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March 22, 2006


Cotton Performance; Diffusion Benefits; Top 100 Living Contributors; Visual Argumentation; Unspeak; Dark Secrets; Eradicating Poverty Through Profits


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org : March 22, 2006

* Farm-Level Economic Performance of GM Cotton in India
* GMO experience in North and South America
* National Biosafety Regulatory Systems In East Africa
* Do Biotech Crops Reduce Pesticide Use?
* New Zealand does not support technology to disadvantage Third World farmers
* GM Technology to Fight Arsenic Poisoning of Water
* The Top 100 Living Contributors to Biotechnology
* Visual Argumentation Mapping of GM Crop Debate
* Biosafety Diploma by Distance Learning
* Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, Weapons Become a Message
* Dark Secrets of the Organic Food Movement
* Civil and rational discourse...from the blogosphere
* Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits

Farm-Level Economic Performance of Genetically Modified Cotton in Maharashtra, India

- Richard Bennett, Uma Kambhampati Stephen Morse, and Yousouf Ismael; Review of Agricultural Economics, Volume 28 (1), p59; March 2006 (Dept of Ag & Food Economics, University of Reading, UK). Excerpt below... Download full paper at http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/articles/biotech-art/farmlevel.html

A study of the commercial growing of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton in India, compares the performance of over 9,000 Bt and non-Bt cotton farm plots in Maharashtra over the 2002 and 2003 seasons.

Results show that since their commercial release in 2002, Bt cotton varieties have had a significant positive impact on average yields and on the economic performance of cotton growers. Regional variation showed that, in a very few areas, not all farmers had benefited from increased performance of Bt varieties.

India ranks third in global cotton production after the United States and China. With 9 million hectares grown in 2004/5, India accounted for approximately 20% of the world’s total cotton area and 12% of global cotton production (Cotton Corporation of India). Cotton is a very important cash crop for Indian farmers. However, average cotton yields in India have been 300 kg/ha, compared with a world average of 580 kg/ha (Sen). One major limiting factor to cotton output is damage due to insect pests, especially bollworms. Bt cotton plantings for 2005 have been estimated at over 1 million hectares in India, highlighting the continuing increase in adoption.

This paper presents a much needed and timely assessment of the performance of Bt cotton under typical farmer-managed conditions in India. The paper provides an analysis of data collected from a large sample of farmers growing conventional and Bt cotton under real commercial field conditions over two seasons.... The analysis concentrates on addressing whether Indian farmers have experienced economic gains from growing Bt hybrids released by a company affiliated with Monsanto (Mahyco–Monsanto), compared with a complex of non-Bt hybrids and cultivars. The paper explores the performance of Bt varieties, including spatial differences.

The findings of this research can be put into the context of previous studies on Bt cotton. Many of these studies have shown potential gains to producers from growing Bt cotton in a number of developing countries, including South Africa, Argentina, Mexico, Indonesia, China, and India.

Qaim and Zilberman report substantial benefits from Bt cotton adoption, with yield increases of 80% and more over conventional cotton varieties, from extensive field trial results in India. However, some have been critical of field trial data, since they may not be entirely representative of growing conditions in the wider farming community. Indeed, using commercial planting data, this analysis found lower (but still substantial) average yield increases of 45% and 63% for Bt plots across the seasons compared to non-Bt. After allowing for differences in pesticide use etc., production function model estimates were 33% and 48%, respectively, for the Bt varieties compared with non-Bt varieties.

In assessing the benefits of the GM technology, it is important to recognize that there are likely to be a number of factors that could be contributing to the increased performance of Bt cotton. The first and most obvious is the Bt gene technology and the results presented here have shown a clear Bt effect. The second is the cotton variety used as the base for the Bt variety and its performance under local conditions. For example, it could be that the Bt cotton varieties use better (or worse) yielding hybrids than some of the conventional cotton grown. Thus, there may be both a Bt technology effect on performance (i.e., yield) and a hybrid

This study is one of the first of its kind in India based on "real" farms rather than the more artificial conditions that exist with trials.

Findings show that since its commercial release in 2002, Bt cotton has had a significant positive impact on yields and on the economic performance of cotton growers in Maharashtra. This echoes the findings for a number of other developing and developed countries (see Baffes).

