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March 3, 2006


Bush Praises Borlaug in India; Media Changes Perceptions; Africa's Hunger Crisis; Bird Flu and Organic Manure; Bogus Biosafety Course


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - March 3, 3006

* Bush Acknowledges Borlaug in India, Announces New Ag Initiative
* ... U.S.–India Agricultural Knowledge Initiative
* WTO Gives A Thumbs Up to Biotech Crops
* Media Changes Perceptions of Engineered Crops
* Our Engineered Food Supply
* Theological Framework for Evaluating GM Food
* Genetically Modified Plants and the Environment
* Africa's Hunger - A Systemic Crisis
* New - Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa
* Avian Flu, Culpability and Organic Dogma
* ... Is the Bird Flu Linked to the Movement of Chicken Manure?
* Bogus Biosafety Course by Activists?
* Trailer of the Documentary on Vandana Shiva

President Bush Acknowledges Borlaug in India


"America and India are also cooperating closely in agriculture. The United States worked with India to help meet its food needs in the 1960s, when pioneering American scientists like Norman Borlaug shared agriculture technology with Indian farmers. Thanks to your hard work, you have nearly tripled your food production over the past half-century.

To build on this progress, Prime Minister Singh and I are launching a new Agricultural Knowledge Initiative. This initiative will invest $100 million to encourage exchanges between American and Indian scientists and promote joint research to improve farming technology. By working together the United States and India will develop better ways to grow crops and get them to market, and lead a second Green Revolution.

America and India are pursuing an historic agenda for cooperation in many other areas. We're working together to improve education and conservation and natural disaster response. We're cooperating closely in science and technology. And to promote the ties between American and Indian scientists, we're establishing a new $30-million science and technology commission that will fund joint research in promising areas like biotechnology."


U.S.–India Agricultural Knowledge Initiative


On March 2, 2006, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reaffirmed their commitment to expand even further the growing ties between their two countries in a joint statement issued during President Bush's visit to India. The two leaders highlighted the launching of the United States–India Agricultural Knowledge Initiative with a three-year financial commitment to link the two countries' universities, technical institutions, and businesses to support agriculture education, joint research, and capacity building projects including in the area of biotechnology.

Background: In July 2005, the United States and India announced the United States–India Knowledge Initiative on Agricultural Education, Teaching, Research, Service and Commercial Linkages (the "Initiative").
According to the joint declaration issued by the United States and India in November 2005, the Initiative provides the momentum needed to re-energize a longstanding tradition of knowledge exchange. Through it, the two countries will be drawing upon what they have learned to find new, creative and realistic ways to revitalize their partnership such that agricultural programs at colleges and universities in the two countries are better able to respond to the current and future needs of their people, and to opportunities in today's vibrant private business environment.

The joint declaration further states that the objective of the Initiative is to re-energize the countries' partnership by promoting teaching, research, service and commercial linkages to address contemporary challenges. A key feature of this Initiative will be a public–private partnership where the private sector can help identify research areas that have the potential for rapid commercialization, with a view to develop new and commercially viable technologies for agricultural advancement in both countries.

More at http://www.fas.usda.gov/icd/india_knowl_init/india_knowl_init.asp

Factsheet from the Indian Government



WTO Gives A Thumbs Up to Biotechnology Crops

- AgBiotech Bulletin Volume 3, Issue 1 March 2005 Via Agnet http://www.agwest.sk.ca

Europe's near-decade-long freeze on the import of genetically modified crops, an action long considered by trade officials and agricultural proponents to be founded on politics rather than science, seems on the verge of thawing. The World Trade Organization recently ruled in a preliminary judgment that the European Union has been engaging in the illegal restriction on imported biotech crops and foods, backing a formal complaint made to the WTO panel in 2003 by the United States, Canada, and Argentina.

