Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org December 16, 2005
* Let Them Eat Precaution: 'How Politics Is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture'
* Not Just Sound Science or Precaution...But Risks and Benefits
* US-EU Trade Dispute over GM Crops - Updated Brief
* Zambia Allows Its People to Eat
* TV Fit for Public Consumption
* First Ever GM Plants Approved in Germany
* Filipino Farmers Planting Bt Corn Earn More Than Non-Users
* Crop Testing
* Changing Public Attitudes Towards GM Foods
* Tailoring Biotechnologies (or Mustering Arguments Against It?)
* Address by the FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf in Denmark
* Africa Needs Freer Markets - and Fewer Tyrants
* How to Cut World Hunger in Half
* Raw Milk Strikes Again
Let Them Eat Precaution: 'How Politics Is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture'
Edited by Jon Entine, 212 pages, AEI Press (Washington), January 2006, Hardcover, ISBN: 0844742007
authors - Jay Byrne, Gregory Conko, Jon Entine, Tony Gilland, Thomas Jefferson Hoban, Patrick Moore, Andrew S. Natsios, Martina Newell-McGloughlin, Robert L. Paarlberg, C. S. Prakash, Carol Tucker Foreman
The genetic revolution has offered more promise than substance, except in agriculture, where it has brought profound benefits to farmers and consumers for more than a decade. More nutritious food is now produced with less environmental costs because genetically modified crops require almost no pesticides.
Vitamin-enhanced crops and foods are helping to reduce malnutrition in parts of the developing world, and a wave of biopharmaceuticals is being developed. Yet, for all its achievements and promise, agricultural biotechnology is under intense fire from advocacy grops warning of "Frankenfoods" and fanning fear of a "corporate takeover" of agriculture by biotech firms. Mired in a rancorous trade and cultural war between Europe and the United States and inflamed by a politicized media, this technology remains dramatically underutilized, with particularly tragic consequences for millions of starving people in Africa and other poverty-stricken regions.
In 'Let Them Eat Precaution', authors from the United States and the United Kingdom deconstruct these controversies and offer solutions to the current impasse. They address both the risks and rewards of genetic modification; the differing paths that debate over genetic manipulation has followed in Europe and the developing world, in contrast to the United States; the debate's impact on the commercial realities of companies' developing new products; and ways to foster more constructive discussion of the costs and benefits of genetic modification to bring about more rational and internationally coordinated public policy.
The authors argue that an effective communications strategy focused on the current and potential benefits that these technologies provide is critical if we hope to exploit fully these technological advances. Proponents of biotechnology must accept the fact that sound science is only one criterion for public policymaking and speak to the broader set of concerns--political, social, moral, and economic--that this debate engenders.
Praise for 'Let Them Eat Precaution'
"Let Them Eat Precaution does a superb job of educatig the reading public on the basic issues of genetically modified foods. The distinguished authors provide a devastating point-by-point refutation of the anti-GMO activists' false claims, providing a reasoned, scientifically grounded perspective on this critical issue. As the Marie Antoinette title implies, though the affluent may be leading the charge against GMO foods, it is the poor who are most likely to suffer the effects of activists that falsely claim to speak for the world's poor." -- Thomas DeGregori, professor of economics, University of Houston, and author of Origins of the Organic Agriculture Debate
"A well-funded global antibiotech activist campaign, abetted by European Union regulators more interested in political pandering than good science, threatens to starve millions of the world's poorest people by denying them access to environmentally safer and higher yielding biotech crops. The distinguished experts assembled in Let Them Eat Precaution make it abundantly clear that humanity's health and well-being depend on innovation, not a technological freeze in the name of the "precautionary principle," which demands perfect safety from all new technologies.
The contributors carefully document not only the policy challenges facing agricultural biotechnology but the real benefits--from a massive reduction in pesticide use to a slew of new pharmaceuticals and vitamin-enriched foods--that may never come to fruition if anti-science advocacy groups prevail in this battle of ideas." -- Ronald Bailey, author of Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution and science correspondent for Reason magazine
"This fine volume fills a very useful role in the ongoing debate over the use of biotechnology in foods and pharmaceuticals. Let Them Eat Precaution covers every aspect of the issue, catalogs what is known about GM crops, and helps us understand the ideological basis for opposition to the use of this life-saving technology. The anti-biotechnology campaigns are denying food to starving millions--a high price to pay for ideology." -- Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Mo.
Not Just Sound Science or Precaution...But Risks and Benefits
- Rick Roush, rtroush.at.ucdavis.edu
Dear Prof. Ray:
Your analysis with the example of GM crops is interesting, but overlooks the documented advantages of GM crops to consumers, including reduced and safer pesticide residues in the environment, maybe even on food, reduced erosion due to reduced tillage, and reduced fuel use, never mind the health advantages to farm workers. Of particular interest ought to be reduced fumonisins in corn. There has even been some evidence of lower costs to consumers. I realize that consumers may not care about farm workers, but this has to be seen as a selfish attitude with regard to the people who produce food and fiber. On the other hand, consumers express considerable interest reducing the environmental food print of ag. That is why many of us who actually do pest management see advantages to the crops.
