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Date:

March 25, 2005

Subject:

Exploiting Public Misunderstanding; Aid For Famine Profiteers?; Poor Fat Hungry People; Much Ado About GM

 

Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : March 25, 2005

* Misreporting British Farm Trials: Benefits of GM Crops
* Monsanto Responds to UK Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs)
* Aid For Famine Profiteers?
* Poor Fat Hungry People
* Best Not to Swallow This Stuff
* Are You Eating Genetically Modified Food?
* The Basics on Genetically Modified Foods
* AgBiotech: The Answer to Food Shortages in Northeast India
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http://comment.independent.co.uk/letters/story.jsp?story=623398

Benefits of GM Crops

- The Independent (UK), Letters, March 25, 2005

Sir: Your front page article, "The end for GM crops" (22 March), shamelessly exploits and reinforces the public's misunderstandings both about GM crops in particular, and about the nature of scientific investigation in general.

What this field trial apparently showed is that one specific GM crop has environmental disadvantages because the herbicide kills flowers eaten by birds. Fine. If subsequent studies confirm this finding, let us avoid planting this particular crop.

But the study shows nothing whatsoever about other GM crops - for instance, Bt cotton, which is designed to radically reduce the need for pesticides.

With equal "logic", you could have published 45 years ago a headline, "The end for artificial medicines" because Thalidomide turned out to be dangerous.

Professor ALAN SOKAL,
University College London, London WC1
---

Sir: Your report on recent GM crop trials was undisguised propaganda for the eco-fundamentalists who oppose all forms of crop biotechnology.

All farmers, even organic ones, aim to control the weeds in their crops to the level that yields are not affected. The trials you report merely show that with three of the four GM crop varieties tested this was done marginally more effectively than with selective herbicides used on conventional varieties of the same crops. It would be simple, if a larger weed population is desired, to achieve this with these GM varieties by leaving strips unsprayed.

Another vital point missed from your report is that the GM varieties tested are resistant to just one type of broad-spectrum herbicide (one that is particularly benign as far as food and soil residues are concerned). There are many other types of GM crops, and each one needs to be evaluated on its own merits. Only this way can we gain the immense benefits this biotechnology offers while ensuring any environmental impact is acceptable.

JOHN LANDELL MILLS,
Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire
-----

Sir: Your coverage of the crop trials stated that critics portrayed our 2003 study of genetically modified herbicide tolerant maize as "flawed". This is wrong, and crucially ignores our subsequent published analysis in Nature in 2004 which demonstrated clearly that GMHT maize remains relatively beneficial to wildlife.

It is misleading to be so selective about the science that you report. What the farm scale evaluations showed most clearly was that the effects were due to the herbicide management, not the genetic modification per se. It might be, once issues of coexistence are resolved, that Monday marked not "the end for GM crops", but the end of a troubled beginning.

Professor JOE N PERRY,
Rothamsted Research,
Harpenden, Hertfordshire
***********

Re: Making Sense of British Trials

- Patrick Moore"

The findings of the British Farm Trials on herbicide resistant GM crops would be laughable if the subject weren't so important. If I read it correctly it is all about how many and which kinds of weeds are growing in the fields among the intended crop. And the more weeds there are the better it is for "wildlife", especially if they are fast-growing, pernicious, and broad-leafed.

I thought the definition of "weed" was" undesirable plant". Now we are told that weeds are actually desirable in agricultural production. It's enough to make an organic farmer throw away his hoe and just let the weeds take over. On second thought why bother planting the crops at all? We could really maximize the biodiversity in farms fields by growing weeds only, and fertilizing them too. Maybe we should genetically modify weeds so they grow faster and are more difficult to control. Next thing you know the anti-science activists will be calling for legislation to require a certain number of weeds in farm fields.

And why were all these trials done with the herbicide resistant GM crops? It is a fact that the insect resistant GM crops increase biodiversity in farm fields due to reduced spraying of insecticides. If they were included it may well be that GM crops taken as a whole result in a net increase in farm field biodiversity.