Many agriculture stakeholders have spoken in favour of the WTO ruling. "This decision affects not only Argentina, Canada and the United States, who prevailed in this complaint, but the future of agricultural biotechnology for all countries," said Professor C.S. Prakash, president of the AgBioWorld Foundation, in a recent statement. In addition, thousands of scientists and more than 25 Nobel Laureates have come out in support of GM crops.

The US, Canada and Argentina argued that the EU-wide moratorium on approval of GM crop varieties, combined with bans on imports by individual European governments, were unfair. It froze what would seem to be legitimate trade, since the EU's moratorium violated some of the EU's own procedures, according to the New York Times. At issue was the EU's treatment of new GM crop applications. There was no official ban in place after 2003, but there were extensive approval procedures for proposed GM crops to be introduced to the EU market. The US, Canada and Argentina, impatient with lack of progress on their applications after several years, filed the complaint with the WTO.

The EU claimed the delays were necessary to weigh the possible risks of genetic engineering to health and the environment. But, to trade officials and agricultural proponents - and to the WTO panel - this professed prudence, for a variety of reasons, smacked more of business protectionism than of scientific justification. The EU put ink to a 1998 food treaty demanding that regulatory decisions be made without "undue delay" and be made on scientific grounds.

But the pace of regulation remained glacial at best. For 10 years, biotech crops and foods awaiting introduction to Europe collected dust on regulatory shelves. Even in the rare event that a product was approved at the level of the EU, the governments of individual European countries, such as Austria and France, continued the trend by blocking the introduction of biotecAh goods. As for the scientific justification the 1998 food treaty requires, the EU has yet to provide scientific proof that the products seeking approval pose any kind of threat.

Critics argue the ruling jeopardizes a country's right to self-government and regulation, but, as the New York Times put it: "In its ruling the WTO didn't so much take issue with Europe's regulatory process for GM crops as charge the commission with failing to follow its own regulations." Canadian farmers contemplating investment in GM crops now have reason to be more optimistic about branching into these varieties, which include canola, maize, soybeans, potatoes and cotton to name a few. While this preliminary ruling isn't expected to thaw the GM trade freeze in Europe to the point where crops and foods flood into Europe, it could improve market competitiveness for grains.

And the timing couldn't be better. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, plantings of GM crops have been increasing annually by double-digit growth rates. In addition, since 1996 the number of biotech countries has increased from six to 21, including European countries - the Czech Republic, Germany, Portugal, Romania and Spa in. World-wide, the area of GM crops has increased by 20 per cent since 2004.

While the number of biotech countries continues to rise, and the European trade freeze on biotech crops seems about to thaw, barriers to the growth of biotech crops still exist. For instance, in Australia, a full-scale review by a government-commissioned group recently called for a lifting of the state moratorium on the commercial application of GM technology: after all, only one Australian state, Queensland, permits commercial plan tings of biotech crops.

And the recent WTO ruling against Europe may still not lift its refusal of biotech products. Europe may choose to dismiss the decision and bear the brunt of "retaliatory tariffs" on some of its exports to the United States. There would be a precedent for such an action: Europe still refuses to allow US beef raised on growth hormones into its market, despite the US having won a WTO trade dispute on the issue back in the late 1990's.

But whether Europe takes that track remains to be seen. For now, prospects for Canadian farmers looking to expand into Europe seem brighter than they were prior to the ruling. If nothing else, the WTO decision, according to American government and trade officials quoted in the Times, will deter other countries from erecting trade obstacles to GMOs, unless their actions are backed by science, and not the whims of politics.

Academic and science community applauds WTO GMO ruling. AgBioWorld February 7, 2006.
EuropaBio statement on WTO ruling on biotech crops. EuropaBio. February 8, 2006.
European Commission: http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/food/biotechnology/gmfood/index_en.html Orientation debate on Genetically Modified Organisms. Commission of European Communities. Brussels. January 28, 2004. http://europa.eu.int/comm/agriculture/envir/gmo/commdebate_en.pdf
Report calls for end of GM ban in Australian states. CropBiotech Update February 17, 2006.
World Trade Agency Rules for U.S. in Biotech Dispute. N ew York Times. February 8, 2006.
WTO rules against European Union curbs on GMOs. Globe and Mail. February 8, 2006.