Perhaps it is up to decision makers to consider these issues even if busy and media-overloaded consumers fail to become aware of them. This is not just about "GMO crops mak(ing) it easier for producers to control weeds and insects". It's not just about a precautionary principle and sound science. It is about considering all of the risks and benefits, including the known risks of failure to adopt new technologies, as well as the hypothetical risks of doing so. If you are unaware of the refereed literature for these benefits, I am sure that my colleagues and I would be happy to offer some.
>Producers argue for sound science, some consumers prefer precautionary principle
>>By Daryll. E. Ray, Southwest Farm Press Dec 14, 2005 9:40 AM
> Precautionary principle is what our mothers were talking about when they
>told us that it is better to be safe than sorry.
>U.S. agricultural and trade negotiators have been pressuring the Japanese to
>reopen their market, which has been closed to U.S. beef since BSE (Bovine
US-EU Trade Dispute over GM Crops - Updated Brief
- Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology
In light of a decision expected soon by the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the U.S. challenge to the European Union (EU) policy on genetically modified (GM) foods, the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology has updated its brief on the trade dispute between the U.S. and the EU over agricultural biotechnology. Events prompting this update include:
* In 2004, new EU laws went into effect providing for the approval of GM crops, as well as GM food and feed, and establishing new requirements for labeling and traceability. Since then, the European Commission has moved through a lengthy process to approve several GM crops in addition to food and feeds derived from GM crops.
* In June 2005, a qualified majority of the Council of Ministers refused to lift certain EU member state bans on GM products that had been approved by the Commission, creating new doubts about the viability of an EU-wide policy on GM crops, food and feed.
* A decision is expected in January 2006, from a trade panel of the World Trade Organization, on a challenge initiated in 2003 by the U.S. on the EU’s de facto moratorium on the approval of GM crops.
These and other developments are discussed in a revised and expanded version of U.S. vs. EU: An Examination of the Trade Issues Surrounding Genetically Modified Food, a brief originally published by the Pew Initiative in June 2002 and updated in August 2003.
The new issue brief provides: * An overview of the history of the dispute between the U.S. and the EU over GM foods and crops. * Estimates of the impacts that the EU de facto moratorium on GM crop approvals has had on U.S. trade * A timeline of critical events relevant to U.S.-EU agricultural biotechnology trade issues. * A status report of GM crops and food in the EU and a summary of current EU regulations and its approval process.
The complete issue brief is available at: http://pewagbiotech.org/resources/issuebriefs/useu.pdf
Zambia Allows Its People to Eat
- Center for Consumer Freedom, December 14, 2005 www.consumerfreedom.com
Good news from Africa: The government of Zambia, in the midst of a food crisis, has altered its anti-GM (genetically modified) food policy, allowing millions of starving Zambians access to food aid. Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa has finally ordered agricultural officials to allow GM corn into the country, greatly expanding the amount of food that will reach his country's under-nourished population.
Mwanawasa's decision represents a remarkable turn from his previous condemnation of GM foods (he labeled them "poison" and "intrinsically dangerous"). Mwanawasa didn't exactly come up with this "scientific" opinion himself -- some green thumbs helped him grow it. In 2002 The Washington Times reported that then-U.S. foreign aid chief Andrew Natsios "criticized environmental groups as 'revolting and despicable' for urging starving nations such as Zambia to reject American corn because of genetic alteration." The same article reports that American officials specifically identified Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth among those activist groups.
As a result of activists' pressure, when millions of his people faced famine in 2002, Mwanawasa spurned offers of donated GM food, leading to food riots. Former Zambian agriculture minister Guy Scott condemned "the various international NGOs that have spoken approvingly of the [Zambian] government's action," wondering how groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth "will square the body count with their various consciences."
With this reversal, the government of Zambia may be one step closer to recognizing what Americans have known for years: Biotech foods are perfectly safe to eat, and the activist campaigns against these foods are woefully wrong-headed. Then-U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick (now second in command at the State Department) argued in 2003 that it is "immoral that people are not being able to be supplied food to live in Africa because people have invented dangers about biotechnology."
TV Fit for Public Consumption
- Dean Kleckner, Truth About Trade & Technology, Dec 16, 2005. http://www.truthabouttrade.org/
"Television is to news what bumper stickers are to philosophy," joked Richard Nixon. Say what you will about Nixon: The man made a good point about TV.
With approximately one zillion different channels now wired into the homes of satellite and cable-television subscribers, there is certainly no shortage of bad TV to go around. Fortunately, there's some fine television out there as well. You just have to know where to look.
