Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : October 20, 2005
* Sonoma Say 'No' on M
* Performance of GM Crops: Credibility Crisis
* Chuck Benbrook's Comments
* GM Crops Move Forward in India
* Antibiotic Markers in GM Plants: Risk to Human Health?
* A Modest Proposal by DeGregori
* China - Seeds are Sown but Few are Harvested
* Debate Over a GM Rice Trial in China
* From Mendel to Markers: Impact of Molecular Technologies
* Molecular Biology Applied to Global Food Safety Management
* A Global Good, Not An Enemy Within?
No on M
- Editorial, Santa Rosa Press Democrat (California), Oct 19, 2005
Those opposed to Measure M would have Sonoma County voters believe
that genetic engineering is a risk-free scientific breakthrough that
is helping address many of the world's agricultural and medical needs.
Those in favor of Measure M would have voters believe that
genetically engineered (GE) foods are the basis of a science-fiction
horror story in which the world is being used as a test tube by
corporations that want to control the food supply.
Which extreme do we believe?
In truth, both sides are over-simplifying what is a complex global
debate, one that's not going to be resolved in Sonoma County before
the Nov. 8 election.
We believe the appropriate question is: Is the evidence about the
dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMO) so clear and
convincing as to justify a ban that only puts a burden on some local
farmers - but asks nothing of anyone else? Further, is the measure
written in such a way that assures there won't be unintended
consequences the authors deny - but veterinarians, farmers and others
in the agriculture industry and business community fear?
After much discussion, we've concluded that the answer to both
questions is no, and for these reasons we recommend a no vote on
This is not to say that we don't sympathize with many aspects of the
anti-GMO movement. We concur that foods containing genetically
modified organisms should be labeled. We believe that the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration needs to require more testing on GMO
products. And we believe that organic farmers should be protected -
and allowed to seek legal damages if necessary - if they lose their
organic certifications because of "contamination" from a neighboring
field of GE products. But we do not believe the "contamination"
threat is as menacing as Measure M proponents argue. In the end,
Measure M does not seek a compromise between organic and non-organic
farmers. It would require all farmers and ranchers in Sonoma County
to cater to the fears of the anti-GMO community - and prevent them
from using and selling GMO products. The fact is, this would put many
non-organic farmers and others at a competitive disadvantage.
Measure M is dishonest on two fronts: One, it is not a real ban on GE
products. It would allow all foods that are now sold in grocery
stores and restaurants that contain GE products. In other words, it
doesn't create a hardship for anyone other than non-organic farmers
The measure also is dishonest in that it is said to be about public
health and safety. There are now 1 billion acres of GM crops in 18
countries around the world, and while reasonable people can agree
that more testing should be done, one thing needs to be made clear.
There is absolutely no evidence that GMO foods are unsafe.
Ultimately, Measure M is an emotional response to the frustration
many feel about the Bush administration and lax federal regulation on
everything from the environment to food and pharmaceuticals. We share
that concern. But we don't believe the local farming community should
be asked to pay for what ultimately is a political message - one
based more on fear than facts.
If Measure M were an "advisory" measure we would support it. If it
merely assured protections for organic farmers against GMO farmers,
we would have looked more favorably upon it. The same would be true
if it had specifically made allowances for research, vaccinations and
other medical purposes.
But it doesn't. For those reasons, Sonoma County has more reason to
be concerned about the unintended consequences of Measure M than the
uncertainties of GMO products. We encourage voters to vote no on
Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops: The Credibility Crisis
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotech Awareness and Education,
India; Oct 15, 2005
Recently, Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot published a new study 'GM
Crops: The Global Economic and Environmental Impact--the First Nine
Years 1996-2004'. The main message is that a) farmers have gained $27
billion in incremental net income from biotech crops since they were
first introduced in 1996, b) reduced pesticide applications by 378
million pounds, c) reduced fuel consumption by 1.8 billion liters,
and d) reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 10 million metric tons.
The report covers all transgenic crops under commercial cultivation
in different parts of the world.
With amazing alacrity GM Watch (10/13/05) found arguments against
every benefit from GE crops, highlighted by Brookes and Barfoot. The
report is trashed also on the basis that a) Monsanto has commissioned
the report from PG Economics Ltd., b) the report was written by the
company's directors Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, c) Barfoot also
heads an organization called Bioportfolio which has the motto:
'Serving the biotechnology industry', and d) both Brookes and Barfoot
have a long and controversial history of producing reports that do
exactly that. None of these points is relevant to be the basis for
rejecting the report, but enough to make the anti-tech lobby happy in
the belief that the report is shredded.
