Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: March 31, 2006
* A Battle for Hearts and Mouths
* Australia: Take a Bow, Mr Stanhope, for Taking a Stance on GM Crops
* A Forced Abrupt End to Food Dependency: Implications of High Oil Prices
* Global Leaders Launch Effort to Turn Around Africa's Failing Agriculture
* Turf Warrior
* Nobel Winner's Legacy
* Green Gold and Cargo Cults
* Tropical Crop Biotechnology Conference
* BIO 2006 is Just 10 Days Away
* "The Future of Food" Movie Now Online
* New book on GMOs by Jeffrey M. Smith- Genetic Roulette
* EMS and Tryptophan: From Rick Roush to Jeffrey Smith
* Tryptophan supplements to get new market in UK
* Novel method for food-grade tryptophan production
A Battle for Hearts and Mouths
- Thomas Fuller, International Herald Tribune, MARCH 31, 2006
BANGKOK - There won't be any news conferences or popping flash bulbs when U.S. officials meet with their Southeast Asian counterparts here in the coming week to discuss biotechnology. The meeting, sponsored by the United States, is intended to be a low-key discussion where participants "share and analyze their major concerns" about genetically modified crops, according to the invitation.
But the larger context of the seminar is more important than the quiet preparations would suggest. Asia is caught in the middle of a high-stakes debate over biotechnology, the outcome of which could determine whether genetically modified food is adopted worldwide or remains primarily grown and consumed in the Americas.
Sandwiched between skeptical Europe and gung-ho America, the world is watching to see which way Asia will tilt. "The fight is actually in Asia," said Chee Yoke Ling, a lawyer based in Kuala Lumpur who has followed the issue of genetically modified organisms for a decade. "This is where you have the biggest market. If a country like China decides it can produce food without GMOs, then it would swing the world away from the technology."
Asian countries are sending mixed signals on the issue. They are aggressively pursuing the next generation of biotechnology plants, conducting hundreds of field trials involving genetically modified rice, tomatoes, palms for palm oil and many other crops. And they are competing with each other for biotechnology investment. The Chinese government spends well over $100 million on biotech crop research annually, more than any other government outside the United States.
But there is also growing caution in Asia about the technology. Thailand has refused to lift its moratorium on biotechnology crop testing, Japanese consumers remain skeptical, and the Malaysian government has been bogged down by eight years of debate over a law on biosafety.
Many governments, especially in Southeast Asia, fear that if they adopt biotechnology crops there could be a backlash from Europe, where many consumers remain fiercely opposed. When experimental modified rice being cultivated in Hubei Province in China leaked into the food chain in April 2005, the European Union expressed its concern to the Chinese government, a possible harbinger of further trade tensions.
"The government was alarmed and is now very careful," said Xue Dayuan, a professor at the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Science and an official at the State Environmental Protection Administration.
The United States, which plants more than half of the world's total acreage of genetically modified crops, is seeking to influence the Asian biotechnology debate through conferences, sponsored trips for farmers and journalists and trade negotiations. The U.S. government is paying for airfares and hotel rooms for some of the delegates attending next week's seminar, one example of U.S. efforts to raise awareness of biotechnology.
U.S. officials from several agencies meet monthly in Washington to coordinate programs promoting biotechnology, a campaign intended to open up markets for large companies like Monsanto that sell genetically modified seed and related products. Asian governments have their own reasons for embracing biotechnology. Some crops are genetically modified to be resistant to diseases or pests; others allow farmers to reduce the amount of pesticide they use.
The overall effect can be higher productivity, say the champions of the technology, and thus cheaper and more plentiful food in a region that is home to nearly two-thirds of humanity. Much of the debate about biotechnology crops in Asia is centered in China, both because of its size and because Chinese scientists are leading the wave of experimentation in the region, with field trials of genetically modified cabbage, chili, corn, melons, papaya, peanuts, potato, soybeans, tomatoes, tobacco and wheat, among others, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, a research organization based in the Philippines that promotes the use of biotechnology.
In addition, Chinese farmers already grow genetically modified cotton across 3.3 million hectares, an area roughly the size of Belgium and the largest such plantings outside the Americas. But the biggest test will be the Chinese government's decision on commercialization of genetically modified rice. A government committee is reviewing several varieties of rice, all of which have been engineered to resist insects or disease through the insertion of genes from other plants or bacteria. Approval for China's modified rice was widely expected last year, but the government delayed its decision.
"It will probably still take some time before it is approved - there are more studies that need to be done," said Lu Baorong, a scientist who specializes in rice at the College of Life Sciences at Fudan University in Shanghai and a member of the government approval committee. The commercialization of modified rice would be an important milestone because it is such a crucial food in the region. Rice is different from soybeans and corn, which are often used in animal feed or, if consumed by humans, are heavily processed before they reach the consumer. Rice could be consumed directly, and thus the government is being cautious, scientists say.
But Lu said in a telephone interview that caution should not be confused with fear of the technology. "China is really promoting biotechnology," he said. "China is taking the North American policy or point of view in terms of biosafety and biotechnology."