Cornell U. Prof: Media Changes Perceptions of Engineered Crops

- Mariel Bronen, University Wire, March 2, 2006; Via Vivian Moses

Ithaca, N.Y. - About 60 percent of food products found on U.S. shelves contain some form of genetically engineered crop. Yet, a recent study on the public's attitude toward agricultural biotechnology by Cornell University's Prof. James Shanahan, communication, and John Besley grad determined Americans have yet to reach a consensus as to how they feel about consuming these genetically altered products.

The study was based on data collected by Cornell's Survey Research Institute and took place throughout 2003, 2004 and 2005. Different surveys were administered in New York and nationwide. Overall, the data shows that people are distributed fairly evenly in their attitudes toward agricultural biotechnology, but distrust has grown in recent years.

"The goal was to find out how media coverage relates to perceptions of biotechnology," Shanahan said. He explained that much of his other research has focused on how media coverage can affect public opinion on scientific issues, such as climate change. "I think that all scientific issues go through cycles of media attention, and once the cycle is over, they sort of drop out," Shanahan said.

"When we were doing our surveys, coverage of agricultural biotechnology was declining, coverage probably reached its peak in 2001," Besley said. "The results show that support decreased as media attention decreased."

He added that media coverage on agricultural biotechnology tends to be quite accurate. "The fact that opinions about agricultural biotechnology continue to change suggests that people haven't made up their minds yet," Besley said. "There is no single factor that determines what people think about agricultural biotechnology."

The study determined that certain factors tend to impact opinions toward the technology, including awareness, trust in institutions and media coverage. For example, people with high trust in institutions tended to see low risk in consuming genetically engineered products. "People who are aware of technology and what it can do tend to be more supportive," Shanahan said.

Besley said that people who read newspapers and watch more television tend to be more supportive of this type of new technology. Prof. Tim Setter, crop and soil science, explained that biotechnology is currently being used to help farmers increase crop yield, but that there is hope that the same technology can be used to make crops healthier or even hypoallergenic.

"A lot of the implementations of technology so far have been useful to farmers as opposed to things general consumers would value. As those products come onto the market, maybe there will be a shift in a more positive direction," said Setter.

Setter explained that there are two main sources for fears of genetically engineered food products. He said that the first cause for concern is that the genes could affect other plants in the environment in which they are introduced and thus impact the entire ecosystem.

The second is that the genes could have unintended results on consumer health. Setter emphasized that these impacts can be tested for, and, because of the nature of the genes being added, they are broken up in the stomach. Therefore, they cannot cause damage past that point, unlike the pesticides that many of these genetically altered crops are making obsolete. For this reason he said that this source of concern is the less significant of the two. "In the fullness of time when more studies have been done and we get a more complete picture ... I think fears will subside," said Setter.

The results of the study not only showed variation based on awareness of the issue but also varied among different demographics surveyed. Women tended to perceive more risk than men, and minorities showed less trust than white people. "Republicans tend to be more supportive of agricultural biotech. This is interesting because when you look at stem cell research it is the other way around," Besely said.

He commented that with agricultural biotechnology there is no relationship between religious views and support. Overall the surveys in New York and nationwide concluded that attitudes toward genetically engineered foods were becoming more negative. This is a similar trend that has been seen in other parts of the world.

The results of the study were recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest science meeting, in St. Louis this February. Shanahan said that the results were well received.


Our Engineered Food Supply

- Britt Peterson, Seed Magazine, March 3, 2006 http://www.seedmagazine.com/

'A study takes the nation's pulse on genetically engineered foods.'

