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Date:

March 23, 2005

Subject:

Making Sense of British Trials; Risk of Not Using GM; Greenpeace's Zero Tolerance; Avery Battles Vint; Mother Earth Cult

 

Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : March 23, 2005

* British Farm Trial Results Misinterpreted
* Where's The Proof That GM Crops Are Harmful?
* Poor Must Judge GM
* Zero Tolerance: Greenpeace Responds to Roger Kalla
* Organic Products Continue to Fail Safety Standards
* Biotech Corn Inadvertently Shipped
* No Bogus Argument Here.... Reply to Shantharam
* Zambian Blood on the Hands of Activists? - Vint and Avery Duel it Out
* Mother Earth Cult....
--

Misinterpreting British Farm Trial Results

- Sivramiah Shantharam Biologistics International, LLC, Ellicott City, MD

A careful reading of the Royal Society publication on the FSE studies reported yesterday clearly indicates two things: (1) there are changes to the agricultural practices when growing HR crops, and (2) these changes although can alter the agro-ecosystem of the crops in question, there is no significant impact to the environment. It is really a comprehensive study and one that can be instructive for stewarding the GM crops technology in future. But, any calls for banning HR GM crops due to this report is totally uncalled for and scientifically untenable.

Agricultural practices have been changing concomitant with scientific progress in agriculture for ever. Had similar studies been carried out every time a new variety, a new farming technology or a chemical was introduced, we would have had a formidable record of those environmental impacts. All in all, all the progressive changes have accompanied certain deleterious effects and nothing comes free. But, the important question is are the benefits worth the risks? The answer must be yes as those practices that were economically beneficial survived and those that did not went the Dodo's way.

Those who have read any environmental assessment (EA) document published by USDA, APHIS written according to the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) on GM crops will see that all things considered they have always come to the conclusion of Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), and then only have they allowed the introduction of that GM crop into the environment. No environmental risk assessment document written for any environmental decision making ever says that there is absolutely no impact. Now this seems to be the case with the UK study for which no one need to lose sleep.

But, the anti-GM crowd will have none of that and will turn this into a drum-beat of their campaign, and no one can stop them.
*********************************************

Where's The Proof That GM Crops Are Harmful?

- The Guardian (Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island), March 22, 2005

I find it interesting that the same fear stories about genetically modified food keep being put forward by people wanting a ban.

People should start asking these people for proof of their statements. There simply is no proof anywhere on the planet that these GM crops are a threat to us or the environment. Ten years of growing them and trillions of meals consumed and not one case of harm has been documented.

Even the European Union head office states GM crops and food are as safe or safer than conventionally grown crops. This includes organic.

There is a great deal of evidence showing, worldwide, that 100 million pounds of insecticides are not used each year because of GM crops. If reduction of insecticides was what was really behind the critics' position then they would be advocates of the proven environmental benefits of agricultural biotechnology.

From my point of view, the GMO-free campaign is just another marketing ploy by those who are trying to increase their own market share.

- Robert Wager, Malaspina University College, Nanaimo, B.C.
**********************************************

Poor Must Judge GM

- The Western Mail (UK), March 22, 2005

Sir - In her February 25 letter, Sterile Seeds, Susan James is mistaken in claiming that there is an acute shortage of peer-reviewed evaluations on safety of GM products.

There are volumes, including a Royal Society study Genetically modified plants for food use and human health - an update which concluded that there is no reason to doubt the safety of GM foods. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics concluded that there is a moral imperative to share GM with developing countries.

GM crops contributed to poverty alleviation for 7.5 million farmers in 2004. Whilst Susan James is concerned about the risk of using GM crops, the poor are concerned about the risk of NOT using GM. Societies in food surplus countries should be careful in engaging in activities that may delay or deny access by the poor to GM crops - that would be a travesty of justice.

- Clive James, Chairman, The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications
***********************************************

Zero Tolerance: Greenpeace Responds to Roger Kalla

Dear Prakash and readers of Agbioview,

I have finally received a reply from Greenpeace to my request for clarification (and stance in upcoming negotations at the Montreal meeting on the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol) on Greenpeace 'zero tolerance' policy to GM crops as expressed in their GE free campaign.