Cheers,

Patrick Moore
*************

Monsanto Response to Publication of Latest Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs)

- Monsanto.co.uk via http://www.checkbiotech.org/ March 24, 2005

The final phase of the Farm Scale Evaluations of GM herbicide tolerant crops were published on Monday 21st March 2005. These were the results of the trials with winter oilseed rape (WOSR) - not a Monsanto crop.

These results have been published as a peer-reviewed paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and following a media briefing and one for only selected stakeholders, a public presentation of the results by the scientists involved was held at the Royal Institution, London, which Monsanto attended, having contributed 1.5m towards the cost of the FSEs .

The general conclusions of this study were presented as follows:

1. Overall the majority of plant and invertebrate species studied showed no significant difference between the cultivation of GM and non-GM oilseed rape. Whilst there were some differences, these were mostly relatively small, and whilst some results favoured the conventional (non-GM) crop, others favoured the GM crop.

2. The independent scientists concluded that all of the effects observed could be explained by the level of weed control achieved by the different herbicide programmes. This means the results were not influenced by whether the crop was GM or not.

3. The growth of weeds and other plants within the crops showed few significant differences until July, that is, the month before harvest. At that time, there was less growth of broad-leaved plants in the GM WOSR crop, which shed fewer seeds, whereas there was less growth of grasses and of seed production in the non-GM crop.

4. Counts of bees and butterflies were not significantly different until the month of July, when there were more counted in the non-GM crop. The pest species, Cabbage White, showed the greatest difference in butterfly numbers.

5. Conversely, numbers of the soil invertebrates, springtails (important for breaking down plant material into humus), were significantly higher in the GM crop. Counts of other invertebrates i.e. slugs, snails, spiders, rove beetles, and ground beetles showed no differences between the GM and non-GM crops.

6. When all of the FSE results are considered together, any differences in effects on farmland wildlife are far greater between crops of different types (e.g. rapeseed versus maize or sugar beet) than any differences between the GM and non-GM versions of the same crop.

Following lurid front page UK newspaper headlines such as yesterday's Independent "The end for GM crops: Final British trial confirms threat to wildlife"- http://news.independent.co.uk and today's Daily Mail with "VINDICATED - Finally, the long and popular struggle to stop the growing of GM crops in Britain appears to be over. A new study has shown -- yet again -- that cultivating the modified crops devastates wildlife", it may be helpful to place on record, a highly illustrative part of the Q & A that took place at the public presentation of these results, which were not recorded by the media present. This is unsurprising because such versatile crop management techniques - unrelated to whether the crop in question is GM or conventional - are a new concept to British farmers, available only to the exiting 8.25 million GM farmers.

One of Monsanto's scientists, who has been closely involved throughout the 6 years of FSEs, asked the following non-verbatim questions.

Question: In the published results for butterflies, there appears to be no significant difference for total butterflies, but a significantly lower count of Cabbage White butterflies in the non-GM crop. Does this mean that other butterfly species were higher in the GM crop, and could the numbers of Cabbage Whites be related to egg-laying (because WOSR is a Brassica) rather than foraging for nectar?

Answer: It was agreed that the main significant difference in butterfly numbers was in the pest species, Large Cabbage White. It was also agreed that during July this species would be foraging for egg-laying sites as well as for nectar, as the Cabbage White will lay its eggs in oilseed rape.

Question: Is it an accurate interpretation, from the whole FSE study, and from this presentation, that the differences observed in populations of plant and animal species can all be directly related to the level of weed control by the different herbicide treatments. If so, from regulatory considerations, can we now say that we can put the conclusion of this very large study to constructive use, and make regulatory decisions on the basis of weed control trials, for which there is a long history of experience and available data, and of the kind which allow many more comparisons of different dosages and timings of herbicides than were possible in these whole field studies?

Answer: It was agreed that the results from this study showed that populations of plants and invertebrates could be related to the weed control programmes and their effects, so the simple answer is "yes".

The next step will be that these results, as with the previous results for spring crops, will be reviewed by the Government's advisory committee, ACRE.
**********************************************

Aid For Famine Profiteers?

- Andrew Apel, aapel07@sprintpcs.com

Friends and colleagues, I found the discussion between Robert Vint and Alex Avery in "Zambian Blood on the Hands of Activists?" (AgBioView, March 23, 2005) to be insightful and informative, and it reminded me of some unfinished business--a matter of unsatisfied curiosity regarding the economics and politics of African starvation.