However, it is important to note that there is spatial and temporal variation in this "benefit," and much can depend upon where production occurs and the season. Further data are required in future years to assess the ongoing performance of Bt cotton, and to separate out the influence of the Bt technology from other possible influences on performance. However, if the apparent advantages of GM cotton to farmers in India can be sustained, there could be a significant positive impact on farmers' livelihoods and on agricultural gross domestic product for India.

Full paper at http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/articles/biotech-art/farmlevel.html


The GMO experience in North and South America

- Greg Traxler, International J Technology and Globalisation, Vol. 2, Nos. 1/2, 2006

Abstract: This paper surveys the level and distribution of economic impacts of GMOs in the Americas from 1996-2004. Key institutional factors influencing GMO diffusion are discussed. In 2004 the Americas accounted for 94%, of world GMO area. Diffusion has been concentrated; four countries, four crops and two traits account for the vast majority of area.

The economic benefits of the diffusion of GMOs have been widely shared among farmers, industry, and consumers even though delivery has been through the private sector. GMOs have had a favourable environmental impact by facilitating reduced pesticide use and adoption of conservation tillage.

Full paper at http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/articles/biotech-art/gmoexperience.html


Comparative Analysis of the National Biosafety Regulatory Systems In East Africa

- Gregory Jaffe, IFPRI and CSPI, January 2006

This paper analyzes the current and proposed biosafety systems in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda using a set of components and characteristics common to functional and protective biosafety regulatory systems. It also assesses how those systems take into account the major international legal obligations that relate to biosafety, such the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol.

The paper identifies certain areas in each country's biosafety regulatory systems where further development and clarification would improve the biosafety system, making it more functional and protective. Those areas include: (1) the addition of procedures to ensure the food safety of genetically engineered organisms; (2) the inclusion of the standard and criteria for making an approval decision; (3) the differentiation of regulatory procedures based on the relative risk of the organism; and (4) an explanation of how socio-economic considerations will be defined and assessed.

Finally, the paper discusses possible ways the three countries can coordinate and harmonize their national biosafety regulatory systems so they are efficient, effective and make the best use of limited scientific and legal capacity.

Download full discussion Paper at http://www.ifpri.org/divs/eptd/dp/papers/eptdp146.pdf


Do Biotech Crops Reduce Pesticide Use?

- Jacques Durand - Jacques.Durand#versailles.inra.fr -

Dear colleagues, I have just read in the internal information sheet of a French research organization that GMO varieties do not make it possible to decrease consumption of pesticides, and even would increase them.

As this assertion is completely opposed to the information you publish, I would like to find a complete, comparative and detailed assessment of the studies on that question. Where is it available ? Thank you for your answer.

Response from Prakash:

One of the myths perpetuated by activists opposed to GM crops in tricking the gullible public and media is this bogus assertion that 'biotech crops do not reduce pesticide use'.

Various studies show significant reduction in pesticide usage due to biotech crop adoption. See reports by USDA ( http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aer810/aer810fm.pdf ) and also the National Center for Food and Ag Policy which says that "biotechnology-derived crops planted in 2004 reduced the use of pesticides in crop production by 62.0 million pounds. This represents a further 34% decrease in pesticide usage compared with 2003. " http://www.ncfap.org/whatwedo/pdf/2004ExecSummaryA.pdf

Much of the confusion and distortion arises because of the diverse types of pesticides and herbicides with varying levels of toxicity being used. Farmers are now switching to safer, less-toxic herbicides because of the herbicide-tolerant GM crops. See USDA's document "Genetically Engineered Crops: Has Adoption Reduced Pesticide Use?" from year 2000:

Further, in countries such as China farmers planting Bt cotton have reported 80% reduction in pesticide usage and fewer hospital visits due to pesticide poisonings.


New Zealand does not support technology to disadvantage Third World farmers

- Press Release, New Zealand Government, March 21, 2006 http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0603/S00381.htm

The New Zealand Government does not support the use of genetic technology which would disadvantage subsistence farmers in developing countries, says Environment Minister David Benson-Pope.
The Minister was today restating New Zealand's position in the wake of what he described as inaccurate, deliberately misleading and grossly irresponsible statements by non-governmental organisations and the Green Party.