Almost all the currently commercialized transgenic crops are from the
private sector. Nowhere public institutions provide the whole gamut
of data needed for evaluation of transgenics at different stages of
crop performance, such as the controlled field trials, open field
trials and commercial cultivation, except in India where the Indian
Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, provides
pre-commercialization trial data, in part. Consequently, only the
product developer provides the data for evaluation by the regulatory
authority and the public in almost every country. Unfortunately,
these massive dossiers are not in the public domain. There is a
genuine difficulty in obtaining authentic information, particularly
in the developing countries, as neither the product developer nor the
regulatory authority responds to requests from a third party to have
access to the data.
It is their prerogative if some do not believe, rather do not want to
believe, reports prepared by the product developer. But they do not
trust even independent institutions or agencies if the survey brings
out the benefits of technology. Some such reports are even twisted to
their advantage (The Hindu, 09/05/2005). Aspersions are cast on the
credibility of the agency itself, if the product developers
commissioned the reports. The horoscopes of the agencies and of the
authors spill on to the websites. It looks that the anti-tech lobby
considers survey reports as credible only if they are negative.
In India, Monsanto commissioned a survey of the performance of Bt
cotton by AC Nielsen ORG-Marg for the 2003 season and by IMRB
International for the 2004 season and both the reports were trashed
by the anti-tech groups, simply because they were sponsored by the
product developers and they highlighted the benefits of Bt cotton
Independent survey agencies have to do a professional and credible
job that stands scrutiny, if they have to survive. Projecting
untruths at the behest of the sponsor would jeopardize their
professional reputation and their very existence. Professional
agencies adopt scientifically accepted methodologies and procedures
of analysis of data and often the reports are peer reviewed.
Notwithstanding, any report that brings out the benefits of
technology is described by the anti-tech groups as fabricated,
doctored, tailored, or whatever.
The anti-tech groups in India cite extensive data in support of their
contention that the Bt-cotton is a failure. Their websites project
the same reports, data and arguments unchanged, again and again,
giving the impression of new observations. Nowhere one can get the
faintest idea of the locations, sample size, the methodology of data
gathering and analysis. A number of 'scientists' and 'experts' are
quoted to support the pronouncements of doom and the antecedents and
contact information of the scientists and experts is at best vague.
If the agencies and institutions that produce pro-technology reports
have the interests of the product developers at heart, whose
interests the anti-tech groups have? The anti-tech agencies spend
millions of US dollars worth local money year after year to oppose
technology. Is this money coming from the harried consumers and the
poor farmers in the third world or is it coming from the other
industrial lobbies whose interests are threatened by the new
In a situation where if you read more, you understand less, and where
each group oozes extreme confidence, questioning the other's
credibility, and with the Media concerned only about newsworthiness,
it is the public who are at loss as to whom to trust.
We have to trust some one somewhere. We need to evaluate both pro-
and anti-tech views rationally on a scientific basis and not on the
premise of deep-rooted and never-dying prejudice. A 'holier than
thou' mantle does not help.
Chuck Benbrook's Comments
- Thomas R. DeGregori, Professor of Economics, University of Houston
The following quote was in a news article on a study of the global
benefits of GM food production:
"But Benbrook, the Idaho agriculture expert, questioned the
credibility of a study funded by the biotech industry. As biotech
farming becomes more common, Benbrook warned, the technology could be
too much of a good thing. Benbrook authored a report last year
showing that genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton depend
on more, not less, herbicides after the first few years that they're
Chuck Benbrook's comments are interesting in that the reports that he
does are funded by the "organic" industry or isn't that an industry?
When ever I read a report, I try and evaluate it on the basis of the
quality of the study and of its authors. However, being an academic,
I do have a lingering mistrust of any funded research that is not
To get to the critical issue of Benbrook's comments - how many of the
leading anti-biotech reports if any are peer-reviewed, Compare that
to the vast number of reports favorable biotechnology that are
peer-reviewed and we observe a fundamental difference that is
contrary to what Benbrook is implying. I don't think that Benbrook
really wants to get into a contest of comparing peer-reviewed
publications but failing to do so, invalidates his criticism.
GM Crops Move Forward in India
- Sivramiah Shantharam Biologistics
Intl., Ellicott City, MD.