I hope some reader of AgBioView can answer my question. The question presupposes that in times of famine, the richest man in town will be the one who holds the most grain, and that grain prices will be unusually high. The question also presupposes that in such times, the most politically powerful will be those who control the food supply.

It seems to me that in this scenario, providing money aid for the purchase of local stocks would be providing money to the rich and politically powerful at a time of inflated prices, thereby satisfying the greed of famine profiteers and the power-hungry. On the other hand, providing food instead of money would place the aid, absent hijacking of shipments, etc., directly in the hands of the hungry.

US policy requires that food shortages be remedied with food, not with money, a position advocated by Alex Avery. Robert Vint claims to champion the position of African leaders in asking that money, not food, be supplied in times of famine.

The question is: Is famine profiteering practiced in Africa, and if so, does this make it more reasonable to send food instead of money? This will likely help answer a related question: is it better or wiser to indirectly subsidize the US farmer by providing food aid, or to directly pay money to African famine profiteers? I would personally feel very uncomfortable aligning myself with the latter.
**********

Poor Fat Hungry People

- Andrew Apel ( aapel07@sprintpcs.com )

In the March 23, 2005, edition of AgBioView, Robert Vint says that "hunger is still widespread in the USA" and refers us to a "map of hunger in the USA state by state" (1) which purportedly also offers "personal accounts of hungry Americans." The "map" is nothing but a smattering of personal accounts, and includes accounts of people who do not say they are hungry. This leaves Vint's claim virtually unsupported. For the same reason, it utterly fails to justify any comparison between hunger in the US and in developing nations such as those in Africa.

Indeed, the assertion that there is a hunger problem in the US seems to contradict the famous observation made by Amartya Sen in his 1981 book, Poverty and Famines. "In the poor world the poor are thin and the rich are fat. In the rich world the rich are thin and the poor are fat."(2)

As it turns out, Robert Vint and Amartya Sen are both right, and the statistics back them up.

It has often been observed that in optimal conditions, hungry humans are compelled to consume food. Nearly two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight, and 31 percent are obese. (3) In 2000, the year of the latest US census, those over 18 years of age made up 74.3 percent of a total population of 281,421,906. (4) Accordingly, among the roughly 209,096,476 US adults are found 138,003,674 who are hungry so often that they have become overweight (the "rotund group," or RG), while 64,819,907 of thSe RG assuage their recurrent hunger pangs so vigorously that they have actually become obese.

There is also the population of dieters, i.e., those who intentionally reduce their food intake in order to decrease their relative appearance of corpulence (RAC). Due to metabolic and related biological factors, those who reduce their food intake below levels to which they are accustomed will experience hunger. On any given day, one in four US men are on a diet, and nearly half the women are on a diet. (5)

If all those on a diet are either overweight or obese, the group of dieters is already accounted for in the RG. However, there is a significant US population of persons suffering from hunger and malnutrition who are not accounted for in the RG. These people are said to be suffering from anorexia nervosa or another of several related eating disorders, which compel them to reject nutrition to the point where their very lives are in danger. While actual figures are hard to come by, it is estimated that more tShan 5 million Americans suffer from eating disorders. (6)

All told, this means that over 143 million adults in the US suffer from hunger, and from the health effects that hunger entails.

Robert Vint claims that genetically modified crops have not helped ameliorate the hunger problem in the US. However, given the absence of any any documented connection between these crops and hunger in the US, this is difficult to substantiate. It is possible that rejection of foods made from GM crops disproportionately discovered among politicians, supermarket executives and propaganda victims in other countries might be considered a type of anorexia. However, this has not been fully examined in the literSature. A reasonable designator for this syndrome might be 'anorexia politica.'

