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March 25, 2006


Happy Birthday Norman; A Teenager Gets It; WTO Effect on Europe; Italian Court; Romania; GM - Diabetes; Flat World or Spiky?


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org : March 25, 2006

* Happy Birthday Norman!
* A Teenager's View of GM Foods
* Why Canada Should Support Coexistence Crops
* Environmental Benefits Beyond Pesticide Reduction....
* Modified Bt Cotton Performance in India
* Italian Court: Regions Must Decide on GM Crops
* Romania Should Defend Its Agricultural Interests, says U.S. Expert
* Will WTO Decision Open Up European Market?
* Indo-US Farm Deal Mutually Beneficial: Ag Minister
* Eat Local Foodies: Please Change Your Acronym
* Ag Studies Growing Solutions to Global Issues
* GM Insulin and Diabetes
* Biotech Study That Would be Applauded by Some Activists....
* Is the World Flat or Spiky?

Happy Birthday Norman!

Today March 25, 2006 marks the 92nd birthday of Dr. Norman Borlaug

AgBioWorld wishes him a Very Happy Birthday!

Please join me in wishing him health and strength for many more years to come. I say that with some self-interest as the world needs him and his wisdom now as much as ever before.

Please help celebrate the life and contributions of this great man in your own way by spreading his words.

Read on this marvellous scientist and his contributions at


Perhaps today is a good day to listen to that rap song again?


Many of you would remember that AgBioWorld helped celebrate his 90th birthday in 2004 where several world luminaries such as Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, and Tony Blair and sent greetings to Dr. Borlaug:


- Prakash

p.s. If you are interested in sending a note to Dr. Borlaug on his birthday, send it through his secretary at - eviesca#cgiar.org - (of course, changing the # with @)


A Teenager's View: Benefits of GM Foods

- Kelli Jansen, March 25, 2006 http://www.teenspeakonline.com/opinionslinkFOOD001.htm

Genetically modified foods are foods whose genes have been altered using recombinant DNA technology. Certain desirable genes from one organism are transferred into the food to enhance quality, enhance taste, add nutrients, conserve soil, conserve water, and conserve energy. Based on my research, I believe genetically modifying food is beneficial in the long run to the environment, economy and consumer.

Certain individuals, on the other hand, believe that genetically modified food is dangerous in economical, social, and environmental aspects. It's too early to know all of the effects it could have on the organisms whose genes are transferred to the food. It's too early to know if there are any health risks that come from eating the genetically modified food. Potentially, genetically modified food could cause allergic reactions in the consumer if s/he is allergic to the organism whose gene is added and is unaware that it is present in the food s/he is eating.

And theoretically, a possible economic monopoly could occur if some companies are able to genetically alter food while others can't afford the technology or afford the patent placed upon the gene. Meaning the farmers who grow crops the old fashioned way using their knowledge of heredity to manipulate breeding would become non-existent when larger corporations could, with much more ease, further enhance the same food.

Genetically modifying food would actually help the economy for farmers. With the ability of genetic recombination, farmers could produce desirable crops more efficiently, more quickly, using less land, using less water and using less energy. In the long run, they would make more profits off the flawless crops, and not take the monetary risk of no crops due to bad weather, for instance. People would also be more likely to buy food with more nutrients whose quality and taste is enhanced. Who wouldn't want that? People would be spending money on healthier food, everyone benefits. The people and the farmers who would be selling more crops both benefit from genetically modified food.

By using recombinant DNA technology, water, energy and soil would be preserved which benefits the environment. To get a big, red, juicy tomato, less water would need to used or wasted if the tomato doesn't prosper as anticipated, less soil would be wasted by the resulted imperfect tomatoes, and less energy spent on tomatoes destined to not grow to begin with. The tomatoes could just have genes from other organisms added to give it bigger, redder, juicier, tastier, more nutritional qualities. If genetically modifying foods can preserve the environment, then genetically modify foods and preserve the environment!

Genetically modifying food can also benefit the consumer because nutrients can be added along with the enhancement of taste and quality. When do tasty foods have any nutritional value these days? Places like McDonalds could use genetically enhanced potatoes for their French fries to make them healthier. That would be beneficial for the consumer, health-wise, and great for a place like McDonalds' image. Again, everybody benefits from the genetically modified goods.

Foods appeasing to customers could be healthier, and not to mention better for the environment and economy too. For today's society, genetically modifying foods is the start to a brighter future for the economy, for people and for the environment.