It is indeed a great news for the progress of agbiotechnology in
India with the approval of 14 new food crops for limited field
testing. The controversial debate on the performance of Bt cotton was
getting stale and boring. Hope these new approvals might change that
moribund Bt cotton debate. Perhaps, the situation might turn nastier
with the anti-GM gang rallying around more strongly to criticize the
government's decisions and the scientists and industry supporting the
India as a flash point on the progress of GM technology in Asia was
recognized long time ago. India must make progress and be a beacon
for the progress of safe commercialization of agricultural
biotechnology. Government's decisions on testing of GM crops must be
strongly supported by the right minded people and most importantly,
the scientific community which does not express its support in the
strongest possible terms. I see lots of hope for the development of
science and technology in India, and hope that the authorities would
not recoil under duress from the irrational, luddite anti-GM activism.
Antibiotic Resistance Markers in Genetically Modified Plants: A Risk
to Human Health?
- Philippe B Gaya and Stephen H Gillespie, The Lancet Infectious
Diseases, V.5, Issue 10 , Oct.2005, p637-646
During genetic modification of plants, the frequency of successful
transfer is low and can be hard to detect. One way to detect
successful transfer is cotransformation with an antibiotic-resistance
marker. However, there is some concern that the release of such
markers into the environment may result in an increase in antibiotic
resistance in human pathogens. Phillipe B Gay and Stephen H Gillespie
examine the evidence.
Summary: Cotransformation with an antibiotic-resistance marker is
often necessary in the process of creating a genetically modified
(GM) plant. Concern has been expressed that the release of these
markers in GM plants may result in an increase in the rate of
antibiotic resistance in human pathogens. For such an event to occur,
DNA must not be totally degraded in field conditions, and the
antibiotic-resistance marker must encounter potential recipient
bacteria and be taken up by them, before being integrated into the
bacterial genome, and the genes then expressed. In addition, the new
recombinant must overcome the physiological disadvantage of
acquisition of a piece of foreign DNA, probably in conditions where
the new gene does not provide a selective advantage.
We review each of these stages, summarising the investigations that
have followed each of these steps. We contrast the potential increase
in the antibiotic resistance reservoir created by
antibiotic-resistance markers in GM plants with the current situation
created by medical antibiotic prescribing. We conclude that, although
fragments of DNA large enough to contain an antibiotic-resistance
gene may survive in the environment, the barriers to transfer,
incorporation, and transmission are so substantial that any
contribution to antibiotic resistance made by GM plants must be
overwhelmed by the contribution made by antibiotic prescription in
A Modest Proposal:
- Response by Tom DeGregori:
Once again, we have a peer reviewed article in a prestigious journal
that refutes one of the ongoing charges against transgenic food
crops. Namely, that the antibiotic markers used in transgenics could
cross with live bacteria to create antibiotic resistant strains of
bacteria that harm humans. Even though there has been no substance to
this charge and others, efforts have been made to find alternative
methods that avoid the remote possibilities of harm that the critics
continue to make about transgenic agriculture.
Since, biotechnology scientists feel the necessity of responding to
their critics, maybe it is time for us to be pro-active and demand
that biotechnology's critics respond to the difficulties created by
the alternative agricultural and livestock practices that they
advocate. Recently, both Alex Avery and I posted pieces on the fact
that the use of copper sulfate, favored by organic enthusiasts and by
wine growers gives rise to anti-biotic resistant bacteria. I have
also posted pieces on the higher levels of dioxin in free range
chickens and the eggs that they lay. Alex and I have also posted
pieces on the higher disease level overall for free range birds such
as Campylobacter jejuni.
Now we have the dangers of Avian bird flu having entered Europe.
Whether or not the danger of a human pandemic is substantive or
merely a theoretical possibility, I will leave to the medical
professionals and epidemiologists. However low the probability maybe
for an avian derived human flu pandemic, it is vastly above the
hypothetical dangers which the biotechnology critics use in invoking
the precautionary principle. If the worst case scenario of a lethal
human to human virus happens , it is clear that chickens will likely
be the bridge to human infection as they already have been for animal
to human infection with this deadly flu virus and it is equally near
certain that raising chickens outdoors will facilitate this
transition. Poor peoples around the world do not have a choice, we in
developed countries do.
Any critics of biotechnology care to state why we should not invoke
the precautionary principle and ban the use of copper sulphate in
organic agriculture and the raising of free range chickens? Please
note carefully, I am NOT advocating a ban at this time in either
case. I am merely asking for some of our pursuers of precautionary
purism to have the integrity to be reasonably consistent or have the
courage of their convictions to tell us why they should not be
subject to the same restraints that they seek to impose on others.
- Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, University of Houston
An Even More Modest Proposal
- Tom DeGregori
In a previous posting titled A Modest Proposal, I suggested that we
start to think but not yet act concerning a ban against allowing
"free range" chickens to roam outdoors as a precaution against the
spread of Avian Bird Flu. At the time that I wrote it, Avian Bird Flu
had been identified in poultry in Turkey and tests were underway for
chickens in Romania. It has now been confirmed in Romania and has now
spread farther west to Greece and Macedonia.
Certainly, no reasonable person could object to a very modest
precautionary action in the United States. May I suggest that the
USDA declare that for the time that Avian Bird Flu remains a
potential threat that the USDA declare a moratorium on the
requirement that chickens spend a designated amount of time outdoors
in order to qualify to be labeled free range. This would allow a
voluntary response by producers to begin to take the necessary
actions should a mandatory ban ever be necessary. It would allow for
more rapid compliance at a lower cost with less loss should mandatory
actions ever be necessary. I personally oppose any precipitous
mandatory actions but am a firm believer in making preparations
should the situation warrant their being imposed. In the horrible
event that mandatory action became necessary, wouldn't it be nice if
compliance could be immediate and at a very low cost because of
China - Seeds are Sown but Few are Harvested
- Geoff Dyer, Financial Times (London), Oct 19, 2005
'Genetically modified crops are the only area where the Chinese are
competing at the top level, says Geoff Dyer'
Under the logic of globalisation, developing countries are supposed
to have an advantage in labour-intensive industries such as
manufacturing, leaving the developed world to dominate research-heavy
sectors and other capital-intensive industries.
Yet, having marvelled at China's rapid rise as a force in
manufacturing, some people in the west are beginning to fear that
China will also establish its own research-based industries that can
commercialise home-grown scientific innovations.
Biotechnology is one of the main battlegrounds. The Chinese
government has placed great emphasis on trying to develop its own
biotechnology sector, and public spending in research and development
has trebled in the last five years. Chinese scientists have grabbed
headlines with experiments in the area of stem cells, including the
creation of embryonic stem cells.
Meanwhile, a trickle of returnees - Chinese scientists who did
postgraduate research and worked in the private sector in the US -
has added professional lustre to the huge numbers of new scientists
being churned out every year by local universities.
Yet for all the hype and the volume of scientists, Chinese companies
have made little impact yet in the biotechnology field. China has
great strength and depth in engineering, but its life sciences
faculties are often not nearly as strong. Meanwhile, few universities
have an established procedure for spinning inventions into private
There is one area of biotech where China is competing at the top
level, and that is in the field of genetically modified crops. The
numbers may not be huge - China spent about $121m on GM crop research
last year - but China is already one of the pioneers in the field.
Its main contribution so far has been the development of a form of GM
cotton that gives the seeds the protein from a soil organism that
protects the plants from some diseases. (The principal GM cotton seed
produced by Monsanto, the US multinational, is based on the same
Invented in the 1990s, the seed is now used by 65 per cent of the
Chinese cotton crop, and according to government scientists, has
contributed to an 80 per cent reduction in pesticide use. "We have
shown that it is not just western countries that can innovate in this
area," says Jikun Huang, director of the Centre of Chinese
Agricultural Policy in Beijing.
The government is now examining a more controversial invention - a
form of GM rice that Chinese scientists have developed. If the
authorities give the go-ahead - and a decision is expected within a
year or so - China would be the first country to approve a
genetically modified version of a main staple food.
Greenpeace, the environmental pressure group, says it has already
found evidence that rice from trial plantations has entered the food
chain in several parts of the country. It could be a fierce battle
Debate Over a GM Rice Trial in China
- Letters, Science, Vol 310, Issue 5746, p231-233, Oct. 14, 2005
In their Report "Insect-resistant GM rice in farmers' fields:
assessing productivity and health effects in China" (29 Apr., p.
688), J. Huang et al. found that farmers growing insect-resistant GM
rice obtained higher yields with less use of insecticides than
farmers growing conventional varieties.
Huang et al.'s methodology does not, however, permit discrimination
between two alternative hypotheses explaining the farmers' decision
to spray Bt/Ti rice less often: (i) farmers sprayed Bt/Ti rice less
often because they observed fewer lepidopterans (the main insect
pests that would be affected); or (ii) because the farmers knew
beforehand which variety they were growing, they decided a priori to
spray Bt/Ti rice less often.
