Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - February 13, 2006
* Consumer Choice and 'Frankenstein Foods'
* Hope Grows for the World's Poor
* Go Beyond Scare Biotechnology Issues
* Should GM Seeds be Allowed in Organic Agriculture?
* Research Shows Genetically Engineered Food is Safe
* GM Crops are Compatible with Sustainable Agriculture
* .... GM Crops are Not the Answer to Pest Control
* Anti-Biotechnology Antics
* Biotech Humor?
* FAS Sows Seeds of Ag Progress: Borlaug Fellows Program
* America's Masterplan is to Force GM Food on the World
Consumer Choice and 'Frankenstein Foods'
- Editorial, Christian Science Monitor, Feb 13, 2006 http://www.csmonitor.com
Europeans scornfully dub them "Frankenstein food." So it's not surprising some European environmentalists and leaders have reacted strongly to a recent trade ruling that favors these supposed monsters, or genetically modified foods. But their response, even for such a charged issue, is an overreaction.
These critics charge that the World Trade Organization - by declaring a de facto European Union ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be a violation of global trade laws, - is forcing unwanted products from the US and other agricultural exporters onto European consumers.
The body that settles world trade disputes is doing nothing of the sort. Europeans have strict labeling requirements that must identify such foods, and neither shoppers nor farmers have to buy food or seeds they don't want.
What the ruling did do is separate the politics and emotion of this issue from the science and business of it - a useful service. Even though the EU ended its GMO moratorium in 2004, five European countries still ban GMOs and appear to be in violation of the ruling. By clarifying a question of trade, and not food safety, the WTO has reinforced the rules of commerce concerning GMOs, which, importantly, also include European safety review. Only by allowing this trade mechanism to work freely can GMO producers and consumers get the consideration they both deserve.
So far, science and trade favor the current generation of GMOs, which include plant products such as maize, cotton, and soybeans. In the US, about 45 percent of maize, 76 percent of cotton, and 85 percent of soybeans are genetically altered.
Such products are grown in 21 countries, with Brazil almost doubling its production last year. Now China is stepping up government research into developing a strain of rice that's rich in vitamin A. The US agriculture industry, a major player in biotechnology, points to the benefits of genetically altered foods. By using engineered plants that resist insects and disease, and that can tolerate pesticides or herbicides used to kill weeds, farmers can increase yields and income.
Meanwhile, scientific bodies around the world have generally concluded that this first generation of products - planted widely starting 10 years ago - is safe. Yet the issue remains highly political and emotional in Europe.
Fewer than 1 percent of Americans see food biotechnology as a safety concern, but 54 percent of people in the 25-nation EU do. A series of high-profile food scares has spooked Europeans, and they don't particularly trust their relatively new Europe-wide food safety authority.
But they're also concerned about possible environmental problems of GMOs and long-term health effects, which are difficult to research.
The way to deal with these environmental and safety fears is through better communication on the part of GMO producers and a well-functioning safety-review system.
So far, that system appears to be working. But a second generation of GMO products is in the pipeline, and it will have to undergo, and pass, vigorous testing before being introduced to the marketplace.
Hope Grows for the World's Poor
- Marta Valdez, South China Morning Post, Feb. 13, 2006
The World Trade Organisation has ruled for Argentina, Canada and the United States in a case against the European Union's restrictions on genetically modified (GM) crops. The effects will be global and the ruling is an important blow against policies based on pseudo-science and groundless fears evoked in the name of the environment and biodiversity.
Agriculture has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of modern technology and genetic engineering. Worldwide, it has created more than 40 genetically improved crops, with 19 already approved for commercial cultivation (including soya, maize, cotton and canola). Last year, commercial GM crops marked their 10th year, feeding hundreds of millions of people and covering 90 million hectares in 21 countries. Of the 8.5 million farmers who use GM seeds, 90 per cent are on small and medium farms in 11 developing nations, with Argentina among world leaders and South Africa ranked 14th.
In Costa Rica, for example, support for biotechnology has allowed local and international companies to breed GM cotton and soya seeds for export. This has created hundreds of jobs for agricultural workers, mainly women supporting families, with investments of more than US$3.5 million per company.
Biotechnology offers the hope of a key solution to the rural problems of poverty, malnutrition, famine and preservation of the environment in developing countries, not just rich ones: it increases yields and cuts pesticide use.
But the rapid growth of this technology around the world has created debate and controversy. Much of that comes from the barrage of negative statements and campaigns by environmental groups alleging risks and dangers to human health and nature that no scientific study has ever been able to define. Unfortunately, the debate on transgenic foods has been blown out of all proportion for political and protectionist reasons.