Kelli is a high school student who is deeply interested in writing. She has experience with many forms of writing, including short stories, poetry, and her most recent endeavor, editorials. Like many other teenagers, Kelli enjoys listening to music and hanging out with her friends.


Why Canada Should Support Coexistence Crops

- Robert Wager, March 22, 2006 http://www.checkbiotech.org/

There is no such thing as risk-free anything. However, this fact does not stop some from demanding risk-free agricultural biotechnology.

The controversies (mostly hypothetical) over genetically engineered (GE) crops and food never seem to end. As soon as one scare story is demonstrated to be false or highly unlikely, another floods the media. No doubt, this is by design. Canada recently stirred up a hornets nest when its representatives at the meeting of the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity in Bangkok called for the end to a de facto moratorium on the research and development of genetic use restriction technologies for genetically engineered crops. Recently several other countries have joined Canada in calling for an end to the ban.

Genetic use restriction technologies or GURTs are systems designed to prevent the unwanted transfer of transgenes (the DNA engineered into GE plants) to other plants or the unauthorized propagation of transgenic crops. There are several different ways they work, but these systems have one thing in common. They all block the possibility of the engineered genes and traits from ending up elsewhere.

Some GURT-containing GE seeds will not germinate, for example, while other GURT engineered plants will produce only sterile pollen. Either way, no genetically engineered genes will spread to other plants. This is why critics of GE crops call these terminator technologies. However, a more appropriate and descriptive term would be coexistence crops, since they would eliminate the possibility of two neighboring fields crossing with each other. Perhaps more than any other aspects of genetically engineered crops, these technologies have been the target of massive fear-generating campaigns by critics.

Critics say coexistence crops threaten farmers in the developing world by preventing the saving of seed from this year's crop for next years planting. But coexistence crops are not designed for developing world farmers. They are designed, in part, for farmers who already buy new seed each year. Most farmers in the developed world buy hybrid, certified or transgenic seed each year. These types of seed cost more, but produce far better yields, protect the environment or cost far less to grow, so the farmer gains in the end. Virtually all corn grown in North America is from hybrid seed with 50 per cent transgenic. Better than 70 per cent of the canola grown in Canada is transgenic. The benefits are well documented, including less pesticide use, healthier corn with less fungal toxin contamination and healthy canola oils that are trans-fat free.

The development and incorporation of coexistence crops would have several advantages over today's transgenic crops. Along with ending illegal propagation of transgenic crops, the issue of horizontal gene flow would also be eliminated. Therefore, there would no longer be any issue of cross-pollination between transgenic and organic crops.

Perhaps this is why certain groups are fighting the development of coexistence crops so ferociously. In fact, pollen from transgenic crops does not threaten organic crop certification at all. According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), there should not be any threshold of cross-pollination, and if it occurs it does not necessarily threaten the organic status of the product. The IFOAM does not even advocate mandatory testing for the cross-pollination of organically grown crops from transgenic ones.

It has been suggested that coexistence crops will threaten biodiversity. Critics claim the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, of which Canada is a signature, prohibits the development of coexistence crops. However, Article 2 of the protocol states: "Parties shall ensure that the development, handling, transport, use and release of any living modified organism [international term for GE crops] are undertaken in a manner that prevents or reduces the risks to biodiversity."

Since coexistence crops would block gene flow from transgenic crops to other plants, their incorporation into biotechnology crops is actually in keeping with the International Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety agreement. There are approximately 60,000 seed varieties sold in North America each year. There are approximately 100 transgenic varieties of crops. It seems very far-fetched to suggest 100 transgenic varieties with sterile GURT engineering are going to threaten 60,000 non-transgenic varieties.

Blocking gene flow is important in another area of agricultural biotechnology. Up to now the production of most pharmaceuticals has required very expensive laboratories and production facilities. This is all about to change. Scientists have developed ways to make pharmaceuticals in plants. This has tremendous health and economic benefits. Where once a particular pharmaceutical might cost $100 per dose to produce, it can now be made in a plant for pennies. Everything from vaccines to heart medicines will be produced in genetically engineered plants. Of course, safety issues surrounding the growing of "pharma crops" have been considered in detail. There are very elaborate rules to maintain separation between food and pharmaceutical producing crops, including dedicated fields, large isolation distances, dedicated equipment, as well as separate storage and processing facilities.