Were farmers responding to real effects of Bt/Ti rice, or were they
acting on faith that they needed to spray conventional varieties
frequently but Bt/Ti rice only occasionally? To test for real
effects, a subset of farmers should not know which type of rice they
are growing. This can be accomplished by conducting a double-blind
study or by adding a placebo treatment. To assess farmers'
responsiveness to pest infestation, pest levels should also be
The influence of farmers' perceptions on pest management in rice is
well known. Farmers tend to spray more insecticides than needed (1-4)
unless their perceptions are changed. Spraying has been successfully
reduced without yield loss and without adoption of Bt/Ti technology
by rice farmers under a number of different circumstances (5-8).
Perhaps the Chinese farmers in this study could also have reduced
spraying of the conventional varieties without yield loss.
In the precommercialization evaluation of the impact of
insect-resistant GM food crops on productivity, health, and the
environment, we stress the importance of distinguishing between
perceived and real effects of the transgenic variety.
- K. L. Heong, Yolanda H. Chen, David E. Johnson, Gary C. Jahn,
Mahabub Hossain, Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton
International Rice Research Institute, Philippines
1. J. W. Bentley, Agric. Hum. Values 6, 25 (1989).
2. J. Mumford, G.A. Norton, Annu. Rev. Entomol. 29, 157 (1984).
3. H. Waibel, The Economics of Integrated Pest Control in Irrigated
Rice (Springer, Berlin, 1986).
4. A. Rola, P. L. Pingali, Pesticides, Rice Productivity and Farmers'
Health--An Economic Assessment (International Rice Research
Institute, Los Baņos, Philippines, 1993).
5. K. L. Heong, M. M. Escalada, J. Appl. Commun. 81, 3 (1997).
6. M. M. Escalada, K. L. Heong, Crop Prot. 18, 315 (1999).
7. P. C. Matteson, Annu. Rev. Entomol. 45, 549 (2000).
8. M. Escalada et al., J. Appl. Commun. 83, 7 (1999).
It was with some astonishment that we read the Report by J. Huang et
al. about the trials of GM rice in farmers' fields in China
("Insect-resistant GM rice in farmers' fields: assessing productivity
and health effects in China," 29 Apr., p. 688).
Just two weeks before this Report was published, Greenpeace revealed
(1) the illegal sale and cultivation of GM rice varieties in China.
At least one of these illegal GM varieties, Bt Xianyou (or Shanyou)
63, appears to have been used in Huang et al.'s study. What measures
were taken to contain the GM rice (e.g., separation barriers from
conventional rice), and how was the GM rice harvest collected?
Reducing the use of pesticides in agriculture is certainly a
worthwhile goal. However, this short-term study did not consider the
medium- to long-term aspects of Bt crop management, such as the
practicalities of Bt refugia required to delay insect resistance to
Bt crops. The Report also omitted any food safety concerns regarding
the GM rice and did not consider potential ecological impacts such as
adverse effects on nontarget organisms.
In addition to the wider biosafety issues concerning GM crops, this
research raises serious ethical concerns for those involved in GM
crop trials. We suggest that, in the future, safeguards aiming to
prevent GM contamination should be made a prerequisite of any such GM
crop trials and a precondition of publication of their results.
- Pang Cheung Sze, Greenpeace China, Hong Kong; E-mail:
Janet Cotter, Greenpeace Research Laboratories, Department of
Biological Sciences, University of Exeter
Exeter UK. E-mail: J.Cotter@exeter.ac.uk.
In their Report ("Insect-resistant GM rice in farmers' fields:
assessing productivity and health effects in China," 29 Apr., p.
688), J. Huang et al. show reduced pesticide use and higher yields of
Bt rice in preproduction trials in China, supporting the suggestion
that GM crops could help reduce hunger, which may influence
This study does not discuss potential costs. One estimate of the cost
to develop a GM variety is 50 times that of a conventional variety
(1). Other costs include refuges and resistance monitoring to manage
evolution of resistance (for pesticidal crops like Bt rice) and
containment measures to reduce gene flow, especially in centers of
crop origin and diversity (2). Significant gene flow from domestic
rice to wild and weedy relatives has been documented (3); transgene
flow from herbicide-tolerant or Bt crops may increase weed resistance
(4), negatively affect nontarget species (5), compromise refuge
efficacy (6), or increase social costs (7, 8).
