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April 22, 2005


Honor The Earth; Save Environment from Environmentalists; Doomsday Camp; Wisdom's Folly; The God Effect; Counting Up to Billion; Blame the Biotech


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: April 22, 2005

* Doomsday Camp's Views rely on Flawed Concepts
* Rescuing Environmentalism
* Wisdom's Folly
* The God Effect
* To Honor the Earth, Speak to the Issues and Not the Myths
* Counting Up to Billion Acres!
* Biotech Unfairly Blamed for Rural Woes
* As Drought Takes Hold, Zambia's Door Stays Shut to GMOs
* Biotech for All
* Farmers Tout Benefits of Using Biotech Crops


Doomsday Camp's Views rely on Flawed Concepts

- John Semmens, Atlanta Journal Constitution, April 22, 2005

'The thinking of environmental alarmists is guided by three flawed concepts.'

One is "stable development." The idea of minimizing the use of natural resources to benefit future generations sounds good -- but it does not make sense to achieve it through government restrictions. Markets send signals to producers and consumers to encourage the right combination of innovation and conservation, ensuring a smooth transition to new resources when existing ones grow scarce.

A second concept is the "precautionary principle" -- the idea that activities that may possibly harm the environment or human health should be prevented. An example of this principle in action is the misguided protest against genetically modified foods. The doomsday camp overlooks the long history of genetic modification as well as the hundreds of studies showing modern genetically modified crops are as safe or even safer than the crops they replace.

If precautionary principle zealots had walked among our cave-dwelling ancestors, they probably would have tried to prevent the use of fire. Fire, after all, is dangerous and polluting. It has killed far more people than nuclear energy. Oddly, environmental alarmists today support allowing uncontrolled fires in public forests while opposing the use of nuclear-generated electricity.

A third concept fundamental to the doomsday camp is that there must be "stakeholder participation" in decisions affecting health or the environment. According to this problematic idea, opening decision-making processes to everyone potentially affected by a decision promotes efficient and socially responsible use of resources. It doesn't.

All three concepts that form the basis of the doomsday camp of environmentalists are wrong or have poor consequences for the environment and human health.

To the extent that the actions demanded by environmental alarmists retard progress, they also endanger the environment.

-- John Semmens is an economist and public policy adviser to The Heartland Institute, a nonprofit research group in Chicago.

Rescuing Environmentalism

- The Economist, April 21, 2005

'Market forces could prove the environment's best friend--if only greens could learn to love them'

"The environmental movement's foundational concepts, its method for framing legislative proposals, and its very institutions are outmoded. Today environmentalism is just another special interest." Those damning words come not from any industry lobby or right-wing think-tank. They are drawn from "The Death of Environmentalism", an influential essay published recently by two greens with impeccable credentials. They claim that environmental groups are politically adrift and dreadfully out of touch.

They are right. In America, greens have suffered a string of defeats on high-profile issues. They are losing the battle to prevent oil drilling in Alaska's wild lands, and have failed to spark the public's imagination over global warming. Even the stridently ungreen George Bush has failed to galvanise the environmental movement. The solution, argue many elders of the sect, is to step back from day-to-day politics and policies and "energise" ordinary punters with talk of global-warming calamities and a radical "vision of the future commensurate with the magnitude of the crisis".

Europe's green groups, while politically stronger, are also starting to lose their way intellectually. Consider, for example, their invocation of the woolly "precautionary principle" to demonise any complex technology (next-generation nuclear plants, say, or genetically modified crops) that they do not like the look of. A more sensible green analysis of nuclear power would weigh its (very high) economic costs and (fairly low) safety risks against the important benefit of generating electricity with no greenhouse-gas emissions.

Small victories and bigger defeats The coming into force of the UN's Kyoto protocol on climate change might seem a victory for Europe's greens, but it actually masks a larger failure. The most promising aspect of the treaty--its innovative use of market-based instruments such as carbon-emissions trading--was resisted tooth and nail by Europe's greens. With courageous exceptions, American green groups also remain deeply suspicious of market forces.

If environmental groups continue to reject pragmatic solutions and instead drift toward Utopian (or dystopian) visions of the future, they will lose the battle of ideas. And that would be a pity, for the world would benefit from having a thoughtful green movement. It would also be ironic, because far-reaching advances are already under way in the management of the world's natural resources--changes that add up to a different kind of green revolution. This could yet save the greens (as well as doing the planet a world of good).

"Mandate, regulate, litigate" - That has been the green mantra. And it explains the world's top-down, command-and-control approach to environmental policymaking. Slowly, this is changing. Yesterday's failed hopes, today's heavy costs and tomorrow's demanding ambitions have been driving public policy quietly towards market-based approaches. One example lies in the assignment of property rights over "commons", such as fisheries, that are abused because they belong at once to everyone and no one. Where tradable fishing quotas have been issued, the result has been a drop in over-fishing. Emissions trading is also taking off. America led the way with its sulphur-dioxide trading scheme, and today the EU is pioneering carbon-dioxide trading with the (albeit still controversial) goal of slowing down climate change.

These, however, are obvious targets. What is really intriguing are efforts to value previously ignored "ecological services", both basic ones such as water filtration and flood prevention, and luxuries such as preserving wildlife. At the same time, advances in environmental science are making those valuation studies more accurate. Market mechanisms can then be employed to achieve these goals at the lowest cost. Today, countries from Panama to Papua New Guinea are investigating ways to price nature in this way.

Rachel Carson meets Adam Smith If this new green revolution is to succeed, however, three things must happen. The most important is that prices must be set correctly. The best way to do this is through liquid markets, as in the case of emissions trading. Here, politics merely sets the goal. How that goal is achieved is up to the traders.

A proper price, however, requires proper information. So the second goal must be to provide it. The tendency to regard the environment as a "free good" must be tempered with an understanding of what it does for humanity and how. Thanks to the recent Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the World Bank's annual "Little Green Data Book" (released this week), that is happening. More work is needed, but thanks to technologies such as satellite observation, computing and the internet, green accounting is getting cheaper and easier.

Which leads naturally to the third goal, the embrace of cost-benefit analysis. At this, greens roll their eyes, complaining that it reduces nature to dollars and cents. In one sense, they are right. Some things in nature are irreplaceable--literally priceless. Even so, it is essential to consider trade-offs when analysing almost all green problems. The marginal cost of removing the last 5% of a given pollutant is often far higher than removing the first 5% or even 50%: for public policy to ignore such facts would be inexcusable.