Footnotes:

(1) http://www.secondharvest.org/hunger_by_state.asp?s=44 (2) http://melior.univ-montp3.fr/ra_forum/en/people/ward_colin/food.html

(3) http://www.fda.gov/ola/2004/obesity0603.html ( 4) http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html

(5) http://inch-aweigh.com/dietstats.htm (6) http://www.fcs.uga.edu/fdn/undergrad/2100/anorexia/usa_stat_base.html

(7) http://www.fda.gov/ola/2004/obesity0603.html
**********************************************

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3284-1537334,00.html

Best Not to Swallow This Stuff

- Geoffrey Hollis, The Times (UK), March 23, 2005

Our Gullible Prime Minister has again been fooled into backing a campaign with no evidence to support it. On Sunday he said: "We'll soon announce details of the new School Food Trust . . . which will draw on the remarkable work of Jamie Oliver in schools, and of the Soil Association in encouraging the use of organic and local produce in school meals . . ."

The mullahs at the Soil Association must be delighted because they started "Food For Life" in 2003 with the aim that school meals should include at least 30 per cent of organic ingredients.

Taxpayers, however, should be groaning with dismay at this complete waste of their money. Fresh food may be desirable in schools but organic food is not. It costs significantly more than conventional food but is no better for anyone.

The Soil Association has long claimed that organic food has more vitamins and other valuable ingredients, but this is hogwash. The Food Standards Agency, the Government's official adviser, has stated that "the current scientific evidence does not show that organic food is any safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food".

The Advertising Standards Authority recently ruled that organic food cannot be described as "healthy" after a complaint from me about a Soil Association pamphlet. The ASA said on March 2 that the association had failed to produce any scientific evidence to show that "organically produced food conveyed noticeable health benefits over and above the same food when conventionally produced or that a diet of organic food could guarantee no harmful effects". Studies purporting to show health benefits from organict food are invariably junk science.

Tony Blair is not alone in swallowing this rot - the British National Party has also come out in support of organic food. There is a precedent for its stance: some of the early supporters of organic food were also Fascists. Jorian Jenks, who was interned as a Mosleyite in the Second World War, was one of the founders of the Soil Association. There are strong similarities between the campaigns for racial purity and food purity. To be successful they require a suspension of rationality and a pandering to pretjudice, just the qualities that our leader shows, in spades.

The author used to work at the Ministry of Agriculture.
**********************************************

Are You Eating Genetically Modified Food?

- Associated Press, March 24, 2005

'Survey: Most are but few know much about it'

Can animal genes be jammed into plants? Would tomatoes with catfish genes taste fishy? Have you ever eaten a genetically modified food? The answers are: yes, no and almost definitely. But according to a survey, most Americans couldn't answer correctly even though they've been eating genetically modified foods -- unlabeled -- for nearly a decade.

"It's just not on the radar screen," said William Hallman, associate director of the Food Biotechnology Program at the Rutgers Food Policy Institute, which conducted the survey. Today, roughly 75 percent of U.S. processed foods -- boxed cereals, other grain products, frozen dinners, cooking oils and more -- contain some genetically modified, or GM, ingredients, said Stephanie Childs of the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

Despite dire warnings about "Frankenfoods," there have been no reports of illness from these products of biotechnology. Critics note there's no system for reporting allergies or other reactions to GM foods. Nearly every product with a corn or soy ingredient, and some containing canola or cottonseed oil, has a GM element, according to the grocery manufacturers group.

In the Rutgers survey, less than half the people interviewed were aware GM foods are sold in supermarkets. At the same time, more than half wrongly believed supermarket chicken has been genetically modified. So far, non-processed meat, poultry, fish and dairy products, and fruits and vegetables (both fresh and frozen) are not genetically modified.

GM food first hit supermarkets in 1994, with the highly touted Flavr Savr tomato, altered to give it a longer shelf life and better flavor. It flopped, in part due to disappointing taste, and disappeared in 1997, said Childs. By 1995, farmers in several countries had planted millions of acres of GM corn and soybeans, and processed products containing them were in grocery stores.

Genetic modification of crops involves transferring genes from a plant or animal into a plant. Nearly all GM changes so far are to boost yields and deter insects and viruses, cutting the use of pesticides, thus making farming more productive and affordable -- a particular aid to developing nations.

More than 80 percent of the soy and 40 percent of the corn raised in this country is a GM variety. Global plantings of biotech crops -- mostly corn and soybeans and much of it for animal feed -- grew to about 200 million acres last year, about two-thirds of it in the United States.