Here's one new show that's definitely worth watching: "America's Heartland"--a high-quality program on how our nation grows food for itself and the rest of the world. The show won't appeal only to farmers. In fact, its main appeal may lie with Americans who aren't involved in food production at all.
That's because so many people have a romantic image of what farmers do. When they think of farming, they think of men who wear plaid shirts, women who carry wicker baskets, and little houses on the prairie.
Once I sat next to a guy on an airplane who was fascinated to learn that I was a farmer. "I would love to be a farmer," he said, in a look that mixed deadly seriousness with wild-eyed wonder. He had no idea how hard farming really is, or how much skill, knowledge and money it demands. He seemed to think that because he grew a few tomatoes in his backyard garden, he could run a thousand-acre operation that grows five different crops on various timetables.
Other Americans rarely think about farming at all. They go to the grocery store and fill their shopping carts to the brim, never pausing to consider where their food comes from or the people who produce it. Perhaps this is no surprise for a country in which only about 2 percent of the population farms. Whatever the case, "America's Heartland" provides a fine introduction to the life and business of farming, in a TV-magazine format that is both interesting and educational.
"America's Heartland" is an outgrowth of "California's Heartland," an excellent program produced by KVIE in Sacramento for eight years. Instead of concentrating on the Golden State, KVIE's new show looks at the entire country. One recent episode traveled to Texas to visit the country's largest cattle ranch, to Iowa for a sweet-corn farm, and to Idaho for a rainbow-trout hatchery.
"America's Heartland" was the subject of a phony controversy this summer, when several radical groups complained about its sponsors. One activist called them "a rogues' gallery of the biggest proponents of industrial agriculture and biotech crops."
They don't sound like rogues to me: The American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Cotton Council, the United Soybean Board, and the U.S. Grains Council, along with Monsanto, which is one of America's most important agriculture companies.
The protestors, by contrast, were a rag-tag collection of political groups (the Wisconsin Green Party), modern-day Luddites (Greenpeace), and weird microbusinesses (a Utah company that specializes in selling anti-Bush t-shirts).
This may not surprise you, but these groups complained about "America's Heartland" before even a single episode of it had been broadcast anywhere. They were whining about something they hadn't even seen. Do you think TV critics are allowed to get away with that? They'd be fired from their jobs!
"America's Heartland" is a public-television program, which means there are no commercials. But somebody has to pay for it, which is why so many mainstream farm groups have come forward to help out. I suggest that you do something the show's critics can't bother themselves with: Watch "America's Heartland"!
Because this is public TV, local broadcast times vary dramatically--comprehensive listings are available on the show's website. What's more, the program is so new it still isn't available everywhere. Starting in January, it will begin to air on stations in Kansas City and Los Angeles as well as Arkansas and Oregon.
If your local PBS affiliate doesn't carry "America's Heartland," you can call in or write a letter. By demanding quality television, you just might get it.
Dean Kleckner is an Iowa farmer and past president of the American Farm Bureau. He chairs Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org) a national non-profit based in Des Moines, IA, formed and led by farmers in support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology.
First Ever GM Plants Approved in Germany
- Associated Press, Dec.15, 2005; Translated by Robert Derham, Checkbiotech.org
HANNOVER (AP) - The German Federal Office for Plant Registration will allow three genetically modified maize varieties to be cultivated in Germany. On Wednesday, Michael Koeller, the German Judiciary Officer in Hannover, announced that, "Three genetically modified maize varieties that are resistant to the Corn Borer were granted legal regulatory approval."
"For the first time, a genetically engineered plant was approved in Germany," emphasized Koeller. "Up until now, only approved transgenic plants from other European countries were allowed to be distributed in Germany."
According to Koeller, the three GM maize varieties were developed by the seed companies, Monsanto and Pioneer. In order to receive approval, the GM varieties were required to demonstrate overall better characteristics than currently registered varieties.
In order to reach the market, the possible genetic risks of these three varieties underwent testing in a special approval process. Monsanto told AP reporters, "With this approval, GM maize is finally available to all German farmers and it increases their competitiveness."
Philippines: Farmers Planting Bt Corn Earn More Than Non-Users
- Rudy A. Fernandez, The Philippine STAR Dec. 11, 2005
Now it can be said: Farmers planting genetically modified (GM) Bt corn can earn much more than those growing other varieties.
"The Bt corn has an advantage of more than P1 per kilogram in return over the non-Bt varieties. As a whole, the increase in total revenue amounted to P14,849 per hectare," reported Dr. Jose Yorobe of the University of the Philippines Los Baños-College of Economics and Management (UPLB-CEM).
Dr. Yorobe conducted an exhaustive study titled "Economic impact of Bt corn in the Philippines and concluded: "The BCR (benefit cost ratio) of 2,014 clearly indicates the better performance of Bt corn farms in the country."
Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium that naturally occurs in soil. Through genetic engineering technique, a specific gene of Bt has been introduced into a corn variety. The Bt corn produces its natural pesticide against the destructive Asian corn borer.
Dr. Yorobe's study covered 107 Bt and 363 non-Bt corn farmers interviewed during the wet and dry seasons of crop year 2003-2004 in Isabela, Camarines Sur, Bukidnon, and South Cotabato. The research was supported by the International Services for the Acquisition of Agri-biotechnology Applications (ISAAA).
A comparison of mean yield per hectare of Bt and non-Bt corn farms across locations showed that Bt corn farms had a yield advantage of 34 percent over the nonusers, the UPLB-CEM economist reported. The average yield in Bt corn farms was 4,850 kilograms per hectare in contrast to 3,610 kg/ha obtained by the nonusers.
Other findings of the study: * Planting the Bt corn variety coupled with good management shifted the production function upward, thereby reducing per unit cost. * Insecticide use by Bt corn farmers was reduced. * Total production cost per kilo of Bt corn was lower. * Educational level attained by the farmers, hard labor, net income, agricultural training, and risk significantly influenced Bt corn adoption.
* Older farmers with larger farm sizes and who were spending more on insecticides were less likely Bt corn adopters. Risk-averse producers were also less likely to adopt the Bt corn.
Dr. Yorobe noted that the aggregate impact of Bt corn adoption in terms of net benefit was largest in northern Luzon with P20.9 million. Farmers in other regions received lesser benefits owing to less area devoted to Bt corn and minimal cost reduction per unit of production. "As a whole, adoption of Bt corn showed a significant impact on the farm financial performance," he concluded.
- Letters, New Scientist, December 17, 2005, page 22
When expressed in transgenic peas, an innocuous bean protein elicits immune reactions in mice, reviving concerns about the allergenic potential of genetically modified foods (26 November, p 3 and p 5). These "surprising results" from researchers in Australia raise several intriguing questions.
Should regulators require the use of animal models? Allergenicity assessments of transgenic proteins in GM crops are usually limited to in vitro tests of digestive stability, database searches for sequence similarities to known allergens, and in some cases a heat stability test. While certainly cheap and convenient for GM crop developers, such tests provide no direct immunological information and cannot rule out allergenic proteins. Both the BALB/c mouse strain used in the Australian pea study and the brown Norway rat have shown promise as predictors of human allergic response.
Also, at present, all testing is performed on a bacterial surrogate of the protein, rather than that produced by the plant. GM crop developers complain that it is too inconvenient to extract sufficient quantities of transgenic protein from their plant. But if peas and beans - both legumes - can generate immunologically distinct proteins from the same gene, surely the same is true of bacterium and plant. Thus, results of testing on bacterial surrogates may not reflect the toxic or allergenic profile of the in planta protein people are exposed to.
Other factors also argue against use of bacterial surrogates. For example, allergenic proteins are often glycosylated, and plant glycosylation patterns have been implicated in allergenicity. Bacteria, in contrast, seldom glycosylate proteins.
Finally, perhaps regulators should demand full sequencing of the transgenic proteins in plants. At present, the standard practice is to sequence just 5 to 25 amino acids at the N-terminal as a demonstration of "identity", even if the putative protein is 600-plus residues long. Since the transformation process - the insertion of foreign DNA to a cell - can be sloppy and even point mutations can transform an innocuous protein into an immunogenic/aggregating one, it is unclear why this basic information is not required.
-- Bill Freese, Friends of the Earth, Washington, DC
The editor writes: These are excellent suggestions, and perhaps such a test regime should also be applied to new conventionally bred varieties. These can sometimes generate unexpected allergens or toxins too. For example, a potato variety called Lenape was withdrawn from the US market in the 1960s when it was found to contain dangerously high levels of potato toxins called solanidine glycosides.
And in the mid-1980s, American growers abandoned a variety of celery because it contained high levels of psoralens - chemicals which become irritants when activated by sunlight. Workers picking the celery developed skin rashes. Psoralens also occur in parsnips, and have been known to cause rashes through skin contact.
Changing Public Attitudes Towards GM Foods
- Craig Cormick, Manager of Public Awareness, Biotechnology Australia
Once upon a time it used to be a reasonably simple task to just ask people if they would or wouldn’t eat Genetically Modified (GM) foods – and that would be a fair indicator of what you wanted to know. Unfortunately that doesn’t work so well any more.
The reasons, which have emerged from some in-depth polling from Biotechnology Australia’s latest tracking research study, are that people are becoming more sophisticated in their attitudes and make decisions based on quite complex value chains.