If governments invest seriously in green data acquisition and co-ordination, they will no longer be flying blind. And by advocating data-based, analytically rigorous policies rather than pious appeals to "save the planet", the green movement could overcome the scepticism of the ordinary voter. It might even move from the fringes of politics to the middle ground where most voters reside.

Whether the big environmental groups join or not, the next green revolution is already under way. Rachel Carson, the crusading journalist who inspired greens in the 1950s and 60s, is joining hands with Adam Smith, the hero of free-marketeers. The world may yet leapfrog from the dark ages of clumsy, costly, command-and-control regulations to an enlightened age of informed, innovative, incentive-based greenery.

Wisdom's Folly

- Julian Baggini, The Guardian (UK), April 21, 2005

'We cannot command nature except by obeying her - Francis Bacon (1561-1626)'

History shows again and again how nature points up the folly of men. Many would surely agree with these words, even after being told they are in fact lyrics from a Blue Oyster Cult song which also contains the slightly less profound lines, "Oh no, there goes Tokyo/Go go Godzilla!" That nature must not be defied is part of folk wisdom, accepted by everyone from American metal bands to liberal social commentators.

The difficulty comes in understanding what it means to defy nature. For the strange thing is that among those agreeing with Bacon you'll find both environmentalists and their mortal enemies, the scientists developing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This is because each side has a very different idea of what it means to go against nature. For the scientist, of course you need to "obey" nature, because nothing can break the laws of nature and work. So GMOs do not defy nature. If they did, they'd have remained science fiction.

Thus scientists are in total agreement with Bacon. They see their job as commanding nature - in the sense of trying to harness nature for our own benefit - and they achieve this goal by working within the limits of possibility prescribed by nature's laws.

Those who think scientists go too far cannot cite Bacon in support. They might think that we cannot or should not command nature as much as we do, or that obeying her really should mean leaving her alone. But these injunctions go way beyond the demand to work with nature rather than against her. They rather spring from a caution against hubris and the fear that we may be moving too far too fast. There may be some sense in that, but as an intellectually satisfying rationale for restraint, it's more Blue Oysuter Cult than Francis Bacon.

The God Effect

- Lee M. Silver, Newsweek International, April 5, 2005; http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4616347/

America's religious conservatives aren't the only ones who object to science on spiritual grounds--so do Europe's Greens. The big winner is Asia

issue - Many thousands of years ago, most of our ancestors were barely subsisting on whatever food nature provided for them in the form of wild plants and animals. Gradually, humans managed to turn the equation of survival in their favor. They did so by encouraging certain breeds or strains that had obvious advantages--bigger berries, more productive mammaries--over less promising varieties. It probably happened at first by accident, and later deliberately, by domestication. The result was to turn weeds into maize, wheat or rice; hairy goats into woolly sheep, and wild oxen into docile milk-producing factories called cows. These and other uses of what we now call genetic modification provided the foundation for every human civilization.

In the last decades of the 20th century, scientists developed techniques of directly altering life's biochemistry, making genetic and cell modification more efficient and predictable. One could argue that these techniques haven't fundamentally altered this age-old practice. But that's not the way many Europeans see it. After years of resisting GM foods, Europe is only this spring allowing them on store shelves with warning labels certain to scare off most consumers. As Europe debates whether to sanction the planting of GM crops on its soil, opponents warn of "contamination" and environmental apocalypse. There's no evidence that currently approved GM foods pose a threat to public health or the environment. So why is opposition so fervent?

For an answer, you need only look across the Atlantic Ocean. President George W. Bush is laissez-faire about GM foods. America's farmers produce them by the ton, and consumers eat them just as fast. Yet when it comes to other areas of biotechnology--anything that involves human embryos--the White House is every bit as fervently opposed as the Europeans are to GM foods. Europe and America, divided in so many ways, have come together in one sense: both stand against progress in biotechnology of one form or another.

The parallels go further than many Europeans would care to believe. Europeans like to look down their noses at the religious fundamentalism that is part of Bush's character and political support, but in fact Europe's rejection of GM foods has an equally powerful spiritual component. To many Europeans, genetic engineering is an assault on God's sovereignty or Mother Nature's spirit. They fear a Frankenfood counterattack, just as the fictional Victor Frankenstein's attempt to create life brought forth a monster that ultimately destroyed its creator's world. This type of spiritualism may not hew to any organized religion, but it is based on the Christian linkage between body and soul and between organic substance and spirit.

There's nothing wrong with spiritual convictions. But they should be recognized as such, especially now that Western society is embarking on a course that is already having a detrimental effect on innovation in the biological sciences. In the very countries that spawned the original breakthroughs, innovation has either slowed or stopped completely, because of political resistance. If these were the only countries where such research could take place, biomedical advances would be set back significantly. Fortunately, the scientific world no longer revolves around Western countries. Scientists, money and ideas flow across borders; Asian countries that do not find biotechnology research contentious are the clear beneficiaries. Europe and America, though, could well lose their leadership roles in this important technology.

Stems cells are a case in point. Just six years ago the regenerative power of stem cells isolated from lab-grown embryos raised the possibility of a new generation of medical therapies for a broad range of human diseases including Parkinson's, diabetes and Alzheimer's. At the time, U.S. regulations prohibited the use of federal funds--about $20 billion for biomedical research-in experiments involving human embryos. Scientists lobbied for a relaxation in these restrictions, while conservatives wanted to ban all embryo research, even with private funds. To appease his political base, Bush created the Council on Bioethics a month before the 9/11 attacks to advise him on "ethical issues related to advances in biomedical science and technology."

Two and a half years of contentious debate have shown that the council was weighted from the outset toward what mainstream bioethicists consider to be a conservative viewpoint. In February the White House apparently decided even that wasn't enough: it dismissed the two council members who had consistently spoken in favor of biomedical research and replaced them with three new members who had no experience in bioethics. When scientists and bioethicists complained, Leon Kass, the council chairman, fired back in The Washington Post that he was shocked by the "unfounded and false charges of political stacking of the Council."

He's not entirely wrong. In America the battle lines are being drawn between people with radically different spiritual, not just political, beliefs. All three new appointees are fundamentalist Christians. They join at least five other members of the council who have previously written of their conviction that early human embryos--microscopic clumps of cells -- are gifts from God ensouled at conception.