The one billionth acre will be planted this spring, according to the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Debate over safety Experts say within several years there will be new GM foods with taste and nutrition improvements: cooking oils with less trans fat, tastier potatoes and peanuts that don't trigger allergies.

At North Carolina State University, one of the biggest U.S. plant breeding programs, scientists are developing drought-tolerant wheat and are a couple years from field testing GM peanuts that have no life-threatening allergens, said Steven Leath, associate dean for health research.

At Rutgers University's agricultural college, plant biology professor Nilgun Tumer and colleagues modified potatoes to better keep their flavor when processed as french fries and to limit browning when sliced, but she said farmers haven't adopted the new varieties. Now her team is trying to give tomatoes a gene to make a compound that helps prevent cancer and osteoporosis.

Lisa Lorenzen, a liaison to the biotech industry at Iowa State University, said most Americans haven't worried about GM foods because they trust the regulatory system. She said many Europeans oppose GM foods because they don't trust governments that wrongly insisted for years that the beef supply, tainted by mad cow disease, was safe.

Opponents say genetically modified foods could cause allergic or toxic reactions and harm the environment. Worries include the mixing of GM crops with regular ones either by handlers, or pollen -- already documented -- and GM foods being sold where they're not approved.

On Tuesday, a Swiss biotech company said it mistakenly sold U.S. farmers an experimental, unapproved GM corn seed, and tons of the resulting corn was sold between 2001 and 2004. U.S. government agencies say there was no health or environmental risk. In 2000, recalls, lawsuits and public uproar followed disclosure that StarLink GM corn, approved only for animal use, had gotten into taco shells and chips.

University plant scientists, industry, the Food and Drug Administration and numerous European science agencies say GM foods are safe. "Nobody's been able to prove that anyone's even gotten the sniffles from biotechnology," Childs said.

But Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said there's no system to track health problems caused by GM foods. Her group, along with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has long pushed for labeling -- only required when GM products have properties different from ordinary foods, such as a higher nutrient content. They contend consumers deserve a choice if they want to avoid GM foods and they also want government regulation.

Currently, companies developing GM foods voluntarily send their data to the FDA, but there's no official approval before products go on sale. "It's left up to the good nature of Monsanto or DuPont or other companies to do the right thing," said Gregory Jaffe, Director of the biotechnology project at CSPI.
*******************

The Basics on Genetically Modified Foods

- Associated Press, March 25, 2005

What foods are genetically modified? Are they safe? Here are the basics:

How can I tell if foods in the grocery store have genetically modified ingredients? - Usually you can't be certain. However, some makers of organic foods label their products as being free of genetically modified ingredients.

What foods are most likely to have genetically modified ingredients? - Cooking oils - mostly corn and soy - and boxed, bagged and other processed foods, such as cereals and snacks, probably have some GM ingredients. That's because they usually contain high-fructose corn syrup or other corn or soy products.

Free from genetic engineering: uncooked, unprocessed meats and fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables, with the exception of Rainbow brand papaya and some squash. Ditto for dairy products, except processed cheeses.

Are there any health risks from genetically modified foods?

- Proponents of GM foods say there have been no reports of those foods making people sick. But some health, environmental and consumer groups urging government regulation and labeling of these foods say gene-swapping can introduce allergens or toxins. They say there is no system to monitor such illnesses.

What are the benefits of genetically modified crops?

- So far, there aren't any benefits to consumers in terms of better-tasting, more nutritious or cheaper foods, although researchers say that could come within several years. Most GM changes to corn and soybeans have allowed farmers to cut down on chemicals used to kill weeds and pests, boosting crop yields and cutting costs and potential harm to the environment.

Why are Europeans and others more suspicious than Americans when it comes to GM foods? - Europeans lost trust in their governments over the meat supply. First they were told repeatedly that they were not at risk from the human form of mad cow disease. Then, concerns were reignited in 1999 when the European Commission said dangerous levels of cancer-causing dioxin were widespread in meat from animals raised on farms near industrial polluters.