Letter and response posted on web site of Greenpeace Australia 14 March 2005

---

Dear John,

I have commented at other occasions why the 'Zero tolerance ' approach for GM ingredient that has received regulatory clearance by authorities concerned with ensuring food safety and public and environmental health doesn't make economical or scientific sense.

The example I have quoted is that to require the same testing regime down to parts per million or billion as the criteria for clean green GM free food suited for the True Food Guide is a grossly disproportionate response. In effect the 'zero tolerance' or 99,999% purity requirement places GM food ingredients ( who has not shown any short term toxicity ) up against dioxin that was used to poison Ukraine's President Viktor Yushenko.

I can accept food fundamentalism as a philosophical choice driven by an anti globalisation or anti technology belief system but what I can't accept is the waste of badly needed resources required to protect the majority of consumers from real biotoxins that have got real effects.

I consider the whole GE campaign being a waste of money since it's based on very shaky scientific understanding of alleged 'market driven' GM free demand but what really makes me and others take up the poisoned chalice of speaking up against the media machinery of GE campaigners is the deep concern we share that it can divert away our focus and attention on real public health issues that are here and now.

Let's get some sense of proportion back into the GE campaign. The Miami group of countries (including Australia and New Zealand) are aligning themselves to reasonable levels of adventitious presence of allowed GM products in non-GM shipments. This will be further discussed at a UN meeting in Montreal in May. Will Greenpeace come out before the meeting and denounce the 'zero tolerance ' media campaign?

Regards, Roger Kalla

----

Greenpeace comment:

Roger,

Thanks for raising an important issue. The question of thresholds is a complex one that has not been clearly discussed in the media debate about GE crops and foods.

I'd like to clarify that Greenpeace do not have a zero tolerance approach to GE in food in order for companies to be in the Green category of the True Food Guide. We recognise the difficulties that food companies face in keeping their supply chains GE-free and we therefore tend to work with the relevant industry standards o 0.9% (for the EU) or 1% allowable contamination of GE foods. As you know, the Australian food standards code stipulates that if GE contamination is 1% or greater then the product will require labelling as GE.

The question of contamination levels in seeds is an entirely different question. Greenpeace maintain that a zero detectable level is the only appropriate standard for seeds. This is because seeds multiply and very low levels of GE contamination of seedstock very quickly grows out of control over a number of years.

In relation to the other issues that you raise about the GE campaign diverting attention away from what you call 'real public health issues', I'd invite you to look at it the other way. The massive public and private sector investments in genetic engineering are a massive distraction away from research that could actually solve real problems of hunger and sustainability in agriculture.

Imagine if organic farming had received the same level of research funding as biotechnology over the last decade. While the proponents of GE crops often claim the best of intentions, the reality of GE crops is herbicide tolerance and inbuilt pesticides - extending an industrial mindset that is continuing to take agriculture even further away from a sustainable footing.

Thanks for your comments

---------

What this is likely to mean for the discussions surrounding the upcoming UN meeting in Montreal on biosafety and trade in GM food/feed/seed is that Greenpeace is advocating 0.9 % cut offs for the labelling of shipments of feed and processed food as GM containing. If implemented this means that every transnational shipment of food and feed will have to be tested using forensic DNA testing laboratories at a cost of $100 per sample. The 5% cut off that is advocated by Miami + group of importers/exporters ( including Australia and US) reflect what the supply chains and logistics companies can promise today without extra costs.

However, for any Living Modified Organism ( including canola and cereal seed) Greenpeace is sticking with their zero-tolerance policy. This is designed to stop the trade in GM seeds and to make GM feed and food more expensive since it would have to be processed ( milled/cooked etc) before export or at latest at the import harbour. The milling of exported/imported US GM maize into Mexico was suggested in a NAFTA report leaked by Greenpeace in October last year. This was roundly rejected by US and Mexican Governments. The processing of LMOs was also required of a shipment of US GM maize seed (to be used as chicken and cattle feed) before it was allowed into Australia during the peak of the 2003 drought .

If Greenpeaces 'zero tolerance' policy on trade in LMOs is implemented it will have the effect of stopping food aid for starving people in the developing world and also increasing the price of grains that are feeding hungry millions in years of failed crops.

I am intending to go to Montreal to stand up to the Greenpeace indefensible stance and ask all scientists to join in through spreading the word about the ramifications of the unscientific 'zero tolerance ' stand advocated by lobby groups at this event.