The wild card in China, as with other countries in Asia, is the general public. Experts are watching the evolution of public opinion as activist groups like Greenpeace seek to slow or stop the commercialization of modified crops. Greenpeace said in March that it had found traces of experimental rice in Heinz baby cereal, a charge that the company refuted by revealing test results from six separate laboratories. The Chinese government said Friday that its own tests had also found no evidence of modified rice.
"I think the trend is that concerns are spreading and more and more countries are adopting stricter legislation," said Isabelle Meister, a researcher on biotech issues in the Beijing office of Greenpeace. Japan, South Korea and China have enacted laws requiring labeling for food with a certain level of modified content, a move opposed by the United States.
Activists say there are too many uncertainties surrounding modified crops: they could disturb wild species, especially in Asia where rice and soy are native, or cause allergies among consumers, the activists assert. A report released last year by the food safety department of the World Health Organization sought to allay some of these fears by concluding that "GM foods currently available on the international market have undergone risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health any more than their conventional counterparts."
Global awareness about biotechnology varies greatly. Consumers in the United States, where genetically modified corn, soybeans, squash, papaya, cotton and canola are sold in different forms, have been among the least conscious of it. A poll in November by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology found that 58 percent of U.S. consumers were not aware that modified food was being sold in grocery stores.
Consumers in China may not have any greater awareness. Xue, the professor at the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Science, conducted a study of 1,000 consumers in 12 supermarkets in Beijing in 2004 and found that 65 percent of those surveyed were not "acquainted" with the notion of genetically modified products.
Huang Jikun, director of the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said awareness was rising because of China's labeling law, which dates to 2002 and stipulates that genetically modified soya, corn, oilseed rape, cotton and tomatoes must be clearly labeled, including processed products in which the modified ingredient cannot be detected.
One important indicator of acceptance, he said, is modified soybean oil, which is made from imported soybeans and has carried special labeling for three years. "We found that people continued to buy it," Huang said. "Market share of GMO soybean oil is increasing."
As for rice, Huang conducted a two- year survey in 2002 and 2003, polling a total of 2,005 people in 11 large Chinese cities, and found that two-thirds "approve of GMO rice," he said. Only about 10 percent were against, he said, and the rest were indifferent.
If China goes ahead with commercialization of modified rice, it will be a major step toward wider acceptance of biotechnology crops, but it will not be a global first. Iran announced in February that farmers there had been authorized to grow a variety of genetically modified rice that was produced with help from the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.
But Iran, too, is having second thoughts. A recent report in the newspaper Shargh said the government would slow or stop large-scale cultivation of the rice until approval from "relevant international organizations," without explaining who that might be.
Australia: Take a Bow, Mr Stanhope, for Taking a Stance on GM Crops
- Canberra Times, March 31, 2006
I write to congratulate the Stanhope Government for reconsidering its moratorium on GM foods ("Toying with the idea of lifting a symbolic ban", March 22, p13). This stance may be the first step in reversing the brain drain from Australian scientific institutions and giving Australian farmers some hope that they may be able to finally compete equally with global competitors.
The Greens' response to the Chief Minister's comments has been predictable - based on flawed and misrepresented data and reflecting a view which would deny Australian farmers the choice of whether to use safe, proven, world leading technology. Their response would deny Australian consumers a healthier environment, safer foods, and in the near future, much healthier food.
The fact is that GM crops globally have resulted in less mycotoxins on foods, far less pesticide residues on food, less greenhouse emissions and a much lower pesticide load on the environment. Not to mention less water, less fuel, and more efficient land use.
Findings presented at the recent ABARE conference showed that GM crops worldwide currently reduce pollution equivalent to taking 4.5million cars off British roads. Every day, farmers successfully segregate many dozens of specifications of grain and oilseeds, and GM would be one more such segregation.
The advent of GM crops will give organic growers another point of differentiation which will be valuable to them, and the comment that Canberra consumers will be buying GM contaminated produce is pure scaremongering.
Cotton farmers in Australia have had the choice of whether or not to grow GM crops for 10 years now, and they have chosen this year to plant 90 per cent of the nation's cotton growing areas to GM varieties with proven outstanding environmental and social benefits.
Why can't Australian farmers make the choice for themselves? Let's hope Mr Stanhope's comments are matched across other state jurisdictions.
- Cedric Bryant, Watson
A Forced Abrupt End to Food Dependency: Implications of High Oil Prices
- Jonathan Gressel, http://www.africancrops.net/News/gressel.htm
One need not be an economist to realize the rapid changes being wrought on agriculture due to the high fuel prices, it only requires a quick insight into what is happening in the US corn belt. A whole new economy is kicking in, with huge public and private investment, with promises of rapid profits, now that the pundits are promising that oil prices will never again drop below $50 a barrel, and it is presently well above $60.
Fifty dollars is the magic threshold number that renders the technologies of turning quality grain into ethanol, and food oils to biodiesel profitable in the USA, where they only pay half for fuel at the pump than most of the developed world. Some of us have ranted for years that we must genetically engineer the 2 billion tons of straws and stovers to contain less and/or modified lignin. So far more polysaccharides could become available for cellulase degradation that would support such technologies1. The biofuel industry has not targeted this waste substrate; at $50 a barrel they are happy to use quality grain - taking the food out of peoples' mouths. This is not just excess grain - this is whatever the market will bear in competition with petroleum, and will lead to higher grain prices around the world.