Republicans, men, white people, avid news-watchers...No, we're not talking about Bill O'Reilly's fan base. Actually, these demographic groups share a particular tolerance of genetically engineered (GE) foods, according to a Cornell University study on American attitudes towards bioengineering.

The study, presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science last week in St. Louis, MO, also shows that Americans in general are split on the merits of GE foods, though support has waned slightly in the past three years "I hypothesize that lack of media attention in recent years is causing people to use considerations off the top of their head," said James Shanahan, professor of communications at Cornell and the study's lead author. "Mixing terms such as 'technology' and 'food' is inherently something some people feel queasy about."

Researchers surveyed a nationwide sample of the population between 2002 and 2005, asking subjects demographic data, such as gender, race, political affiliation, religious beliefs and attention paid to the news as well as their opinions on GE foods.

Support declined by a small but statistically significant amount across the board in the three years of the study. While religion didn't seem to have any effect on attitude toward bioengineering, women, non-whites and Democrats were typically more skeptical of GE foods than their male, white, Republican counterparts.

"Women tend to see more risk across the board on a variety of issues, so we were not surprised by that finding," Shanahan said, adding that the same is generally true for non-white Americans. "Republicans are more comfortable with 'industry' and corporations in general, so I think that is the driving issue there."

Sidney Mintz, an anthropologist at Johns Hopkins who studies cultural conceptions of food, questions the results of the Cornell study. He believes subjects were probably poorly informed about bioengineering and were unable to respond in a way that reflects their everyday choices. Instead, he said, they probably relied on abstract ideas of where they fit on a political spectrum.

"I think a large majority of Americans don't really know what GE foods are, and most of them are in fact indifferent," Mintz said via e-mail. "If the subjects were told the issues, then yes, they'd no doubt break down along the lines the researchers found. But I don't know whether that would have much to do with what either group actually bought or ate—except for a really exiguous minority."

William Hallman, a director at the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers and the author of an earlier study on perceptions of GE food, agreed that Americans are unaware of bioengineering. "It may not matter that opinions measured on a survey shift slightly over time in either a positive or negative direction if the public doesn't connect those opinions with their behaviors as consumers," he said via e-mail.

John Besley, a Cornell graduate student and coauthor of the current study, said that he and his colleagues are hoping to more closely examine the social forces at work behind their findings. "A lot more research needs to be done to figure out what the messages people are receiving, and how people are thinking about biotech now, as opposed to the last few years."


A Theological Framework for Evaluating Genetically Modified Food

- Jordan J. Ballor, Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, Grand Rapids, MI (thanks to Andy Apel..). Excerpt below. Full commentary at:

The public debate regarding genetically modified (GM) food has for the most part been driven by practical considerations. For those on the side of GM food, the economic and social benefits far outweigh any possible negative consequences (if there even are any). In this vein, Reason magazine science correspondent Ronald Bailey points out, "With biotech corn, U.S. farmers have saved an estimated $200 million by avoiding extra cultivation and reducing insecticide spraying. U.S. cotton farmers have saved a similar amount and avoided spraying 2 million pounds of insecticides by switching to biotech varieties."

On the other side is a group which believes the possible threats posed by genetic engineering far outweigh the projected benefits. Representative of this position are Martin Teitel and Kimberly Wilson, who write, "Genetic engineering is an unasked-for technology dependent on new and inadequately controlled techniques, and it is a technology based on the release of organisms into the environment whose aggressive but dimly understood reproduction threatens the entire ecosystem."

The limits of both these arguments are essentially the same: they argue primarily, if not solely on the basis of pragmatic concerns. While these arguments are attractive, especially to American common sense, they are not comprehensive nor adequate in and of themselves. Pragmatic considerations certainly have an important place in the discussion, but only one posterior to ethical and theological considerations. The theological background of ethics is essential for this discussion, because religious groups have begun to weigh in on the issue and lend their moral credibility to the discussion.