Regards,

Roger Kalla Director Korn Technologies, Australia
**********************************************

Organic Products Continue to Fail Safety Standards at Far Higher Rates Compared to Non-Organic Products

- Alex Avery

The UK's Food Standards Agency has just found that 66% (2 out of 3 samples) of organic spices had unacceptably high levels of aflatoxin B1 and ochratoxin A, compared to just 5% (3 out of 58) of non-organic spices tested by the FSA.

Imagine the world-wide outcry and scandal if 66% of GM spices had failed reasonable food safety standards compared to just 5% of conventional or organic? It'd be front page news at The Guardian and other UK newspapers. So far, there hasn't been a peep from the organic groups or other anti-biotech activists. No doubt, the organic industry will ignore these results and will be abetted by the mainstream press/media.

However, the evidence continues to mount, month after month, that organic products pose appreciably higher relative food safety risks compared to non-organic foods. At some point, the press will have to take notice.

The report is available here: http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2005/mar/aflatoxinochra

Full details available here: http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/fsis7305.pdf

- Cheers, Alex Avery, Center for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute, Churchville, VA
**********************************************

Biotech Corn Inadvertently Shipped

- Paul Elias, Associated Press, March 22, 2005

Swiss biotechnology company Syngenta AG said Tuesday it mistakenly sold to farmers an experimental corn seed genetically engineered to resist bugs that was never approved by U.S. regulators.

Hundreds of tons of the resulting corn crop were shipped to consumers and overseas between 2001 and 2004, but three U.S. government agencies investigating said there was no health or environmental risk because of the seed's similarity to another Syngenta product approved for sale and consumption by federal regulators.

"While there are no safety concerns, the regulatory agencies are conducting investigations to determine the circumstances surrounding and extent of any violations of relevant laws and regulations," said Cynthia Bergman, an Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman. "The U.S. government is also communicating with our major trading partners to ensure they understand there are no food safety or environmental concerns that could affect trade."

The Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration are also investigating. In trading Tuesday, U.S.-traded Syngenta shares fell 39 cents, or 1.8 percent, to close at $21.45 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock has traded in a 52-week range of $13.93 to $23.26.

Biotechnology critics say the incident confirms their fears that the industry can't ensure genetically engineered seeds won't mix with conventionally grown crops and contaminate the food supply. Nearly half the nation's corn approved for market by the Department of Agriculture is genetically modified, but many consumers pay a premium for organic food or otherwise demand their groceries remain biotechnology free.

Also Tuesday, Syngenta acknowledged some of the unapproved corn may have been shipped overseas to countries that allow the company's approved genetically engineered corn in some form.

The company's approved genetically engineered corn seed is allowed to be sold in Canada, Argentina, Japan, South Africa, and Uruguay. Additionally, food and feed produced by the company's approved corn can be imported in the European Union, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, the Philippines, China, Russia, and Korea.

The United States and the European Union are in a bitter trade dispute over how to strictly to regulate U.S. biotechnology imports, but Syngenta spokeswoman Sarah Hull did not say whether any of its member countries have received the unapproved corn.

"Instead of building international confidence in genetic engineering, the industry continues to shoot itself in the foot," said Greg Jaffe, biotech director for the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington D.C. "It proves this technology is hard to control and we have an industry that is not as diligent as we would like."

The corn in question is spliced with bacteria genes to resist bugs without the need for pesticides. It differs from Syngenta's approved seeds only where the foreign genetic material is placed in the plant's genome, said Jeff Stein, head of Syngenta's U.S. regulatory affairs.

Syngenta also did not say where in the United States the corn was grown, other than to say it sprouted on a total of 37,000 acres in four states _ representing less than 1 percent of all U.S. corn. Still, the mislabeled corn amounted to several hundred tons shipped over the last four years.

In 2000, the inadvertent planting and distributing of genetically engineered corn not approved for human consumption _ so-called StarLink _ cost the food industry an estimated $1 billion in recalled products.

Hull said because the government has declared the corn poses no health or environmental risks, no recall of the wrongly shipped corn is planned. But all the plants involved have been destroyed, she said. She declined to say how much the incident is expected to cost the company.

Hull said the Swiss-based company discovered the mistake itself in mid-December and reported it immediately as required by law to federal authorities. She said Syngenta didn't publicize the mishap because of the ongoing investigation.