The EU produced a report in 2001 on the results of 81 research projects over 15 years, involving 400 European scientists. The main conclusion was that GM organisms and their food products had "not shown any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding".
"Indeed, the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods. If there are unforeseen environmental effects, none have appeared as yet," the report says. It therefore seems paradoxical that the EU maintains barriers against importing GM crops and foods, including from developing countries such as Argentina or South Africa.
The reason might well be more economic than scientific: if EU farmers were to adopt GM crops they would become more productive and would lose their juicy subsidies or have to pay more tax.
The WTO's ruling is a great victory for science and for responsible public policies based on facts but, more importantly, it can be a victory for the poor and their attempts to feed themselves and to export their crops.
Marta Valdez is a researcher in agricultural biotechnology and co-ordinator of the Institutional Commission on Biotechnology of the University of Costa Rica
Go Beyond Scare Biotechnology Issues - African Journalists Urged
- Linda Asante Agyei, GNA Feb. 11 http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/regional/artikel.php?ID=99174
Addis Ababa - African Journalists have been urged to go beyond the usual concentration on scare issues of biotechnology to harness it for progress and conservation.
Mr Josue Dione, Director of the Sustainable Development Division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), said this at the end of a three-day regional hands-on training for some journalists on "Improving Media Coverage on Biotechnology in Eastern and Central Africa".
He said, "Biotechnology is a tool of great of opportunities and many challenges. Its potential impacts and benefits are enormous in the areas of agriculture development, health care, trade, environment and natural resources management, industry and energy development.
"No tool in recent times has been as scrutinized and beset with controversies as modern biotechnology and these controversies are particularly overwhelming in food and agriculture". He said there was the need for journalists to understand the issues of biotechnology and if "they understand the truth about biotech, then, they would be able to report more accurately in a manner that clarifies".
The workshop was organized by the International Service for Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCentre based in Nairobi in collaboration with UNECA, UNESCO and Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program (ABSPII).
It was to enhance the capacities of the journalists reporting on biotechnology, introduce them to crop biotechnology basics in the context of sustainable agriculture and food security as well as test, adopt and publish a multi media biotechnology training kit for journalists. The participants were from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, Cote d'Iviore and Ghana.
Mr Dione said biotechnology, which was a term used to represent a continuum of different bio-techniques ranging from simple non-controversial tissue culture to genetic engineering or gene-splicing embodied in modern biotechnology has now been considered as the "leading technology of the 21st century with tremendous potential to address economic, social and environmental issues afflicting the poor in the developing nations", he added.
Dr Strike Mkandla, United Nations Environment Programme Representative to the African Union (AU), said UNECA's cultural shift of taking inter-agency cooperation seriously to the extent of being tempted to fly the flag of one's organisation had enabled the UN-Biotech /Africa to build on strengths of partner organisations to a unified service to African institutions like the AU and NEPAD.
He urged journalists to serve as libraries who would ignite interests and awareness and convey the simple truth where they were needed for the general public who needed the information to make their daily decisions on what to grow, what was safe to eat and what would have consequences for the plants and animals resources they chose. Dr Margaret Karembu, Director of ISAAA, AfriCentre, said biotechnology had become the focus of global war of rhetoric, which had not spared Africa.
She noted that some other parts of the world were increasingly adopting and mainstreaming biotechnology products in their agricultural systems with Africa lagging behind due to the lack of bio-safety laws and regulations as well and biotechnology policies.
Dr Karembu mentioned other areas lacking as low investment in biotechnology research and development, accurate understanding of biotech among policy makers and consumers, limited competent institutional and human capacities, inadequate and sensational coverage of biotechnology and the controversy over genetically modified foods. The participants visited the Armauer Hansen Research Institute in Addis Ababa, which is the research centre on leprosy and Tuberculosis for Africa.
Should Genetically Modified Seeds be Allowed in Organic Agriculture?
- Deborah K. Rich, San Francisco Chronicle, February 11, 2006
Organic farmers debate genetic engineering of crops - Is industry just hurrying up evolution, or is it harming the world's ecology?
At the 26th annual Ecological Farming Conference in Pacific Grove in late January, Dave Henson, director of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Occidental and a steering committee member of the Californians for GE-Free Agriculture campaign, and Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at the Organic Center, addressed the question.
Arguing the case for genetically modified crops were Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of the University of California's Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education Program, and Autar Mattoo, plant physiologist with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.
The National Organics Program, which stipulates what materials and systems organic growers may use, prohibits the use of genetically modified crops. Henson and Benbrook say they approve of this position, at least until multi-generational peer-review studies demonstrate otherwise.