For example, the Ecumenical Consultative Working Group on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture, a coalition comprised of members from various "mainline" Christian denominations and para-church organizations, authored a study which concludes, "It has yet to be demonstrated that agricultural genetic engineering, as it exists in the current system, safeguards the common good, human dignity, the sacredness of life and stewardship."[3] The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) has a working group which addresses the issue of GM foods. ICCR aims to make sure GM foods are highly regulated and wants to "ban the use of food crops to produce pharmaceutical or industrial enzymes and chemicals." So far, the majority voice of religious communities has come out decidedly against GM foods.

The remainder of this essay will attempt to bring the focus back one or two steps to the theological foundations for any ethical decision about the activity of engaging in genetic modification. We will find that, in general, a biblical-theological framework provides some important general affirmations of the genetic engineering movement with regard to food. This theological framework will be explicitly Christian, although to a lesser or greater extent it may find some measure of acceptance within the broader Judeo-Christian tradition and beyond.

I will first address the general mandate in Genesis 1 to be creative and productive stewards, and then move on to address the effect of the Fall and the curse in Genesis 3. Some brief observations about the reality and implications of human salvation in Jesus Christ with an implicit eschatological perspective will follow. I will conclude after a short comment on the applicability of these conclusions to the issue of genetic engineering of humans.

The original purpose of plants was to provide sustenance for life, as is illustrated in Gen. 1:29-30. With the redemptive work of Christ in view, Christians are called to, in some way at least, attempt to realize and bring out the goodness of the created world. Genetic modification of food can be a worthy human endeavor within the context of the created purpose of plant life to provide sustenance for human beings. It is interesting to note that many of the groups which oppose genetic modification of food also (rightly) decry the phenomenon of starvation in various parts of the world.

As Ronald Bailey notes, "If the activists are successful in their war against green biotech, it's the world's poor who will suffer most. The International Food Policy Research Institute estimates that global food production must increase by 40 percent in the next 20 years to meet the goal of a better and more varied diet for a world population of some 8 billion people."

The creation needs to be cultivated in such a way as to support and sustain human life. To do so efficiently is prudent, and genetic modification of food, like irrigation channels, plows, and mechanized tractors, is yet another technology that attempts to bring out of the land in some small measure its created bounty. Genetic modification changes nature at a more minute level, but such changes aren't materially different than any of the other various environmental or technological modifications that farmers have been making use of for millennia.

In the above sections I have briefly sketched out an overview of a biblical-theological framework from which to view the particular arguments in favor of and opposed to genetically modified foods. In general, we can observe that the default position in this regard should not be simply to maintain the status quo of a fallen creation. The ICCR argues on a misuse of the precautionary principle that no genetically modified food should be made available until long-term independent safety testing shows that it is safe for health and the environment. Instead, the default position should be in favor of innovations which have a realistic possibility of substantively increasing the fruitfulness of the earth, and the burden of proof should be to prove that it is unsafe.

We have also seen that gene modification has the possibility of working to reverse the effects of the curse in Gen. 3, which should temper the concerns of the Ecumenical Consultative Working Group on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture about "the common good, human dignity, the sacredness of life and stewardship." Concerns in these areas, informed by this theological framework, would in fact lead us to be in favor of gene modification for plants.

Does this mean that we should abandon all regulation of any sort and simply allow whatever is new and better to run free until devastating consequences become apparent? Absolutely not. The Fall affects human beings as well as the rest of creation, and even regenerate human beings are fallible and capable of horrible errors. What I'm arguing for instead is a dialogue informed by the theological realities of fallen creaturely existence and by which we can begin to measure some of the claims both for and against genetically modified foods. Only when the reality of the created purpose of food and humankind's role in making plant life fruitful is realized will the pragmatic discussion on genetically modified food be appropriately framed. ~
Jordan Ballor is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality


Genetically Modified Plants and the Environment


Are genetically modified plants a threat to the environment? Up until now, genetically modified crops have not caused environmental problems. But each new genetically modified plant needs to be closely examined to find out if negative impacts on the environment could be possible down the road.

