Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: January 11, 2006
* English or German-language discussions on GM
* Why we must all give up organic in 2006
* Farmers should be made aware of benefits of Bt
* Expect new cotton varieties in the marketplace
* CGIAR sets new research agenda
* UP study cites genetically modified corn's potentials
Subject: German-language discussions
Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2006 09:04:47 -0600
From: "Kershen, Drew L."
Does anyone have any English-language or short [less than 20 pages each item] German-language discussions (governmental reports, NGO position papers, newspaper stories) or academic articles about what is covered and not covered within the prohibition of the Swiss initiative that was recently adopted? I am looking for interpretation of the scope of the Swiss prohibition. Four examples include: a. transgenic food-processing aides for bread, cheese, wine (such as yeasts, enzymes);
b. transgenic animals that produce a human medicine in their milk (e.g. human growth factor);
c. transgenic commodities (maize, soybean) intended solely for feed for livestock;
d. transgenic crops for pharmaceutical products (e.g. the Meristem product for cystic fibrosis).
These are the four examples that most interest me but I may not be thinking carefully of other examples that also are worth considering as to whether the Swiss prohibition applies or does not apply.
Any assistance you can give to me would be much appreciated.
Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law
Norman, OK 73019-5081 U.S.A.
Why we must all give up organic in 2006
- The Herald, By JOE FATTORINI, January 03 2006
It's self-indulgent, wasteful and frankly immoral. But you know how it is. I was swept along with the trend, and it felt good at the time. But I don't want to be a hypocrite. So I'm giving up organic food in 2006.
The incident that stiffened my resolve was a white rubber-banded wrist thrusting across me to grab organic apples. Here was someone who professed solidarity with the world's hungry. Yet they support a farming method that would starve over half the world.
The world was farmed entirely organically as recently as 1900. Since then the global population has increased over 3.5 times. Unfortunately, the area cultivated for food has merely doubled. Even so, collectively we're better fed. In the past 50 years, the number who are starving has halved as the population has doubled. This almost miraculous turn of events is down to nitrogen fertilisers.
When it comes to basic needs such as food, the most important development of the last century has been the creation of nitrogen fertilisers. By replacing the nitrogen lost when a crop is harvested you can continue to plant the same plot of land each year without losing productivity. This means the same area of land produces anything up to double the quantity of food.
It's certainly true that nitrogen fertilisers aren't without their problems. Nitrates in water and the eutrophication of lakes are both significant problems. But let's just imagine what would happen without them. Let's farm the current 1.5 billion hectares of farmland organically. A rough estimate suggests that we could sustain a global population of around 2.4 billion.
Do you want to be responsible for telling 3.6 billion people that there's no food because you don't like "synthetic" fertilisers? You're not telling them that nitrogen fertilisers are actually that bad for them or anything. Just that you want a more "natural" diet. More in touch with nature. Well, they'll be in touch with nature all right. Under about six feet of it.
Perhaps I'm being too harsh. Let's assume that we can increase the land we farm on. That's not without its problems. This year we are set to destroy some 25,000 sq km of Brazilian rainforest, but that will have to increase dramatically. And forget western luxuries such as national parks, or indeed, parks. Even if we managed to double the world's farmland and maintained productivity in increasingly marginal areas (like the Cairngorms), we're still short. That's still 200 million dead people. Just because the Soil Association tells us that synthetic fertilisers are wrong.
So I know what you're thinking. "Yes, but I don't want to feed the world organically. Just my precious family." I'm sorry, but that's rather along the same lines as: "I know they guzzle petrol like there's no tomorrow and are far more likely to kill pedestrians. But my family is special. I really need a beast of an SUV with spinning alloy wheels and DVD players in the headrests."
At the very least, in a country like ours that produces excess food, organic farming robs land that might otherwise be used to promote bio-diversity. That's because organic fields need to be left fallow, growing leguminous crops or livestock whose faeces can be used to return nitrogen to the soil. Yes, you read that correctly. The inefficiencies of organic land use make it less environmentally friendly than conventional farming whose efficiencies mean we can return land to nature. But there's a more sinister perspective. In our lifetime we'll see global population top 10 billion. We're lucky it won't be more.
That alone means finding 35% more calories to feed the world. On decreasingly fertile land. But if we are self-indulgently to insist that we are so important that we should be fed organically, with its yields some 20% to 50% lower, that can only put an additional, unnecessary strain on feeding the planet. Every organic mouthful makes it more difficult to feed the most vulnerable. As the distinguished Indian plant biologist CS Prakash put it: "The only thing sustainable about organic farming in the developing world is that it sustains poverty and malnutrition."
Now if this all makes you feel a little gloomy, then I'm delighted to report that like all the best resolutions, giving up organic food makes you feel better almost immediately. I already feel freed from the hypocrisy. Organic food sales have doubled since 2000. According to Mintel the greatest growth is currently among "lower-income consumers" and those concerned about the health impact of pesticide use in conventional farming.