The study sought to reach beneath the statistics and determine what drove consumer’s attitudes. So while roughly 50%of the population in Australia will eat GM foods, and roughly 50% won’t – these figures will move depending on: * what benefits are there from eating the food,* what is the final food type – a health food or snack food, * how distant is the gene transfer involved, * who is regulating it for safety,* was it developed by a company or a public research organisation,* and, to a lesser extent, the price of the product
Therefore, if you ask somebody these days if they would or wouldn’t eat GM foods, they’re more likely to say, ‘Well that depends. Are we talking about a cake or a tomato? What genes has it had transferred? And who developed it?’
However, while attitudes have become a little more complex, there is still a low level of understanding of GM food in Australia, with a quarter of survey respondents (25.8%) incorrectly believing that most of Australia’s fresh produce is GM.
Also, nearly half (46.3%) believed that most processed foods in Australian supermarkets are GM. There was, however, great variation in the spread of attitudes, ranging from disgust to indifference and with many opinions in the middle that cannot simply be broken down into for or against.
Most participants did express concern about the potential health risks of consuming GM foods and some were sceptical whether the exact nature of the effect of these foods on human health would ever be known. However the correlation between attitudes and behaviour showed a weaker link than has often been presumed, and the type of foods being considered became crucial as the key indicator.
Some respondents stated that they would stop purchasing a product if they found out that it was GM, but most said they would be reluctant to change their buying habits. Some even expressed no intention to cease buying familiar items if they learnt that they were GM, given that they had not noticed any ill-effects to date.
During the focus group sections of the study participants were shown baked goods (e.g. lamingtons and cakes) which contained ingredients (e.g. soy emulsifiers, canola oil) produced from crops that are among the more commonly GM.
Most participants said they would buy and eat the baked goods, even if they contained GM ingredients, as they did not expect the product to be good for them in the first place.
Regarding labelling of GM foods, many people were generally confident that GM foods would have strict labelling requirements. However, none of the focus group respondents in the study could recall having ever seen a label on food packaging indicating the food was GM.
Tailoring Biotechnologies is a peer-reviewed journal pub
lished three times a year. The journal establishes a forum for serious debate and exchange on issues related to science, technology, and development, particularly biotechnologies. It is published in English. It will give a voice to both established and younger researchers and analysts from academic as well as practitioner backgrounds.
Tailoring Biotechnologies aims to maintain a fair balance between theoretical analyses and case studies both of comparative as well as singular nature. The major focus is on the study of biotechnologies and biosciences in the context of democratization.
In this issue: Editorial (Guido Ruivenkamp, Joost Jongerden) / Biologies, Agricultures, Biotechnologies (Marcello Buiatti) / Food Consumption in the Genomics Era: A Foucauldian Perspective (Hub Zwart) / Development Cooperation: A Hindrance for Self-Sustainable Development (Lou Keune) / Agriculture, Food and Design: New Food Networks for a Distributed Economy (Ezio Manzini) / A Critical Observation on the Mainstream Discourse of Biotechnology for the Poor (Shuji HISANO) / Tailoring production technology: Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) for localized production (P. S. Vimala Devi and M. L. N. Rao) / Biotechnology Industry in the USA: Convergence of Scientific, Financial and Legal Practices (Terry C. Bradford)
Note from Prakash: This is a new avatar of an earlier popular journal 'Biotechnology and Development Monitor' (http://www.biotech-monitor.nl/) which gradually became very anti-biotech. The new title 'Tailoring Biotechnologies' is actually misnomer; it should have been named "Tailoring Arguments Against Biotechnology"
Address by the FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf
- Dansk Landbrugspresse, Copenhagen, 6 June 2005. Excerpts below...Full lecture at http://www.fao.org/english/dg/2005/den.htm
Our planet produces sufficient food, and yet 852 million women, men and children go to bed hungry each night. Ninety-five per cent of these people live in the developing world, mostly in rural areas, and are dependent upon agriculture for their survival.
Our planet has the potential to nourish all people. We have the means to free people from hunger. We know how to fight hunger. ... This leads me to refer to the on-going public debate on the potential and limits of biotechnology, a debate which has become intense and, for certain types of biotechnology, also emotionally charged. As journalists, you play a crucial role in communicating the often complex scientific findings and stimulating rational public dialogue on this important subject, within the overall framework that I have briefly depicted.
On the one hand, we need to underline the different aspects of biotechnology, which do not raise great controversy and, on the other hand, GMOs which are very debatable and emotionally charged issues. FAO recognizes that genetic engineering has the potential to help increase production and productivity in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. However, FAO is also aware of the concern about the potential risks to human and animal health and to the environment posed by GMOs. It therefore supports a science-based evaluation system that would objectively determine the benefits and risks of each individual biotechnology.
Indeed, the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius, an inter-governmental body charged with setting standards to ensure food safety, has agreed on the principles and guidelines for assessing health risks related to foods derived from modern biotechnology. Some have argued that genetically modified organisms can play a major role in fighting world hunger. GMOs are, however, not the priority for reducing the number of hungry people by half by 2015.