How long have GM processed foods been available in the United States? - The first product, the now-defunct Flavr Savr tomato, was sold from 1994-97. Processed foods containing GM corn and soy ingredients began appearing late in the 1995 growing season.
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http://www.kanglaonline.com/index.php?template=kshow&kid=487

Agriculture Biotechnology: The Answer to Food Shortages in Northeast India

- Dr. Chong Singsit, Kangla Online, March 25, 2005

The world economy has seen significant growth in the last decade through increases in productivity, product quality, and export base diversification. These advances were mainly driven by the growth of traditional agricultural and industrial sectors. The application of agriculture biotechnology offers the opportunity to alleviate marginal and subsistence farmers to get out of their dependency on government assistance and to increase production. The introduction of new crop varieties with insect and herbicide resistant genes is quickly changing the landscape of agriculture in the US and many countries. Major pests can be eliminated with little or no spray of pesticides, as well as nasty weeds killed with the spray of herbicide in genetically engineered crop varieties. Genetically engineered crop varieties are environmental friendly with reduced chemical use as an added benefit.

Given the need to feed more people on the same land area while using less water and nutrients, the application of biotechnology to improve crop plants is fast becoming the only viable option for the teeming millions. Let me give a direct quote from Dr. Norman Borlaug, Noble Peace laureate, "the world need to double food production by 2050 if hunger were to be banished from the world and the ongoing 'gene revolution' can definitely play a part in this. You cannot build peace on empty stomachs. Only 8 per cent of countries with lower levels of hunger are mired in conflict". I might add, insurgency, the dominant menace of the region is eating up the resources and turning many vibrant and intelligent youths into dangerous thugs because there is not enough opportunities to go around. Many insurgency groups have sprang up as a result of hunger and a lack of opportunity rather than a genuine desire to leave the society in better shape than the one they currently inherit.

What is GMO?

The acronym GMO stands for "genetically modified organism," and refers to any plant or animal species that has had a gene or genes from a different species transferred into its genetic material via accepted genetic engineering techniques. The process of introducing genes into a new species and getting them to function is known as transformation. Genetically modified organisms have a foreign gene inserted into them that creates one or more new traits for that organism. The genetic engineering employs an array of methodology such as gene discovery, transformation, molecular characterization of the insert, and gene expression study.

In a real sense, "genetically modified" is not a new phenomenon, but has been practiced by plant breeders for years through breeding and selection with the objective of producing more productive, more resistant offspring, or in producing better or different quality of product than the existing variety. The process to produce new varieties following conventional breeding methodology takes approximately 6-7 years compared to 2-4 years via genetic engineering. A single gene with a known function can be moved from one organism to another without transferring additional unrelated genes, as happens in the process in conventional breeding method. Above all, what marks GMO out from the products of conventional breeding was that the new techniques help us to cross taxonomic lines (across unrelated species), which means I can put a B.t. gene from a soil bacteria over to cotton.

How safe are GMO crops?

The majority of scientists have consensus that there is nothing inherently risky about genetically engineered crops. Splicing genes from one organism into another has been used for years. One example is the production of an enzyme required in processing cheese. No one calls that dangerous. Recently introduced genetically engineered rice (golden rice) that could potentially eliminate vitamin A deficiencies has been met with widespread acceptance.

Before a variety with a new trait is approved for cultivation, it has to go through rigorous government agency approval process. For example, in the US, three agencies: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must approve the new gene(s) before the traits are released. The process is very involved and takes up to 2 years for final approval. The agencies ask the following questions: is it safe to consume (FDA); is it safe to grow (USDA); and is it safe for the environment (EPA).

The benefits of GMO

The best way to demonstrate the benefits of GMO is through examples. 1) The virus that causes severe ring spot in papaya. The disease reduces papaya production and kills the trees in Asia, in parts of Latin America, and in Africa. 2) Leaf curls disease on white potatoes. 3) The leaf yellowing in sweet potatoes throughout east and central Africa. 4) The stunting and yellowing in rice throughout central Asia. Each of these examples is caused by different strains of virus. Each of these important diseases can be controlled through biotechnologies that increase the resistance of the plants to the viruses. The production of cotton in India, Pakistan, Egypt and other countries where the boll worm, boll weevil and other insect pests have in the past reduced yields, have with the application of biotechnology turned around and increased.