What is taken into consideration? Here are the most important areas of research.

Biodiversity - Agricultural practices always have an effect on the diversity of wild plants found on the farm. Does growing certain genetically modified crops compromise biodiversity?

Effects on insects, spiders, and other animals - Genetic engineering has given plants a new way to defend themselves. When corn borer caterpillars start feeding on Bt maize, they soon die off, sparing the crop damage from one of its worst pests. Finding out if other organisms could become innocent victims is an important question addressed by environmental safety research.

Out-crossing - The spread of novel genes: It’s conceivable that an herbicide tolerance gene in a GM crop could make its way into other plants. This could make for weeds that are even more difficult for farmers to manage. Is this process already happening?

House arrest for foreign genes - Farms of the future: GM plants could end up producing some of our most valuable pharmaceuticals. If plants like this are ever grown in the open, the genes responsible for producing novel active ingredients should under no circumstances find their way to other plants. How will this be kept from happening?

Gene transfer to microorganisms - It is theoretically possible that novel genes in GM plants could be taken up by microorganisms. This might occur when plants rot or when genetic material lands on surfaces heavily populated with microorganisms. But how common is this process, and what could be its outcomes?

Read on at http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/safety/environmental_safety


Africa's Hunger - A Systemic Crisis

- Martin Plaut, BBC News, Jan 31, 2006

The number of Africans needing food aid has doubled in a decade. More than half of Africa is now in need of urgent food assistance.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is warning that 27 sub-Saharan countries now need help. But what appear as isolated disasters brought about by drought or conflict in countries like Somalia, Malawi, Niger, Kenya and Zimbabwe are - in reality - systemic problems. It is African agriculture itself that is in crisis, and according to the International Food Policy Research Institute, this has left 200 million people malnourished.
What can be done?
* Immediate deliveries of food aid will obviously stop people starving but are not a long-term solution.
* Economists say that modernising agriculture is the best way forward, so farmers use more efficient techniques, such as irrigation.
* Some say the key would be to give farmers title-deeds to their land, so they could use it as collateral to borrow money to invest.

See also links to - Head-to-head; Q&A: Food crisis; Ethiopia's food aid addiction; Sudan: Starting from scratch; Zambia: Why a fertile country is going hungry; In pictures: The struggle to eat; My fight against hunger; Dangers of aid at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4662232.stm
Read some very thought-provoking and candid comments from the readers at


Read "Head-to-head' a debate between an official from the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) on the cause of Africa's deepening food crisis and what the solutions might be at:

Excerpt ... "Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, Justice Africa:
Let me spell it out clearly: Africa does not need aid or armies of bleeding heart liberals to feed its people, clothe them, educate them, if we have responsive and responsible leadership. A people without a dream to work towards will suffer nightmares

You lament poverty and even believe you want to alleviate it but our focus is on the internal and external dimensions of Africa's impoverishment. Aid strengthens superiority/inferiority complexes in a relationship mediated by slavery, colonialism and now recolonisation.

Aid agencies have become both willing and unwilling bodyguards of the new imperialism. The fact that there are many Africans working in them does not change their character. The colonial bureaucracies were full of Africans!

Do not patronise people dependent on you by calling them partners. Even on slave plantations there were partnerships! A united Africa is essential for us to seize control of our destiny. A people without a dream to work towards will suffer nightmares. Has Africa not had enough nightmares?
You are so consumed by wanting to save us that you cannot see how we can and are saving ourselves.

I end on a specially adapted prayer: God save me from my liberal friends because the conservative opponent I can deal with, without any pretences on both sides."


Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa


Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa will be launched on 21st - 22nd March 2006 at Nairobi Kenya.