This huge investment in factories to quickly reap a bonanza will clearly stabilize the bottom price for grain at a much higher price than at present. The good side is that subsidies will no longer be needed in the west, and the African farmer will no longer have to compete with "dumped" grain, i.e. grain sold below the actual production costs. But the African farmer will have to gear up to production, instead of subsistence.
The scary side is that there will no longer be stocks available for famine relief in times of need. There never will be "over production", "set-aside" or surpluses again as long as oil is more than $50 per barrel. Even with all excess grain going to biofuel production, it will only make a small dent in the total fuel needs of the west and growing fuel needs in Asia. The magic fifty dollars also renders nuclear energy a viable alternative for much of the fuel, but it takes nearly a decade to build a nuclear power plant, and that is after the decision is made to build one. Such decisions are not fast in coming, and other alternative energy sources (e.g. wind, solar) cannot match the magnitude of the shortfall, no matter how appealing they might look.
The only viable take home message from this is that Africa must quickly prepare itself to go it alone vis-a-vis its food security. The question: "should we accept transgenic maize as food aid?" will be moot in a very short time, as such maize will no longer be available - it will be running someone's automobile.
Africa must quickly come to the realization that it must rapidly shift from subsistence agriculture, with yields a third of global averages to productive agriculture to feed Africans. It can do this only by having good seed bred and available, fertilizer available at near international prices, and not an unjustifiable four times these prices. There must be extension services that get to the farmers and teach the most sustainable, cost-effective practices. An infrastructure with good storage facilities is critical to ensure storage for times of need, as well as an equitable price to the farmer. If India could get such a storage infrastructure going decades ago, Africa has few excuses for not doing so other than a lack of will except for a willingness to be dependent on foreign food aid.
The key needs described above started with good seed (and not the long ago discredited but still repeated mantra of "farmer-saved seed", so often mouthed by those who never watched how good seed deteriorates season after season in the hands of all but the very best farmers - the few who grow "certified" seed). The good seed must be of more crop species than presently grown, and it must be adapted to local conditions. It should come with as many built-in resistances as possible; resistance to abiotic stresses, high fertilizer use efficiency, resistance to African insect, rodent, and avian pests during cultivation and storage, resistance to indigenous diseases and the debilitating mycotoxins their pathogens produce, along with resistance to that scourge of much of Africa, the parasitic witchweeds (Striga spp.).
Good breeding can surely help, but where decades of breeding have proven ineffectual, the biotechnology sector must kick in2. This must be done in more species than maize, as crop biodiversity is also an essential element of food security. Biotechnology priorities should not be haphazard, but based on evaluations of need. Biotechnology will play an important role, a role that will be useless if the other institutional and infrastructural issues are not addressed.
And they must be dealt with quickly, as biofuel plants are quickly coming on line, sucking up the grain that came to Africa. Africa may have thought it need not produce and store grain for winter - but winter is on the way.
1 Gressel, J. and A. Zilberstein. 2003. Let them eat (GM) straw. Trends in Biotechnology 21:525-530.
2 Gressel, J., A. Hanafi, G. Head, W. Marasas, A. B. Obilana, J. Ochanda, T. Souissi, G. Tzotzos. 2004. Major heretofore intractable biotic constraints to African food security that may be amenable to novel biotechnological solutions. Crop Protection 23:661-689
Plant Sciences, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel Current address: Agronomy Department, Purdue University, Lafayette IN, USA; Email: Jonathan.Gressel#weizmann.ac.il
Global Leaders Launch Effort to Turn Around Africa's Failing Agriculture
- Thursday, March 30, 2006 at12:00 p.m. EST (1700 Hours GMT), at The Rockefeller Foundation, 420 Fifth Ave, New York http://www.eurekalert.org/africasoil/
His Excellency Olusegun Obasanjo, President of Nigeria; Alpha Oumar Konaré, Chairman, African Union Commission; Firmino Mucavele, Chief Executive, NEPAD Secretariat; Judith Rodin, President, The Rockefeller Foundation; Amit Roy, President, IFDC
One of every three people in sub-Saharan Africa is undernourished. More than US$4 billion worth of soil nutrients are lost from Africa's soils every year. Thus, African leaders consider the Summit an essential part of NEPAD's Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme, which aims to raise farm yield by 6 percent annually by 2015 and cut food insecurity by half.
More than 60 percent of Africa's population is directly engaged in agriculture. But crop productivity has remained stagnant, while cereal yields in Asia have risen three-fold over the past four decades. Increasing productivity on African farms is viewed as critical to feeding a population that is expected to grow to 1.8 billion people by 2050.
RSVP to call-in or to attend briefing: Jeff Haskins, Bee Wuethrich or Ellen Wilson at +1 301-652-1558 Or email email@example.com
- David Wolman, Wired. Full story at
Jim Hagedorn wants to sell you the pest-proof, no-mow, genetically engineered lawn of the future. But first he has to head off a grassroots rebellion.