Adding GURT technology to pharma crops would further increase the safety with the complete elimination of the possibility of pollen flow from pharma crops to related plants.

The whole world stands to benefit from such developments. Soon the lack of refrigeration that has hampered vaccine delivery in many parts of the world will no longer be a problem, for example. Pharma crops containing edible vaccines will be grown wherever they are needed. Two of the pharma crops furthest along in development contain vaccines for Hepatitis and Norwalk virus. Hundreds of millions of people stand to benefit from these advances in agricultural biotechnology.

Almost 10 years of growing biotechnology crops has demonstrated huge environmental benefits, better yields and healthier food with absolutely no demonstrated harm from consumption. Canada should be applauded for its call for a return of a science-based approach to continued research and development of coexistence crops. It is clear there are many benefits to incorporating coexistence crops into agricultural biotechnology.

Robert Wager is a researcher at Malaspina University College in Nanaimo BC in Canada http://www.mala.ca/


Greater Environmental Benefit Including Pesticide Reduction....

- Graham Brookes - graham.brookes#btinternet.com -

Having read your note (below) in AgBioView, you might like to read a copy our paper published in the peer reviewed scientific journal AgBioforum last October:


This not only shows that biotech crops have delivered a reduction in the volume of pesticides used (6% saving) but more importantly in terms of the impact on the environment (as measured by the indicator the environmental impact quotient), the benefit has been higher at a 14% reduction in the environmental impact.

If you have any queries relating to this paper, please let me know

Regards, Graham Brookes, PG Economics

> 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.


Modified Bt Cotton Performance in Maharashtra

- Fibre 2 Fashion (India), March 24, 2006. Full story at http://www.fibre2fashion.com/news/textile-news/newsdetails.aspx?news_id=14559

The AgBioWorld Foundation reported a the 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. In March 2002, the Indian Government allowed commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton. The Bt gene produces a protein that is toxic to bollworms.

Over 12,000 hectares in the state of Maharashtra grown by over 17,000 farmers (Maharashtra State Department of Agriculture). This increased to some 86,000 hectares in 2003 (30,000 in Maharashtra) and to over 530,000 hectares in 2004 (205,000 in Maharashtra).


Italian Constitutional Court Rules Regions Must Decide on GM Crops

- BBC Monitoring Europe - Political, March 24, 2006 (via Vivian Moses)

Text of report by Annamaria Capparelli, entitled "The veto on GMOs falls, the regions will decide", published by Italian newspaper Il Sole-24 Ore website on 18 March

Rome: The Constitutional Court has thrown out the law that governs the coexistence between conventional agricultural crops and those obtained with genetically modified seeds (GMOs) [Genetically Modified Organisms], and it indirectly ends the de facto moratorium that so far has prevented Italy from introducing biotechnology.

From the constitutional aspect, the emphasis is aimed at the question of jurisdiction, recognizing exclusively to the Regions the right to dictate the rules on "coexistence" between the two different crops. But the judges also went into the merits. The ruling was published yesterday, on the same day as Agricultural Policies Minister Gianni Alemanno, by a coincidence that not everyone considers accidental, had summoned the sector to the Chigi Palace's agriculture and foods table to present the guidelines on coexistence, with a delay of six months.

The minister's order was thus immediately invalidated. The Constitutional Court in fact "saved" only the first two articles of Law 5/2005, which introduce the principle of coexistence, sanction the consumer's freedom of choice between GMO and conventional products, and restrict the crops to inside production chains that are separate with respect to the conventional and biological ones. The "ruins" of the law ended up in the sights of the constitutional judges, who decreed the Regions have exclusive legislative jurisdiction on the matter.

Challenging the law was the Council of the Marche, one of the 13 Italian regions that have declared themselves GMO-free.

But the tenor of the verdict does not validate the anti-biotech claims. And so, an irony of fate, the law was shot down by none other than "friendly fire". The verdict is very detailed and goes into the merits of the GMO question and also makes precise reference to the imposition of limits on the freedom of economic initiative, which has to be justified by grounded scientific tests.

At this point, the ball passes to the Regions, which will have to regulate the matter, but keeping well in mind the Community ties.

The European Commission, in fact - which has ruled out making a regulation of its own on the matter and has thrown back to the individual countries the task of issuing national rules on coexistence - has reaffirmed that regional laws with a generalized prohibition on GMO crops will not be accepted without a justification based on the risks. Thus, the position is still firm that led the Commission to reject the legislative bill with absolute prohibition on GMO crops notified by Upper Austria.