People in developing countries suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition because they lack water, other inputs and credit to produce food, employment and income to access food. Lack of political will and financial resources are today’s main obstacles to resolving the world’s hunger problem.
Factors such as the availability of freshwater play a more important role for sustainable food production. Around 80 per cent of food crises are related in some way to water, and in particular to drought. Yet in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, only 4 per cent of the arable land is irrigated - using only 1.6 per cent of its available water resources ? compared to 40 per cent in Asia. This defies all logic.
Certainly, genetic engineering can speed up conventional breeding programmes and may offer solutions where other methods have been less successful. Genetic engineering could improve yields on marginal lands and reduce reliance on toxic chemicals in pesticides. It could also improve the nutritional content of food; for example, genetically engineered beta carotene, when it becomes competitive with other sources in fruits and vegetables, would improve the health of many of the world’s poor through the provision of provitamin A.
But the so called Gene Revolution is primarily driven by the multinational private sector with a strong emphasis on commercial products for large markets in North America and Europe.
The resulting technologies are held under exclusive patents and are mostly sold commercially, contrary to those generated in the Green Revolution by the international agricultural research centers under the Consultative Group on Agricultural Research, which provided free public goods that could be used or adapted at no cost by the National Agricultural Research Systems of developing countries. This has important implications for the kind of research that is being undertaken, for the products that are being developed and for their accessibility to poor farmers. Except for a few initiatives, there are no major public or private sector programmes that tackle the critical problems of the poor or target crops and animals that they rely on.
FAO believes that efforts should be made to ensure that developing countries, in general, benefit more from training in the basic sciences and techniques of biotechnological research, while continuing to have access to a diversity of sources of genetic material. FAO proposes that this need be addressed through an increase in public funding of national agricultural research systems and through dialogue between the public and private sectors.
Africa Needs Freer Markets - and Fewer Tyrants
- Franklin Cudjoe, The Wall Street Journal, December 14, 2005
Famine in Niger is no surprise - desert wastes, locusts and decades of Marxist rule keep it second-to-last on the world poverty list. Famine in the fertile climes of southern and eastern Africa, however, seems more shocking.
But there's a common thread: centralized state rule -- incompetent at best -- marked by corruption and sustained by aid. These are the shackles that keep Africans poor: It would be nice if EU and U.S. trade barriers were removed at trade talks in Hong Kong this week, but exports are a distant notion to the 75% of Africans who live off the land.
Niger is little-blessed by nature, but it has also spent its postcolonial era trying various forms of failed government, with Marxism reigning longest. A quarter of the population -- 2.5 million people -- faces starvation. Yet more temperate southern and eastern African countries are on the edge of famine, too, with 10 million affected in southern Africa alone. Again, we find the same economic profile: Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho all lack economic freedom and property rights; all have economies mismanaged by the state; all depend on aid. All these countries have a history of utopian schemes that failed to produce everlasting manna. State farms, marketing boards, land redistribution, price controls and huge regional tariffs left few incentives or opportunities for subsistence farmers to expand. Despite torrents of aid, these cruel social experiments could not turn sands verdant or prevent the granaries of southern and eastern Africa from rotting.
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi believes that allowing Ethiopians to own their land would make them sell out to multinationals. He seems to have overlooked a basic market principle: It demands a willing seller and a willing buyer at an agreed price. If that price is worth selling for, the farmer might have some money to reinvest elsewhere; if that price is worth buying for, the purchaser must have plans to make the land profitable. If there is no sale, owners might have an incentive to invest in their own land and future, having, at last, the collateral of the land on which to get a loan. After decades of socialism, Ethiopia's agricultural sector -- the mainstay of the economy -- is less productive per capita than 20 years ago when Band Aid tried to defeat famine. Although 60% of the country is arable, only 10% has been cultivated. Ethiopia is entirely dependent on donations; but instead of grasping reality, Mr. Zenawi, a member of Tony Blair's "Commission for Africa," is forcing resettlement on 2.2 million people.
In Zimbabwe, the murderous kleptocrats of Robert Mugabe's regime deny that land seizure has pushed their rich and fertile country into famine: Some three million people face starvation today.
Meanwhile, Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, the U.N.'s Chief Advisor on the Millennium Development Goals, believes Africa needs more cash for an African "Green Revolution" -- a pale imitation of the very different Asian agricultural revolution of the 1960s and '70s. The equivalent of "some 40 euros per villager" (roughly $50) in aid, Prof. Sachs says, holds the key. His Green Revolution would spend that money to improve agricultural infrastructure, soil nutrients, water quality and seeds ability to survive harsh climates and insects, and better agricultural infrastructure. These, however, are precisely the benefits that come from property rights, which also inspire the motivation to invest in, improve and preserve the land -- motivation that does not come from aid, central control and state serfdom.