Zooming eastward aboard his corporate jet, Jim Hagedorn is sprawled on the sage green carpet and holding forth on the subject of grass. Not once does he stand to gaze out the window, perhaps because he already knows what's there: golf courses, athletic fields, public parks, highway medians, and front lawns. As chair and CEO of ScottsMiracle-Gro, Hagedorn knows that many of these plots are planted with seed from his company. But that's not enough for him. Hagedorn envisions a new dawn for the American lawn. "I'd like to see biotech in every backyard," he says.
Pugnacious and energetic, Hagedorn is a former F-16 pilot who collects muscle cars (40 at last count). For him, the lawn is not the boring domain of suburban dads and little old ladies. It's a business battlefield where innovation is crucial. When it comes to grass, people worry about watering, maintenance, and weeds, three headaches that genetic engineering - transgenic turf - could dramatically alleviate. "That's the big kahuna for consumer lawns," he says. "Solve those three issues and you're a friggin' hero!"
Hagedorn wants to be that hero, and he just might pull it off. That is, if he can keep environmentalists off his back, get a green light from nervous government regulators, and make the rest of the world understand that what went down in central Oregon is no cause for alarm.
Nearly 50,000 square miles of the continental US is covered by lawn, according to estimates by ecologists at NASA's Ames Research Center. Using satellite and aerial imagery, the team calculated that irrigated grass covers three times more land in the US than irrigated corn does. That makes turf the nation's most widespread irrigated crop.
Lawn care and gardening is also the most popular outdoor leisure activity in the country, and the global industry supporting it generates an estimated $7 billion a year. ScottsMiracle-Gro accounts for more than a third of that - $2.4 billion in 2005. Numbers aside, though, that neatly trimmed front lawn is a Rockwellian feature of the American landscape. It's safe to say that no other nation commits even a fraction of the land, resources, chemicals, and water that the US does in pursuit of the perfect greensward.
All that vegetation has some environmental benefit. According to the NASA group, lawns collectively absorb some 12 billion pounds of carbon each year - effectively cutting greenhouse gas emissions. And if that grass weren't there, much more soil would run off into storm drains, waterways, and ?rivers, polluting reservoirs and hastening the erosion of hillsides and valuable farmland.
But the great American lawn is not exactly eco-friendly. Lawn mowers cough pollution into the atmosphere, and pesticides and fertilizers trickle into waterways, harming wildlife in wetland and marine environments. Then there's the watering. Pick a rain-starved, water-scarce, growth-crazed state like Nevada or Arizona. All those new subdivisions have lawns, and all those home?owners are watering like crazy. A typical one-third-acre lawn receives 10,000 gallons of water a year; in dry places like Las Vegas and other areas of the Southwest, a lawn needs more than 100,000 gallons annually. This huge demand for water means more rivers dammed, more wildlife threatened, and more aquifers drained.
It doesn't have to be that way. Over the past decade, biotechnology has revolutionized agriculture. In 2005, 13 percent of US farmland was planted with biotech crops - primarily corn, soybeans, and cotton - and biotech proponents happily enumerate the resulting environmental advantages?. The Conservation Technology Information Center at Purdue University estimates that 1 billion tons of topsoil per year is prevented from becoming? runoff because? genetically modified crops allow farmers to reduce how much they plow to kill weeds. (Plowing accelerates the loss of topsoil.) Meanwhile, the amount of pesticide used on crops shrank by 34 percent from 2003 to 2004; that's 15.6 million pounds of chemicals not dousing fields, because biotech crops don't require as much herbicide.
If biotechnology can do all that for farmers cultivating thousands of acres, surely it can do the same for busy suburbanites managing their yards. What if grass were engineered to require less water, fertilizer, and pesticide? What if it required fewer trimmings by toxin-spewing mowers? What if lawns were customizable? For Hagedorn, such biotech turf is a no-brainer. "If we want to keep gardening attractive and relevant in the Internet age," he says, "we have to meet this need." In other words, GM grass is coming, and Hagedorn is hell-bent on being the first to sell it.
Hagedorn's father, Horace, founded Miracle-Gro in 1951. After the younger Hagedorn retired from the Air Force in 1987, he joined the family business. In 1995, he orchestrated a merger with Scotts, and in 2001 he was tapped to run the whole show. Now 50, Hagedorn has a penchant for bold, even macho gestures. Four years ago, he ordered that the Revolutionary War-era Gadsden flag - the one with a coiled snake and the slogan DON'T TREAD ON ME - be flown at ScottsMiracle-Gro headquarters in Marysville, Ohio. Some on the com?pany's board of directors would like to remove the flag. Hagedorn won't budge. "Until bin Laden goes down," he says, "the flag stays up."
By the time Hagedorn became CEO, the company was pushing to introduce America's first nonagricultural transgenic crop. The effort began in 1998, when ScottsMiracle-Gro partnered with Monsanto, the global titan of bio?engineering. The goal of the venture, dubbed Smart Plants, was to take the same technology that had been used successfully for corn and soybeans and apply it to grasses and, later, flowers.
