Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - February 11, 2006
* Question of Life or Death in Africa
* Eat to live: Europe, WTO in Food Fight
* We Won't Be Bullied Into Eating GM Foods
* GMO Ireland Blog
* Functional Genomics to Crops for Global Health
* GM - Corn: But Not What You Think
* Getting Serious About Biofuels
* Case for Science-Based Agriculture
* Role of Non-GM Biotech in Developing World Ag
* Debate Requires Respect from Those Debating
* Gentle Art of Slug Tossing and the WTO
* Criminal Deported, Academics Enraged
- Wall Street Journal (Europe), Review & Outlook, Feb. 10, 2006
Frankenstein is finally dead, or at least his political imitators are. That good news comes from the World Trade Organization, which struck a blow for science over scare-mongers by ruling this week against Europe's attempt to ban genetically modified food.
The written decision in the case brought by Argentina, Canada and the U.S. against the European Union won't be released for months, but the press leaks give a good picture of the ruling. All one needs to know is that Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace are howling that an "undemocratic" body is trying to "force-feed markets with GMOs." Expanding consumer choice and free trade equals force-feeding? Sounds like the good guys won.
The EU can accurately say its review process for new GMOs, which is stricter and slower than that used in the U.S., wasn't struck down. However, the panel said a clear review process has to be in place, and one not based on junk science. That means no more moratoriums on approving new GMOs such as that imposed by Brussels from 1998 to 2003.
The absence of proper and timely regulatory approvals led to the complaint in the first place. So did the fact that at least six EU member states have ignored regulator decisions to approve some new genetically modified products. The WTO also rejected this practice. American and Canadian producers currently lose an estimated $500 million of business a year thanks to European barriers on GM foods.
The emphasis on using good science is especially welcome. GMOs are typically vilified with disinformation campaigns, nowhere more so than on the Continent. Agriterrorists such as France's José Bové destroy fields of GM crops ("Frankenfood" to the looters) to the cheers of radicals and much of the media. The propaganda has had its intended effect. Opinion polls show a majority of Europeans look askance at biotech products.
In reality, farmers have been genetically modifying crops for millennia through hybridization. Early cultivators favored the seeds of plants that were sturdiest and produced the largest yields. Gene splicing is no different, except that it is quicker and more versatile and offers permanent, reproducible crop varieties. Humans have consumed "new" GM foods for a decade now with no discernible ill effects.
Of course, this dispute was never really about science and health. Politicians trip over themselves to oppose goods "unsafe" in the public imagination. But they also know that Europe's farmers will find it harder to compete in a world market full of cheaper, healthier GM products.
More sinister is the effect European GMO policies have on the world's poorest farmers. African countries receive preferential access to European farm markets and have been reluctant to introduce GM crops at home. The concern is cross-pollination because the EU has zero tolerance for GM traces in non-GM imports. As a result, gene-altered seed stocks that better resist disease and severe climate conditions -- which would provide more food and export income for the people who need them most -- remain out of ryeach in many developing countries.
Certain European leaders have already vowed to defy this week's ruling to "protect" their people. The Continent has no monopoly on protectionists. But the WTO has just exposed the sham science and populist politics behind the EU's biotech regime and made it harder to stop better farm products from making it to market. The world's poor will be the biggest beneficiaries.
Question of Life or Death in Africa
- Temba Nolutshungu, The Standard (Hong Kong), Feb. 8, 2006 http://www.thestandard.com.hk/
The World Trade Organization was expected to rule Tuesday against European Union barriers to GM foods. But this will not help millions of starving Africans get cheap and reliable crops: EU regulation-creep will keep them firmly in their place.
Zambia has just reconfirmed its ban on famine-relief containing GM food. Uganda and Kenya are wavering. More than 12 million people are starving in Africa right now. GM food would not solve malnutrition and starvation by itself, but it would certainly help.
But even South Africa, with bumper harvests of genetically modified crops, is threatened by irrational fears about them, even though they provide food and income for hundreds of millions of rich and poor alike. Activists there are calling for tight new legislation to restrict GM crops, citing the precautionary principle - a legal concept promoted by the EU and the UN.