Mr Benson-Pope says so-called 'suicide seeds' are just one application of an emerging technology called Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs). GURTs is a form of genetic modification that theoretically provides the means to turn genes on or off and is an umbrella term that encompasses a much broader range of technologies than just 'terminator' or seed sterilization technology.

"There is no moratorium or international agreement to ban the use of GURTs in genetically modified organisms (GMOs)," said Mr Benson-Pope. "The New Zealand government recognises the potential for both adverse and positive effects of such technology and chooses to consider the application of this technology on a case-by-case basis.

"For example, if there were some technology that ensured sterility in our possum population, would the New Zealand public not expect us to at least consider such a possibility?

"NGOs and developing countries have been highly critical of the potential application of GURTS technologies to make seed sterile after one season of use. The New Zealand Government agrees, and does not support the use of genetic technology in cases where subsistence farmers in developing countries would be significantly disadvantaged.

"New Zealand supports individual countries being allowed to determine for themselves the risks and benefits of any technology and make their own decisions as to whether or not they accept it," said Mr Benson-Pope.


GM Technology to Fight Arsenic Poisoning of Water

'Bright idea offers hope for drinking water'

Swissinfo, March 22, 2006. Full story at http://www.swissinfo.org/sen/swissinfo.html?siteSect=108&sid=6479843&cKey=1143027991000

Swiss researchers have developed a biosensor that lights up when it detects arsenic, and have successfully tested it in drinking water in Vietnam. The award-winning breakthrough could improve the lives of millions worldwide who face serious health problems caused by drinking arsenic-contaminated water.

Arsenic can lead to chronic poisoning if ingested regularly in small doses and is an acute problem in Bangladesh and Vietnam. It is also present in drinking water in China, Argentina, Hungary, New Zealand and the United States.

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology have developed a biosensor that highlights levels of arsenic in water.

Biosensors detect a substance by combining a biological component with a physico-chemical detector component. They often use organisms which respond to toxic substances at a much lower level than humans to warn us of their presence.

Using genetically modified bacteria that light up on contact with arsenic, the biosensor makes it possible to identify contaminated drinking water. Because the bio-illumination is proportional to the concentration of arsenic, a more brilliant light signals a higher presence of arsenic....


The Top 100 Living Contributors to Biotechnology

- From 'World Life Science Week' that ran October 9th -13, 2005 in London; October 2005; Produced by The Scientist magazine in association with Reed Exhibitions

"Over the last 30 years, a small group of visionaries in science, technology, legislation and business have driven the development of biotechnology. Today, in the midst of tremendous advances in medicine and agriculture, this exhibition and accompanying brochure pays tribute to the leaders that have shaped the biotechnology industry.

The Top 100 Living Contributors to Biotechnology have been selected by their peers and through independent polls conducted by Reed Exhibitions, a division of Reed Elsevier. Senior staff throughout the biotechnology industry have identified the most influential and inspirational pioneers. The results are presented here alphabetically.

To those named in the Top 100, and the many other contributors not listed, the biotechnology community is deeply appreciative."

Download the full list of 'Top 100 Living Contributors to Biotechnology' at http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/articles/biotech-art/top100.html

Few Select Names of Agbiotech Relevance from the "Top 100" List Above

Norman Borlaug is often referred to as the father of the Green Revolution. Borlaug headed a team that developed a breed of high-yield dwarf wheat able to resist an extensive range of plant pests and diseases. Their work in the mid-1960s led to the introduction of his grain and modern agricultural techniques to Mexico, Pakistan, and India; hugely improving the food-security of these nations. For this, Borlaug is credited with saving over 1 billion lives from death by starvation, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. --

Richard B. Flavell joined Ceres in 1998 as the CSO. From 1987 to 1998, he was the Director of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England, a premier plant and microbial research institute. He has published over 190 scientific articles, lectured widely and contributed significantly to the development of modern biotechnology in agriculture. His research group in the United Kingdom was among the very first to successfully clone plant DNA, isolate and sequence plant genes, and produce transgenic plants. Flavell is an expert in cereal plant genomics, having produced the first molecular maps of plant chromosomes to reveal the constituent sequences. He has been a leader in European plant biotechnology initiating and guiding a pan- European organization to manage large EU plant biotechnology research programs more effectively. In 1999, Flavell was named a Commander of the British Empire for his contributions to plant and microbial sciences. He is currently an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Ingo Potrykus is Professor Emeritus of Plant Sciences, at the Max Planck Institute of Plant Sciences and has contributed to food security in developing countries. Focusing on development and application of genetic engineering technology for crops such as rice (Oryza sativa), wheat (Triticum aestivum), sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), and cassava (Manihot esculenta). Potrykus researched the problems areas of disease and pest-resistance. He is considered the inventor of “Golden Rice” and is chairman of Humanitarian Golden Rice Board and Network. A recipient of numerous awards, Potrykus is a member of the Academia Europaea, the World Technology Network, and the Swiss Academy of Technical Sciences.