The research at first focused on a variety called creeping bentgrass, a particularly lush and uniform species of turf coveted by golfers. Scientists implanted it with the gene CP4 EPSPS to make it resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, more commonly known by Monsanto's brand name, Roundup. Planting glyphosate-resistant turf would allow groundskeepers to use Roundup to kill unwanted species - like the hated Poa annua, or annual bluegrass - without hurting the beloved bentgrass. In 1999, to further boost the Smart Plants program, ScottsMiracle-Gro acquired a majority stake in Sanford Scientific, a small-instruments maker. The move gave ScottsMiracle-Gro control over the industry's basic tool: the gene gun.
A boxy-looking, foot-tall machine, the biolistic gun (from biology and ballistics) inserts genes into plants. Fragile genes are bound to tiny bits of tungsten or gold. These microprojectiles are then fired into plant cells. Most shots miss, or they make it through the rigid cell wall but not into the nucleus. If you repeat the process enough times, though, a few rounds eventually penetrate the nucleus, adding the new trait to the plant's genetic code.
By 2001, ScottsMiracle-Gro and Monsanto had succeeded in creating Roundup-ready bentgrass, and in 2002 they applied to the Department of Agriculture (which regulates trans genic crops) for a permit to sell the stuff. The companies are still waiting for that approval - but they do have a permit to grow the grass. So in 2003, ?ScottsMiracle-Gro contractors planted transgenic bentgrass on 400 acres of high-desert farmland in Jefferson County, Oregon. At this point, the two companies had spent tens of millions of dollars on the project. The goal, says a ScottsMiracle-Gro spokesperson, was to produce a good supply of seed and have it ready to sell "the day they got approval."
If Roundup-ready bentgrass is high tech turf version 1.0, and if it gets USDA approval - hardly a given - Hagedorn will channel those profits into version 2.0 and beyond: Drought-tolerant, disease-resistant, slow-growing grass - whatever cocktail of traits ?customers want. Americans from Los Angeles to Orlando could finally have turf that needs less water, weeding, and mowing, while scientists and regulators will have a whole new crop of concerns.
When he talks about business, Hagedorn likes to pull out jargon from his days in the Air Force. One of his favorite terms is FEBA - forward edge of the battle area. Scotts Miracle-Gro was in the FEBA in central Oregon, and the company is clearly in the FEBA with its version 2.0 transgenic grass. Hagedorn may have been slowed down by the USDA, but he has no intention of giving up on innovation. "I decide what I'm going after, and I go after it," he says. "I don't stop." Watching grass grow was never so exciting. -- David Wolman (david#david-wolman.com) is the author of A Left-Hand Turn Around the World: Chasing the Mystery and Meaning of All Things Southpaw.
Nobel Winner's Legacy
- Dan Murphy, Meatingplace.com, March 31, 2006, Via Agnet
A genuine legend turned 92 this week.
Norman Ernest Borlaug, Nobel Laureate, agronomist by training, former Du Pont researcher and Rockefeller Foundation director, is rightly credited as the leading scientists responsible for developing the higher yielding grains and food crops now planted around the world.
That's the understatement of the century.
Borlaug was involved in the Green Revolution like Einstein was "involved" in the Atomic Age. Beginning in the 1970s, the multinational team of scientists Borlaug headed up developed improved wheat seeds, new types of higher-yielding rice and pioneered more efficient use of fertilizer and water. The result has been exponentially larger food production across the Third World -- not to mention the impact his research had on agriculture in the developed nations.
In several of the biographies written about his remarkable career, Borlaug is credited with saving the lives of a billion people, by giving entire populations a chance at food self-sufficiency.
How many of us can say we saved even a single person's life?
Borlaug's legacy is simply remarkable -- and he's not done yet. He founded the Des Moines-based World Food Prize to recognize outstanding achievements in advancing and improving the quality and availability of food in the world. He remains actively involved with the Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellows Program, coordinated by USDA and the U.S. Agency for International Development, to help developing countries deploy sustainable agricultural practices by providing scientific training and collaborative research opportunities.
Arguably, those programs do more to win the hearts and minds of people we'd like to turn into American supporters than any government propaganda ever could. Having met and chatted briefly with Borlaug at an awards function a few years ago, I can testify that his presence is commanding, his spirit engaging and his message one of real inspiration. In his younger years, he sported a straw hat while out in the field and looked a bit like a weather-beaten Sam Snead -- if that's not a redundant description. Now, he resembles a retired but still productive statesman, which he surely is on all counts.
I mention this because if there is one corollary to Borlaug's impact it involves land use -- more specifically, the conservation of land and the associated agricultural resources needed to feed the world's now six-billion-plus population.
All of agriculture is certainly dependent on the availability of arable land, fertile soils and sufficient water. But meat and poultry production are not only directly dependent on those same resources to supply essential inputs, they require sufficient open land to conduct operations. And few, if any, other farming operations face organized resistance determined to slow down, drag down and shut down the business of raising livestock and poultry.