At first sight, the precautionary principle looks reasonable. Have we not all since childhood been warned to look before you leap or, if in doubt, don't? Those who have followed the advice will no doubt at times have avoided danger, loss and even injury. On the other hand, if they followed the precautionary advice to avoid all risk, they would have missed a lot of opportunities and might even have come to grief.
The UN's Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety imposes restrictions on trade in GMOs and has been incorporated into a proposed Genetically Modified Organisms Bill in South Africa.
The protocols' stated intention is the conservation of habitats in developing nations, which sounds admirable. However, its reference to the precautionary approach contained in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development must give us pause.
The objective of the protocol is to contribute to ensuring an adequate level of protection in the field of the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It also takes into account risks to human health, specifically focusing on trans- boundary movements. The problem here may have adverse effects.
The precautionary principle requires action to avoid a risk even when there's no evidence of any risk: it demands that technology should not be used unless, and until, it has been shown to be absolutely safe, reversing the usual burden of proof.
New technologies are assumed to be harmful until they have been proven safe to an impossible standard.
Dr Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health, says the precautionary principle always assumes worst-case scenarios, distracts consumers and policy-makers alike from the known and proven threats to human health while assuming no risk from the proposed regulations themselves: the precautionary principle overlooks the possibility that real public health risks can be associated with expending resources on eliminating miniscule hypothetical risks.
When the Zambian government turned away GM maize intended for its starving people because of a theoretical health risk, it created a real risk and turned a disaster into a tragedy. Denied the food, people died of starvation. But that same type of GM maize has been consumed by Americans and Canadians for more than a decade.
Applied to agriculture and food biotechnology, the precautionary principle ignores the very real existing risks of hunger, starvation and malnutrition that can be reduced or eliminated by the new products.
Applied decades ago to innovations such as polio vaccines and antibiotics, the precautionary principle would have cited occasional serious side effects at the expense of millions of lives lost to infectious diseases. Applied today to penicillin and aspirin (or peanuts and potatoes), to which some people are allergic, it would deny their use to others who are not allergic.
It's worth repeating that no one has yet detected any allergy, harm or risk to humans, animals or the environment from commercialized GM crops. Farmers use GM seeds because they're more efficient, giving higher yields and costing less in pesticides. Consumers use them because they're indistinguishable from any other crop and cheaper too.
By acceding to the Cartagena Protocol, African governments, including my own in South Africa, have risked deterring biotechnology companies from carrying out research in their countries or making their products available to their citizens.
Major potential investments that could provide jobs and reduce poverty in Africa are at risk. Without such investments, African scientists may leave the continent to research and produce elsewhere.
The precautionary principle requires that we take action to avoid a risk even when there's little or no scientific evidence of its existence, magnitude or potential impact. In that case, consider the risk of applying the precautionary principle. How do we know what harm it will do in blocking agricultural development? Can we be absolutely sure that rejecting biotechnology will not cause future poverty, hunger and malnutrition in Africa? We cannot be sure and nor can the opponents of the use of biotechnology.
Applying the precautionary principle to itself, we must therefore avoid the risks attendant on not using biotechnology.
In a continent that desperately needs growth, food, jobs and exports, innovation is exactly what we need.
The United States, Canada and Argentina have the muscle to bring cases to the World Trade Organization, but African countries are still vulnerable to EU trade barriers and to Western activists supported by the aid industry, all opposed to free trade and GM products - just the tools we need to boost exports and fight famine.
For Africans, this really is a question of life or death.
Temba Nolutshungu is a director of the Free Market Foundation, South Africa
Eat to live: Europe, WTO in Food Fight
- Julia Watson, UPI, February 10, 2006
This week a preliminary ruling on biotech crops was issued by the World Trade Organization that could prevent national and local governments from setting their own environmental and human health regulations in cases where scientific uncertainty exists.
It's a major blow for those who believe in what is called the Precautionary Principle -- the notion that innovation should be shelved unless all risks can be avoided.
In question is the European Commission's regulatory system, which has delayed the widespread sale of biotech crops until better scientific evidence can prove them not to harm the environment or human health.