The science journal Nature first reported the mishap on its Web site Tuesday. Agriculture Department spokesman Jim Rogers said the government had not wanted to publicize the problem until the investigation was completed.
**********************************************

No Bogus Argument Here.... Reply to Sivramiah Shantharam

- From Andrew Apel (aapel07@sprintpcs.com)

I must agree with the comments Sivramiah Shantharam made in response to my "Money and Blood" bit. This is in spite of his claim that I presented a "bogus argument" by asserting that "GM crops like IR and HR GM crops have no direct benefit to consumers." The apparent difference of opinion is a matter of perspective and perception, nothing more.

In saying that the GM crops currently on the market are "developed with the farmer in mind" (my actual words) I did not say that they have no consumer benefits--but it would have been appropriate to say that, anyhow. Here is why. The consumer benefits of GM crops Sivramiah Shantharam mentioned are invisible to the consumer. From the standpoint of the consumer these crops are, as scientists and regulators would say, "substantially equivalent." They are not tastier or more nutritious, for example. If they were, packages of products made from GM crops would be emblazoned with slogans like "new and improved" and consumers would seek them out preferentially, or at least be asked to. However, in the current state of the art, the products of GM crops are mundane commodities. In the food pipeline, soybeans are soybeans and there is no good reason for the consumer to care either way.

Things are, of course, different on the farm. "New and improved" seeds are purchased preferentially by farmers, who gladly pay a premium for the advantages they offer. When the Iraqis had free elections, the world stood in awe of those who ran the risk of car bombs and worse, to cast a vote. In that same light, consider the farmers in India and Brazil who risked crop destruction, fines or imprisonment to plant GM seeds. For farmers who wrest their livelihood from the soil and are accustomed to planting what they will, their planting decisions involved a measure of courage and resolve that Western non-farmers find baffling.

Sivramiah Shantharam says that crops "grown in plenty" resulting from the Green Revolution made more food "affordable to increasing number of people" and that this is a consumer benefit. In conditions of scarcity or poverty, this is obviously true. In conditions of plenty and wealth, this is equally true, though of less obvious importance. But in either situation, there is no good reason for consumers to prefer one product over another, GM or non-GM.

I assume that Sivramiah Shantharam is speaking tongue-in-cheek when he says that "It seems that if modern GM IR and HR crops do not directly benefit consumers, then they should be banned." Such a conclusion would be unjustified, for the same reasons given above. If there is no good reason to distinguish between GM and non-GM from a consumer perspective, there is no good reason to impose a ban on foods made from them, no more than there is to have the government to insist on segregation and labeling.

For similar reasons, it is slightly unfair to compare GM products currently on the market those provided during the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution saved millions from starvation by vastly improving per-acre output of food. Quite simply stated, the crops were bred to produce more. That is not quite so true with GM crops. Absent weeds and insects, GM crops perform as well as their Green Revolution counterparts. When weeds and insects are factored in, the difference becomes apparent--but the benefits of weed and insect control have been known since the dawn of agriculture. This is nothing new. In short, the Green Revolution crops improved output; the Gene Revolution (to date) has improved weed and insect control, which has incidentally improved output. To make a contribution to food production similar to that of the Green Revolution, GM crops would have to impressively outperform Green Revolution crops in conditions of identical weed and insect pressures. Such products are, by the way, in the pipeline, and the upper limit is the plant's ability to convert sunlight into energy. Current projects to improve photosynthesis are attempting to raise this upper limit, but for now we must content ourselves with better weed and insect control. Which, in light of the foregoing, consumers don't care about. They want food, and leave insect and weed problems to the farmers.

Here, again, one is forced to make another distinction. In agrarian societies, farmers are consumers in a very strong sense, in that the majority of able-bodied persons are involved in farming. Improvements in weed and insect control, and the improvements in productivity and income that stem from that, will be felt in direct proportion to the number of those involved in farming. In wealthy Western cultures, only a small minority are involved in food production while the majority have no concept of farming whatsoever, and have no good reason to perceive or care about what weeds and insects can do to a crop. They only look at supermarket prices and complain about those prices at their leisure.

So, do the GM crops on the market benefit consumers? The answer is: Yes and no.