Genetic modification (also called genetic engineering) refers to the manipulation of an organism's genes. Inactive genes may be turned on, active genes turned off or genes from distantly related species or species in different kingdoms of life spliced in. Crop plants have been genetically modified to withstand applications of herbicides and to produce proteins toxic to some classes of insects.
The long-term implications of genetically modified crops for human and environmental health and for food system security are too profound to be left to a handful of corporations subject to the pressures of quarterly earnings reports to evaluate, say Henson and Benbrook. The power to shuffle genes within and among species is unprecedented, and the science is too young to make informed decisions about the risks of the technologies.
"There is not a sufficient foundation of science to conclude that food safety and environmental problems will not result from the mixing in of foreign DNA into crop genomes," says Benbrook.
Newell-McGloughlin and Mattoo say that nature already has set the precedent for transferring genes between dissimilar organisms, as evidenced by genetic sequences in plants that are the same as those found in other species. Even our own genetic sequencing, says Mattoo, has partially developed through interaction with other genomes. "The human genome for vision was brought to us from very old photosynthetic bacteria. Nature mixes genes among species; it just takes time. The scientists are trying to do it Cfaster."
Mattoo, who has studied genetically modified tomatoes, says that he has not found any evidence of chemical differences between regular tomatoes and modified tomatoes. "Work should continue with genetically modified crops," Mattoo says, "because we can't comprehend what the future will hold and need to keep an open view." He suggests that genetic modifications that benefit organic growing systems -- like high-producing cover crops that senesce early and decompose quickly -- may soon be possible.
Henson asserts that cross-species exchange occurring during the course of evolution is no argument for making this happen through entirely different means. The unintended environmental consequences and the human health concerns that have emerged in the 10 years since the commercialization of the first genetically modified crops should cause not only organic growers, but agricultural scientists, conventional farmers and consumers to demand rigorous scientific study of the matter. "Organics is one of the lCast lines of defense for all time," says Henson.
The USDA, EPA and FDA had the mandate and the opportunity to test the safety of patching genetic sequences into crop plants before authorizing the commercialization of the first modified crops in the mid-1990s. But the regulatory agencies decided that genetic engineering was simply the continuation of crop improvement that began when the first Fertile Crescent farmers began saving seed 10,000 years ago. They ruled that these new crops were substantially the same as any other crop variety we had developedC and required no special regulation. When Monsanto and other developers of genetically modified crops assured the regulators that the new crops were not acutely toxic, federal agencies asked few other questions.
Benbrook cites the case of the genetically modified field pea developed in Australia that was found, just prior to commercialization, to trigger a "pronounced and sustained immune response" in mice. Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, which developed the pea, canceled its release late last year. "Not a single one of the genetically engineered crops already on the market have been tested with this type of state-of-the-art assay process," says Benbrook.
Newell-McGloughlin and Mattoo say that rather than the pea demonstrating the failure of regulatory systems, the case showed that the science of evaluating modified crops was improving.
But Henson says the risks are too great to release these crops first and ask questions later. After the debate, Henson elaborated upon the implications of genetically modified crops for environmental and human health and food system security.
Because pollen drifts and is undiscriminating about where it lands, genetically modified crops can transfer their characteristics to weedy relatives. Monsanto has modified canola to tolerate applications of glyphosate herbicides. Roundup, Monsanto's brand of glyphosate herbicide, is the most widely used agricultural herbicide in the world. Canola, meanwhile, is in the Brassicaceae family, which includes not only most of the world's winter vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, turnips and kale but wild radisCh and mustard as well. "Tolerance to Roundup," says Henson, "is being conveyed through cross-pollination to weedy relatives (of canola), and that leaves the Caltrans of every state and county and country unable to kill the weeds -- as they have to do for fire protection -- along the freeways anymore. What do they have to use now? 2,4-D. A far more persistent toxic pesticide than Roundup."
Drifting pollen also contaminates unmodified varieties of the same species. For example, it is difficult to maintain buffer zones between a field of modified corn and a field of unmodified corn sufficient to eliminate the risk of pollen transfer. Contamination jeopardizes the grower's marketing options because many foreign markets ban genetically modified foods.
Since seed doesn't stay in place any better than pollen does, genetically modified crops jeopardize the genetic diversity of crops. Seed travels in the digestive tracts of birds and animals, on muddy boots and truck tires, on wind and in the cheeks of mice and ground squirrels. It is also carried around the world in the form of food aid. Which is probably how corn in Oaxaca, Mexico, became contaminated despite Mexico's ban on planting genetically modified corn. The thousands of native corn varieties thatC grow in Oaxaca -- considered the center of diversity of corn -- comprise a genetic library to which the world turns when it needs varieties naturally adapted to niche environments, or with resistance to new pests or diseases, or with a preferred texture and flavor. If every "book" in the library becomes imprinted with the same story, the world will lose the options embedded in the varieties.