But wait a minute. Organic food – because it's so inefficient to produce – is considerably more expensive than conventionally farmed food. Yet it brings no health benefits and doesn't even taste better. If it did, then the Advertising Standards Authority wouldn't have upheld complaints against the Soil Association for describing organic as "healthier" than conventionally farmed food. Or as the Food Standards Agency put it in 2004: "Organic food is not significantly different in terms of food safety and nutrition from food produced conventionally."
Sir John Krebs of the FSA has noted: "A single cup of coffee contains natural carcinogens equal to at least a year's worth of carcinogenic residues in the diet." Yet we're tacitly encouraging the nation's poor to spend cash on this indulgence. Consider Sir John again: "Dietary contributions to cardiovascular disease and to cancer... probably account for more than 100,000 deaths per year in Britain. Food poisoning probably accounts for between 50 and 300... pesticides in food, as well as GM food, are not responsible for any deaths."
Wouldn't we be rather better encouraging Scotland's poor to eat more cheaper, conventionally farmed fruit and veg, and cut Scotland's disproportionately high share of the 100,000 deaths, than worrying about the non-existent risk posed by pesticides?
And it seems tests that purport to show organic food as tastier simply show it as fresher or less intensively farmed. Local produce, farmed for quality, using conventional methods appears to be as tasty and often more so. The quality of lower-income household diets has a direct impact on the health and vigour of the nation. Yet we delight that the nation's poor are increasingly spending money they don't need to on a middle-class indulgence. This is no better than the parents who splash out on home cinemas and games consoles for themselves, leaving scant money to spend bringing up their children properly.
I can see a few hackles rising at the suggestion that organic food is a "middle-class indulgence". And you're right. It's more a brand, or perhaps a religion. "Organic" sits up there with McDonald's, Microsoft, Starbucks, Tesco, Shell and Lucky Strike as one of the great brands of the twentieth century. A delicious study asked people their views on "carbon-based farming technology" that produced food with no demonstrable health or environmental benefits, and was sold at a premium to the public. By replacing the word "organic" it seems the public's passion for this bourgeois fad waned.
As for a religion: well, perhaps I'm being naughty. But Patrick Holden of the Soil Association has insisted that you can't test the benefits of organic farming scientifically because organic farming is "holistic, integrated and [represents] joined-up thinking". Apparently, "holistic science strays into territory where the current tools of understanding that are available to the scientific community are not sufficiently well developed to measure what's going on".
Many people defend religious faith in exactly the same way. It seems if the benefits of organic farming appear as non-existent as the Emperor's New Clothes, we're just not looking hard enough. In a wonderfully circular argument, the fact we can't find evidence of the benefits of organic farming is merely evidence of the shortcomings of science. And presumably will remain so until we can see benefits, even if that never comes to pass.
Many years ago I was taught that you shouldn't confine yourself simply to giving things up. That positive resolutions were important, too. So here's mine: In 2006 I shall tuck into food made more productively and at a lower cost than organic and regular conventional agriculture. A food whose production increases biodiversity in fields and lowers pesticide use. A food enjoyed every day by 280 million Americans and indeed much of the livestock that we eat. A food that has brought nothing but health benefits to those who enjoy it. That's right. Call it what you will. Genetically Modified, GM, transgenic. I just like to think of it as safer, more productive, kinder to its local environment, and kinder to the globe. That's what I call good food.
Farmers should be made aware of benefits of Bt
'Biotechnology can help reduce nutritional deficiencies among the poor'
- THE HINDU, January 10, 2006
Bangalore: The controversies and misgivings about Bt cotton and biotechnology are on account of the failure to provide information about their benefits to farmers, Minister for Agriculture K. Srinivasa Gowda said on Monday.
Inaugurating a three-day international conference on "Biotechnology approaches for alleviating malnutrition" at the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS, GKVK campus) here, the Minister said awareness of the benefits of biotechnology (BT) should be created among farmers.
Mr. Srinivasa Gowda said that in spite of remarkable accomplishments of the Green Revolution, there is a high level of malnutrition. Twenty-six per cent of farmers and 45 per cent of agricultural labourers suffer from deficiencies, including that of protein. Women and children are vulnerable to nutrient-deficiency disorders. Consumption data on cereals provide disturbing trends in food and nutrition security during 1990s. The per capita energy and protein intake declined sharply in the 1990s following a cut in subsidies and introduction of economic reforms. Calorie intake declined from 2,423 in 1988 to 2,277 in 2000, he said.
There is a need for improving the nutrient quality of the largely vegetarian diet of people in villages, the Minister said. BT has potential to reduce nutritional deficiencies among the poor.
Adoption of BT requires an understanding of benefits and potential risks by educators, policy makers and farmers, he added.