The changes to come For the industry, land use becomes even more critical going forward because of three concurrent trends: Greater reliance on imported foods; an increase in so-called "lifestyle diets" relying on non-meat proteins that are increasingly adopted by affluent Westerners; and the simple fact that population growth -- via immigration as well as reproduction -- will soon begin to choke off the economics of ranching and pressure confinement livestock operations that require significant buffer zones between themselves and cities and towns.
What happens when all three of these trends converge in a perfect mini-storm? The outsourcing of our basic food production in the United States, beginning with produce, transitioning to grains and eventually forcing livestock offshore.
It's already happening. Field Maloney, a staff editor on The New Yorker magazine, wrote a recent expose on Slate.com that detailed the reality of the organic produce on display at trendy supermarkets these days. "There's a widespread misperception in this country -- one that organic growers happily encourage -- that organic means "small family farmer," Maloney wrote. "That hasn't been the case for years. There are a lot of small, family-run organic farmers, but their share of the organic crop in this country . . . is minuscule."
When big corporations control production, operations inevitably migrate to lower cost environments. It's called "capitalism." Look it up.
Even now, produce of any kind isn't likely to be locally grown. Even mid-sized grocery chains can't source local produce. Consumers are too price conscious and too conditioned to expect a full complement of fruits and vegetables every day of the week, any month of the year for a grocery buyer to depend on local -- or even U.S. -- farmers for more than the occasional "seasonal special."
Where is the majority of fresh produce on supermarket shelves grown these days? Latin America. Which also happens to be the next potential competitor for global trade in commodity grains, soybeans and poultry. It doesn't take a giant leap of imagination to foresee what happens as our growing and almost totally urbanized population becomes ever more impatient with the sounds, smells and environmental or raising livestock. With fresh foods already outsourced to a large degree, and diets and preferences shifting toward lifestyle foods, it's not inconceivable that major players in the industry -- like labor-intensive manufacturers a generation before them -- will begin looking for greener, cheaper pastures to raise the raw materials they need.
What Borlaug has done, in addition to catalyzing an astounding lift to multi-millions of people in developing countries, is give Western countries time. Time to plan for better ways of dealing with pressures on livestock production -- other than simply waiting for a crisis to appear.
The industry has already accomplished an astounding, quantum advance in productivity through the use of breeding technologies, nutritional science and the use of pharmaceuticals and other animal-health products and programs.
In a seminal paper titled, "Fifty Years of Pharmaceutical Technology and Its Impact on Beef Production," Rod Preston, Thornton Professor Emeritus at Texas Tech University, determined that beef producers had virtually doubled their productivity since the 1950s, producing better quality beef on less acreage with fewer animals.
All thanks to the inputs so demonized by anti-industry activists. Without such gains, we'd have a much smaller beef supply, greater pressure on arable farmland, and of course higher prices and limited availability.
That same scenario holds true for Borlaug's efforts to increase yields of rice, wheat and corn. Thanks to the very technology organic marketers sell against, we have prevented millions of acres of forest and rangeland from being pushed into crop production, with all the attendant impact on water resources, s oil quality and labor requirements.
Those couple decades of opportunity to change the dynamics that are driving farming and production agriculture offshore are drawing to a close, however.
And God bless him, but Norman Borlaug won't be around to initiate another revolution when the crunch arrives this time.
-- Dan Murphy is a freelance writer and former editor of MMT magazine based in the Pacific Northwest . His column, THE VOCAL POINT, appears in this space each Friday.
Green Gold and Cargo Cults
- Alan Oxley, TCS, March 29, 2006 http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=032906A
CURITIBA, Brazil -- The biggest environmental meeting of the year will run until the end of March in Curitiba, Brazil. If you ever wondered why efforts in the UN to protect the environment rarely succeed, all the reasons are on display. It is a case study for the Harvard Business Review.
Message (confused) The meeting is described by code - "COP8MOP3". Like a message from Big Brother it is everywhere in Curitiba. It dominates the main conference room and is on the sides of buses and every branch in the city of the HSBC Bank, the conference sponsor.
The average citizen in Curitiba would be forgiven for thinking COP8MOP3 might be this week's winning number in Bingo. Bingo halls are the only sign, other than good beer, that people is this small orderly city, a legacy of German settlers, occasionally break out.
The environmental cognoscenti will instantly know the code means this is the eighth meeting of the members of the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) -- MOP8, joined with the third meeting of the parties to the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention -- COP3.
So what is the meeting for? The Convention on Biodiversity enjoins the world to protect Biodiversity. It was never clear what that meant, leading the US Congress to warn the Administration -- any administration -- not to join it. That was sound advice.
The main business at this conference is not to protect biodiversity, but to endorse a return to the sort of economic philosophy that has impoverished many nations. Explaining this is a difficult message. Maybe that is why the UN officials have used code to define the meeting.
Relevance (lack of) The idea of negotiating a convention to create international regulation of use of genetic resources is on the table. The mandate was a commitment by governments at the UN Environment and Development Summit in Johannesburg in 2002 to "improve access to and benefit sharing from of genetic resources." It was slipped into the fine print of the voluminous report without discussion.