Ask Jon Entine, who is to blame for the European Union's resistance to biotech foods, and he will tell you it isn't the media campaigns that labeled genetically modified crops and seeds "Frankenfoods." Nor is it any scientific evidence that such foods are dangerous to eat.
According to Entine, an adjunct fellow at the National Research Initiative since 2002 and contributing author and editor of the just published "Let Them Eat Precaution: How Politics Is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture" (American Enterprise Institute Press), the whole debacle amounts to no more than a trade dispute between the EU and the United States.
The European Union has refused approval for products made from modern biotechnology for almost 7Âˆ years, "blocking," according to the Foreign Agricultural Service U.S. Mission to the European Union, most U.S. exports of corn and hindering trade in other products.
Since the United States filed a WTO case against the European Union in 2003, challenging its de facto moratorium on new genetically modified crops approval, only a handful of products have been endorsed for sale in Europe. "The science is clear," Entine told Eat To Live. "Biotech foods are no more dangerous than conventional foods."
Releasing them for sale in the European Union, he believes, would send a crucial message to countries in the developing world that the First World operates by a free-trade system. And this, the EC's so-called moratorium is blocking.
As Eat To Live has reported, the National Research Council recently issued an excoriating rebuke to the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector general for findings that showed the USDA did not require inspections of field-test experiments of GM crops and often didn't even know where these tests were taking place. Nor did it ensure that crops were destroyed as required once the tests had taken place. Independent reviews of the U.S. regulatory system on GM crops have found it similarly at fault.
"Organic farms are not going to feed the poor," Entine states. Biotech farming produces yields, he says, at a rate three to four times higher than conventional farming. It should be presented in the EU as a consumer option. "The EC has very strict regulations for what it allows in the marketplace and what it puts on labels. If the population doesn't want this, they have got their choice."
The European Union ascribes its chariness to the precautionary principle. EU producers of artisanal foods would argue that the U.S. applies that same principle over the import from Europe into the United States of unpasteurized products such as cured meats, salamis and raw-milk cheeses younger than 60 days.
Steve Suppan, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy research director and author of a briefing paper on the issue, said in an institute news release, "Beyond GE crops, the WTO ruling as reported sets a broad precedent to inhibit the ability of WTO member states to set food safety, public health and environmental health measures where there is scientific uncertainty about the adequacy or quality of data submitted for commercialization approvals."
There are fears that should the ruling remain unchanged before its final publication, it could be used as a legal tool against GE bans passed in EU member states and in several Asian and African WTO member countries.
In 2002 emergency food aid supplies of unmilled grain from the United States were turned back by Zambia on the grounds it could contain genetically modified products which, were they to escape, would contaminate domestic seed. This despite Zambia being one of the countries worst affected by famine in Africa. Zimbabwe and Mozambique also expressed concerned over accepting genetically engineered grain.
Entine says it's important to send a message to developing countries that they can take GM crops. "They should feel free to embrace GM crops and feed their poor. "The precautionary principle is very limited. You can't use it to throw away all technologies. We have to weigh the risks involved against helping the poor when they are dying."
We Won't Be Bullied Into Eating GM Foods; View from Slane Castle
- Lord Henry, The Mirror (Ireland), February 11, 2006
This week, in my view, something very disturbing happened. One of the most powerful organisations on the globe, the World Trade Organisation, ruled that European restrictions on genetically modified foods contradicted international trade rules.
The US bio-technology industry was delighted. But environmentalists deeply concerned by the possible consequences of the widespread use of Frankenstein foods were appalled. Most important of all, this move seems to show scant regard for the anxieties of European consumers. Alexandra Wandel, the trade coordinator at Friends of the Earth, best summarised the opposition.
She said: "The World Trade Organisation with its secretive decision-making processes is unfit to decide what we should eat or what farmers should grow. "A new global trading system is needed that protects people and the environment from the worst excesses of industry."
Fine sentiments indeed and with which I heartily agree. The panel of three in the WTO which arrived at this decision did not have the scientific qualifications to rule on a matter of such importance.