Since Darwin, biologists have viewed all living things as variations on a common theme. Indeed, research shows that we human beings share nearly all of our genes with other mammals, and many genes with plants and micro-organisms as well. Yet American conservatives have no problem with the genetic modification of animals and plants because traditional Judeo-Christian doctrine holds that God gives souls only to human beings. Animals and plants are seen as soulless, purely biological entities, to be manipulated as we see fit.

Many left-leaning European intellectuals, in contrast, seem beholden to a different yet equally deep-seated sense of spirituality, one that encompasses all of Mother Nature. There is no other way to explain why so many on the left are so willing to reject all conceivable applications of genetic engineering. Granted, most currently available GM crops provide a benefit to farmers that is invisible to consumers. Granted, large U.S. or multinational corporations have patented much of the current technology (though patents expire after 20 years). And granted, many Europeans are fearful that the dominating influence of American culture could overwhelm the distinctive agriculture and cuisine unique to different European regions (a fear that I share).

But biotechnology, like all technologies, can be applied toward good or ill, profit or not. It has already reduced the use of pesticides and the tilling of farmland, a major cause of soil degradation. Cows have been engineered for resistance to mad-cow disease, and pigs have been made to produce fewer pollutants in their manure. Genetic engineering could make peanuts nonallergenic. And nonprofit organizations could carefully use the technology to increase the nutritional value of crops, add vaccines and reduce the ecological damage of traditional agriculture in underdeveloped countries.

Unfortunately, such nonprofit biotech applications are unlikely to be developed any time soon because the people most supportive of humanitarian efforts--the Europeans--are too busy condemning biotechnology as unnatural. In contrast, many of the same people have no problem with the unregulated production and sale of natural herbal remedies and dietary supplements, some of which (like ephedra) have killed hundreds of people. At least 200 million Americans have eaten GM food over the last decade without a single verified allergic reaction, without even a single GM-caused stomachache.

What is the true basis for the distinction between natural and unnatural? In condemning the application of biotechnology to plants and animals, Britain's Prince Charles said: "I happen to believe that this kind of genetic modification takes man-kind into realms that belong to God, and to God alone." Another spiritual objection, expressed in less explicit language, is enshrined in the Constitution of Switzerland. A 1992 referendum imposes a respect for "the integrity of living organisms" and "the dignity of living nature." A majority of Swiss people seem to believe that their valleys of well-tended meadows, neat farms and grazing cows represent a natural order that must be preserved. Of course, every component of this picture is the result of human intervention into a previous natural order that disappeared long ago.

In another example of left-leaning European spirituality, three Dutch bioethicists have condemned the potential use of bio-technology to create "quasi chickens--genetically engineered humps of living chicken flesh that do nothing but lay eggs." They condemn such technology not because it would cause pain or suffering to any animal, since the whole point is to eliminate the use and abuse of sentient creatures. Rather, they're upset because the creation of vege-tative pseudochickens will violate chicken integrity. What could possibly be violated when no animals are harmed or killed? It can only be the imagined spirit of the chicken species. This belief is ironic, because the domesticated chicken bears little resemblance to its wild ancestors.

The spiritual backlash against biotechnology in both America and Europe has pushed political leaders to pass laws greatly restricting R&D. Federally funded American scientists are allowed to work with only 15 or fewer old human-embryo stem-cell lines, all contaminated with mouse cells and unlikely to be very useful. Thousands of scientists have moved to Asia, where they can perform embryo research with few restrictions. These trends suggest that Asia will take the lead in clinical applications of stem-cell research, at least in the short run.

Europe is suffering not only research restrictions but a decline in agricultural competitiveness. Partly because farmers use inefficient non-GM seed, they require ever-larger subsidies to stay afloat. Meanwhile, American farmers have latched onto GM crops as a way to cut down on pesticides, obtain better protection against adverse weather and increase yields. U.S. agricultural firms are luring skilled plant and animal scientists from Europe. For economic reasons, Europe will ultimately be forced to let down its gates to the GM revolution.

While Americans and Europeans wring their hands, Asians benefit from less-cumbersome spiritual beliefs. In Buddhist cultures, spirituality is associated with a sense of consciousness entirely detached from the physical world. Spirits can be imagined as fluid entities that merge and divide within and outside people, animals, plants and inanimate objects. Through this lens, individual embryos are not equated with --indivisible spirits, and biotechnologists don't have the power to interfere in the spiritual world, even if they want to.

Several Asian countries see a golden opportunity. The Chinese government has persuaded many Western-educated expatriate scientists to return to a homeland where research on human embryos is lavishly funded at dozens of laboratories. Separately, in 2003, a Chinese company became the first in the world to win approval for a commercial application of human gene therapy (for a cancer treatment). Government funding helped South Korean scientists to recently clone human embryos for the first time. Singapore is completing a $288 million biotech complex called Biopolis, which will house 2,000 university, government and industry researchers. The country has attracted the British Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner, Alan Coleman, from the team that cloned Dolly the sheep, and a new research division of Johns Hopkins University Medical School.

As Asian nations take the lead, the advantages of allowing this research may become clearer to Western cultures. America and Europe may even change their views. If so, globalization would be the savior of both science and people.

--- Silver is professor of molecular biology and public affairs at Princeton University and author of "Remaking Eden."

To Honor the Earth, Speak to the Issues and Not the Myths

- Thomas DeGregori, ACSH.org, April 21, 2005

Ah, it's spring again when our fancies are said to turn to romance. And with Earth Day upon us (April 22nd), the Greens' romantic fantasies turn to the environment, as they promote nineteenth-century Romantic ideologies to deal with twenty-first-century problems. Increasingly, the food sections of many newspapers have become year-round bastions of these romantic ideologies, touting the virtues of local produce, heritage varieties, and of course organic agriculture. My local newspaper lived up to (or possibly down to) expectations as it heralded the arrival of Earth Day with a piece by its food editor titled "Honor the Earth." How exhilarating to learn that you can "Help Yourself and Save the Planet" at the same time with a meal that "can be friendly to eater and the planet."