The common insect resistant trait gene used in the market place today is called B.t. gene. When smallholder farmers in China and South Africa grew native cotton varieties that contained the B.t. gene for insect resistance as a result of biotechnology, the farmers realized between $150 and $200 per hectare in increased profits. It is estimated that more than a million farmers (combined) in these two countries have benefited from insect resistant varieties of cotton. The increased profit came because of the reduced application of insecticides to control the pests and increased lint production.

Perhaps the most striking examples of how biotechnology can improve human nutrition are found in the many varieties of rice and canola that have been improved by biotechnology. Biotechnology has been used in rice and canola to increase the amounts of beta-carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A, which is in short supply in diets in many parts of the world. The hope is that consumption of foods rich in beta-carotene will alleviate the chronic Vitamin A deficiencies in the diets of many of the poor in Asia and Africa. Other research is underway to increase the levels of other vitamins, to improve the amount of proteins in crops like potatoes and cassava. Researchers are also developing foods that can deliver certain types of therapeutic substances, such as vaccines, which stimulate the body's immune system against certain endemic diseases.

Biotechnology center in NE India

The NE region is rich in diversity-both culturally and agriculturally. With agriculture being the predominant industry of the region, any positive changes focused on here is welcome news for 70% of the population. Since land holding is limited, any increase in agriculture product must come from either changing the cultural practices or integration of agricultural biotechnology. The later is attractive and promising for the future since there is a limit to what cultural practices will add to the overall production. For example, the Green Revolution in the early 1960s with the introduction of dwarf varieties of wheat and rice depended on cultural practices to make the changes, but production leveled off after agricultural inputs where enacted.

Establishing a biotechnology center is imperative if the region is to improve the agriculture to meet the future food demands of the region. Crop improvement through genetic engineering must be a priority if the region wants to stay competitive and to best utilize natural resources. A number of states have already established their own biotechnology center as is in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The region already has a number of universities that can provide the technical know-how and skills needed in the hundreds of competent faculty and scientists they employ. Additionally, there are several Indian Council of Agricultural Research centers in the region, which may have already thought through the process of establishing a biotechnology center.

For a biotechnology center to stay competitive, the center must reflect the following criteria: 1) as a government (central and regional) sponsor with a non-political entity, 2) governed by a board of directors (scientist should make up a majority of the board), 3) registered as a non-profit organization, 4) development process driven by product delivery rather than consumption driven, 5) seek its own funding through government and foundation, both national and international, 6) competitive funding scheme should ensure the integration of biotechnology with classical breeding and other associated technical disciplines, 7) located close in proximity to a major airport, 8) close to a major university or college, 9) have the goal of becoming a self-supporting entity, 10) have the objective of addressing regional issues, 11) employee selection criteria strictly merit, and 12) the seven sister states each contribute and play a role.

What are the economic impacts and the market outlook for the region with GMO?

The economic impact on the region is enormous-from food import dependency to a player in India and the world food market. The total area under GM crops globally has risen by 20 per cent in the last year alone. In India, where GM use was allowed only three years ago, about 1.34 million hectares have come under B.t. cotton. A cotton farmer in India can increase his bottom line even though he pays higher seed premium in order to grow genetically engineered cotton. The market outlook for GM products in India is excellent since food shortage and poverty are still alive in India.

In conclusion, I believe biotechnology can bring unprecedented economic impact in the region, which in turn will change the attitude of the people. I believe if a product and market driven economy takes a hold in the region, the young people will trade their guns for the newfound economic power they so desperately seek to achieve. Rather than stealing at gunpoint, they will work hard exploiting the new economic reality within their reach.

One final note, but economic freedom is only one of three freedoms I mention in an earlier article, "True Freedom." One cannot be truly free if he is not free spiritually. Spiritual freedom includes freedom from corruption, murder, envy, and all kinds of evil. Poverty and hunger in India can be eliminated, but the greater challenge is to eradicate the spiritual poverty that is beneath the surface of each person's apparent happiness.

About the author: Dr. Chong Singsit is a Research Scientist at a biotech company in USA; Singsit@prodigy.net

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