And why should we be forced to accept the imposition of such products when it flies in the face of democratically elected governments? Of course, the powerful US, Canadian and Argentinian bio-technology companies argue the resistance to the introduction of their products is merely European protectionism depriving US farmers and food giants like Monsanto of valuable export markets. They also feared that European-type restrictions might also be introduced in Africa, China or other parts of the world.
This brings me back to the European consumer - people like us who are expected to eat this stuff. On Wednesday, a Euro barometer survey revealed that 62 per cent of Europeans were worried about GM foods. There is evidence GM farming methods can have severe negative effects on wildlife, particularly birds, butterflies and bees.
In some trials GM potatoes were found to damage the organs of rats. There is clear evidence that pollen from GM crops can contaminate other fields.
We have every right as consumers to be concerned about what we eat, every right to be concerned about the environment in which we live and every right to protect the quality of the food that we produce. In the words of Clare Oxborrow, UK spokeswoman for Friends Of The Earth: "Consumers will not be bullied into eating GM foods."
The Minister for Agriculture take note.
GMO Ireland Blog
GM crops may reappear in Ireland. This blog will be a blow by blow commentary on the GM food debate in Ireland. A commentary based on facts and not the spin of eirther the Pro-GMOers or Anti-GMOers
Well folks, it starts again!!! Field trials of GM potatoes are on the cards for Ireland.
BASF have applied to the Irish EPA for permission to carry out field trials of GM spuds that have improved resistance to the late potato blight fungus Phytopthora infestans.
I bore witness to the messy debate that occured in the late 90's when Monsanto carried out trials of GM suger beet (97,98 and 99).. six of which were destroyed by so called activists!!! As the players come out swinging in the next coming weeks and months on the issue of GM crops/food in Ireland I will be providing commentary on the statements and spin issued on both sides of the debate!!!..... I will try to add some analysis and commentary in a little more depth than the media can.....
But who am I.. well for what its worth, I have a science degree, graduate research carried out on the public perceptions of GM food, published scientific papers on the topic of GM food, previosuly worked as regulator of biotechnology derived products in Canada , etc. etc. (yawn)
Be warned the Anti-GMOesr and the PRO-GMOers.. you are being watched!!!! Lets try keep it real this time (i.e. ANTI-folks, there are no Scorpion genes in these spuds!!; Pro-folks these GM spuds will not feed the world!!)
Let The 'Biopolitics' Begin...!
From Functional Genomics of Model Organisms To Crop Plants for Global Health
- April 3-5, 2006, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC. http://www.nasonline.org/sackler_crops
Organized by Diter von Wettstein, Roger Beachy and Robert Goldberg
The sequencing of the Arabidopsis and rice genomes provided unlimited possibilities to determine the function of genes, and information from these plants enhances the quality of information about crop plants. Functional analyses precede with ever more sophisticated tools enabled by modern biochemistry, cell biology, and physiology. Introduction of genes to silence or express single or multiple genes is routine for all major crop plants, and has exposed the potentials for plant breeding not previously available.
Hundreds of millions of US citizens enjoy daily diets that contain products of genetically modified corn made resistant to the European corn borer. Herbicide tolerant and insect resistant soybean, canola and cotton provide increased incomes to farmers.
Recent advances in research make it clear that the potential for other advances in food and nutrition and sustainable agriculture is enormous. The purpose of the colloquium is to present the fundamental breakthroughs that will impact the future of food and agriculture, and the technical and non-technical challenges of bringing discoveries to the consumer.
Lecturers are asked to include insight to potential consumer responses to the biotechnology in which they participate. The colloquium will be structured to address graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, directors of public granting agencies, and policy makers.
Major subjects of discussion are: Defending against Diseases and Pests; Saving Crops from Heat, Drought and Nutrient deficiencies; Increasing Vitamins and Eliminating Allergens in Food; Vaccines made from Plants; Fuels and Energy from Plants; Novel ways of Growing Crops to Protect our Soil and Waterways
To facilitate the participation of younger scientists, a number of travel awards will be available for graduate students and postdocs to help subsidize their travel to the conference for up to $100 for hotel expenses and up to $150 for airfare expenses.