----

Shantharam Responds:

Dear Mr. Apel: It seems that there has been terrible miscarriage of what I meant in my response. I never, ever intended to criticize anything you said in your Money and Blood piece. In fact, I was supporting all your contentions and what I meant to do was to add my voice of support for your views. I never meant that you presented a "bogus argument". What I meant to say was that the "bogus argument" that GM crops present no direct consumer benefit has been articulated by so many anti-GM activists for long. I maintain that all crops whether GM or non-GM offer either direct or indirect consumer benefits in ever so many shapes and forms and not necessarily in terms of offering better nutrition.
**********************************************

Zambian Blood on the Hands of Activists? - Robert Vint and Alex Avery Battle it Out

Open Letter To: Alex Avery (cc C.S.Prakash)

- From: Robert Vint, Genetic Food Alert,

Dear Alex, Your AgBioView article "More to Blame for Zambian Decision to Reject U.S. Food Aid" is entertaining stuff! Several articles from US politicians and lobbyists such as yourself have suggested that we be tried in the International Criminal Court for mass murder. Maybe you will allow my response to be published on AgBioView before my execution?

There are several problems with your case:

Firstly, there are no victims. Most donor nations offer cash to recipient nations to buy food as locally as possible. Surrounding nations and other parts of Zambia had surplus crops. When the US refused to offer cash to Zambia, the Zambian Government simply used its own financial reserves to buy food from Kenya and other African nations.

Secondly, the people you are accusing committed the offence of participating in a consultation exercise organised by the US and UK Governments for Zambian scientists. Discussing scientific matters as part of a dialogue in which opposing views were heard hardly constitutes murder. The Zambian scientists listening to these various views were doctors and professors - mainly educated in American universities. Surely you don't believe that because they were black they could be easily brainwashed by Westerners? My specific crime, by the way, was to suggest to the Zambian delegation that they obtained and reviewed the original safety research on GM foods. I'm a great supporter of sound science and empirical research. Oddly both the US and UK Government representatives refused to provide this data - or even to confirm its existence. Maybe you could provide it?

Thirdly, the USA does not recognise the International Criminal Court - so your only legal option is to have us deported to Guantanamo Bay.

On a more serious note, you and your colleagues claim that GM crops are 'feeding the world' - yet no GM crop variety currently yields more food per acre than the best conventional varieties. The USA, which could once claim to be 'feeding the world' in the sense that it was a net exporter of food, has since the introduction of GM crops, become a net importer. US farms, unlike Mexican ones, need massive subsidies to compete on the international market. Furthermore, hunger is still widespread in the USA : - see www.secondharvest.org/hunger_by_state.asp?s=44 for a map of hunger in the USA state by state, and www.secondharvest.org/hunger_stories.asp?s=44 for personal accounts of hungry Americans. I'm not sure how GM crops are supposed to be helping them.

Last year Zambia had a bumper harvest and supplied 100,000 tonnes of its surplus to the World Food Programme. Maybe the WFP should be tried for crimes against humanity for failing to use this food to feed the hungry Americans?

Finally, I don't know your economic views, but I imagine that you think, as I do, that it makes better economic and humanitarian sense (both nationally and globally) to help the poor to look after themselves rather than to let them become dependent on handouts and lose the capacity for self help. The European Union and Japan realise that dumping free food on nations stops their farmers from selling their food. Dumping food year after year leads to a situation where farmers give up growing food - despite the demand and the fertility of the land. That is why the EU and Japan help nations to buy food for aid from farmers as close as possible to where food is needed - and why they allow recipient nations to choose what kind of food they buy. This supports local production and helps ensure food shortages don't arise there in future years. The USA, in contrast, has actually enshrined in federal law a requirement that all aid to hungry regions should take the form of dumped US grain. I wonder how many people have died in the long term because of the resultant destruction of Africa's agricultural economy?

Yours sincerely, Robert Vint, Genetic Food Alert UK.

--------

Reply from Alex Avery:

Robert, thanks for the email. A few observations: I am a policy analyst for a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. I'm not a lobbyist (i.e. advocating for or against legislation). I've never worked for a lobbying organization nor have I ever worked for any for-profit corporations. I began working with the Center directly out of graduate school.

Nor have I ever called for anyone to be tried in the International Criminal Court, as you suggest. Such a call is, of course, absurd. That does not mean that I don't sincerely believe that the advice some groups and individuals gave to the Zambians did not at least give political cover for a Zambian political decision that had direct and dire consequences for southerners, thousands of whom starved to death or succumbed to diseases due to increased susceptibility from malnutrition.