C.S. Prakish got into biotechnology research because he saw it as a future of biology–especially plant–breeding and was encouraged by the success of green revolution in India where he grew up. Prakash believes that genetic engineering will help the humanity and help enhance the quality of life for all. He has spent the past five years intensively on biotechnology education and outreach.

Marc Van Montagu is Chairman of the Institute Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries. Marc Van Montagu was formerly Full Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Genetics at the University of Gent (Belgium) and part-time professor at the Free University of Brussels (VUB). His main fields of research are cell biology, chemistry, virology, biotechnology, engineering, and microbiology. He is well known (with Prof. Jeff Schell) as the inventor of Agrobacterium tumefaciens transformation technology, now used worldwide to produce genetically engineered plants. Having contributed to founding the Belgian biotech company Plant Genetics Systems, he was its Scientific Director for four years and a Member of its Board of Directors.

Full list at http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/articles/biotech-art/top100.html


Visual Argumentation Mapping of GM Crop Debate

A visiting scholar at Stanford University Dr. Robert Horn has tried to develop a "visual cognitive map" the GM crop debate at http://www.macrovu.com/gmtest.html

There are four major maps and many small ones embedded in them:

* Genetically modified (GM) crops - The major debates
* What we don't know in the science of genetically modified crops and food
* Apparent strategies of political-economic forces
-- Apparent strategy of genetically modified food companies
-- Apparent strategy of anti-GM food groups

I found "cognitive maps" rather interesting and helpful in getting a snapshot of big picture. But such maps are only as useful as the sources. For instance, his map on "Unknowns in GM crops" is drawn from two sources -- one a dated Science paper, and another a NRDC anti-biotech brochure:


I am sure a similar map of "unknowns" about conventional crops would be about ten times larger.

He surely got this one mostly right - Strategy of Anti-GM activists http://www.macrovu.com/GMAntistrategy.html

Dr. Horn also has such cognitive maps for many other complex issues. See http://www.stanford.edu/~rhorn/index.html


Comments from Val Giddings -lvgiddings#yahoo.com-

This type of analytical discourse can be powerful, in well informed and critical hands. And while I think his distillation of the arguments by anti biotech forces is pretty good, the other ag biotech related bits are not nearly so strong.

For example, the attempt to map "what we don't know" is based on a ridiculously small sample of informational sources. Much of what is asserted as "unknown" is unknown perhaps to the author, but well known by many of the AgBioView audience.

A notable defect of this kind of analysis is the lack of perspective, or of a comparative context. Some of what Dr. Horn asserts is unknown about "GMOs" is, in an absolute sense, unknown. But our ignorance as to comparable questions relating to conventional or organic crops is frequently at least as large if not greater. And our experience with crops improved through biotech is such that we can have relatively higher confidence in their safety, as even the EU has acknowledged.

So this kind of mapping work, while potentially useful, is really no more valuable than the quality of inputs used. GIGO obtains. In the final analysis, I think a lot more work is required here to turn this effort into anything really useful. But I wonder what some of our philosophers think...


Biosafety Diploma by Distance Learning

An international academically accredited course based on innovative distance-learning technology


Registration is open until April 10, 2006. The course starts May 2, 2006.

Biotechnology's promise to revolutionize industrial practice is becoming a reality. Year by year the number of commercial biotechnology products increases exponentially. The anticipated wide-ranging impact of biotechnology on social and economic welfare makes it imperative that adequate safety standards be set to sustain and safeguard public health and the environment without hindering technological advancement. This demands institutional capacities and professional competence in exercising regulatory oversight.