An interactive Web Portal on Biotechnology for East and Central African countries by The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in collaboration with African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF). The portal is designed as an all inclusive participatory instrument with the needed flexibility to receive and disseminate information on all aspects of biotechnology for plant conservation and use.

Information on the capacity for Biotechnology engagement in Africa is critical for establishing human resource needs, lab facilities, product development, output and marketing.The website is expected to encourage and stimulate exchange of information among experts, empower the public with information on agricultural biotechnology for informed decisions and explore its safety as a tool for food security and environmental management. It will also have information on biosafety concerns, such information sharing can impact on decision-making in Africa for technology adoption in various fields of development.

While professionals in plant breeding and biotechnology from universities and institutes within Africa contribute and share their experience to build the knowledge base in ABNETA, stakeholders from public and private sector also need to be involved in order to assure the best use of the ABNETA knowledge base. Partnership with International Organizations, including donors, with goals to achieve hunger-free Africa that would move towards food security and environmental safety is critical for ABNETA for its sustainability.

You are invited to play a role in this dynamic exercise as a regional coordinator. In particular your contribution to the portal is to provide information for the web portal on Biotechnology activities as the key local point for the sub region.




AfricaBiotech.com is a project of the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF) in Nairobi, Kenya, in coperation with Tuskegee University's Center for Plant Biotechnology Research (USA), along with many other similar organizations around Africa.

Our goal is to provide science-based information to the media, policy-makers, NGOs and the public on issues related to agricultural biotechnology, including its potential relevance to African agriculture, biosafety, intellectual property rights, biodiversity and capacity building.


Avian Flu, Culpability and Organic Dogma

_ Prof. Michael Wilson, UK; - Michael.Wilson (at) warwick.ac.uk

n the weeks and months ahead, while the media revel in displaying shocking images of millions of poultry being slaughtered and seek to blame everyone else, who will remind us that it was, in fact, organic industry lobbyists who were largely responsible for avian flu virus infecting our domestic poultry flocks via the faeces of infected migratory wild birds? Their sacred and nostalgic dogma based on capricious, arbitrary and unscientific rules would simply not allow them to support moving poultry indoors out of harms way. Having built their elite, 1-2% niche market by spreading unfounded fears and misinformation about the safety of modern, conventionally produced foods, they were in an ideological “corner” from which, once again, they could not act reasonably or rationally, only criticise everyone else.

Meanwhile, the Soil Association appears remarkably vocal in its support of vaccination, hardly a “natural” organic process. Are not flu vaccines produced artificially by genetic engineering and cloning fragments of the genetic material of the target virus strain? Given their promotional propaganda campaigns, political lobbying and threats against those who use modern veterinary products or wish to grow modern genetically improved crops (for which there is absolutely no evidence of harm, only benefits, to humans, animals and the environment after 20-25 years of rigorous scientific research and exhaustive testing), is this stance consistent? But could we expect any more from an organisation that permits growers to spray highly toxic and environmentally persistent “natural” chemicals such as copper sulphate and rotenone, and a host of other (largely ineffective) compounds, directly onto our food crops, while marketing their products as safe, wholesome and free from pesticides and natural toxins?

These people are neither eccentric nor amusing, they are dangerous.


Professor T. Michael A. Wilson


Avian Flu and the Movement of Chicken Manure a la Organic Farming

- Tom DeGregori

In their attempt to deny that wildlife migration has had anything whatsoever to do with the spread of avian bird flu, some of the birders and the anti modern technology "organic" folk are mentioning such things as the chicken trade and the movement of chicken manure from Asia to Europe. Not being ideologues, we do not have a problem of their being multiple pathways for the spread of bird flu and I am quite willing to accept that in some areas it has been trade and not wildlife that is the most likely factor in the spread of avian bird flu.