Contact Alyssa Cruz at 949-387-2923 or sackler.at.nas.edu
GM - Corn: But Not What You Think
Watch the 'Video Cobcast' or play the 'Stalk Car Race'
Getting Serious About Biofuels
- Steven E. Koonin, Editorial, Science, Vol.311. no.5760, p.435, Jan. 27, 2006. Excerpt...
Credible studies show that with plausible technology developments, biofuels could supply some 30% of global demand in an environmentally responsible manner without affecting food production. To realize that goal, so-called advanced biofuels must be developed from dedicated energy crops, separately and distinctly from food. This is a multidisciplinary task in which biologists, agronomists, chemical engineers, fuel specialists, and social scientists must work to integrate and optimize several currently disjoint activities.
There are major technological challenges in realizing these goals. Genetic improvement of energy crops such as switchgrass, poplar, and jatropha has barely begun. It will be important to increase the yield and environmental range of energy crops while reducing agricultural inputs. Plant development, chemical composition, tolerance of biotic and abiotic stresses, and nutrient requirements are important traits to be manipulated. The combination of modern breeding and transgenic techniques should result in achievements greater than those of the Green Revolution in food crops, and in far less time.
Intertwined with the technology of large-scale biofuels production are the social and policy issues. The balances between natural vegetation and cultivation, arable and marginal land use, mechanized agriculture and employment opportunities, and food and energy crops will be important matters of discussion in many different forums. Whatever the outcomes, technologies will have to be sufficiently robust to accommodate a diversity of needs around the globe.
There is substantial technology "headroom" for advanced biofuels to enhance energy security, reduce emissions, and provide economical transport. It exists largely because the world's scientific and engineering skills have not yet been focused coherently on the challenges involved. It is now time to do that through a coordination of government, university, and industrial R&D efforts, facilitated by responsible public policies. In the jargon of the petroleum industry, the "size of the prize" is too large to ignore.
Steven E. Koonin is chief scientist for BP, London, UK. He is a theoretical physicist from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA, where he also served as provost from 1995 to 2004. E-mail: Steven.Koonin@uk.bp.com
The Case for Science-Based Agriculture
David Dickson, Scidev.net, February 8, 2006
Although GM crops are controversial, they can still play an important role in meeting the world's food needs. But the controversies do highlight the need for a robust regulatory framework.
There are several reasons why many poorer communities in the developing world feel justified in regarding modern science and technology with suspicion, if not scepticism.
Some of the reasons are based on practical experience. One example is the fact that the fruits of science often fail to reach the poorest levels of society. Think of the lack of even basic drugs in many parts of Africa, and the widespread problems of disease that result.
Another example is that it is often the poorest communities that suffer most from the side-effects of technology-based growth. Think of farmers falling ill or dying after exposure to chemical pesticides. Or the way that poor urban and rural communities in parts of the developing world are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, itself largely the result of the West's industrialisation.
But the distrust is also due to the fact that faith in scientific solutions may clash with the comforting certainties of traditional belief systems. This in turn means that these solutions may undermine not only the social practices that belief systems support -- the most obvious example being traditional medicine — but also the social cohesion they generate.
Put these factors together, and the result is that, for all its promises, modern science often generates a sense of alienation, rooted in feelings of a loss of control. In principle, we can all subscribe to the idea that, as the philosopher Francis Bacon said, "knowledge is power". In practice, scientific knowledge is frequently seen as reinforcing the power of those who already have it -- and, as a consequence, further disenfranchising those who do not.
Opposition to GM crops
Nowhere does this alienation appear more strongly than in the public opposition to genetically modified (GM) crops. Critics frequently label this opposition as 'irrational' or 'anti-scientific'. Such thinking is reflected in yesterday's verdict by the World Trade Organisation, which overturned European opposition to imports of GM crops from Argentina, Canada and the United States on the grounds that Europe lacked a sufficient scientific justification fior taking such action (see WTO says Europe's GM ban broke trade rules).