Then there is the question of who owns the books. The lawyers are having a field day arguing who is liable and who owns the contaminated crop when modified plants sprout up where they shouldn't. The patents for genetically modified crops are written such that the seed company has a legal claim not only on the seed it sells but also on the plants grown from the seed, wherever those plants crop up. One of the reasons that the developers of genetically modified crops are so eager to force their global use iCs to avoid the "liability train wreck" that is fast approaching, says Henson.
When interviewed after the debate, Newell-McGloughlin acknowledged that pollen floats but said she believes the risks of crop contamination are manageable and, in many cases, worth taking for the sake of crop improvement, especially in an increasingly hungry world that will require either the farming of more acres to feed or higher yields from existing acres. "It's all a question of checks and balances and of cost-benefit analysis," Newell-McGloughlin says.
The spread of genetically modified crops can also increase the speed with which agricultural pests evolve resistance to controls. The use of Roundup herbicides on the more than 80 million acres planted to Roundup-resistant crops in the United States has created a situation where only weeds that are naturally resistant to glyphosate herbicides survive to reproduce -- the so-called "superweeds." "This has happened in spades already," says Henson. "Mare's tail, a weed in the Southeast and East Coast of the CUnited States, grows 5 to 7 feet tall and has 200,000 seeds per plant, and in just eight years it has become resistant to Roundup."
Beyond the environmental issues, we know little about the long-term impacts of consuming genetically modified food crops on human health, says Henson. We don't know, for example, what plant health or nutritional qualities we are compromising when we force a plant to withstand herbicides or to produce its own insecticides. No matter how many tricks they can perform, plants have only a finite amount of energy to spend during their life cycle.
We also don't know how safe it is to incorporate modified plants into our diet and into that of our animals. Advocates of genetic-engineering argue that we have nothing to fear from consuming these crops because the new genes ultimately express themselves as proteins, lignins and carbohydrates. However, as in the case of the Australian pea, not all proteins are created equal, and worrisome results are emerging from feeding trials that look beyond immediate toxicity. Scientists have observed abnormal whitCe and red blood cell counts, inflammation of the liver and unexplained growths in the stomachs and small intestines of rats fed genetically modified corn and potatoes.
Meanwhile, the claim that no one is dying from eating genetically modified foods is questionable because no one is monitoring long-term human health impacts.
"I don't know that genetically engineered foods are bad for you," says Henson. "Nobody knows. But there is enough evidence that would lead any routinely robust scientific process to say, 'We have some science to do here before we just release these widely into the food stream.' "
Finally, Henson says, we need public debate about the implications of genetically modified crops for food security. The release of genetically modified crops has been accompanied by an unprecedented consolidation of the seed industry. In the 1990s, chemical companies catapulted themselves into the seed business to capitalize on genetic-engineering technologies. By purchasing seed companies, they bought market share, seed production and marketing expertise, plant patents and seed stock. Ten companies, witCh Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta firmly in the lead, now control half of the world's commercial seed sales. Monsanto alone sells 41 percent of the world's corn, 25 percent of its soybeans and more than 30 percent of its cucumbers, hot peppers and beans other than soybeans. Monsanto also sells 88 percent of the world's genetically modified seeds.
"Monsanto," says Henson, "is systematically buying privately held seed companies and retiring their seed stock." Varieties that farmers have purchased for years vanish, and the "local" seed company simply becomes a distribution center for Monsanto's seeds.
"We have to ask," says Henson "whether we bank on a corporate-controlled, extremely consolidated vertically integrated food system, or on a robust, diversified horizontal system."
Deborah Rich is a writer and olive rancher in Monterey.
Research Shows Genetically Engineered Food is Safe
- MetroValley Newspaper Group, Feb. 12, 2006 (Via Agnet)
Robert Wager, Malaspina University College, Nanaimo, B.C., writes that the letter by Lila Rauh (Feb. 9) was interesting but ina ccurate. Huge amounts of research has, in fact, shown genetically engineered (GE) crops and food to be very safe.
The European Commission did 15 years of study on the safety of GE crops and food. They concluded there were no new risks to human health or the environment - beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding - and that more precise technology and greater regulatory scrutiny probably made GE crops and food even safer than those produced by conventional plant breeding.