Blaming modern chicken production for Avian bird flu is a thesis of a book, The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu and was largely supported (or at east not criticized) in reviews in the American Scientists and in Science. NGOs like Grain have posted "reports" that strongly assert this claim with these "reports" then being picked up in the media and propagated widely as scientific fact. One gets the impression from the "report" posted by Grain that WHO, FAO, the European health ministries and "scientists" are all either grossly mistaken (or possibly involved in a conspiracy) in advocating or even requiring that "free-range" chickens be brought indoors.

My question is whether either of you (or anyone on this list) knows why chicken manure is being moved from Asia to Europe? My first guess would be that Asians have discovered the benefits of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, something that I can personally verify. They also have a long history of using manure. My guess continues that poultry raisers in Asia can get a better price for manure in Europe than in Asia. This would mean that they are selling it for more than it would cost Asian farmers to get the same or greater nutrient from synthetic fertilizers for the same or lower price with the cost of the Asian chicken manure in Europe also having to bear the greater transportation costs.

My conclusion from this chain of reasoning is that the only farmers who would wish to pay a sizeable premium above its nutritive value would be "organic" farmers. If this is true then those who are blaming the crisis on the "industrial" production of chickens are simultaneously hiding the fact that demands of "organic" agriculture maybe facilitating the spread of avian bird flu by their own reckoning. The problem with my chain of reasoning is that it is based upon assumptions that may or may not be correct. Do any readers of AgBioView have any factual information on the reasons for the international movement of chicken manure?

One further note - as a development economist I have had the privilege of seeing the dramatic transformation of the peoples of Asia growing taller and healthier from improved nutrient in which increased production and consumption of poultry have played a vital role. I find it hilariously funny but also tragic and painful when groups like Grain and others give data on the dramatic (the term is actually and understatement) increase in poultry production in Asia and globally and then attribute this to "greed" and by implication denying any benefits from it. To them, the global increase in chicken production has been an unmitigated disaster and a deadly curse (avian bird flu) to world as these deadly chickens come home to roost.


P.S. - I along with most others on this list would wish to have it open season on wildlife that may be responsible for the spread of avian bird flu. There are better ways to attack the problem


Alex Avery Responds:

Yes, you may well be right about the manure shipments being to EU organic producers. How would you verify that? I have no idea.

I've got a letter posted yesterday in the most recent issue of "The Scientist" (available online, http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/23165/) questioning Wetland International's Alex Kaat about this. (See below)

The thinking is that in Nigeria, they were importing chickens from China even after H5N1 and that's how it got to Africa. But Kaat's claims in his reply (along with the GRAIN report) that the evidence is against wild birds and FOR industrial chicken industry/trade is thin. Just today, German authorities noted that even though only ~6% of 2,000 wild dead birds analyzed were H5N1-positive, that still included over 100 geese, ducks, swans, and even an eagle. Moreover, we've now got it in dogs and cats!

So the claims that it is entirely caused by commercial bird industry rings VERY hollow. But I'm open to illegal trade, corruption, and poor biosecurity in Chinese or other country poultry industry. Kaat argues that the fact that Japan and S. Korea haven't had recurrent outbreaks is a point against the wild bird spread theory. I'd argue that they're universal policy of confinement rearing and strict biosecurity (i.e. NO free range poultry) show that these systems work.

Are we both right? Who's more right than wrong? We'll see. Science will reveal if we're stubborn enough to find out.


Bogus Course on Biosafety by Activists?

"Holistic Foundations for Assessment and Regulation of Genetic Engineering and GMOs" University of Tromsø, Norway, on 31 July - 11 August 2006.

Note From Prakash:

This is from the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology where anti-biotech scientist Terje Traavik works (famous for his scare on Bt corn causing allergy in Philippines) and which helps countries such as Zambia remain backward - see http://www.genok.org/english/lesartikkel.asp?article_id=1282&id2=h4XssOSpoBeahqSDmkOei7P2a

Guess who else is on the staff of this institute? David Quist, the first author of the infamous Nature paper on transgenes in Mexican corn!


Trailer of the Documentary on Vandana Shiva - Bullsh!t at