However, comparing existing conventional varieties with GM varieties
is not enough. Investments in alternative approaches to reducing
hunger with possibly higher benefits and costs need to be considered
(7). As with the green revolution (9), alternative strategies could
have higher net benefits. For example, increasing rice diversity
through intercropping in small-scale agriculture in China
significantly reduced plant disease and increased yields while
conserving genetic diversity at minimal cost (10, 11). Greater
participation of small-scale farmers will be critical in assessing
the potential of GM crops and alternatives to reduce hunger--these
farmers produce food in systems that are very different from those
for which GM crops have so far been developed, and they may have
preferences for different possible scenarios (8, 12).
David A. Cleveland and Daniela Soleri, Depart. Environmental Studies,
University of California Santa Barbara,
1. M. M. Goodman, Crop Sci. 44, 1913 (2004).
2. National Research Council, Biological Confinement of Genetically
Engineered Organisms (National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2004).
3. L. J. Chen, D. S. Lee, Z. P. Song, H. S. Suh, B. R. Lu, Ann. Bot.
93, 67 (2004).
4. D. R. Gealy, D. H. Mitten, J. N. Rutger, Weed Technol. 17, 627 (2003).
5. D. A. Andow, A. Hilbeck, Bioscience 54, 637 (2004).
6. C. F. Chilcutt, B. E. Tabashnik, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.
101, 7526 (2004).
7. National Research Council, Environmental Effects of Transgenic
Plants: The Scope and Adequacy of Regulation (National Academy Press,
Washington, DC, 2002).
8. D. A. Cleveland, D. Soleri, Ecol. Soc. 10 (no. 1), Article 9
(2005) (available at www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol10/iss1/art9/).
9. N. W. Simmonds, J. Smartt, Principles of Crop Improvement
(Blackwell Science, Oxford, UK, ed. 2, 1999), p. 352.
10. Y. Zhu, Y. Wang, H. Chen, B.-R. Lu, Bioscience 53, 158 (2003).
11. Y. Y. Zhu et al., Nature 406, 718 (2000).
12. D. Soleri et al., in preparation.
Heong et al. are concerned that we are not properly isolating the
effect of GM rice on insecticide use. Heong et al. suggest that
because GM rice in China is called "insect-resistant rice," farmers
are being given the message that with this new variety of rice they
do not need to use any pesticides, and that because of this, our
results overstate the GM effect by attributing the entire decline in
pesticide use to the adoption of GM rice. They implicitly claim that
similar declines in pesticide use would have occurred in non-GM rice
had similar extension efforts promoting varieties that need low
applications of pesticides been made.
When we designed our study, in fact, we were concerned with isolating
the GM effect from the perception effect (see our SOM). We included a
measure of the perception of farmers of the loss that would occur due
to not using pesticides. The magnitude of the perception effect is
relatively small. If we make the most extreme assumption and assume
that there is a perception effect for conventional rice but no
perception effect for GM rice (Heong et al.'s assumption), this would
account for 21% (or 4.13/19.2) of the difference between the
pesticide used on conventional and GM rice. The GM effect, however,
is much larger (16.77 or 88%).
Sze and Cotter allege that the farmers may have been producing GM
rice illegally and that we did not address the medium- to long-term
aspects of Bt crop management, such as the issue of refugia for GM
rice in China.
It is not true that farmers in our sample areas were illegally
growing GM rice. In fact, after being approved in both the field
trial and environmental release trial phases of the biosafety
procedures before 2000, China's Biosafety Committee mandated that the
newly approved varieties (GM Xianyou 63 and GM II-Youming 86) undergo
further testing in preproduction trials. The main purpose of
preproduction trials was to assess how well the new varieties perform
under actual field conditions. Following the directions of the
Biosafety Committee, the scientific teams that developed the new GM
rice varieties provided seeds to farmers in a set of specified
villages. After obtaining permission from the scientific teams, our
research group visited the preproduction villages and randomly
selected a sample of farmers for the study from a list of all farmers
in the village, some of whom were producing GM varieties and some of
whom were not.