You claim there were no victims? Please! Simply because these deaths were not recorded on camera doesn't mean they didn't happen (FYI: My stepmother lived in Zambia for many years and I know well the situation there and the horrific tribal politics that come into play). Such a claim as "there were no victims" is directly akin to those who claim that there has not been a genocide occurring in Darfur, Sudan over the past half decade.

Your claims that the "US refused to offer cash to Zambia" are ignorant of longstanding U.S. law, passed by the U.S. congress in the 1970s, requiring that any U.S. foreign food aid donations be in the form of U.S. commodity stocks. Thus, USAID is barred from offering cash. Yet this point is essentially irrelevant when the hungry must be fed food. Cash does not help procure food if there is little local food available (the reason for the food aid in the first place) and regional food prices are high because of those shortages.

Why is it that the villagers in one southern village, upon discovering that the U.S. food aid stocks locked in a local warehouse were to be shipped back out of Zambia, stormed the warehouse, overpowered the lone armed guard, and walked off with hundreds of tons of U.S.-donated corn? They did not rob a bank, they robbed a food warehouse. Clearly they did not share the unfounded food safety concerns of the Zambian president (who was never in danger of starving to death or losing his children to starvation)--unfounded food safety concerns promulgated by your group, among others.

You say that "Discussing scientific matters as part of a dialogue in which opposing views were heard hardly constitutes murder." Of course it doesn't, however, promoting baseless and scientifically unfounded food safety concerns that are used as transparent cover for unconscionable actions to starve out and punish a sitting president's political opposition are questionable at best and, at worst, aid and abet political murder.

Or are you so ignorant of the cynical machinations of African politics? This is currently occurring elsewhere in Africa, such as Zimbabwe, where one cannot obtain food aid donated from S. Africa and elsewhere unless one can show their ZANU-PF (i.e. President Mugabe's party) political affiliation card.

These are the nuances of the political reality in East and Southern Africa -- something that seems not to concern you but gravely concern me.

You ask "Surely you don't believe that because they were black they could be easily brainwashed by Westerners?" No, but I believe ignorant Westerners can be easily used by Machiavellian African politicians (and their scientist appointees) to advance their sinister agenda.

You observe that "the USA does not recognise the International Criminal Court - so your only legal option is to have us deported to Guantanamo Bay."

Again, I have never once suggested that you, Dr. Benbrook, or anyone else involved in this needless tragedy be tried in the ICC.

I totally agree with you that U.S. and European farm subsidies are counterproductive and directly harm small-holder farmers in developing countries. As such, The Center for Global Food Issues has actively argued against U.S. farm subsidy programs since the inception of the Center in 1989. Our director was the lead witness to the Senate Hearings for the 1995 "Freedom to Farm" farm bill that was supposed to phase out all U.S. farm subsidies over 7 years. The direction started with that farm bill was reversed, unfortunately, in the 2002 Farm Bill -- a policy we strongly advocated against.

I also think that the law that Congress passed in the 1970s should be scrapped in favor of a more flexible approach that could, when appropriate, provide monies to procure more locally-grown foodstuffs to aid in food shortages. You'll get no argument from me there.

But while we're on the topic of helping the poor, malnourished peoples of the developing countries, will you go on record in support of Ingo Potrykus's Rockefellor- European Union-funded efforts (along with IRRI, etc) to get Golden Rice free into the hands of small-holder farmers in Africa and Southeast Asia where Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) is causing -- according to the World Health Organization -- some 180,000 children to die each month from VAD-associated disease and another 40,000 to go permanently blind? That is akin to another Asian Tsunami every month, month after month, needlessly.

As Dr. Potrykus notes: * Golden Rice has not been developed by and for industry. * It fulfills an urgent need by complementing traditional interventions. * It presents a sustainable, cost-free solution, not requiring other resources. * It avoids the unfortunate negative side effects of the Green Revolution. * Industry does not benefit from it. * Those who benefit are the poor and disadvantaged. * It is given free of charge and restrictions to subsistence farmers. * It does not create any new dependencies. * It will be grown without any additional inputs. * It does not create advantages to rich landowners. * It can be resown every year from the saved harvest. * It does not reduce agricultural biodiversity. * It does not affect natural biodiversity. * There is, so far, no conceptual negative effect on the environment. * There is, so far, no conceivable risk to consumer health. * It was not possible to develop the trait with traditional methods, etc.