On the partnership between Purdue University of the U.S. and the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, he said its main purpose should be to make people in villages aware of the potential of BT to improve nutritional levels. M.N. Sheelavantar, UAS Vice-Chancellor, said the conference is being conducted under the higher education partnership between Purdue University and the UAS.
V. Prakash, Director, Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore, said the level of nutrition among students has increased after the introduction of the midday meal scheme.
Randy Woodson, Dean, Purdue University, and Wendy Wintersteen, Dean, Iowa State University, spoke.
The police maintained tight security on the campus.
Expect new cotton varieties in the marketplace
- SOUTHWEST FARM PRESS, By Kay Ledbetter, 09 Jan 2006
High fiber quality alone can mean an extra $100 per acre for a producer from a field with a two-bale yield.
Now that Roundup Ready Flex technology cotton has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a Texas Cooperative Extension cotton specialist expects new varieties to begin entering the marketplace.
Randy Boman, speaking at the Farm and Ranch Management Symposium during the Amarillo Farm and Ranch Show, said as many as 55 new entries of cotton were tested at multiple locations by John Gannaway, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station cotton breeder. A large seed supply for many of the varieties is anticipated for launch in 2006.
With these new varieties and technology, producers need to be vigilant in seed selection, studying performance through demonstration plots and university data, before diving in, Boman said.
Look at the yield potential of a variety, but also consider adaptability, fiber quality (staple, micronaire, strength and uniformity), boll type (storm resistance) and disease and nematode tolerance, Boman advised.
High fiber quality alone can mean an extra $100 per acre for a producer from a field with a two-bale yield, he said.
"Don't bet the farm on one variety," Boman warned. "Plant two or more varieties to spread the risk."
Newer producers also need to be aware of herbicide concerns when it comes to treating weeds in these new varieties of cotton, as well as traditional cotton, he said.
The new technology-based cottons such as Roundup Ready and Liberty Link refer to the type of herbicide that can be used to treat weeds. Roundup Ready cotton can be treated with the herbicides containing glyphosate, which are sold under a number of trade names. Liberty Link cottons can be treated with herbicides containing glufosinate, such as Ignite.
The two don't mix, Boman said. Small droplets of Roundup can physically blow onto Liberty Link and conventional fields, and Ignite treatments can physically drip to Roundup Ready and conventional fields and can cause damage, he said.
Tank contamination also can sneak up on a producer, he said. Roundup and Ignite will pull any 2,4-D remnants from a tank and hoses, and the producer will set his own cotton back.
"Keep flawless records as to where your Roundup Ready, Liberty Link and conventional varieties are located, and make sure you apply the correct over-the-top herbicide to your field" Boman said. "Do not use a sprayer that has been contaminated with 2,4-D or other cotton-damaging herbicides for over-the-top treatments."
More cotton information is available through county Extension agents or on the Lubbock Center Web site: http://lubbock.tamu.edu, he said. Also, each Extension agent and gin manager has a copy of the Western Region Cotton Resource CD-ROM, which contains more information.
Monti Vandiver, Extension integrated pest management agent in Bailey and Parmer counties, discussed another type of treatment with producers ? insect management.
Vandiver recommended growers start the season with an integrated pest management plan.
Understand that foliar insecticides have to be applied in a timely manner, without skimping, because good coverage is essential to insect management, he said.
For producers using Bt cultivars, keep an eye on what is happening in the field, Vandiver advised. Do not plant the field and then walk away and not worry about the worms.
And finally, he said, don't worry about protecting late bolls, which have little chance to mature, because it is not economical.
CGIAR sets new research agenda
- CGIAR, January 10, 2006
Over 1,000 international and Moroccan scientists and policymakers attended the CGIAR Annual General Meeting in Marrakech from December 5-8, 2005.
As part of these discussions, participants approved new approaches in which agricultural research, technology and food policy initiatives will better stimulate economic growth in the Central, West Asia and North Africa region and beyond.
The purpose of the Meeting was to generate support for a new CGIAR research agenda aimed at improving the livelihoods of low-income people in developing countries through sustainable agriculture.
"This is a region where agriculture began, and it is a major contributor to the bread basket of the world" said Ian Johnson, CGIAR Chairman at the opening of the Science Forum. "With over 40 percent of the CWANA population dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, agriculture and agricultural research have major roles to play in improving their livelihoods and enabling poor people to break the bonds of poverty."
In his speech, he challenged the CGIAR to do more to combat the new and emerging threats to agriculture such as avian flu and a virulent form of stem rust fungus, Ug99, that is threatening global wheat production. He urged participants to consider actions that will further enhance the effectiveness of the CGIAR as a catalyst of research-based development, while sharpening its focus on science and moving forward on aligning research programs in Sub-Saharan Africa.