On coexistence, Europe continues in any case to travel in open formation, and so far only Germany, Denmark, Portugal, and six Austrian states have notified Brussels of their own rules. Italy had just succeeded, after two years of work, in putting the text down in black and white that indicates the things farmers are asked to comply with in the GMO fields and sets, among other things, the reference distances, which for corn go from a minimum of 200 meters to 1,000 meters, in order to ensure the minimum risk of commingling with regard to the biological crops of grain and seed corn, while for soy beans the grid goes from 50 to 200 meters. The measure also defines the method of inspection and the conditions for a return to conventional crops.

At this point, the text may, however, remain just a legislative exercise. According to Minister Alemanno, "the Constitutional Court has opened a dangerous passage for widespread contamination of GMO materials also in the Regions and the prize agricultural areas that want to remain GMO-free". The minister has already announced he wants to define an emergency measure, in agreement with the Regions.

On the other hand, the ruling was greeted with satisfaction by Assobiotec [National Association for Development of Biotechnologies], the biotechnology development association that is part of Federchimica [National Federation of the Chemical Industry]. "Finally, in Italy also," commented President Roberto Gradnik, "as in the rest of Europe for over two years already, it is possible to sell and use the authorized GMOs [that have passed] through the sieve of the most severe standards and the most rigorous controls existing in the world today."


Romania Should Defend Its Agricultural Interests, says U.S. Expert

Andreea Pocotila, Bucharest Daily News, March 24, 2006 http://www.daily-news.ro

Romania is a country with a great agricultural potential and it should defend its interests in this field in front of the European Union, said U.S. expert on agriculture matters, Charles Hanrahan. "Romania might promote some interests, as at least on agriculture it will have to be heard at the European Commission level," said Hanrahan yesterday.

He said after the EU accession Romania might become one of the big agriculture powers in Europe because of its potential and of the high number of people working in this field. The expert implied that Romania might stand for the cultivation of genetically modified organism, as the Minister of Agriculture forbid the crops of genetically modified soy starting next year.

Romania is the only country in Europe with modified soy on large surfaces, on about 90,000 hectares of the total surface of 130,000 hectares cultivated with soy. The ministry is working on a draft that will forbid the cultivation of such crops starting this year on protected areas and on a surface of 15 kilometers around such areas.

Hanrahan said that forbidding these crops in Romania starting 2007 is more a political decision mace by the authorities in the context of the European Union accession and that might be reconsidered after the integration.

Hanrahan is not the only one who says the genetically modified crops should be allowed, as the Monsanto company asked he European Authority for Food Safety to permit cultivation of genetically modified soy on the entire territory of the European Union.

The European Commission has so far authorized over 30 modified products used in animal and human food that can be commercialized on the EU market in accordance with the union's legislation.


Will WTO Decision on European Biotech Crop Regulatory Approval Open Up European Market?

- Cliff Sosnow, Mondaq Business Briefing March 23, 2006 http://www.mondaq.com/ (Originally published in Blakes Bulletin on International Trade, March 2006) (Via V. Moses)

When the lens used by many to view this WTO dispute is shorn of the dark emotions of fear and hostility to biotech crops, the actual issues examined by the panel are relatively straightforward.

Over the last decade, the accumulated global biotech crop area has grown in size to an amount that is 20 times the total land area of the United Kingdom or, to put it another way, to almost half the total land area in China.

The recognized mega-producers - the leaders - of biotech crop production in the world are the United States, followed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada and China. While farmers in these countries and in other countries have consistently increased their plantings of biotech crops by double-digit growth rates every year since biotech crops were first commercialized in 1996, farmers in the leading producer countries have looked at the European Union (EU) as a walled fortress with very few and, for all intents and purposes, closed or heavily-guarded gates preventing biotech crop access to, or production in, countries in the EU. For example, in 1998, what was once an average CAD 185 million a year in trade for Canola in the EU had dwindled by 2003 to a mere CAD 1.5 million.

The key to growing a currently estimated USD 44 billion biotech crop industry to a projected USD 210 billion behemoth in the coming years is developing country approval to permit their farmers to grow biotech crops currently in use and in development. And the key to that approval may reside deep in the bowels of a just-released, confidential, interim-WTO panel report on the EU's biotech crops approval process and whether that process complies with the WTO's Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement.