---

Robert Vint Responds:

I don't want to get into the semantics of the word 'lobbyist'. Your Center for Global Food Issues is part of the Hudson Institute - funded by AgrEvo, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto, Novartis Crop Protection, Zeneca, Du Pont, DowElanco, ConAgra, Cargill, Procter & Gamble and others. In apparent coordination with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, National Center for Public Policy Research, Steven Milloy's Citizens for the Integrity of Science, Frances Smith's Consumer Alert and Philip Stott's ProBiotech you campaign on a package of issues - not only advocacy of GM crops but also opposing the Kyoto treaty and CO2 emission regulations, opposing regulation of DDT and opposing organic farming & labels. These campaigns clearly benefit the above named sponsors.

James Morris and the World Food Programme have admitted that no deaths resulted from Zambia's rejection of the US maize. Whereas famine deaths in Sudan have been widely recorded and condemned since racial violence began, there there have been no documented observations or newspaper reports of deaths in Zambia. The only claim I can find, which is entirely unsubstantiated, is an email claiming that "perhaps as many as 20,000 Zambians died as a result" (AgBioView 6 Aug 2004). This comes from from your colleague and fellow lobbyist (or whatever term you prefer), Roger Bate - founder of the Institute of Economic Affairs and fellow of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The failure of the WFP - or more particularly USAID - to provide appropriate local aid or to communicate with the Zambian government resulted in the chaos on the ground you describe. Zambia and other southern African nations provided over three months notice that they required non-GM food yet USAID ignored these messages and shipped the food half way around the world anyway - without prior informed consent. No help was offered to transport available food - such as 100,000 tonnes of surplus cassava from northern Zambia or maize from other parts of Zambia - despite specific requests by Zambia's Programme Against Malnutrition and by the Christian Council of Zambia. GM maize (unsegregated) was shipped from the US even though 70 percent of the US corn harvest (and the entire African corn harvest - except in SA) was non-GM. The intention of the US administration seemed to be to create the situation where southern African nations would face a "GM or Death" ultimatum. At the time Oxfam International stated that "food aid programmes have historically been used inappropriately with industrialised countries using them to dispose of surpluses and create food dependencies" and urged governments and the FAO to "develop and implement food aid standards that prevent the distribution of GMO's in food aid".

I am not aware that anyone informed Zambia that GM maize was dangerous - I certainly did not - nor did the Zambian scientists reach this conclusion. In fact, far from "promoting baseless and scientifically unfounded food safety concerns", I merely discussed possible scientific questions that the Zambian delegation could ask the UK Government's scientists. As President Mwanawasa said at the time, "We have not been advised that the GM maize is unsafe nor have we been advised that it is safe, there is no scientific evidence and therefore, as government we felt that it was only proper and sound that we take measures which we have taken." They were unable, for example, to obtain any research data from the US or UK into potential hazards from viral promoters or antibiotic resistance genes.

OK - you personally have not called for me to be tried in the International Criminal Court. Calls for us to be "tried for crimes against humanity" were repeated this year by Tony Hall, U.S. ambassador to the FAO. He earlier (Dec 2002) demanded that those who reject genetically engineered food aid should be tried "for the highest crimes against humanity in the highest courts of the world". Andrew Natsios, head of USAID, has said "The Bush administration is not going to sit there and let these groups kill millions of poor people in southern Africa through their ideological campaign". You yourself quote Willie DeGreef's statement that "you're talking about literally crimes against humanity".

It is interesting that we seem to be in agreement on the need to repeal US Public Law 480. I'm well aware that this law requires that any U.S. foreign food aid donations be in the form of U.S. commodity stocks and I have campaigned against it in cooperation with several development charities. Not only does PL480 violate free market principles in the provision of aid but it also contravenes the 1999 Food Aid Convention - to which the US is a signatory. This recognises that food aid should be bought from the most cost effective source, be culturally acceptable and if possible purchased locally so that regional markets do not suffer.