Prof. Sachs is right about tougher seeds but not about more aid. By his own calculation, "out of every dollar of aid given to Africa, an estimated 16% went to consultants from donor countries, 26% went into emergency aid and relief operations, and 14% went into debt servicing." He could not account for how much of the remaining 44% got siphoned off by corrupt officials, nor could he explain why $400 billion dollars of aid over the last 30 years has left the average African poorer.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame told Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda in April, "There are projects here worth $5 million and when I looked at their expenses, I found that $1 million was going into buying these cars, each one of them at $70,000. Another $1 million goes to buy office furniture, $1 million more for meetings and entertainment, and yet another $1 million as salaries for technical experts, leaving only $1 million for the actual expenditure on a poverty-reducing activity. Is this the way to fight poverty?"
The only way to give food security to 200 million sub-Saharan Africans is to give them the tools, not to rely on yet more aid and government mismanagement. World food production has increased with population by 90% in the last 50 years; the real price of food has declined by 75%. Yet Africa has none of the factors that made this possible: greater agricultural productivity, internal economic freedom and international trade.
The one thing that could give us drought-resistant and highly productive seeds is biotechnology. Experience shows that genetically modified (GM) crops could increase yields by 25% and cost less than Green Revolution techniques. But GM produce faces bans from rich countries, especially the EU, using unscientific "biosafety" protocols under the guise of environmental protection. This kind of hysteria made Zambia, Angola and Zimbabwe reject famine aid because U.S. or South African maize could not be certified GM-free. Africans therefore have to hope that the U.S., Canada and Argentina win their case against the EU barriers to GM crops: The World Trade Organization is due to rule early in 2006.
African leaders must be pushed to reduce economic intervention, free financial markets, remove bureaucratic obstacles to setting up businesses, establish property rights and enforce contract law. These are the forces that release entrepreneurial energy. But the ruling cliques will do none of these unless forced to do so as a condition of aid. The Sachs aid model has financed tyranny and corruption for 40 years, leaving Africans destitute. The world trade meeting in Hong Kong will hear cries for "Trade Justice" for Africa, representing more protectionism and more state-run, aid-fueled schemes. What we really need is economic freedom and the rule of law at home: We are perfectly capable of improving our own lot if only allowed to do so.
How to Cut World Hunger in Half
- Per Lindskog, Science v.310. no. 5755, p. 1768 December 16, 2005. http://www.sciencemag.org/ Excerpts...
"Roughly 80% of the world's hungry live in rural areas of the least developed countries and have no power in society. These people are mainly farmers and need incentives to invest in their land to intensify agricultural production. However, urban, mostly well-educated people, who do not depend on agriculture for their survival, frequently determine agricultural policies."
"According to the UN Development Programme's Human Development Report, "The basic problem to be addressed in the WTO [World Trade Organization] negotiations on agriculture can be summarized in three words: rich country subsidies". Wealthy countries give 1 billion U.S. dollars per year in agricultural aid to developing countries, while they subsidize their own agriculture with nearly 1 billion U.S. dollars per day"
"According to the Human Development Report "Rich country consumers and taxpayers are locked into financing policies that are destroying livelihoods in some of the world's poorest countries… WTO rules threaten to systematically reinforce the disadvantages faced by developing countries and to further skew the benefits of global integration towards developed countries… The unbalanced agenda pursued by rich countries and failure to tackle agricultural subsidies are at the core of the problem".
"To avoid that disaster, wealthy countries must accept free trade principles. At the WTO meeting in Hong Kong in December 2005, they must agree to (i) make deep cuts in wealthy countries' support for domestic agriculture and prohibit export subsidies and (ii) make deep cuts in barriers to exports from developing countries ."
"Price incentives through cancelled trade barriers and subsidies, as well as a redressed rural-urban balance in living conditions and production, are therefore necessary but not sufficient to halve the number of hungry by 2015. In contrast to the effects of aid and debt cancellation, the money from higher agricultural prices goes directly into the pockets of the poorest people and of the farmers in poor countries.
Per Lindskog, Department of Science and Technology, Linköping University. Sweden
Raw Milk Strikes Again
- Douglas Powell, Food Safety Network, Dec 15, 2005 www.foodsafetynetwork.ca
In May, 1943, Edsel Bryant Ford, son of auto dictator Henry Ford, died at the age of 49 in Detroit, of what some claimed was a broken heart. Biology, however, decreed that Ford died of undulant fever, apparently brought on by drinking unpasteurized milk from the Ford dairy herd, at the behest of his father's mistaken belief that all things natural must be good. As of this morning, seven children have been stricken with E. coli O157:H7 in Woodland, Washington, and four of them remain in serious condition in hospital.
The health department says all of the cases are connected to drinking unpasteurized milk from Dee Creek Farm near Woodland. Washington agriculture officials say dairy producers are required to be licensed and inspected monthly, but Dee Creek has never been licensed. Dr. Justin Denny, Clark County health officer was quoted as saying, "The risks far outweigh" the taste.