The WTO Issues A Ruling

In a 1,000 plus page decision of dense legal reasoning, a WTO panel looked at the failure of the EU, as alleged by the United States, Canada and Argentina, to make final decisions on the approval of biotech products from October 1998 to the time of the establishment of the WTO panel in August 2003; and the WTO-consistency of prohibitions imposed by certain EU member states regarding specific biotech products even after these products had been approved by the EU for European-wide marketing.

The EU has had legislation since 1990 on the regulatory approval of biotech products (commonly referred to as genetically modified organisms or GMOs) and up until about 1998 had authorized the commercial release of nine biotech crops. That changed in the late 1990s when Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg banned imports of biotech crops into, and the marketing of the products in, these countries even though the EU had given previous regulatory approval for such products. When coupled with allegations by the complaining countries that the EU regulatory authorities have been effectively "sitting on" applications for regulatory approval of 27 new biotech crops, it is not difficult to appreciate the complexity of the dispute and why it has taken almost three years for a panel to issue its interim ruling. Understandable, too, are the enormous political pressures impinging on this dispute.

The Ruling Has Been A Source Of Deep Anxiety

After all, it wasn't that long ago that Europeans suffered one shock after another to their food safety regulatory systems. Everything from mad cow disease to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease to scientific musings about the carcinogenic effects of consuming beef from cows treated with growth hormones and antibiotics have left Europeans extremely concerned about their food safety and mistrustful of government regulatory systems. And politicians in Europe, like politicians elsewhere, have tried to be responsive to those concerns. Yet when the lens used by many to view this WTO dispute is shorn of the dark emotions of fear and hostility to biotech crops, the actual issues examined by the panel are relatively straightforward.

In its ruling, the panel did not examine whether biotech products in general are safe or not (although the panel noted that both the evidence provided by the EU and the advice provided by a panel of scientific experts advising the panel indicates that many of the identified concerns "are highly unlikely to occur in practice"). The panel did not examine whether the EU has a right to demand the pre-marketing approval of biotech products. The EU approval procedures that provide for a product-by-product scientific assessment of various potential risks were not raised by any of the complaining parties. Nor, in fact, were the conclusions of the relevant European scientific committees regarding the safety evaluation of specific biotech products; although they did challenge the scientific basis for some of the objections made by the various European member states that have refused to give marketing approval of biotech products in their market. What The WTO Panel Found

Two fundamental questions have girded this entire dispute. First, did EU officials apply a general moratorium in practice on approval of biotech products between October 1998, when European officials no longer gave authorizations or approvals on biotech products, and August 2003, the date of the establishment of the WTO panel? And, as a corollary to that, did EU officials fail to consider applications for final approval concerning 27 biotech products for which the EU had already commenced approval procedures? Second, were the prohibitions (called "safeguard measures") by Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg applied without regard to the legal obligation under the SPS Agreement to conduct a science-based risk assessment of the risks to human health or the environment of the biotech products sought to be introduced into these markets by the complaining parties?

The panel found that indeed EU officials operated as if there was no regulatory system for the approval of biotech products. The panel concluded that EU officials, in practice, ignored their own legal system of biotech product approvals between 1999 and 2003, not only as a general means of operation but also respecting 24 of 27 products for which EU officials had already commenced approval procedures. In so doing, the panel concluded that the EU violated its SPS obligation to the complaining parties to complete individual approval procedures "without undue delay" as required by Article 8, Annex C of the SPS Agreement.

The panel also concluded that the member states that prohibited the marketing of biotech products did not perform a proper, science-based risk assessment to support the prohibition, although some of the member states did conduct scientific studies. The panel examined whether risk assessments undertaken by EU scientific committees could provide "reasonable support" for the prohibitions but concluded that this, too, was not the case. In light of these assessments, the panel had no choice but to conclude that each of the safeguard measures violated Articles 5.1 and 2.2 of the SPS Agreement that require a risk assessment of the health and environmental risks of biotech products based on sufficient scientific evidence.

The Ruling May Not Yield Better Market Access

The long term implications of the interim panel report are difficult to assess simply because so much depends on how the EU, its member states and other countries, including developing countries that are considering increasing acreage planted with biotech crops, react to the decision. If vigorously pursued, the decision clears the path to significantly increased biotech crop development and commerce for a number of reasons. First, the decision authorizes and empowers the EU to get the identified member states to lift their bans on the pre-marketing approval of biotech product introductions into their markets. Second, the decision sends a message to the EU that it is under a clear obligation to use the regulatory tools at its disposal to process biotech product applications in a timely way based on a scientific rules-based review system. Third, the decision sends a message to developing countries that have been holding back on increasing acres planted with biotech products out of concern that crop yields will be shut out of lucrative European markets, that Europe can be a robust market for their product.