Last year the Food Standards Agency in the UK tested six imported organic cornmeal products and found levels of a known fungal carcinogen between seven and 30 times the allowable limit.
Ms. Rauh's idea that free-range animals are healthier is also not supported by research. A Danish study found 100 per cent of free- range broiler chickens had campylobacter contamination - the number- one cause of food infections - compared to 30 per cent of housed broiler chickens. Last year, researchers found free-range chickens in Germany had unacceptably high levels of dioxins compared to housed chickens.
And, finally, spread of the bird flu virus in Europe has caused authorities to ban free-range poultry in many countries. Clearly, nostalgic methods of farming may be preferred by some but these methods are certainly not producing safer food.
The Canadian government supports genetically engineered crops because huge amounts of research from all over the world show them to be very safe.
There is not a single documented case of harm anywhere in the world attributed to GE food. Literally trillions of meals containing GE ingredients have been consumed without so much as a sniffle generated.
GM Crops are Compatible with Sustainable Agriculture
- Christine Gould, SciDev.Net, Feb 8, 2006
'Christine Gould argues that transgenic crops have much to offer farmers who use integrated past management techniques'
Do crops that have been genetically modified -- for example to increase their resistance to insects and other threats -- have a place in integrated pest management (IPM)?
We at CropLife International, the global federation that represents the plant science industry, feel strongly that they do, and that genetic modification is a useful and beneficial technology that can make a significant contribution to sustainable agriculture.
IPM is a system of protecting crops that meets the requirements of sustainable development by allowing farmers to manage diseases, insects, weeds and other pests in a way that is cost-effective, environmentally sound and socially acceptable, as well as appropriate to local conditions.
To achieve this, farmers need to take into account all relevant and locally available pest control tactics. They will adopt and exploit techniques they see as practical and can add value to their activities.
Genetic modification can make a substantial contribution to the options that farmers have available. It can be combined with other practical strategies to optimise IPM programmes, thus preventing pest populations from reaching economically damaging levels.
Indeed, like all technologies that help make crop protection and production more efficient, genetically modified crops are most effective when they are used as part of an IPM system.
Handled with care
The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) defines integrated pest management as "the careful consideration of all appropriate measures that discourage the development of pest populations and keep pesticides and other interventions to levels that are economically justified and reduce or minimise risks to human health and the environment."
The plant science industry supports this characterisation of IPM -- taken from the FAO's Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides -- and in particular the concept that IPM "emphasizes the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems, and encourages natural pest control mechanisms".
A farmer's choice of which crops to plant -- and thus the ability to select disease- and pest-resistant ones -- has always been a cornerstone of IPM. Crop varieties with disease and pest resistant characteristics -- including those produced using precise and targeted transgenic methods -- can reduce the need for other protection measures, thus providing greater choice in other areas.
So called Bt crops are a case in point. Gene technology has contributed to the development of plants that express insecticidal toxins using genes from the naturally occurring soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt toxins have been used as an alternative to chemical insecticides for almost 60 years. They control several important pests, and are regarded as highly selective and environmentally friendly, with decreased impact to other, potentially beneficial, insects. Indeed many farmers, including organic farmers, already use spray formulations containing Bt.
Bt toxins, even when introduced into crops using genetic techniques, are very useful in IPM strategies, which build on natural mechanisms for controlling pest populations. In practice, whether farmers use Bt sprays or plant Bt crops, the issues concerning environmental impact are essentially the same. The main difference, in our opinion, is that Bt crops can help deliver the toxin more effectively, and can reduce the need for conventional insecticides.
A range of options
When assessing any action to combat pests, it is naturally important to distinguish between harmful and beneficial insects. If and when a pest outbreak occurs, a variety of control strategies should be considered, which can be physical, biological or chemical.
At present, farmers in developing countries follow a number of strategies to control pests. These include:
* Growing crops that are appropriate to local climate, soil and topography;
* Rotating crops to limit the build-up of pests and reduce weed problems;
* Not planting crops that can host similar pests next to each other;
* Using efficient irrigation methods;
* Reducing pest pressures in individual crops by inter-cropping;
* Adding soil nutrients to maintain soil fertility and plant health.
In each instance, a variety of factors must be taken into account when deciding which method or combination of methods should be used. These include costs, benefits, timing, available labour force, machines/tools and control agents, as well as economical, environmental and social factors.
With Bt crops, for example, a key element of resistance management is creating a 'refuge' -- an area or strip of land planted with non-Bt crop varieties that reduces the environmental pressures encouraging insects to develop resistance to Bt.