Industrial countries have addressed biosafety with a number of regulatory approaches varying greatly in terms of scope and administrative detail. In developing countries, the lack of standards for the development, handling and commercialization of biotechnology products not only compromises human & animal health and environmental safety but, in addition, raises a major barrier to accessing technologies and products.

Currently, developing countries are setting up National Biosafety Frameworks in compliance with the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. However, compliance with national and international regulation of GMOs requires multi-disciplinary expertise and the ability to deal with a rapidly growing body of relevant information. At present, there is a lack of a critical mass of professionals to deal effectively with the complexity of issues related to the assessment and management of biological risks.

The Diploma in Biosafety assists industry and national authorities in applying regulatory standards and augments international capacity building efforts aimed at facilitating the implementation of the Cartegena Protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity through the provision of state-of-the-art knowledge in biological risk assessment and management.

The Diploma is the first academically accredited biosafety course in the world. It is distinctively interdisciplinary with students and faculty from natural & social sciences and the law.


Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How That Message Becomes Reality

- Steven Poole, Amazon.com price $14.95; Grove Press, 2006; ISBN: 0802118259

"Unspeak represents an attempt by politicians, interest groups, and business corporations to say something without saying it, without getting into an argument and so having to justify itself. At the same time, it tries to unspeak-- in the sense of erasing or silencing -- any possible opposing point of view by laying a claim right at the start to only one way of looking at a problem. Recalling the vocabulary of George Orwell's '1984' as an Unspeak phrase becomes a widely used term of public debate, it saturates the mind with one viewpoint while simultaneously makes an opposing view ever more difficult to enunciate."

From Prakash - Really?

For instance, inventing terms like "Terminator Seeds", "Suicide Seeds", "GM Contamination", "Frankenfood", "Franken Crops", "Genetic Erosion", "Factory Farm", "Gassy Food" for GM crops and products of modern agriculture, while using touchy-feely terms like "sustainable", "environmentally-friendly", "green" "earth-friendly", "natural", "ethical" for primitive alternatives?


Dark Secrets of the Organic Food Movement


"The organic-food movement is in danger of exacerbating the growing gap between rich and poor in this country by contributing to a two-tiered national food supply, with healthy (sic) food for the rich."


More civil and rational discourse...from the blogosphere


(But, this blogger can climb the corporate ladder quickly. See the virtues of profanity at
http://www.azcentral.com/business/articles/0321wsj-cubicle21-ON.html )


The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits

- C. K. Prahalad, Amazon.com price $18.89, Hardcover 496 pages, Wharton School Publishing, ISBN: 0131467506

The world's most exciting, fastest-growing new market? It's where you least expect it: at the bottom of the pyramid. Collectively, the world's billions of poor people have immense entrepreneurial capabilities and buying power. You can learn how to serve them and help millions of the world's poorest people escape poverty.
"C. K. Prahalad argues that companies must revolutionize how they do business in developing countries if both sides of that economic equation are to prosper. Drawing on a wealth of case studies, his compelling new book offers an intriguing blueprint for how to fight poverty with profitability." Bill Gates, Microsoft
By the Author: This book is a result of a long and lonely journey for me. It started during the Christmas vacation of 1995. During that period of celebration and good cheer, one issue kept nagging me: What are we doing about the poorest people around the world?

Why is it that with all our technology, managerial know-how, and investment capacity, we are unable to make even a minor contribution to the problem of pervasive global poverty and disenfranchisement? Why can t we create inclusive capitalism?

Needless to say, these are not new questions. However, as one who is familiar with both the developed and the developing world, the contrasts kept gnawing at me. It became clear that finding a solution to the problems of those at the bottom of the economic pyramid around the world should be an integral part of my next intellectual journey. It was also clear that we have to start with a new approach, a "clean sheet of paper."....

Poverty reduction can result from co-creating a market around the needs of the poor. We have to discard many of the "for and against" views of the world. For example, "are you for globalization or against it" is not a good question. Globalization, like all other major social movements, brings some good and some bad. Similarly, global versus local is not a useful debate. The tensions are real. .....

The focus is on the nature of changes that all players the large firm, NGOs, governmental agencies, and the poor themselves must accept to make this process work.
Watch the videos of the case studies of the book and introduction by C.K Prahald at http://www.bus.umich.edu/FacultyResearch/ResearchCenters/ProgramsPartnerships/IT-Champions/default.htm#XMAP