New CGIAR Research Priorities
The new agenda includes five CGIAR research priority areas which are fully compatible with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
* Sustaining biodiversity for current and future generations
* Producing more and better food at lower cost through genetic improvements
* Reducing rural poverty through agricultural diversification and emerging opportunities for high-value commodities and products
* Promoting poverty alleviation and sustainable management of water, land, and forest resources, and
* Improving policies and facilitating institutional innovation to support sustainable reduction of poverty and hunger
"These research priorities were identified after rigorous evaluation coupled with a broad-based consultation strategy," said Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Chairman of the CGIAR Science Council. "We focused on how research can accelerate poverty reduction keeping in view CGIAR's comparative advantage and the continuing need for generating international public goods."
Science and Economic Growth
A further highlight of the meetings was a presentation on "Scientific Capacity and Economic Growth: Implications for the CGIAR," by François Bourguignon, World Bank Chief Economist and Senior Vice President.
He walked participants through the global research-and-development (R&D) landscape, reviewing conditions of science and technology (S&T) in developed, middle-income and low-income countries.
Bourguignon posed two provocative questions to his audience. First, does research conducted by CGIAR on maize, rice and wheat which is paralleled by private and public sector research in OECD countries make producers in low-income countries more self-sufficient and competitive? Second, how can CGIAR research speed up the process of diversification and competitiveness gain of the rural economy? Participants noted hybrid business environments (relating to intellectual property) may be a model that could be considered, as well as different partnership models for research in high-value commodities (including public, private, and civil society).
World Food Situation
Once very two years, the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) a CGIAR Center, unveils a major research report. This year's report on "The World Food Situation: An Overview," was presented by Joachim von Braun, Director General, IFPRI. He outlined four overall steps essential for cutting hunger and poverty in half by 2015:
# Strengthening governance of the food and agriculture system for action on the ground
# Scaling-up public investment for agriculture and rural growth
# Taking targeted steps to improve nutrition and health, and
# Creating an effective global system for preventing and mitigating disasters
"We must push ourselves not just to cut hunger in half, but to eradicate it completely," concluded von Braun.
UP study cites genetically modified corn's potentials
- BUSINESSWORLD, By Romer S. Sarmiento, January 11, 2006
General Santos City - Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn - or corn infused with the genetically modified Bt bacterium used as organic insecticide - is potentially more lucrative than other corn varieties, a recent study of the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) has said.
In a study, titled: "The economic impact of Bt corn in the Philippines," Dr. Jose Yorobe, Jr, a fellow at the UPLB College of Economics and Management, said Bt corn harvest is 34.32% higher than non-Bt corn varieties in either wet or dry seasons. "In terms of pesos, Bt corn growers earn P1.34 more per kilogram than their non-Bt corn counterparts," he said.
Mr. Yorobe's study covered 107 Bt corn and 363 non-Bt corn farmers in the provinces of South Cotabato, Bukidnon, Isabela and Camarines Sur. For all locations in both dry and wet seasons, farmers earned an additional P10,132 per hectare for planting Bt corn, according to his study released recently.
Mr. Yorobe based his study on data provided by the International Services for the Acquisition of Agri-biotechnology Applications, which conducted the survey in 2003 to 2004, and from Monsanto Philippines, Inc, the company granted a license by the government in 2002 to commercialize the transgenic plant. Mr. Yorobe noted Bt corn had just been commercialized in the country and in other parts of Asia and that the information on yield, cost and profitability of the new crop is scant.
"The results clearly favor the national policy agenda of increased (corn) productivity and income for farmers," he said.
In 2002, the national government approved the commercialization of Bt corn in a bid to increase the country's corn production volume despite strong opposition from various groups. Opposition to the transgenic crop was especially strong in South Cotabato province, considered the "hotbed" of anti-Bt corn movement in the country.
Before the government's approval in late 2002, farmers stormed and uprooted Bt corn plants at a field test site of Monsanto in Tampakan, South Cotabato the previous year. Sought to comment of Mr. Yorobe's findings, Fr. Romeo Catedral, Social Action Center director for the Diocese of Marbel, downplayed it. "We have been receiving complaints from farmers in the area that they are disdaining the Bt corn," he told BusinessWorld.
The diocese has launched its own survey on Bt corn, but Mr. Catedral said results are not yet available because only a few farmers returned the forms.
The 107 Bt corn farmers covered by Mr. Yorobe's study earned some P46.44 million for planting the transgenic crop in 10,769 hectares, Mr. Catedral noted. But he said increased income should not hide the fact that Bt corn's safety to human health and the environment is still under question.
Another finding of the Yorobe study was the decreased use of insecticide in Bt cornfields.
"Generally, Bt corn farmers saved P168 per hectare from insecticide cost," Mr. Catedral noted further, citing the P324/hectare non-Bt corn farmers spend for insecticide.