To some extent, the critics are justified. The 'science' that opponents of GM crops quote to support their cause is often misleading, incomplete, or just wrong. Think of the mileage given to the work by immunologist Árpád Pusztai, whose claim that eating GM potatoes can weaken the immune system is contested by most experts in the field, but remains widely quoted by GM opponents.
Or look at the claim that GM food can trigger allergies. The evidence is no stronger than data supporting claims that carbon dioxide emissions do not accelerate global warming. Yet those who readily reject the second claim often have little difficulty in accepting the first.
All this, however, misses the point that the opposition to GM crops is not grounded in a scientific assessment of their relative risks and benefits. Rather, it is strengthened by deeper feelings of mistrust and alienation, and the fact that GM technology meets many of the criteria for triggering such a reaction.
The roots of alienation
To start with, intervening directly with the genetic make-up of plants (and animals) is widely seen as a form of interference not only with natural processes, but also with traditional farming practices developed around these processes over centuries.
The crop science industry may claim that biotechnology has been with us ever since humans learnt how to ferment alcohol. But the industry also knows that when the techniques for manipulating genes were invented in the early 1970s, they represented a technological watershed that has transformed the sector.
Second, the international patent system, which controls access to intellectual property, inevitably means that those who seek to use GM technologies can only do so if they are prepared to give up some control of the practices involved (or are prepared to risk using them illegally).
This is the main criticism of the 'terminator technology' -- crops engineered to produce sterile seeds. Farmers using such seeds must buy new ones every year, usually from multinational companies. This means they cannot follow the traditional practice of saving seed from one year to use in the next.
Third, people's sense of alienation can grow when foreign researchers take genetic resources overseas to be studied -- with the potential for multinational pharmaceutical and chemical companies to make profits by incorporating the active ingredients into new products.
Opponents of this practice have successfully labelled it 'biopiracy'. The word encapsulates the feeling that native communities have been deprived of valuable possessions, often without permission, and with little or nothing in return (see African 'biopiracy' debate heats up).
Confusing science and politics
The problem with all of these arguments is that, despite raising legitimate concerns about how the modern technology is controlled, they can demonise the technology itself. And in doing so they also implicate the science on which it is based.
Sometimes linking the means with their ends is justified. The US National Rifle Association may claim that it is people -- not guns -- that kill, but that does not imply that guns are a neutral technology (significantly the US patent system refuses to offer protection to clearly anti-social devices, such as letter bombs).
For GM crops, however, this is far from being the case. The technology may have associated dangers that remain unknown, such as the long-term ecological impacts of growing GM crops. But it is also clear that, provided the technology's use is properly monitored and controlled, it has the potential to meet the needs of farmers -- both large-scale and small -- as well as society's demands for cost-effective food production.
No-one is pretending the dangers do not exist, any more than they do with other modern technologies (such as driving cars or using contraceptive pills). Nor is this to argue against using caution wherever possible, particularly when some of the processes involved — ecological disruption is one example — are not properly understood.
But there is no inherent reason to believe that, given sufficient political commitment, the risks involved cannot be reduced to a socially acceptable level, just as they have been with these other technologies.
In other words, as with any other application of science, careful regulation can ensure responsible use of GM technology.
The case for better communication
None of this, however, addresses the key issue of alienation identified above. And until this is addressed satisfactorily, people will remain suspicious of GM technology.
One step towards reducing this distrust is greater transparency. Information about science — and the technology based on it -- must be communicated in an accessible way.
It also means that information must not be restricted to the positive aspects of the technology, but must embrace all relevant data; nothing generates suspicion more than a sense that unfavourable data is being suppressed.
But communication has to take place in context. Preaching about the virtues of science-based agriculture without taking into account people's underlying concerns is unlikely to help. Effective communication must involve an awareness of the factors that generate alienation and cause distrust of science, which in practice means giving people the information they need to retain a sense of control of what is important to them.
Such a commitment lies behind SciDev.Net's dossier on agricultural biotechnology (or 'agri-biotech'), as with the rest of our activities. When the dossier was launched, it was called 'GM crops', and focused exclusively on the scientific and political issues that need to be addressed by those faced with decisions about how to handle this new technology.