Large parts of the environment movement appear seized by the cargo cult mentality -- the belief that prosperity will be delivered by providence. The term was coined to describe the belief of villagers in New Guinea in the South Pacific that food and cargo would drop from the sky. It arose from the experience of those who had little contact with the outside world and had never seen an aircraft when found food and provisions did indeed fall out of the sky during World War Two. They were parachute food drops by the US Air force.
Today's version is the cargo cult is that forests and jungles of the developing world hold bounteous lodes of "Green Gold" - the genetic resources of the Earth: wondrous plants, insects, snakes and barks that traditional peoples for thousands of years have used to cure illness and fend off starvation.
Their right to this cargo is threatened by "biopiracy". This is a political term which means that foreigners (mainly multinational companies, of course) obtain these products (even buy them in the local market), take them away and create blockbuster drugs that earn billions.
To stop this "biopiracy" governments in Africa and Latin America, including Brazil, and India propose an international treaty which will "improve access" (i.e. stop foreigners) to these genetic resource and increase benefits (by holding up patents and other intellectual property if any shard of a genetic resource is used in any product patented), until they get their fair share.
Sounds far fetched? Unfortunately it is not. The strategy is to nationalize the resource. Environmental officials evidently are unaware that many of their governments to nationalize their economies in the past, triggering falls in the standard of living and impoverishment.
The more alert reader may ask a question here? What is the relevance of nationalization of a resource for the purpose of making more money from it got to do with protecting biodiversity?
The answer is nothing.
Know your business (they don't) The scientists and researchers whose business it is to understand the importance of genetic resources are perplexed. They point out that the compounds which constitute breakthroughs in modern drugs are the result of extensive, expensive and laborious research.
Even replicating a compound found in nature in quantities sufficient to supply world markets requires extensive research. Furthermore, no natural compound has been used in any very successful drug without further development.
The killer point is this. Economists will argue that it is the scarcity of valuable things that give them value. Today any compound or gene can be manufactured in a laboratory. Science has turned alchemy into reality with genetic resources. So just how valuable are the reserves of Green Gold?
No one has assessed this. The market is suggesting it is small. Only a limited number of licenses to bioprospect (where that is allowed) have been sought. To revert to the analogy of gold, prospectors are numerous when strikes are announced.
So we face the prospect of an international convention which will chill private sector R & D, and wreck intellectual property law based on little more than modern version of cargo cult mentality.
Effective systems (lack of) Untroubled by lack of agreement on what this agreement will cover and ignorance of technical understanding of the properties and values of what is to be regulated, UN environment officials want negotiations on a new international convention to start immediately.
This is the same system which created the most famous environmental flop yet -- the Kyoto Protocol to stop global warming. It sought to regulate global production and consumption of the world's carbon-based energy resources without the involvement of energy agencies. Accordingly the world's leading producers and consumers refused to support the Kyoto strategy.
Footnote for the curious COP8MOP3 is due to conclude on 30 March. Many important countries have serious reservations about negotiating such a convention. But Environment Ministers will determine this and they have a bad habit of being persuaded that any action on the environment, no matter how poorly devised or inexpertly developed, is better than none.
At least the US Congress will not be troubled. The proposed treaty would be a Protocol to the Convention on Biodiversity so the US will not be a party. We can live in hope that other governments will decide that the concept is such a sham that that they too will not go along. Unfortunately most Environment Ministers in many countries are not so enlightened.
--- Alan Oxley is Chairman of the Australian APEC Study Centre which is observing COP8MOP3 as a Non Governmental Organization.
Tropical Crop Biotechnology Conference
- August 16 - 19 2006, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
The Conference will address two critical research issues in the future development of tropical crops:
- The potential for tropical crops as biofactories in the production of industria l biomaterials, renewable energy, functional foods and pharmaceuticals.
- Developing and using functional genomics in tropical crops to facilitate a quantum leap in the performance of tropical crop plants.
The early bird registration and abstract submission deadline is Friday 28 April 2006. Contact: CSIRO Plant Industry s.mckell#uq.edu.au http://www.tcbc2006.com.au/
BIO 2006 is Just 10 Days Away
- The program features 17 sessions within the four subtracks: Plant Biotechnology, Animal Biotechnology, Emerging Technologies, and Second Generation Products and Consumer Benefits.