We also seem to be in agreement about the impact of US and EU agricultural subsidies. We are part of an alliance that includes unions representing the majority of UK farmers. As well as opposing GM crops they oppose these subsidies because competition drives down farm gate prices as far as the subsidies permit and the subsidy then ends up in the pockets of the supermarkets rather than the farmers. Meanwhile farmers in poorer nations are unfairly put out of business through dumping - a lose-lose situation. It is notable, however, that most GM crops globally are grown by subsidised farmers.

Finally you ask about Golden Rice. I must ask why Vitamin A Deficiency has arisen. It seems to because the traditional source of Vitamin A in the Asian diet - diverse green leafy plants that grow in rice fields - have been eliminated by the herbicides that you and the Hudson Institute promote. Herbicide-resistant GM crops, designed to maintain demand for these herbicides, will prolong this deficiency. Golden Rice is still under development - and it seems it will have to be eaten in copious quantities to offer any benefits [See: 'Mirage' of GMs' golden promise http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3122923.stm ]. Meanwhile IRRI has already developed - through non-GM breeding - a variety of rice called IR-68114. IRRI says that this ''high yielding, high iron, high Vitamin A, high zinc variety is especially needed in poor countries where malnutrition is rampant''. The traditional Indian 'Sambaka' variety of rice also seems to be naturally rich in beta-carotenes. These varieties already seem to have all the advantages you hope Golden Rice might one day have - but none of the disadvantages - so should not Golden Rice research funding be diverted to promoting these less controversial varieties?

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Alex Avery responds:

Robert Vint says "let them eat weeds":

Vint wrote that "GM maize (unsegregated) was shipped from the US even though 70 percent of the US corn harvest (and the entire African corn harvest - except in SA) was non-GM. The intention of the US administration seemed to be to create the situation where southern African nations would face a "GM or Death" ultimatum."

There simply weren't any significant quantities of unsegregated corn available for food aid distribution because all of our corn is safety tested and approved -- therefore it's all treated appropriately. There certainly wasn't near enough organic corn, and this would have been a total waste of money if there was. Your breathless claims that the Administration intended to create a "GM or Death" ultimatum are simply baseless and absurd. We sent the same food aid that we have always sent, a record that is far better than any other country. I remind you that the U.S. gave ~60% of all world food aid in 2002-2003.

In your desperate attempts to avoid responsibility for the horrific advice/political cover you gave to the Zambians you say you didn't tell them GM corn was dangerous. Are you claiming, Mr. Vint, that you assured the Zambians that GM corn was safe?

You cannot deny that you and the rest of your anti-biotech chorus told them there were unknown possible risks/dangers, which provided President Mwanawasa all the cover he needed, as your quote demonstrates: "We have not been advised that the GM maize is unsafe nor have we been advised that it is safe, there is no scientific evidence and therefore, as government we felt that it was only proper and sound that we take measures which we have taken."

Both you and Mwanawasa conveniently ignore the total assurances of safety from US food regulators and the near decade of safe consumption by some 285 million U.S. citizens. We were literally giving them the same food we eat.

Finally, you're tired claims that if we simply didn't have the Green Revolution, herbicides, yada yada then there wouldn't be any VAD are unconscionable and as absurd as your other baseless assertions. I repeat, the World Health Organization says that 180,000 kids are dying every month, another 40,000 going permanently blind each month, month after month after month. Is your only help to these children to advise them to "eat weeds"?

Robert, the metaphorical blood on your hands is getting thicker.

(The thread is closed now....CSP)
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Mother Earth Cult....

- Dr Richard McQualter, rmcqualter@msiri.intnet.mu

> In reference to the article: Beware Blind Faith of Food Fundamentalists

In fact, most objections are not based on evidence at all but are more fundamental, indeed fundamentalist. Many green campaigners are so convinced they are saving the planet that they have acquired a missionary zeal. Their environmentalism has become a new religion and interference with nature is a deadly sin.

I don't think you could call this a new religion, because most of these people would deny the existence of God. I do think, however, that we are seeing the rise of a new cult and a very dangerous one indeed. One that has the power to sway governments and multinational corporations and is not accountable to anyone.

Al Qaeda has killed a few thousand in their terrorist campaigns but consider the number who died of starvation in Africa when the Mother Earth Cult (Eco Fundamentalists) effectively blocked GMO maize from being distributed. Or the millions who will go blind because they are denied golden rice. This is terrorism on a grand scale.

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