Eating "closer to nature" -- uncooked cuisine -- and eating "close to the source" have become romantic fads of late as these practices are believed to result in our food being fresher and more healthful. Eating locally may be fresher in harvest season, but after that it has to be stored. Try getting local farm fresh produce in northern U.S. or Europe in the depths of winter (even greenhouses would be too modern and technological by consistent Green standards, since they only date from the eighteenth-century orangeries). Thanks to modern agronomy, refrigeration, and transportation, we can choose from an incredible variety of foodstuffs to eat fresh all year-round.

Even in the tropics where there is no winter, there is still seasonality for foodstuffs. Even local and in season may not always be fresher. Leading chefs and even the New York Times recognize that fresh frozen may be the best way to get freshness to the diner's table.

To my local paper's food editor, local foods, defined as being produced within a hundred mile radius, are more "Earth-friendly because less fuel was burned trucking them in." Our intrepid editor found them to be "more expensive" than she expected. If the higher prices were warranted by higher costs and were not -- perish the thought -- just a rip-off, it should have occurred to her that these prices might reflect other environmental costs, including the added fuel costs from less efficient small-batch transportation.

Furthermore, the most important factor diminishing biodiversity is loss of habitat to cultivation. The lower yields per acre from organic produce mean that more land has to be brought under cultivation to meet the organic consumers' needs while the land use that consumers of conventionally produced food require has been shrinking steadily over the last half century or more -- as crop yields rise and animal feeding becomes more efficient. The cropland necessary to produce our politically incorrect steaks and hamburgers has been declining at 2.2% a year (Waggoner and Ausubel 2002).

In addition to having been "grown or produced within 100 miles of Houston (salt, pepper, and olive oil were exempt)," the planet-saving "test supper" could not "have been slathered with pesticides." One conjures an image of mad farmers gleefully going about splashing pesticides all over their crops oblivious to the costs of the pesticides and with some perverse desire to poison their customers and destroy their market and the planet. The use of the term "slathered" to describe the very careful use of low-dose pesticides in modern agriculture and the regulations involved, reflects a prevailing ignorance among food writers and the general public that has been very carefully nurtured by the back-to-nature enthusiasts. They assume that "organic" agriculture does not use pesticides. This is a myth if not an outright fraud. The "organic" movement argues that the "natural" pesticides that it uses are more benign than the synthetic pesticides used in conventional agriculture, but there is no evidence for that. And some of these "natural" pesticides are administered in much larger quantities, which may not be enough to qualify as being "slathered" but certainly are a far closer approximation of "slathered" than are the synthetic pesticides used in conventional agriculture.

Strange as it may seem to some, the current rules for "organic" agriculture allow some synthetic pesticides and even have a website with the approved pesticides listed (USDA 2002, http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/NationalList/FinalRule.html). But assuming that the local farmers somehow manage to raise their crops without pesticides with the enormous loss of output that entails, it still doesn't mean a toxin-free product. Plants are chemical factories, and the less well protected the plant is the more toxins it will produce to defend itself against insect or microbial infestation. For some time now, Bruce Ames and others have shown that 99.9% of all toxins that we ingest are products of nature and not humans, yet we are obsessed with the synthetic one tenth of one percent (see for example, Ames, Profet and Gold 1990a&b). Two different National Research Council reports have substantiated the Ames position, but somehow word hasn't gotten out to journalists who write on food issues (NRC 1973 & 1996).

"Happy Chickens Make Good Eggs" For planet salvation, our eggs have to be from happy "free range" chickens that "were pumped up with pride, not hormones" (though no U.S. poultry is allowed to be produced with added hormones, so organic has not even an imagined advantage in that regard). Eggs, after all, "symbolize rebirth and spring." We were told that "the yolks were a deep mustard color, high and firm, and they tasted, well, fresh," though I doubt or at least hope that she did not eat any of them uncooked and truly fresh. Not being an expert on poultry psychoanalysis, I will not comment on the happiness of the chickens, but I will dispute her judgment about taste.

There have not been any double-blind taste tests on free range chickens, their eggs, or organic produce, so it is impossible to separate our food editor's judgment from her expectations. Though there have been no double blind tests, there have been what we might call blind-sided tests that show how people's expectation influence their judgment. Penn and Teller's magnificent TV series had a segment in which they filled up bottles of water from a hose (yes, from a hose) behind a restaurant and then put a variety of fancy labels on them, including one in French which identified the water with a part of the human anatomy that we don't associate with sustenance for humans, though it can nourish plants. There was a liveried water steward and a list of high-priced waters with exotic names. Needless to say, in the later interviews with the customers, they were miraculously able to distinguish a vast array of extraordinary and differing characteristics in the bottled waters, such as one being a bit more piquant, whatever that may have meant.

I have previously reported on dioxin "contamination" of free-range chickens and the eggs that they produced, and I noted that the dioxin "contamination" was inherent in raising chickens outdoors on the ground. I also noted Danish studies have that found that 100% of free-range chickens were infected with Campylobacter jejuni (DeGregori 2005). The Soil Association in the UK blamed the contamination on our industrial society, not realizing or simply choosing to ignore the fact that good old Mother Nature -- in the form of forest fires -- produces its own all-natural dioxins, which are ubiquitous in soils over which free range chickens roam. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency has declared the dioxin levels to be safe, but would our Earth Day enthusiasts be so accepting of these dioxin levels if they were in conventionally grown chickens -- or would the chickens be deemed "slathered" with dioxins? Given the vast array of contaminating contacts, outdoors may not be where one wants to raise chickens if one has a choice.

Journalism vs. The Real World The article that I am critiquing is not unique for my local newspaper nor is my local newspaper different from most others in the uncritical acceptance of the claims of the romantic Green ideologists and food faddists. That is why I only indicate the author and the newspaper via a link earlier (and indeed think my local paper is quite good and getting better). I am concerned about the lack of the high standards for food and environmental reporting in periodicals in general.

Last year, for example, an environmental reporter went to Mexico, accompanying an activist group with an anti-genetic-modification (anti-GM) agenda to report on transgenic corn in Central Mexico. She not only failed to interview Dr. Norman Borlaug or anyone at the International Center for Research in Maize and Wheat, she was unaware of their existence, which is like going to Rome to do a story on Roman Catholicism and not knowing that there is a Pope and a Vatican. Nor did she think to contact anyone at Texas A&M, which is internationally known for its work in maize research and is where Dr. Borlaug spends a semester each year. Yet she was defended by the ombudsman when a group of us wrote in to question the merits of her front page story.