The Pima County Health Department in Arizona was cited as reporting Wednesday that it had received confirmation of salmonella contamination in nonpasteurized, raw milk produced by Colorado City's Meadowayne Dairy. The milk was sold at several natural- and health-food stores in the Tucson area. And that's just this week.
Earlier this year, four people including two children in Barrie, Ontario were hospitalized with bloody diarrhea and severe abdominal cramps caused by E. coli O157:H7 after drinking raw milk purchased from the back of a vehicle in the south end of Barrie.
While most people recover from E.coli O157:H7, 5-10 per cent of cases go on to develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which is characterized by kidney failure. It's not fun.
Regardless, raw, unpasteurized milk has been gaining in popularity as part of the growing organic and natural foods movement. Proponents say raw milk is healthier and better tasting than pasteurized, milk. The glowing media coverage of all things natural abounds. The Associated Press gushed on Nov. 25, 2005, that "Kelsey Kozack's kitchen is a dairy wonderland. Fresh cheeses, yogurt and quarts of fresh raw milk abound, all compliments of Iris, a gentle tan cow who grazes on the family's seven-acre property." Kelsey was quoted as saying, "After you've been drinking raw milk for a while, you can't drink store-bought again. It has a lot more flavor and is healthier."
Tell that to the kids in hospital with a potentially fatal illness. Washington state health officials note that there was an E. coli outbreak last year involving three people in Whatcom County tied to illegal raw milk, and in 2003, three people in Yakima County and eight in Skagit County became ill from tainted milk.
Earlier this year the New York State health department warned against consumption of some imported Mexican cheeses made from unpasteurized milk after identifying 35 cases from 2001 to 2004, including one infant death in 2004, attributed to Mycobacterium bovis, a form of TB found in cattle. And in 2004, an Edmonton-area cheese producer abandoned the business after a Gouda cheese made from unpasteurized milk led to 11 cases of E.coli O157:H7 poisoning, including a two-year-old girl who developed HUS from the infection.
There are too many other such cases to mention. Under federal law in Canada it is illegal to sell or distribute raw milk because of the risk of transmitting disease from microorganisms like E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter, which are eliminated during the process of pasteurization. And in Ontario, if you?re caught selling, or even giving away raw milk, the fine can be as much as $5,000. In the U.S., unpasteurized milk is legally allowed for sale in 28 states. In Washington state, the farm must be licensed through the state and each bottle must have a warning label.
Dee Creek Dairy, the suspected source of the latest outbreak, was not licensed. Media accounts note that the farm is owned by Michael and Anita Puckett, and Anita Puckett was interviewed in a previous media account, saying they already had sold 40 milk "shares." Raw milk is often sold in "shares" as in shares of a cow.
Raw milk drinkers believe the pasteurized milk found on grocery store shelves lack the essential enzymes and nutrients necessary to absorb calcium -- yet research shows this is simply not the case. The only things lacking in pasteurized milk are the bacteria that make people -- especially kids -- seriously ill.
With proper testing, it may be possible to offer a safe, unpasteurized product to the consuming public. But the onus is on producers to show the rest of us that data. Adults, do whatever you think works, but please, don't impose your dietary regimes on your kids. Flowery words don't do much for kids in the hospital.
Dr. Douglas Powell is scientific director of the Food Safety Network at the University of Guelph. The Food Safety Network's national toll-free line for obtaining food safety information is1-866-50-FSNET (1-866-503-7638) and further information is available at www.foodsafetynetwork.ca. Visit our blogs at barfblog.com, kitchenconfessional.com, and foodcontamination.ca
E. Coli Outbreak Traced to Washington
- Associated Press, Dec. 15, 2005
An E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least eight children has been linked to unpasteurized milk from a dairy that was ordered in August to stop selling the product, health authorities said. All consumers of unpastuerized, or "raw," milk from the Dee Creek Farm have been asked to contact their health department, whether they were sick or not.
Infection with the E. coli bacteria has been confirmed in eight children, ages 5 to 14. Four of the children were in critical condition at hospitals Wednesday night. Three apparent but unconfirmed cases have been reported in Oregon.
The farm owners, Anita and Michael Puckett, did not return messages left by The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. Selling raw milk is illegal in many states, but Washington allows it if the seller obtains a license and the bottles have warning labels. Dee Creek was told to stop distributing raw milk without a license in August after the state Agriculture Department read a report about its milk in the Portland Tribune, agency spokesman Michael W. Louisell said.
The popularity of raw milk has grown in some quarters amid concern over genetically modified food and the use of hormones in livestock.
Most people can drink raw milk without problems, but lack of adequate sanitation can result in contamination with E. coli and other bacteria. Raw milk advocates say pasteurization, which kills the bacteria, also reduces some of milk's nutritional qualities.