Yet even now there are complaints that EU officials are still operating an approval process at a snail's pace. Added to this are new EU labelling rules that require all foods derived from biotech products, whether or not the genetic alteration is detectable in the final product, to bear a label saying that they have been produced from biotech crops. Coupled with EU regulations that impose extensive documentation requirements tracing the usage of biotech crops from the farm to further processing to the distribution chain, producers and suppliers of biotech products continue to view the European market as one walled off by a dense thicket of regulations and regulatory approvals despite this forceful WTO ruling.


Indo-US Farm Deal Mutually Beneficial: Agriculture Minister

- Hindustan Times (India), March 24, 2006

New Delhi -- Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said here on Friday that the pact between India and the United States in the agriculture sector would prove beneficial for both countries by increasing agricultural research.

"We are happy about the deal. It will particularly benefit biotechnology and other research sectors in agricultural sciences," Pawar told reporters on the sidelines of the national convention on "Knowledge-driven agricultural development: Management of change" organised by Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR).

He said that biotechnology has tremendous potential of dealing with the intricate problems of falling natural resource health and rising expectations on quantity and quality of food. "In view of its importance, we have recently launched a major Indo-US Knowledge Initiative, in which there is considerable focus on biotechnology," said Pawar.

Allaying fears expressed by activists about potential risks to food security from the Indo-US deal, Mangala Rai, Director General, ICAR said that there was no agreement under the deal to allow access to the country's indigenous gene pool. He said that the issues related to Intellectual Property Rights during the collaborative period would be decided on a mutual basis.


Eat Local Foodies: Please Consider Changing the Acronym for Your Activism

Dear Editor of Times Record:

Regarding today's piece in your newspaper: "How to become an ELF for $10 a week"


Your contributor Darreby Ambler is either naive or misinformed when she denounces modern agricultural practices
> ("Fertilizer, pesticides and genetically modified ingredients are dangerous. The plastic wrap that encases most of the food we now buy is made from toxic petroleum").

These and other innovations have led to bountiful and safe food at affordable price for much of the humanity for the first time (and not just for few elites as it always been in the past). Without modern agriculture, that helps us to produce food efficiently on a finite land, much of the word would still be starving or we would have cleared up the entire landmass of earth to grow food.

However, what made my jaw drop was her call for your readers to join ELF which I recognized later as her acronym for 'Eat Local Foodie'.

If Ms. Ambler is still insistent, can you please advise her to come up with a better acronym for her activism as 'ELF' is already taken — by Earth Liberation Front, an underground environmental terrorist group notorious for destroying property whose members are wanted by FBI?

Sincerely yours,

C. S. Prakash


Ag Studies Growing Solutions to Global Issues

- Don Curlee, Capital Press Ag Weekly, March 24, 2006

A group of agricultural researchers at the University of California has published a study that encourages a "can do" attitude by farmers, agricultural researchers and political leaders.

It says they hold the key to reducing significantly America’s dependence on fossil fuels, utilizing marginal lands without straining irrigation water supplies and addressing the challenges of environmental stewardship while meeting the demand for food.

And it’s not "pie in the sky." But it requires a greater commitment to biotechnology than exists currently and a realization by the majority and by politicians that several movements and adherents to status-quo ideals will have to step aside or be run over by agricultural progress.

While the study takes a broad world view of production, consumption and population dynamics in the next 50 years, it emphasizes the role California agriculture can and should play in meeting energy, food and environmental needs.

It envisions the discovery of new enzymes that will hasten the conversion of switchgrass and other marginal crops to ethanol and a wider acceptance of both bio-diesel and ethanol as fuels (40 percent of the automobiles in Brazil already use 100 percent ethanol for fuel). Switchgrass, the African native, received wide attention recently when it was mentioned by President Bush as an alternative fuel resource.

The UC report carefully assesses the impact on food production when some land is converted to potentially fuel-rich crops, but expresses confidence that a strong commitment to genetically modified plants for both food and fuel outputs can make it possible and profitable.

The study cites the extraordinary 10-fold growth in world agricultural production from 1800 to 2000, which outran a six-fold increase in world population. While that growth in productivity was the result of increased water, land and fertilizer inputs and accompanying technology, the study projects that biotechnology, coupled with conventional methods, can produce another 200-percent increase in productivity in the next several decades.