There is a question of professional journalistic practice here. If "Honor the Earth" had been a real news story, there might have been a skeptical journalist checking to see if any of the local outdoor market "farmers" picked up any of their produce from the same source as the indoor markets. If a journalist is going to wander through areas such as toxicology, plant physiology, and chicken psychology, one might expect her to contact experts and not just advocates. The Houston area has any number of scientists who are expert in these areas, including some on ACSH's Board of Scientific Advisors. The problem is that scientists don't wake up every morning thinking about how to influence journalists for their next campaign nor do they have focus groups to help them frame the issues. The activists do, and their constant contacting and pressuring the media has paid off for them.

Now if one really wants to avoid pesticides, try transgenic corn when it's in season, since in transgenic corn a single gene expresses a protein that is lethal to corn's insect pest, the corn borer, but totally harmless to humans as it is broken down into amino acids in the stomach before passing on to the rest of the digestive tract. Since the corn borer carries a toxin-secreting fungus on its hairs, borerless Bt corn has 95% less of the fungal toxins called fumonisins, which can cause any number of very serious infirmities. One is not likely to find Bt corn in the outdoor markets touted by the food editor, nor in any establishment claiming to be earth-friendly, since they proudly claim to be anti-GM food. It might be nice for the food editor to check with the USDA on the reduction in pesticide use as a result of Bt corn and the rise in "conservation tillage" that has been made possibly by transgenic herbicide-tolerant (Ht) soybeans. Conservation tillage has also resulted in reduction in soil loss (in some areas, it is actually leading to a build-up of the soil), water conservation, and increased bio-diversity. Again, why not check with the USDA for verification?

I would like to take some of these food writers with me to the villages in Africa or elsewhere where the food is locally grown and organic but by no means earth-friendly or healthy. In many parts of Africa where the cost of synthetic fertilizer is prohibitive, the farmers are taking more nutrient out of the soil than they are returning, leading to both short and long-term problems. Again because of prohibitive costs, crops are not "slathered with pesticides" -- but instead "slathered" with fungal and other microbial infestation, causing crop loss of as high as 75% and serious health problems from the remaining part, which the poor farmer families have little choice but to eat. The solution, or at least an important contribution to addressing these problems, would be transgenic crops that produce their own defenses, but the activists have done everything possible to oppose this, even to the point of preferring to see Africans starve rather than receive transgenic corn for famine relief. Nevertheless, it takes more cropland per capita to provide for undernourished Africans than it does for the over-nourished Americans.

Cornucopia of Food Options, Even Low-Tech Ones Actually, I rejoice in seeing the rise in farmers markets and the production and sale of heritage or heirloom varieties. Through time, biodiversity in agriculture simultaneously expanded and contracted as farmers both created new varieties but also abandoned older ones as they encountered varieties from other areas that had greater yield, better pest resistance, or other qualities that increased the value of their crop. In some cases, the substitution replaces one species with another. When wheat was first spreading into colder climates of Europe, it carried rye as a weed. Farmers started cultivating rye because it thrived better in northern climes. Later when varieties of wheat evolved that were more tolerant of the colder climes, wheat replaced rye in many areas. In the process, some local varieties were abandoned; the forces for contraction have tended to be greater than those for expansion of biodiversity.

Of all the considerations of crop choice that farmers have historically made, net crop yield has generally been at the top both when choosing varieties and when choosing what staple crop to plant. It is no accident that in the Mediterranean countries and southern Europe, the staple crops were grown in the fertile valleys while the wine grapes and the olive trees were grown on the less fertile hillsides, even though they provided vital nutrients and became the source of treasured foodstuffs. Similarly, in agriculture around the world, one finds the staple crops planted in the fields while the fruit trees and kitchen gardens are packed around the homestead.

It is a tribute to much-criticized modern agronomy that increases in staple food production have not only kept up with very rapid population growth but have actually exceeded it, leading to increases in per capita food availability, contrary to the catastrophists' predictions of mass famine. In fact, the yield increases in these staples has been so successful that it has freed up prime land for other uses, including fruit and vegetable production. This is contrary to a seemingly unshakable belief that modern agronomy has fostered some kind of mindless monoculture. Careers are built on the propagation of this monoculture myth (DeGregori 2003, 2004).

If, then, we have farmers working smaller acreage, producing lower-yielding but higher-value (to the consumer) crops, it is precisely because higher yields in conventional agriculture free up this land for non-subsistence needs. And if journalists and others can pay the higher than expected prices for heritage produce, it is because the modern economy gives them higher incomes and modern agronomy lowers the rest of their food bill. These markets provide consumers more choices even if some of us consider them to be meaningless. That is why I rejoice in seeing these markets arising and see their existence as a result of modern agriculture and not a contradiction of it. (Also, while these heirloom varieties may or may not be superior in any attribute, they have genes that could be useful for future plant breeding. Just as I favor seed banks for preserving genetic diversity, I am delighted to see it being preserved in the field. In earlier times, less favored varieties were simply abandoned and often lost for all time.)

Perhaps Earth Day Should Be April 1st Prior to the first Earth Day in 1970, concerns about the environment and what we humans are doing to it were largely the domain of a few naturalists and, of course, the unreconstructed romantics who have always hated economic and technological progress even while they benefited from it. Whatever role the first Earth Days may have played, the fact is that by the early 1970s, environmental issues became more prominent.

In many respects, we have made progress on these issues, but in other respects there needs to be continuing, vigorous, informed, and intelligent debate. There are those who wish to reduce these issues to slogans and ideologically-driven actions, and Earth Day has become one of their vehicles towards these ends. Stewart Brand, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog, has suggested that true environmentalists and safe food activists should embrace modern technologies such as agricultural biotechnology and nuclear power (Brand 2005). This could make them constructive critics who would force those of us with boundless enthusiasm for new technologies to be more honest and responsible in its use to the benefit of all. Unfortunately, this would require the critics to be informed on the issues -- but that requires more effort than mindless repetition of slogans. Too many of them have chosen the Luddite path, to the detriment of food safety and environmental protection. Currently, all one needs to be labeled an "environmentalist" is self-designation and self-promotion, not any specific skill or knowledge. April 1st might just be a more appropriate day for them. As long as their voice is the only one heard on these issues, substantive progress is less likely.