As far as other risks are concerned, transgenic crops -- like all crops -- require routine inspections and observation. This is required to assess how well plants are growing, and what actions need to be taken on cultivation, fertiliser use, and the control of weeds, insects, other pests and disease -- as well as when to harvest.
Farmers in control
Other biotech crops also have much to contribute to IPM strategies. Herbicide-tolerant crops, for example, can be useful for farmers pursuing minimum tillage systems, in which fields are left unploughed before sowing, and any weeds present are sprayed with herbicide.
The method can help to reduce labour inputs, enhance soil biodiversity, and lead to more efficient use of water, as well as preserve organic matter and decrease soil erosion. In addition to these benefits, using herbicide-tolerant crops in such contexts can reduce the amount of herbicide used, as well as the risks associated with chemical run-off, and contribute to weed management strategies.
Furthermore, the development of transgenic crops has enabled minimum tillage systems to be expanded into areas where they have been difficult to implement in the past. These farming practices have become popular with farmers worldwide, especially in North and South America, and in China.
Farmers remain the primary decision-makers in IPM programmes. The role of the plant science industry is to provide access to the widest possible range of appropriate technologies, services and products, and as much information as possible on their characteristics, costs and optimal use within IPM strategies.
Transgenic crops are just one such product, and have already a proven a boon to millions of farmers. The evidence endorses our conviction that they have a vital role to play in integrated pest management, indeed in sustainable agriculture more generally.
Christine Gould is communications manager for CropLife International. This article was written with the collaboration of other CropLife staff.
GM Crops are Not the Answer to Pest Control
- G. V. Ramanjaneyulu, SciDev.Net, Feb 8, 2006
'Farmer field schools', such as this one in Cambodia, teach farmers the principles of IPM
G. V. Ramanjaneyulu argues that insect-resistant crops will eventually require an increased use of pesticides, and that farmers around the developing world will suffer as a result.
Full text at http://www.scidev.net/Opinions/index.cfm?fuseaction=readopinions&itemid=467&language=1
- Henry Miller and Greg Conko, Praeger, 2004 Excerpt from Chapter 3 of The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution
Professional anti-biotechnology activists have promoted pseudo-controversy by raising a succession of phony issues that have included fanciful safety concerns, inaccurate economic forecasts, and trumped-up consumers' rights. They maintain that even the most modest, precise, and well-characterized genetic modification can have unpredictable, and disastrous effects.
For example, they claimed that using a recombinant version of the bovine hormone somatotropin (bST) to increase milk production in dairy cows would cause breast cancer in women who drink milk. They speculated that field trials of a gene-spliced bacterium (Pseudomonas syringae) intended to limit frost damage of crops could disrupt weather patterns and air traffic control.
They also continue to argue that gene-spliced plants modified to tolerate certain herbicides will lead to the creation of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes-like "super weeds," even though exactly the same herbicide-tolerant trait can be bred into plants with conventional techniques.
Anti-biotechnology antics have ranged from the silly to the bizarre and pernicious. In the 1970s a group of activists disrupted a scientific conference chanting, "We shall not be cloned." Plants in field trials in at least half a dozen countries have been ripped from the ground--even when the purpose of the study was scientific risk assessment, rather than pre-commercial testing.
A few hard-core activists have campaigned relentlessly against all biotechnology applications, including even the production of pharmaceuticals that prevent or treat cancer, heart attacks, AIDS, hepatitis, and rabies. They continue to beleaguer and harass government agencies with petitions to restrict or altogether ban new biotechnology products and research. They terrify the populace with bizarre and bogus accusations and alarms, not unlike the "activists" who fomented the panics of the Middle Ages by spreading rumors that Jews or gypsies had poisoned the wells. They are not the first to use the technique of endlessly repeating The Big Lie.
Biotech's critics have capitalized not only on the public's scientific naiveté, but also on others' concerns about the public's scientific naiveté. The critics have gambled successfully that, their own cupidity and self-interest aside, government regulators, industry executives, and university scientists would panic over the mere possibility that the public would be taken in by the anti-biotechnology controversies.
Unfortunately, little attention was paid to public opinion polls that showed that the public is not up in arms about biotechnology, but that, on the contrary, American consumers by more than three to one consistently are enthusiastic about the current use of the new biotechnology to reduce farmers' use of chemical pesticides.9 In an odd twist on George Orwell's observation about peoples' tendency to experience "vague fears and horrible imaginings," the activists have mined a vein of anti-capitalist puritanism laced with the desire for zero-risk lives.