The researchers who conducted the study are Steven Sexton, a doctoral student, David Zilberman, professor in the agricultural and resource economics department at Berkeley and Leslie Martin, a graduate student in the School of Public Policy at Berkeley. It recognizes total U. S. cropland slightly in excess of 430 million acres, but points out that an additional 578 million acres are available for producing crops such as switchgrass.

It expresses enthusiasm for the expanded use of cellulosic alternatives such as grasses, woody crops, wood waste, paper and perhaps rice straw for ethanol production. "Mustard can be grown on land that is worth less than land used to grow corn and soy," the report says, "and can be beneficial to wheat production if used in rotation. Furthermore, mustard is an adaptable crop that can be genetically altered to meet specific needs."

What the study seems to say: Solutions are not only out there, but on the way, for some of what are commonly termed the world's greatest needs and agriculture is poised to provide them. Some gloom-and-doom theorists and hard-core obstructionists hiding behind environmental and societal half-truths won’t be pleased with this positive path to progress, but it’s not likely they can prevent it.

They and the rest of us, especially those in agriculture, might be required to give greater credence to the gospel according to Lee Iacocca espoused in those old TV commercials for Chrysler: Lead, follow or get out of the way.

Agriculture is on the march.

Don Curlee is a veteran ag publications editor and ag freelancer who writes on a variety of farm-related topics from Clovis, Calif.


GM Insulin and Diabetes

- Prof. Tom DeGregori, University of Houston http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg/GM.htm

Excerpt from a posting of mine: In a debate on GM food, a speaker mentioned that a woman in London taking synthetic insulin was having unspecified medical problems. Her unnamed doctor switched her to bovine insulin and she recovered. He prefaced this with the statement that he did not know what this meant which led to my responding by asking why then did he bring it up. If one thought about it, something that anti-GM believers and other ideologues are not supposed to do, his comment made absolutely no sense statistically or scientifically. One case, even if correctly reported proves absolutely nothing as there could be a multiplicity of other confounding factors involved and the speaker himself began the debate on GM food asking that we exclude pharmaceuticals. So why did he bring it up?
I received this reply to my posting above:

He probably brought it up because "the public will always believe a simple lie rather than a complex truth" (Alexis, Comte de Tocqueville, 1885-1959) Indeed, every time someone brings up this old argument re GM insulin versus non-GM, send them to a diabetic who understands the history of their diabetic management.

As a type-1 diabetic since 1961, I've experienced both types of insulin. GM is better for all because:
1) Only with GM insulin is it possible to maintain the best blood sugar control and thus avoid complications in later life. (Non GM insulin meant restriction to just one injection a day, hence only one opportunity to control and correct blood sugars. Too high for too long and ultimately the arteries disintegrate)

2) In the pre-GM insulin days, the current tight control of blood sugar (4 - 9 mml) was much higher than it is today. (If today's standards of blood sugar control had been adopted in the pre-1980s, the same sudden low-blood sugar reactions that can be fatally experienced today would also have been suffered then by some)

3) Some students especially, who are normally stable diabetics, and who sadly may have died when asleep in the night due to apparently very severe "hypos", have actually drunk too much alcohol and eaten insufficiently during the evening (in diabetics, alcohol causes blood sugar to fall quicker than normal, and if you're drunk, you don't wake up in time to take some glucose to reverse the problem. No parent will admit to that)

I received further information about the author of the above note to me from C.S. Prakash:

In this context, I must tell you more on the above author's personal struggles with diabetes since 1961, as it is very poignant. He recently got both of his legs amputated due to long-term complications with diabetes. He is my hero because he is still exuberant as always, and keeps very active despite his health issues. I say this because couple of months ago after his second leg amputation, the author said that if he had had GM insulin in 1960s, he would still have his legs today. So to those individuals who oppose advances in genetic technologies, his support for GM arises from a deep intellectual understanding of the scientific issues and a personal experience which adds a vital dimension to his understanding. Unfortunately those who organize to oppose GM food and pharmaceuticals have neither the scientific knowledge or the personal experience of hunger and disease that makes GM such a vital necessity.