Thomas R. DeGregori is a Professor of Economics at the University of Houston and a member of the Board of Directors of the American Council on Science and Health. His most recent publications include: Origins of the Organic Agriculture Debate; The Environment, Our Natural Resources, and Modern Technology; and Bountiful Harvest: Technology, Food Safety, and The Environment. His homepage is http:www.uh.edu/~trdegreg and e-mail address is trdegreg[at]uh.edu.


Ames, Bruce and Margie Profet and Lois Swirsky Gold. 1990a. Dietary Pesticides (99.9% all natural). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 87:7777-7781.

Ames, Bruce and Margie Profet and Lois Swirsky Gold. 1990b. Nature's Chemicals and Synthetic Chemicals: Comparative Toxicology. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 87:7782-7786.

Brand, Stewart. 2005. Environmental Heresies, TechnologyReview.com, 30 April, http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/05/05/issue/feature_earth.asp?p=1

DeGregori, Thomas R. 2003. The Anti Monoculture Mania, Butterflies and Wheels: Fighting Fashionable Nonsense, 14 July, http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=281

DeGregori, Thomas R. 2004. Green Myth vs. the Green Revolution, Butterflies and Wheels: Fighting Fashionable Nonsense, 4 February, http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=50

DeGregori, Thomas R. 2005. Lupin Flour Anaphylaxis, American Council on Science and Health: Health Facts and Fears.com, 13 April, http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.534/news_detail.asp>http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.534/news_detail.asp

NRC (National Research Council). 1973. Toxicants Occurring Naturally in Foods. Washington: National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Food Protection, Food and Nutrition Board, National Research Council.

NRC (National Research Council). 1996. Carcinogens and Anticarcinogens in the Human Diet: A Comparison of Naturally Occurring and Synthetic Substances. Committee on Comparative Toxicity of Naturally Occurring Carcinogens, Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology, and the Commission on Life Sciences, National Research Council. Washington: National Academy Press.

USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). 2002. The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, Washington, D.C.: National Organic Program, Agricultural Marketing Service, United States Department of Agriculture, http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/NationalList/FinalRule.html

Waggoner, P. E. and J. H. Ausubel. 2002. A Framework for Sustainability Science: A Renovated IPAT Identity, PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) 99(12):7860 7865, 11 June.

Counting Up!

- Truth About Trade and Technololgy

See the biotech acres being planted around the world on the 'live' counter at http://www.truthabouttrade.org/article.asp?id=3744

Remember how McDonalds used to boast beneath the Golden Arches about how many billions of hamburgers it had sold?

Well, its time for agricultural biotechnology to update their sign. Sometime during the early days of May 2005, a farmer somewhere in the world will plant the 1 billionth acre of genetically enhanced crops.

And sometime this fall - probably early September 2005 - that billionth acre will be harvested!

Both are huge milestones for the world.

Just how big is a billion acres? It's big. A billion square acres would circle our planet at the equator more than 1587 times. They would go to the moon and back 164 times. And if you're wondering about the sun - they'd reach there and back - and still have some length left to spare. If metric is your measure of preference, one billion acres is equivalent to 400 million hectares. That covers the entire land area of the European Union's 25 countries. (World Factbook, 2004)

Farmers from around the world - large scale, high tech producers and limited resource farmers in developing countries - are adopting this technology so rapidly (the first commercial acres were planted in 1996 - just 10 years ago) because they produce more food on less land at lower costs. On a planet populated by over 6 billion people - and the number is growing every day - this is essential.

It is estimated that it takes 1.25 acres to feed a person for one year. (United Nations National Accounts and Euromonitor) That means the cumulative one billion acres has the potential to feed 1.25 billion people for a full year.

Since 1980, corn production around the globe has increased by 45 percent but it was accomplished by adding less than 5 percent more acres to our fields. That additional corn was produced on the equivalent of 130 million acres of rainforest or other precious land that was NOT put into food production.

Positive economic and environmental results have been documented in developing countries that plant biotech crops. Chinese farmers growing biotech cotton in 1999 reported that they sprayed 60 percent fewer times (8 times instead of the average 20), reducing their insecticide expense by 82 percent. Their yields for 1999-2001 increased by an average of 10 percent. (Agricultural Economics Research Institute, Hague, Netherlands 2002)

In 2004, biotech crops were planted in 18 countries. "90 percent of the farmers benefiting from biotech crops were resource-poor farmers from developing countries, whose incomes from biotech crops contributed to alleviation of poverty." (ISAAA, 2004)

Biotech crops are among the most studied and reviewed food and food ingredient products in the world. "North Americans have consumed more than a trillion servings of foods that contain gene-spliced ingredients, with not a single untoward reaction." (Henry I. Miller, Genetic Engineering News April 20, 2005)

Impressive statistics for a technology that has been available commercially for 10 years. Will the growth stop now? No. According to ISAAA, it is projected that 15 million farmers will grow biotech crops on up to 375 million acres (150 million hectares) in 30 countries by 2010. (James, 2004)

How long will it take us to get to the 2 billion acres planted and harvested? How about 5 billion? We don't know the exact date but we'll be tracking it. Continuing to use the ISAAA research and reports (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications - a globally accepted non-profit, non-bureaucratic international network that counts biotech acres around the world) we will continue to make our estimates, taking their report forward, until the next formal report due in January 2006.

Today, we mark a billion acres. At some point in the future, like McDonald's, so many billion acres of biotech crops will have been planted and harvested around the world that we'll quit counting these biotech acres altogether.

Biotechnology Unfairly Blamed for Rural Woes

- The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) April 21, 2005 Via Agnet

Janice Tranberg of Saskatoon writes that Michael Mehta's recent viewpoint, Biotechnology could destroy rural social fabric (SP, April 14), shows a poor understanding of biotechnology, agriculture, the agricultural economy and the rural way of life.

One of his primary assumptions seems to be that large-scale farmers benefit more from biotechnology than those with smaller land holdings. If anything, the opposite is true. Western Canadian agriculture needs to evolve to produce higher value crops grown for specific purposes. Already, there are many examples, such as special types of canola being grown for their high oleic oil, to eliminate trans fats in foods. Higher value crops provide better returns for all farmers, but extra care and effort are often required to keep good records and preserve the identity of seeds to maintain purity. Small farmers may be better able to meet production protocols and be rewarded for their ef forts.