The main focus of our paper was to examine the impact of GM rice (i)
on the use of chemical pesticide use; (ii) on rice yields; and (iii)
on the health of producers. Using descriptive statistics and standard
econometric methods, we discovered that holding all other factors
constant, GM rice improved the productivity of rice production by
reducing pesticide use and raising yields. We agree that there also
is a need to examine whether China will need to implement a refuge
policy if the nation decides to commercialize GM rice. Given the
nature of our sample, however, this was not an appropriate topic of
Sze and Cotter also suggest that "safeguards aiming to prevent GM
contamination should be made a prerequisite of any such GM crop
trials and a precondition of publication of their results." Although
this is an important point, this would seem to be a matter that needs
to be addressed by China's Biosafety Committee and the individual
Cleveland and Soleri raise a number of issues that they suggest may
affect the ultimate net benefit of commercialization of GM rice.
Specifically, they suggest that there are other costs that need to be
considered: the increased cost of developing GM rice compared with
that of conventional rice varieties, refuge costs, and the costs
associated with biosafety regulation. We agree that it is important
to research these issues. However, these issues were beyond the scope
of our paper.
We also agree that governments and international donors need to make
a number of alternative investments--not just in GM crops--in their
battle against hunger and poverty. Our research, however, shows that
the commercialization of GM rice would help reduce poverty. In fact,
in our work on producer effects of Bt cotton in China, we show that
there is rapid adoption by small, relatively poor farmers who improve
productivity and health (1). In other work, we show that the rate of
return for both Bt cotton and GM rice inside China is high (2).
Jikun Huang and Ruifa Hu, Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy,
Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resource Research,
Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing , China
Scott Rozelle, Depat. Agricultural and Resource Economics, University
of California Davis
Carl Pray, Dept. Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics, Rutgers
University, New Brunswick NJ
1. J. Huang, C. Pray, S. Rozelle, Q. Wang, Science 295, 674 (2002).
2. J. Huang, R. Hu, H. van Meijl, F. van Tongeren, J. Dev. Econ. 75, 27 (2004).
'From Mendel to Markers': Impact of Molecular Technologies on Animal,
Plant, and Human Genetics
- Curriculum for Grades 9-12; Office of Biotechnology & ISU
Extension, Iowa State University
This three-module curriculum was prepared by the Office of
Biotechnology at Iowa State University and published by ISU Extension
for high school teachers or extension educators to use with grades
9-12 or adult audiences.
In the 1860s, Gregor Mendel conducted plant breeding experiments on
the common garden pea that led to the first theories about the units
of inheritance that we call genes.
Mendel's work provided the foundation for today's molecular marker
technologies. Molecular markers are pieces of DNA that are linked to
or are part of a gene associated with a desirable characteristic,
such as seed size or disease resistance. Through a process called
marker assisted selection, scientists can use molecular markers to
select plants or animals that have the characteristic without waiting
for them to grow to maturity.
The new curriculum uses hands-on activities to trace the development
of modern molecular genetics and bioethics issues from Mendel's
experiments to current marker assisted selection of plant and animals.
Each module is designed to be used independently or with the other
modules. For educators, each module contains background information,
lesson plans, Internet resources, and overhead transparency masters.
Informational and activity handouts that can be photocopied for
students are included.
To order a CD or printed copy of the curriculum, contact Iowa State's
at http://www.extension.iastate.edu/pubs/Order.html The publication
number is 4H-948LDR.
Download at http://www.biotech.iastate.edu/publications/mendel/default.html
Molecular Biology Applied to Global Food/Feed and Seed Safety
- February 16-17, 2006; Paris, France; Eurofins International Seminar
Emerging issues such as GMOs, allergens, pesticides and mycotoxins
will remain difficult to manage as long as models for prevention,
control and monitoring cannot be effectively applied in all
situations. The implementation of an overall regulation (EC/178/2002,
also known as the "Food Law") has radically changed how these topics
are approached, and more importantly, it has increased the range of
responsibility and obligation of each actor in the supply chain.
Taking account of consumer opinion, ensuring global traceability
across the supply chain as well as making appropriate use of
analytical tools have now become key elements required under European
However when appropriate analyses are not available, or when existing
measurement tools are ambiguous or unreliable, the situation often
leads to the introduction of successive moratoriums and to delays in
implementing common standards. The result can be extremely confusing
for all operators in the food supply chain.
As 2005 progresses there are a number of questions that remain
unanswered. What is the status of GMOs in 2005 in terms of
development, culture and cross contamination? Have the requirements
of regulation EC 1829 and 1830/2003 been implemented? If so, how? How
are retailers and the food industry in general managing the allergen
risk? What are the consequences of EC directive 2003/89 at industry
level? Will EC directive 2005/26 lead to a long list of excluded
ingredients? And what about mycotoxins in 2005? Are they the major
forthcoming food safety issue? What's new in the field of
The next session of the seminar will open the debate on these issues
and attempt to provide some answers to these questions. Specifically
it will set out how molecular biology can help in all areas of
prevention, risk assessment and risk management.