The decision to rename this dossier 'agri-biotech' reflects a recognition that GM technology is not the only way that modern science can boost food production. This is highlighted by a new policy brief outlining other high-tech approaches to crop and livestock farming that do not necessarily require GM techniques (see The role of non-GM biotechnology in developing world agriculture).
Meanwhile, two new opinion articles capture the ongoing debate about whether GM techniques are compatible with sustainable agriculture (see GM crops and pest control).
Behind this expansion of the dossier lies the conviction that a commitment to science-based agriculture is essential if the world in general -- and developing countries in particular -- are to meet the growing demand for food.
Equally important is a commitment to ensuring that new technologies are applied within a political framework that encourages social inclusion (for example, with adequate provision for benefit sharing, or for moulding intellectual property laws to local circumstances). This will minimise feelings of alienation and distrust.
Paying attention to one and not the other significantly reduces the overall chances of success. Addressing the two simultaneously is a more challenging task. But it is essential if the promises of agricultural biotechnology are to be fulfilled. Shooting the messenger -- the science on which these technologies are based -- is not the answer.
The Role of Non-GM Biotechnology in Developing World Agriculture
- Zephaniah Dhlamini, Scidev.net, February 2006
Discussions about the role of agricultural science in boosting food production tend to be dominated by controversy over the characteristics of genetically modified (GM) crops and the implications of their use. But this has tended to overshadow consideration of the many other contributions that cutting-edge research can make to increasing crop productivity. This briefing summarises the main ways in which these non-GM techniques are helping plant breeders to develop and propagate new crop varieties.
Zephaniah Dhlamini is a former consultant to the plant breeding and genetics section of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Read on at http://www.scidev.net/dossiers/index.cfm?fuseaction=policybrief&policy=114&dossier=6
Debate Requires Respect from Those Debating
- Maui News (Hawaii), Feb. 5, 2006 http://www.mauinews.com
Two Feb. 1 letters discussing anti-GMO issues were very informative. Kurt Butler is to be commended for his objectivity and his suggestion that there should be open debate on the GMO subject versus the GMO-Free Maui mentality that there is no other side to the issue but its often non-factual, anti-science agenda.
The other letter referring to the recent showing of the film "Pandora’s Seed, GMOs in Hawaii Nei" was of interest and I want to point out that should any readers wish to further expand on their knowledge of GMOs they should purchase the book "Pandora’s Picnic Basket, The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods" by Alan McHughen, Ph.D. This book should be a must-read for all the moviegoers or members of the general public who wish to hear both sides of the story of plant biotechnology.
Who knows, many may even find that like most other films, the book does a much better job of telling the complete story. The book is even more economical than buying the movie ($10) since Amazon.com has used copies of "Pandora’s Picnic Basket" for only $2.15 each, leaving plenty of money for buying popcorn and a soda at the next showing.
- Don Gerbig, Lahaina
The Gentle Art of Slug Tossing and the WTO
- Lauren O’Hara, Cyprus Mail http://www.cyprus-mail.com/news/main.php?id=24316&cat_id=1
As the World Trade Organisation interim report is published showing that the EU has been illegally banning the import of US genetically modified grain, it makes me realise that it is very hard to know exactly what we are eating.
Eating food as fresh and as unspoilt as possible has always been part of my life. Like a lot of people in Britain I had a granddad who liked digging. About this time of year, we would head down to our vegetable plot and push the forks deep into the crumbly rich soil and turn it ready for the spring planting of potatoes and carrots. It used to be the colour of Christmas pudding.
He would tell me how pleased he was to see the high number of worms in the rich dark earth, helping us in our task. I grew to love the feel of the crumbly brown soil through my fingers.
I would be dispatched with my bucket to collect the darkest, deepest compost from the corner of the garden, told not to disturb the hibernating hedgehogs in the piles of leaves. I would return with the treacly mulch and we would then carefully "dig it in". "Well lass, you’ve done a good job there, that’ll make us a good taste". That sense of pride when later the first fruits of our labour would be harvested has never left me.