Mehta seems to believe that large farmers practice monoculture while smaller farmers "use traditional polyculture." In Western Canada, large and small farmers alike grow a variety of crops, utilizing proper rotations whenever possible. The sociologist also confuses biotechnology and the ability of farmers to save their own seed. The two are not directly related. If a farmer signs a legal contract to grow a crop and return all the resulting production, it doesn't matter whether it is a conventio nal crop or a genetically modified one. On the flip side, producers shouldn't obtain seed by illicit means because technology theft still is theft. Farmers do chose seed varieties best suited to their situations. However, very few producers are under the illusion that saving the seed year after year somehow improves the variety.

It's true that agriculture is under tremendous pressure, and many farmers are struggling with low and negative returns. Biotechnology will bring new cropping options. In that way, it's part of the solution. Most farmers embrace technologies that will cut their costs. Most eagerly grow new crops that serve higher-value markets.

Biotechnology is no threat to the social fabric of rural communities, although fear-mongering about it may be.

As Drought Takes Hold, Zambia's Door Stays Shut to GMOs

- Brenda Zulu, SCIDEV.NET (London), April 21, 2005

Hunger is a perennial challenge facing African countries, and Zambia is no exception. But while some nations are prepared to boost supplies by importing food containing genetically modified (GM) organisms, Zambia is sticking to its guns and saying no.

Once an exporter of food, Zambia is in the grip of its third severe drought since 2000. The lack of rain is threatening Zambia's food security -- it needs at least 200,000 tonnes of maize to avert a crisis -- which has led the United States to increase pressure on the country to legalise imports of GM food.

But Zambia's agriculture minister Mundia Sikatana says the government is staying firm on plans to develop legislation on GM products, and is reaffirming its ban on their entry into the country until it is satisfied they pose no threat to health or the environment.

In a 15 March interview to mark World Consumer Rights Day, Sikatana said Zambia would soon set up facilities for identifying GM products at all points of entry to the country to enable it to enforce the ban.

Zambia's position on GM food was made clear in 2002, when president Levy Mwanawasa rejected food aid from the United States during that year's drought and subsequent food crisis because the aid could not be confirmed to be GM free (see Famine-stricken countries reject GM maize).

In August 2002, the Zambian government banned imports, sale and use of GM products, citing health, environmental and trade concerns. The decision was based on the recommendations of a team of Zambian scientists and economists that had conducted a fact-finding mission to South Africa, Europe and the United States.

In March 2005, the government produced draft biosafety legislation that, if approved by the cabinet, will be presented to parliament for debate. The government should not drag its feet in getting the law approved by parliament, says Muyunda Ililonga, executive secretary of the Zambia Consumers Association (ZACA). The association is worried that GM-derived products could enter Zambia illegally because some countries in southern Africa accept or, in the case of South Africa, grow GM crops.

Ililonga says Zambia needs to be able to check whether food coming in is GM or not. "We still feel that the government is not moving fast enough," he adds. ZACA was among the civil society groups that helped launch the idea of a biosafety law. To draft the law, the government consulted with stakeholders including farmers, women's groups, church leaders, politicians, scientists and non-governmental organisations. Ililonga feels that this diversity was representative enough for the government to make a decision that reflects public opinion.

But not all Zambians oppose GM crops. Supporters say they will bring relief to hungry Africans by improving crop yields and nutrition. They assert that citizens of rich countries, for whom the potential benefits of GM are less relevant, have exaggerated the risks posed by the technology.

Among the proponents is the Biotechnology Outreach Society of Zambia, set up in 2003 to promote acceptance of GM technology.

The society points to the 2003 findings of a team of Southern African scientists that the member nations of the Southern African Development Community had asked to investigate the potential effects of planting and eating GM crops.

The researchers concluded that GM crops pose no immediate risk to humans and animals, and advised the southern African nations to embrace the technology because of its potential to increase agricultural yields (see Southern African nations get green light on GM). However, they also warned that potential environmental risks remain a challenge.

As a result, the team recommended that GM technologies be evaluated in African environments, and called for African nations to develop their own capacity to regulate and test GM products.

Another report, commissioned by the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflections and the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, says, however, that GM crops would bring negligible benefits to Zambian farmers and could threaten the sustainability of agriculture in the country.

"GM crops are likely to bring many problems, including serious negative effects on the development of small-scale farming in Zambia - the basis for the country's food security system," says agricultural scientist Bernadette Lubozya, the report's author.

Lubozya's report concluded that to ensure sustainable agriculture in Zambia, rather than adopting GM crops, the country should encourage farmers to rely more on internal inputs within the farm and its immediate surroundings.

Agriculture minister Sikatana agrees, pointing out that for Zambian farmers the most pressing problem is the lack of mechanised agriculture, with many farmers still using hoes to till their land. He says the government plans to create training centres in every district that will lease agricultural equipment to farmers. "We shall plant and cultivate for them and recover the costs during the harvest," he explains.

Lubozya's report also warned that adopting GM technology could affect European markets for Zambian flowers, coffee, fruit, vegetables and tobacco. Although the European Union recently relaxed its ban on GM products, authorising 26 for planting and sale, Sikatana insists that "if Zambia allows GM crops, Europe will not buy from us any more".

In the face of the current drought the government is encouraging farmers to grow alternatives to the staple maize, such as winter maize (which grows well in dry conditions) and cassava, and to irrigate their fields with water from wetlands.

Sikatana says that this will allow production to be sustained but that even optimistic forecasts suggest Zambia will only produce enough for local consumption. As Zambia's drought continues and its fields dry up, so does its list of options for ensuring food security. But one thing is certain -- the government is keeping the door to GM crops firmly closed.

Biotech for All

- Shams Kazi, The Statesman (India), April 22, 2005 http://www.thestatesman.net/

'Information sharing will make scientific research cheaper'

A small non-profit biotech research organisation in Australia is set to change the biotech industry. CAMBIA has found a new way of transferring genetic material to plants. It bypasses the heavily-patented agrobacterium transformation (AT) method. Researchers have placed this tool in the public sphere by distributing it under an open source licence called Biological Initiative for Open Source (BIOS). Any researcher or company can use the technology but is legally obliged to make new discoveries based on its use available to others.

