nonprofits.
The meeting will have a distinctly global perspective as challenges in biotechnological technology transfer are increasingly universal in nature, and that addressing these challenges requires this perspective. By examining in the Gordon Conference format new and innovative ideas emerging from such research, the organizers hope to continue to stimulate thoughtful discussion, engage the participants, and catalyze the dissemination of the fruits of biotechnology to the world community in a sustainable, economically viable and socially responsible manner. Chair: John Kilama, Ph.D.; Vice-Chair: Richard Mahoney, Ph.D.
Major research areas to be explored include:
# The impact of WTO-TRIPS on developing countries # Update on Bayh-Dole and its impact on development of useful health technologies # The role of compulsory licensing and parallel trade in biotechnology diffusion # Key issues in ensuring availability of health products in developing countries # International treaties and technology transfer # Case studies from developing countries # Barriers to technology transfer to developing countries # New research methods for analyzing technology transfer
To register http://www.grc.uri.edu/programs/2005/global.htm
Neal Stewart's New Book on Environmental Impact of Biotech
- Reviewed by Jonathan Gressel, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel; email@example.com; Plant Science 168 (2005) 863-864; www.elsevier.com/locate/plantsci
Book review: "C. Neal Stewart, Jr. Genetically Modified Planet: Environmental Impacts of Genetically Engineered Plants, Oxford University Press, New York, 2004, 256 pp., US$ 29.95 (Hardcover), ISBN 0-19-515745-1. "
This is one of a spate of recent books on genetic engineering of plants, meant for the educated public, in this case "to go beyond environmental rhetoric to investigate for concerned non-scientists, the state of scientific research on genetically modified plants" (book jacket). One worries; will this really be pegged for that audience?
One understands "environmental rhetoric" to mean the rhetoric of self-appointed environmentalists, as the environment has no rhetoric. Not all who purport to protect the environment balance risks, benefits, especially against the impact of alternative technologies. In the opening chapter, the author indeed starts by comparing with alternatives, which is really the only way to deal with agricultural ecosystems. The farmer must practice agriculture with available tools to obtain a crop--if the safest, most cost-effective tool is available, that will be chosen. If not, the farmer will use less sustainable technologies. This reality is ignored by so many in the debate, but the author claims it would not have been ignored by Rachel Carson (The Silent Spring), whom he is sure would have preferred transgenics over pesticides.
In the second chapter, the author begins by musing on what constitutes ''natural'', pointing out the irrationality (which some term 'self-hatred') of saying that a man-made fishnet is unnatural, whereas a spider web is natural, where both are tools made by an organism to catch dinner. Is a species natural if was introduced 20,000 years ago into a new ecosystem? He well discusses domestication and the differences between crops and weeds from an ecological view. Still, he sometimes trips in trying to make things clearer on gene technology, e.g. he suggests that adding a single gene to a plant is like adding a single word to a book- both inconsequential. Neither is wholly true. Both adding the word ''un-enjoyable'' before adultery in the Biblical command, and adding certain exogenous genes to certain plants can have effects on the balance of nature. He also adheres to the ''one gene, one trait'' dogma, despite pleiotropy being well known for ages, and we now understand how single gene products interact with promoters to turn on many traits. We must be careful of such oversimplifications, as both sides to an argument like to catch the other for using them.
Chapter 3 well describes how plants are transformed, which is important-seeing how a tool works makes people more understanding, with less irrational fears. The fourth chapter is an excellent exposition of gene flow-including autobiographical politics of the author's testimony to the New Zealand Royal Commission on transgenics. Still, the author puts things into a USA context, which could be misunderstood and extrapolated elsewhere. He says: ''it would be stupid to put a herbicide tolerance gene into sorghum, knowing that it would escape into johnsongrass''. In Africa, where johnsongrass is not a serious weed, they hardly use herbicides, and small amounts on herbicide-resistant sorghum seed would allow affordable control of parasitic Striga, one of the most noxious, intractable weeds known. Sorghum pollen will not reach America alive from Africa. Even if johnsongrass were a serious weed in Africa, herbicide resistance would not make it worse, as herbicide use is uncommon. Unfortunately, such statements get carried to the wrong audiences as gospel, and deter people from doing "stupid" work.
He does do an excellent job in explaining population genetics along with his own labs work on gene flow in an engaging manner, delineating where scientific knowledge ends and stresses issues where we need to know more. This is not a book about regulation where we are forced to distinguish between "need to know and would like to know", it is mainly scientific where all knowledge can be important. The fifth chapter is on "gene contamination" a term sounding too much like racist terminology, and I prefer gene establishment, or co-mingling. It contains a vivid analysis of the Quist and Chapella artifactual paper in the journal Nature and a discussion of genetic use restriction technologies. Chapter 6 similarly describes the monarch butterfly debacle (same journal), and in doing so discusses Bt technology. Chapter 7 discusses what ecologically happens with Bt on non-target organisms--dealing in depth with the widely discussed studies of Hilbeck on lacewings, and Stotsky on soil residues. Surprisingly, he does not deal with the spate of European academic studies on soil insects and microflora and fauna, where the perturbations by Bt are either not statistically significant (no matter how much they ramp up sensitivity to beyond biologically significant) or are far less than the perturbations caused by insecticides.