I received further clarification on this alleged event that created the "urban legend":

It was a newspaper account of a rather questionable anecdote in a British newspaper involving a woman with a diabetic husband. He switched from bovine insulin to GM insulin and began beating her. His rages subsided after switching back to the bovine stuff. That is how it was first told, and the story has suffered from the retelling. It probably suffered in the first telling. There was no mention of possible interventions by law enforcement authorities, etc., which given her description of his behavior was highly likely. The story was, however, portrayed as vindication of the evils of unknown etc. of GM.


A Biotech Study That Would be Applauded by Some Activists....

'DNA Separates Hemp from Marijuana Plants'

- UPI Wire, Mar 22, 2006 http://www.postchronicle.com/news/science/article_21211447.shtml

Two University of Minnesota scientists have become the first to unequivocally separate hemp plants from marijuana plants by using genetic markers. Hemp, a crop grown for fiber and seed, and marijuana, the most popular illegal drug in the United States, both belong to the species Cannabis sativa. They differ in levels of the psychoactive drug tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, but are otherwise difficult to tell apart.

The study's authors -- George Weiblen, a Minnesota professor of plant biology, and Shannon Datwyler a postdoctoral associate who is on the faculty of California State University-Sacramento -- say the new DNA "fingerprinting" technique holds promise for distinguishing different domesticated plant lines in U.S. criminal cases. It may also prove useful in nations where the cultivation of hemp is permitted, but marijuana is illegal, as in Canada and Europe. The study appears in the March issue of the Journal of Forensic Science.


Is the World Flat or Spiky?

- From Prakash

Many of you may have read this engaging book 'The World is Flat' by Tom Friedman of NY times. I certainly recommend this best seller especially for its enthusiasm on the future of developing countries such as India and China.

See http://www.thomaslfriedman.com/worldisflat.htm

Watch Friedman's engaging lecture on this book topic at MIT http://mitworld.mit.edu/stream/264/

The focus of TWF is on 'Globalization' where Friedman argues that connectivity is making the world a level playing field. Countries like India and China will be increasingly dominating the future economic world as their entrepreneurial and scientific prowess is unleashed (much to the consternation of Lous Dobbs of the world). "In a flat world, you can innovate without having to emigrate.”

Not so fast, according to Richard Florida author of a superb article "The World is Spiky".
See http://www.creativeclass.org/acrobat/TheWorldIsSpiky.pdf

Be sure to look at the amazing global maps showing spikes of population, patents and scientific creations across the world.

"Globalization has changed the economic playing field, but hasn't leveled it"

"By almost any measure the international economic landscape is not at all flat. On the contrary, our world is amazingly 'spiky' In terms of both sheer economic horsepower and cutting-edge innovation"

"New York’s economy alone is about the size of Russia's or Brazil's, and Chicago's is on a par with Sweden's. Together New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston have a bigger economy than all of China."

"Innovation--the engine of economic growth--that is most concentrated. (Of 300,000 patents awarded) in 2002, Nearly two thirds of them went to American and Japanese inventors..... In 2003 India generated 341 U.S. patents and China 297. The University of California alone generated more than either country. IBM accounted for five times as many as the two combined.

This is not to say that Indians and Chinese are not innovative. ...Indian and Chinese entrepreneurs founded or co-founded roughly 30 percent of all Silicon Valley startups in the late 1990s. But these fundamentally creative people had to travel to Silicon Valley and be absorbed into its innovative ecosystem before their ideas became economically viable. Such ecosystems matter, and there aren’t many of them. "

"Concentrations of creative and talented people are particularly important for innovation, according to
the Nobel Prize–winning economist Robert Lucas. Ideas flow more freely, are honed more sharply, and can be put into practice more quickly when large numbers of innovators, implementers, and financial backers are
in constant contact with one another..."

"So although one might not have to emigrate to innovate, it certainly appears that innovation, economic
growth, and prosperity occur in those places that attract a critical mass of top creative talent. Because globalization has increased the returns to innovation, by allowing innovative products and services to quickly reach consumers worldwide, it has strengthened the lure that innovation centers hold for our planet’s best and brightest, reinforcing the spikiness of wealth and economic production. "

But spiky globalization also wreaks havoc on poorer places. .... India is growing even more divided, as Bangalore, Hyderabad, and parts of New Delhi and Bombay pull away from the rest of that enormous country, creating destabilizing political tensions. .... Managing the disparities between peaks and valleys worldwide--raising the valleys without shearing off the peaks--will be among the top political challenges of the coming decades. "

I thank my son Sandeep for forwarding me the 'Spiky' link...CSP