The patent-driven monopolistic biotech must rethink its business strategies. Sharing information is hardly a standard practice in biotech industry. Richard Jefferson, head of CAMBIA, says the plethora of patents surrounding the AT method made it difficult for researchers to develop countries to experiment in key areas such as agriculture. The developing world could only rely on products major patent holders sold. Sharing information, Jefferson says, empowers scientists across the world to create products more suitable for their societies. This is the basis of the BIOS initiative.

Along with a novel licensing arrangement, BIOS' website provides information on the patent implications of key technologies, and provides researchers with a platform to collaborate on finding alternatives, contributing to a resource pool of open biotech tools. Researchers can tap this pool without high royalty fees or legal hurdles. Research will now be available to all legally and cheaply.

Jefferson says research and development costs are high in biotechnology in the current system, but insists this is because information is not shared. "Innovation does not have to be expensive," he says. In the BIOS model, scientists work on problems in parallel. Thus, by making incremental development on a problem, innovation is more likely. To prove the system can work, he cites the success of the open source paradigm in the software industry led by a software called Linux.

He hopes that biotech businesses to can find new ways to make money using the global commons. The stakes in this industry are far higher. Life-saving drugs and hopes for improved crops are now denied to the poor due to 20 year long patent monopolies on new technologies.

The software community had a cultural revolution with the release of Linux that paved the way for a multi million dollar business that shuns monopolistic practices. The biotech community will also need a revolution in thinking if BIOS is to achieve critical mass. CAMBIA is trying to do just that: the word is Spanish for change.

Farmers Tout Benefits of Using Biotech Crops

- Chris Clayton, Omaha World-Herald, April 21, 2005 http://www.omaha.com/

'While critics await a food catastrophe, no one has linked health woes to genetically modified foods.'

As spring planting begins, few changes in Midlands corn and soybeans crops are obvious to the naked eye. Farmers will tell you, however, that in the past 10 years, biotechnology has changed everything.

More than 85 percent of the soybeans and more than 50 percent of the corn crop this year will have at least one biotech trait. And although critics continue to await a food catastrophe, no one can cite any health problems related to genetically modified foods.

"We have had these biotech products on the shelf for 10 years now, and they have proven to be safe," said Leon Corzine, an Illinois farmer and the president of the National Corn Growers Association. Bill Horan, an advocate for pharmaceutical crops who farms near Rockwell City, Iowa, said biotechnology has improved farmers' lives.

When he was young, Horan said, he spent much of his summer hoeing weeds from soybean fields. That's rarely necessary now, because Roundup Ready soybeans allow farmers to apply herbicides without harming the crop. "My children didn't have to spend all summer with a hoe in their hands," Horan said. "The technology gave my family time.''

Biotech proponents' efforts to sell the public on the crops' merits suffered another setback -- the third in five years -- last December, when Syngenta AG discovered that it had mislabeled bags of biotech seed sold to farmers in four states. The USDA fined the company $375,000 this month, and European officials have demanded that the United States test all corn products before shipping.

The United States exports more than $450 million in corn products to Europe, so a key export market could be lost if European officials are unsatisfied with the testing. In 2003, officials had to destroy 500,000 bushels of soybeans in Nebraska because of cross-contamination in seed produced by the company Prodigene.

In 2000, corn from seed called StarLink, which was not approved for human consumption, was incorrectly commingled with other grain. That error led to recalls and a loss of Asian markets. The balancing act of driving innovation while reducing risk to markets has fueled the creation of groups such as Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products, or BIGMAP, at Iowa State University, which held its second symposium on biotechnology safety this week.

Industry and university researchers say the U.S. public pays little attention to genetically modified products, even though nearly 75 percent of food contains some ingredients with biotech traits. "There's some general interest of bioengineered food but very little knowledge among consumers," said Cheryl Toner, a spokeswoman for the International Food Information Council.

That could change as more genetically modified products are marketed as more healthful choices. Regulators are seeing more proposals to alter amino acids in crops, extract allergens from peanuts, change foods' oil content, and improve baking or processing qualities.

"It's remarkable," said Michael Wach, who reviews permits for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Everything is up for grabs now. You name a gene and people are thinking about tweaking it."

Though no one has successfully marketed a final product, pharmaceutical crops continue to make waves. Fewer than 50 acres were field-tested nationally last year, but when a small California company proposed growing pharmaceutical rice in Missouri, brewer AnheuserBusch said it would not buy the rice for its beer for fear of losing overseas markets. A compromise was reached this week.

In Nebraska, a Minnesota firm, NuTein Cos., is meeting with farmers and city officials on a pilot program to extract lutein from alfalfa. Lutein is used to prevent eye degeneration. Todd Leonard, chief executive officer of the company, said NuTein has identified other proteins and amino acids that can be extracted from alfalfa. NuTein is in discussions with Nebraska and two other states about its expansion plans.

"We're in the final stages of picking a site," said Leonard, who will meet with Gov. Dave Heineman this week about the project.

So much is changing in plant genetics that the USDA is broadening its definition of biotech plants that should fall under the agency's oversight. New proposed rules are expected this summer. "With the things coming into our office, we know we need to change under our regulatory umbrella," Wach said at the Iowa State conference.

Jack Bobo, deputy chief of the U.S. State Department's biotechnology and textile trade policy division, has dealt with the consequences of the Syngenta incident. "I don't get through many days now without addressing that issue." "If they act like this what when something this small happens, what are they going to do when a real food crisis occurs?" Bobo asked.

Germany's minister of consumer protection was quoted in a German newspaper as saying that the Syngenta mistake was "unbelievable sloppiness" on the part of U.S. regulators. The minister said Europe must set a strong precedent that it will not tolerate such mistakes or the United States' "lax position" on regulating biotechnology.

Nevertheless, the European Union last week approved 26 products with biotech traits for importation in processed feeds. Bobo said he believes that European tolerance of biotechnology will grow, which will lead to more efforts to move biotech products into Africa and other developing areas.

Wach said companies must self-regulate, and there is little more the USDA can do to improve regulatory controls. "Can you regulate human error?" Wach asked. "You can punish companies that have sloppy internal practices, and that is what has happened."

Nearly half of all biotech research is occurring outside the United States, and later this year an advisory group in Japan will meet to talk about standard biotechnology regulations. One of the issues is whether to allow imports with trace elements of unapproved products, which would eliminate problems such as those caused in the Syngenta situation.

"We are shooting ourselves in the foot if we do anything that endangers the confidence in U.S. agriculture by the consumers and internationally," Wach said.