Activists who are antagonistic toward globalization and science in general, as well as those opposed to biotechnology specifically, continue to work overtime to popularize their mythic visions of apocalypse. The unflagging efforts of professional agitators like the Union of Concerned Scientists' Margaret Mellon and Jane Rissler, Environmental Defense's Rebecca Goldburg, the Foundation on Economic Trends' Jeremy Rifkin, the Consumer Federation of America's Carol Tucker Foreman, Consumers International's Jean Halloran, and Consumers Union's Michael Hansen have been given considerable access and credibility in many quarters. These quarters include not only the media but also USDA, FDA and EPA officials, certain members of Congress and their staffs, and the Neville Chamberlain-like naifs in companies and universities who foolishly hope to appease the activists or to buy them off.
The anti-biotechnology activists discard the considered findings of distinguished scientific organizations like junk mail. They claim that there is no documentation, just opinions, on matters of recombinant DNA risk. Jeremy Rifkin has characterized biotechnology as threatening "a form of annihilation every bit as deadly as nuclear holocaust."
Greenpeace demands the "complete elimination [from] the food supply and the environment" of biotech products. Greenpeace and similar groups advocate and have committed thefts and vandalism of field trials at universities and on private and corporate farms.
- Andrew Apel - aapel07.at.sprintpcs.com -
One thing I've noticed about the antis is that they--every last one of them--completely lack a sense of humor. In the midst of trying to frame a hypothesis which might explain this phenomenon, it occurred to me see whether and to what extent people in biotech have a sense of humor. By comparison and contrast, this might suggest an explanation for why the range of emotions displayed by the antis is strictly bounded by dourness and hysteria.
In searching the net for biotech humor, I was somewhat discouraged by the paucity of available examples, but glad to find they were not completely absent. The content found at the links below, if laughed at by those in the field of biotech, would conclusively establish that humor is extant among those in the field.
There absolutely *has* to be more humor out there, with the ranks of biotech scientists and lab assistants growing (except in the UK that is). Maybe someone could do an online "call for papers" or something similar.
Statistical genetics quotations:
Test: Are You a Real Scientist?
Biology Light Bulb Jokes
FAS Sows Seeds of Agricultural Progress: The Borlaug Fellows Program
- Leanne Hogie, USDA - FAS, February 2, 2006. Full Text at http://www.fas.usda.gov/info/fasworldwide/2005/12-2005/BorlaugFellowsProg.htm
The Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellows Program Web site: http://www.fas.usda.gov/icd/borlaug/borlaug.htm
The FAS Borlaug Fellows Program helps developing countries strengthen sustainable agricultural practices by providing short-term scientific training and research opportunities to entry-level researchers, policymakers and university staff.
As part of its responsibility to promote food security and international development, in 2004 FAS launched the Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellows Program. Named in honor of Dr. Borlaug, a pioneer of the Green Revolution, the program is administered by FAS in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
In 1970, Dr. Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize for his success in developing high-yielding wheat varieties and reversing severe food shortages that haunted India and Pakistan in the 1960's. His work helped to save millions of lives, virtually eliminated recurring famines in South Asia and assisted global food production in outpacing population growth.
The Borlaug Fellows Program helps countries strengthen sustainable agricultural practices by providing short- to medium-term scientific training and collaborative research opportunities to researchers, policymakers and faculty members in the early stages of their careers. Areas of training can be in any agriculture-related field, including traditional areas such as agronomy, plant pathology, entomology, veterinary science, microbiology and economics. Other areas include food safety, sanitary and phytosanitary topics, environmental science, biotechnology, global climate change and water quality.
Fellows are paired with experts in their fields, with the expectation that these relationships between mentors and fellows will lead to long-term collaboration that will yield significant results in improving agricultural productivity.
The program is currently focusing its recruiting on applicants from developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Applicants from some middle-income countries in Eastern and Central Europe are also eligible. Training venues have included U.S. land-grant universities and USDA agricultural research laboratories, with the program placing its first fellows this winter at an international agricultural research center, CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.
Finally, when additional funding becomes available, FAS will work to develop a leadership and policy component of the Borlaug Fellows Program to help ensure that the advances from agricultural research can be implemented in their home country, and real progress can take root. This component will target policymakers and researchers to expose them to complex issues in agriculture and food policy, and the interplay of scientific rules, regulations and new technology.
Dr. Borlaug continues to inspire young scientists with his insights and his commitment to improving agriculture around the world. We were able to see this firsthand when he spoke to a large group of fellows in Washington, DC this past August. We hope that the Borlaug Fellows Program will help to foster the next generation of leaders in the agricultural sciences, who will carry on Dr. Borlaug's legacy and work to increase agricultural productivity and reduce hunger around the world.