The chapter includes is an excellent coverage and critique of the British farm scale field trials on weed biodiversity resulting from the use of herbicide resistant transgenic crops versus conventionally treated crops. Stewart well points out that 'how many weeds are desirable in a field?' is a cultural issue, within a country (farmer versus city dreamer), and country versus country (subsidized rich versus subsistence poor).
Chapter 8 deals with Bt resistance management--and has a good explanation of the evolution of resistance. It unfortunately lacks a discussion of the possibility (evident from some experimentation) that mutant Bt resistant insects may be much less fit than the wild type due to the changes in the midgut receptor, or that high levels of Bt probably act on two receptors, neither included in the prevalent models. The author provides insights into alternative transgenic technologies and how they might and why they should be engineered into plants.
Viral resistant crops are the subjects of Chapter 9, highlighting the saving of the Hawaii papaya crop. It does not end there though, as so many books trumpeting transgenics do, it discusses viral recombination, as well as ways to prevent it along with environmental considerations. Chapter 10 starts out dealing with gene stacking, and in another lesson in reality, jumps into regulatory procedures, before dealing with scientific issues. This is disconcerting for a scientist, but needed to deal with the regulatory constraints on gene stacking. He goes into yield drag (attributing it in glyphosate resistant soybean to an insertional effect, even though the transgenic target enzyme has a Km twofold higher than the wild type, and the yield drag is probably inherent in the gene). Unfortunately, he does not go into the ecological conundrum of "to grow or to defend?" and whether the "cost" of defense in yield using transgenes is more or less than the cost of buying pesticides. I had expected an agroecologist to discuss this eruditely.
The directory of extremist environmental groups (Chapter 11), their evolution, stance, and differences of opinion is excellently presented (for an outsider), and sufficiently for the book. [For an even better description from an 'insider' see "Green Delusions: An Environmentalist Critique of Radical Environmentalism", Duke University Press, 1992, p. 288, by M.W. Lewis, an ex-extremist and now pragmatic environmentalist.] It is unfortunate that the sane, pragmatic environmental organizations and their platforms are not discussed by Stewart, as those are the ones to listen to and to interact with, as they represent most of us who care about both environment and feeding the world.
The almost science fictional new pipeline of products is eruditely displayed in Chapter 12. There are even cases of transgenics the author did not even dream up, yet now are being field-tested, e.g. a cure for chestnut blight, quite different from the one he envisioned. That just demonstrates how quickly the area is coming up with new solutions.
The concluding chapter is a series of thoughts on the situation and how to rectify/optimize the production and use of transgenics to best fit the environment and meet the needs to produce food. It includes ways to rationalize the regulatory processes to prevent blatantly safe and effective transgenic solutions from getting get stuck in red tape and having excessive regulatory costs. The chapter is full of thoughts worth cogitating over, perhaps even reading a few times, as they are pragmatic and wise.
Is the book really for the general public? To my mind it was insufficiently edited by the publisher, who should know better than the author what jargon to eschew, e.g. why use lepidopteran (moth), endotoxin (toxin), genomic homology (similar genetic make up), flanking genes (adjacent genes), etc., when the terms in parentheses say the same thing? People may stop reading too early when confronted with so much new terminology. If the book is really meant for the general public, the illustrations should be in clear color and not old-photocopier quality fuzzy gray on gray. The index is poor, not very long nor inclusive. The author, an excellent plant scientist has let in some embarrassing slips, which a good science editor should have caught (e.g. calling malaria a 'viral disease' twice on p. 143).
The balanced (not neutral) perspective sections at the end of most chapters are editorials that are among the most interesting parts of the book. It is refreshing to have a book like this, written from the novel perspective of a farm boy who became a molecular ecologist, and who understands the needs of both agriculture and the environment. The ivory tower is leaning towards the earth! The book is clearly written and down to earth compared to the other recent books on this debate. I hope it will be widely read, and will not be just more "preaching to the choir".
Allergy Expert is Prof. Steve Taylor
The unnamed allergy expert in the posting titled "All-Natural Allergenic Reaction" by Prof. Tom DeGregori yesterday is Prof. Stephen L Taylor of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He was not named in the posting yesterday because we had not received his consent to do prior to sending out the newsletter.