A Global Good, Not An Enemy Within?
- John Driffill Times Higher Education Supplement Oct14, 2005; Via
Vivian Moses ++ http://www.thes.co.uk
"Multinational Firms in the World Economy By Giorgio Barba Navaretti,
Anthony J. Venables et al Princeton University Press, 325pp, Pounds
29.95 ISBN 0 691 11920 1"
Multinational enterprises get a bad press. Monsanto tried to force
genetically modified crops on an unwilling world. McDonald's brought
the world "McJobs", along with junk food and obesity. Multinationals
displace local industry and extract profits; employment decisions
become the whim of distant executives with no interest in the welfare
of the economies in which they operate. When multinationals move
employment out of their home economy - shifting production abroad as
the British appliance-maker Dyson did - they are hollowing out
domestic industry. They have become the target of the
anti-globalisation movements. But at the same time, governments often
compete with each other to entice multinationals to locate in their
country by offering subsidies and other inducements.
Many of the issues surrounding these firms are emotive, highly
politicised and not the subject of rational analysis, except among
small numbers of specialists. This book aims to bring clarity to the
debate. It is intended for a readership of undergraduate and
postgraduate economics students and for policymakers "with a good
background in economics". The book draws on a great deal of recent
research, factual and theoretical, to survey the issues and arguments
surrounding multinationals. The largely non-technical exposition
gives a lucid summary of a vast body of research and points the
reader to the sources of data and more detailed material.
Multinationals are everywhere, having grown rapidly in recent years,
faster even than world production and world trade. Most
multinationals, and the foreign direct investment (FDI) through which
they grow, originate in advanced countries. The bulk of this
investment goes to other advanced countries, though the share that
developing countries claim is rising.
Multinationals grow largely through mergers and acquisitions as firms
in one country buy firms in others. Most of this activity takes place
in skilled and technology-intensive industries. Multinationals tend
to be larger and more productive than national firms, and they
increasingly spread production processes across several different
countries. The issues surrounding them are grouped under five
headings. Why do firms become multinational? Why do they go to some
countries and not others? What are their effects on the host country,
which receives investment from outside? What are their effects on the
home country, from which the firm originates? And what are the
implications for public policy?
The question of why firms become multinational is addressed in two
chapters. One deals with horizontal FDI, when firms seek access to
markets in other countries, such as Japanese car manufacturers
setting up plants in Europe and North America. Another chapter deals
with vertical FDI, by which firms disperse production processes among
several countries to benefit from lower costs of labour, capital and
other inputs into the production process. Examples are oil companies
extracting oil in the Middle East and refining it in Europe, or
Western banks shifting their call centres and other support
activities to India.
Ireland in the 1990s is offered as a case study of rapid development
and the part that multinationals might play in it. FDI fuelled the
employment boom, and half of Irish manufacturing jobs are in
foreign-owned firms. Many of the big international pharmaceutical
companies and electronics firms such as Dell, IBM and Microsoft have
operations there. The book singles out the favourable corporate tax
regime and the Industrial Development Agency as having been
instrumental in attracting FDI to Ireland. It also explores the role
of education in providing a skilled workforce and considers economies
of agglomeration. It points to the dangers for Ireland posed by tax
harmonisation in the European Union and greater competition for
inward FDI from the Eastern European countries now joining the EU.
A chapter is devoted to the public policy implications of
multinationals. But there is little in it for the conspiracy
theorists who suspect the US Administration of being in the pocket of
the oil industry and promoting its interests through opposition to
The book is on the whole very positive about multinationals.
"Multinationals," the authors conclude, "are a fundamental and
efficient component of a globalised world, not an enemy within." They
find that "multinationals invariably perform better than national
firms in home and host countries alike". Such companies do not
increase instability of employment. Typically, they do more research
and development, they employ more skilled workers and they often pay
better than local firms. And the benefits are not confined to the
multinationals themselves; the spill-over effects on their home and
host economies are beneficial.
This lucid, authoritative and comprehensive book will be of great
value to anyone interested in the role of multinational enterprises
in the modern world.
John Driffill is professor of economics, Birkbeck, University of London.