Leanne Hogie is head of the Food Security Branch, Research and Scientific Exchanges Division, FAS International Cooperation and Development area and director of the Borlaug Fellows Program. E-mail: Leanne.Hogie@usda.gov
America's Masterplan is to Force GM Food on the World
- John Vidal, The Guardian (UK), Feb. 13, 2006 http://www.guardian.co.uk
'The reason the US took Europe to the WTO court was to prise open lucrative markets elsewhere'
Just a few years ago, World Trade Organisation officials used to act hurt when described by social activists as irresponsible, secretive bureaucrats who trampled over national sovereignty and placed free trade over the environment or human rights. But that was when the global-trade policeman ruled on disputes that had little bearing on Europeans.
The WTO court's latest ruling will greatly increase the number of people who believe the organisation needs radical reform, if not burial. This week three judges emerged after years of secret deliberation to rule that Europe had imposed a de facto ban on GM food imports between 1999 and 2003, violating WTO rules. The court also ruled that Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg had no legal grounds to impose their own unilateral import bans. "Europe guilty!" shouted the US press. "This is glorious news for the Bush administration," said one blogger.
Actually, the judges said much more, but in true WTO style no one has been allowed to know what. A few bureaucrats in the US, EU, Argentina and Canada have reportedly seen the full 1,045-page report, and an edited summary of some of its conclusions has been leaked. But no one, it seems, will take responsibility for the ruling, which may force the EU to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate some of the world's most heavily subsidised farmers, and could change the laws of at least six countries that have imposed GM bans.
In fact the US has mostly won a lot of new enemies. Rather than going away, as the biotech companies and Washington fervently hoped, the opposition to GM foods seems to have been growing since 2004 when the case was brought to the WTO. Europe, its member states and its consumers all rejected the ruling last week, making the WTO look even more out of touch and incompetent to rule on issues about the environment, health and consumer choice.
The European commission, which has been trying to force GM crops into Europe over the heads of its member states, says the ruling is "irrelevant" because its laws have already been changed. Meanwhile, individual countries who dislike being told what to eat or grow by the EC as much as the WTO say they will resist any attempts to make them accept GM.
In the past few days Hungary has declared that it is in its economic interests to remain GM-free, and Greece and Austria have affirmed their total opposition to the crops. Italy has called the WTO ruling "unbalanced" and Poland's prime minister has pledged to keep the country GM-free. Local government is even more opposed: more than 3,500 elected councils in 170 regions of Europe have declared themselves GM-free.
There is little the WTO, the EC or the US can do in face of this coalition of the unwilling. If the US again tries to impose its GM products on Europe - as it did in the 90s, sparking the whole debacle - the attempt will backfire. Europe's biotech industry may now try to force the EC to use the WTO judgment to get the six countries with import bans to repeal anti-GM laws, but it will meet an even broader, more determined movement.
In fact, Washington and the US companies are not that bothered by Europe's predictable reaction. Europe has all but dropped off the world's GM map. The companies and the supermarkets know there is little or no demand for GM crops, and that Europe's subsidised farmers are reluctant to alienate the public further by growing them.
It is now clear that the real reason the US took Europe to the WTO court was was to make it easier for its companies to prise open regulatory doors in China, India, south-east Asia, Latin America and Africa, where most US exports now go. This is where millions of tonnes of US food aid heads, and where US GM companies are desperate to have access, buying up seed companies and schmoozing presidents and prime ministers.
More than two-thirds of exported US corn now goes to Asia and Africa, where once it went to Europe. As the Monsanto man said this week about the WTO ruling: "Our feeling is that it's important for countries other than the EU to have science-based regulatory frameworks."
Like the tobacco industry, GM companies are now focusing almost exclusively on developing countries. But here the industry is meeting stiff opposition from powerful unions and farming groups. Brazil has caved in, but Bolivia may shortly become the first Latin American country to fully reject GM. Some Indian states are deeply opposed, and there have been major demonstrations in the Philippines, Korea, Indonesia and elsewhere. India's largest farmers' organisation this week said the result of the WTO verdict would be that the US would become more aggressive in dumping GM food on to developing countries.
The US maintains that through the WTO it has won a great victory for free trade, and passed a significant milestone in US attempts "to have GM crops accepted throughout the world". Perhaps, but the battle is far from won, and in the meantime anyone opposing the crops is being reclassed as an enemy of America.
Within hours of the WTO decision, José Bové, the French farmer who has led European protests, arrived in New York to give an invited talk to Cornell students about GM food - and was immediately sent back to France by the US government.