So one of my favourite places on a Saturday morning is the open air fruit and vegetable market in Nicosia’s old town. It is a riot of colour, texture and sound. Old ladies in their headscarves flash me toothless smiles and entice me to buy their freshly dug potatoes still clad in the terracotta coloured soil. Baskets of creamy white field mushrooms, cauliflowers as big as footballs, broccoli like miniature forests. It’s a feast for the eyes before it becomes a feast for the plate. With their misshapen and irregular forms all the fruit and vegetables look organic and natural. But, of course, I have no idea what chemicals have been sprayed to keep off the bugs and slugs. It is so hard in this day and age to know what happens to our food before it hits our palate.
My granddad had never heard of Friends of the Earth or organic food but he refused to use anything chemical in our garden on our crops. Slugs, the bane of a wet English summer, were hunted down after dark with a torch and tossed unceremoniously into the fields at the end of the garden towards a duck pond. Always a competition, who could collect the most and fling them the furthest.
Tossing the slug, like tossing the caber became our mini version of the Highland games. His reasoning was that if we used those nasty blue pellets to kill our slimy friends, they would be eaten by the birds, and we would destroy the balance of nature. He could protect our raspberry canes with netting but once killed he could not replace the blackbirds and thrushes that helped keep the snails off the lettuce.
The defence of GM foods is that by making them resistant to disease and bugs we reduce the need for chemical pesticides. By altering their genes we can make them unpalatable to insects and creatures that feed on them. They are, therefore, healthier the argument goes.
Why is it I can’t accept this? Why do I feel that it is, in fact, that they are higher yielding, less labour intensive and consequently more profitable, and that is the real reason for their popularity? That GM tomatoes have a longer shelf life, GM apples are the perfect shape for packaging and that GM meat will maximise the less fat more lean, needs of our Western diet. Perfect food for perfect people.
I doubt that eating GM food will make much difference to my life span, or make me less healthy. Indeed with food being genetically enhanced, vitamin rich, I may well benefit. What worry me are the consequences for the food chain. The bugs and the creepy crawlies that are the diet for the birds and rodents who will no longer thrive on the ear of wheat or the rotting tomato and therefore die out. Every time we tamper with the complexities of the eco-system there must be consequences.
I still collect slugs in a bucket, though it’s a long time since I tossed one. I now know they have an important ecological role. They help recycle organic matter, which in turns helps to build healthy, rich soil. They are food for snakes, toads and birds, and ducks it seems are particularly fond of them. Recently I was told that they don’t like coffee grounds so that is how I protect our vegetables now.
I’m glad the EU is putting up a fight against GM food; perhaps, as the WTO is suggesting, it is protectionism, simply a way of promoting our own agricultural produce. I would like to think that is not the whole picture.
The EU argues that it is its mandate to safeguard the health of its peoples and their land. They are pushing for GM foods to be clearly labelled so as consumers we have a choice. We should have the right to know exactly what we are eating. I hope too it is a recognition of the value of bugs: it would be a shame to lose the gentle art of slug tossing.
Criminal Deported, Academics Enraged
Links at http://www.consumerfreedom.com/news_detail.cfm/headline/2968
One French activist now has to speak truth to power via speakerphone. Jose Bove, the Berkeley-raised anti-globalization activist who also raises a few sheep for political credibility, was barred from entering the United States by Customs officials this week and sent back on a plane to France.
Monsieur Bove was shocked, shocked to find himself deported, despite his long history of property destruction (his targets include a hapless French McDonald's) in the name of his radical anti-biotechnology and anti-American agenda.
Bove was visiting the U.S. to address the "Global Companies-Global Unions-Global Research-Global Campaigns" conference, which met yesterday to carp about (among other things) food, companies, food companies, and the sudden inexplicable shortage of the word "global." The New York Times reports that a spokesman for Cornell, the university holding the conference, was disappointed: "When researchers and scholars are denied first-hand experience and world experiences about the issues at hand of this conference, then we all lose."
Our question: What does it say about these anti-biotech scholars that they are depending on the "first-hand experience" of rioting vandals for their research?