A Decade of Experience with Plant Biotech: What's Been Gained, What's Been Learned, What Does the Future Hold? April 10 9:15-10:45 am Impact of Genomics on Animal Agriculture April 10 11:00 am-12:30 pm Whats in Store for the Future: The Next Generation of Biotech Benefits April 10 2:00-3:30 pm Agricultural Biotech and the Consumer April 10 4:00-5:30 pm Consumer Opinions Impact on Regulation, Marketing, Funding .... in Animal Biotech April 11 9:15-10:45 am
Agricultural Applications of Transgenic Livestock April 11 11:00 am-12:30 pm Livestock Cloning: Producer Applications, Consumer Benefits April 11 11:00 am-12:15 pm Development of Food and Agriculture Biotech in 3 Latin American Countries April 11 2:00-3:30 pm Adventitious PresenceGlobal Reality Behind the Forces of Nature April 11 4:00-5:30 pm
Animal ID and DNA Verification: Their Role in Health, Safety, .... April 11 4:00-5:30 pm Plant-Made Pharmaceuticals Challenges and Opportunities April 12 9:15-10:45 am Future Directions for Ag Biotech: Keys to Successful Partnerships April 12 9:15-10:45 am Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop for Crops April 12 11:00 am-12:30 pm
Driving New Vaccine Technologies: The Animal Health Model April 12 11:00 am-12:30 pm Measuring the Value of Agricultural IP: Whats It Worth? April 12 2:00-3:30 pm Stem Cells in Plant Biotech Industrial Use and Scientific Value April 12 2:00-3:30 pm Agricultural Biotec: Is It Working In Africa? April 12 4:00-5:30 pm Charting a Course to the Global Marketplace: A Dash of Clarity...Boatload of Biotech Grain April 12 4:00-5:30 pm
"The Future of Food" Movie Now Online
Andy Apel - It is now possible to watch the movie, "The Future of Food," online. Here's the link:
New book on GMOs by Jeffrey M. Smith- Genetic Roulette
GMO Pundit will look out for research results that address the issues touted by the book, which will appear August 2006.
What will they be?
Well JIGMOD provides some clues
EMS and Tryptophan: From Rick Roush to Jeffrey Smith
Two months ago, you wrote in reply to the latest and overwhelming evidence debunking GM as a cause of EMS that "I will write up a more detailed response and send it to you soon." Do you have a reply yet, or are you willing to concede that the GM claim is in error, and to join in warning people of the dangers of self-medicating with tryptophan?
You could start with a disclaimer at your website. In fact, you promised me and the rest of the audience here in Davis that if we could show errors in your books, that is what you would do.
Again, to give people a false sense of security by implying that non-GE tryptophan is safe is unethical and immoral. This must surely transcend your personal war on GM.
Sent 31 January Dear Jeffrey:
Not a single sentence or paragraph that challenges your speculation that GM was a causative factor in EMS? How about starting with the 3rd paragraph of the paper:
Pervasive hypothesis, two alleged (and partially interrelated) cofactors - namely, genetic engineering and a microimpurity/ies of dietary supplements  - are both unnecessary and insufficient explanations of enigmatic (multifactorial) chains of causality underlying a majority of official EMS cases. Numerous etiologic incongruities - including two reports of L-tryptophan-induced eosinophilia with myalgia in 1986 - underscore why a paradigm shift was advisable......
Additional counterevidence from Waller, Wood, Breckenridge and Rawlins, (published by the London Department of Health and Social Security) disclosed at least 3 official EMS cases in the United Kingdom that were associated with a Merck pharmaceutical product containing L-tryptophan (Optimax). An analogous survey in Ireland disclosed 5 cases of eosinophilia linked to Optimax. These little known landmarks do not comport with hypotheses that "the etiologic agent" of L-tryptophan-induced EMS is a finite microimpurity/ies of LTCDS manufactured by Showa Denko K.K.
To summarize, never mind all of the other flaws and speculations in your GM story, a key fact is that there are too many cases that clearly had nothing to do with Showa Denko or any other GM source.
I could simply laugh at your response and its predictability, but I suggest you need to consider the ethical and moral implications of what you are doing. There are continuing efforts to promote tryptophan as a supplement (e.g., below). Smith and Garrett clearly show that self dosage with trytophan or related chemicals, from any source, is a health hazard in itself.
By arguing that GM was the source of EMS, you implicitly encourage people who believe in tryptophan to think that it is safe as long it comes from non-GM sources. Your GM story is thus a hazard to public health and safety because it might dissuade people from understanding the real source of the illness.
Are you prepared to wear the responsibility for even one case of EMS?
At least I have tried to prevent this. I call on you to retract these claims on your websites as soon as possible. You cannot continue to claim that GM was a likely causative factor in EMS and simultaneously maintain that you are seriously interested in the truth.
NUTRAingredients.com (Decision News Media)
Tryptophan supplements to get new market in UK
10/03/2005 - The market for tryptophan supplements is set to expand in the UK if proposed changes to current laws on the amino acid go ahead, writes Dominique Patton.
Tryptophan supplements, once marketed as a sleep aid and for bodybuilders, were removed from the UK and US markets in 1989, after they were linked to an outbreak of Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS) in more than 1500 people. The outbreak also caused 37 deaths.
Since then, a law introduced in England in 1990 has banned the amino acid from being added to foods except in those classified under the EU regulation for PARNUTs (foods for particular nutritional purposes) and for foods consumed under supervision of healthcare professionals.
However the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) is planning to add a new exemption to the law so that laevorotatory tryptophan (L-tryptophan) can be marketed in supplement form if the ingredient meets the purity criteria laid out in European Pharmacopeia.
Supplement labels will also be required to advise a maximum daily dose of 220mg.
NUTRAingredients.com (Decision News Media)
Novel method for food-grade tryptophan production
04/02/2005 - Food scientists at NIZO have developed a new process for producing the amino acid l-tryptophan, which they claim could remove some of the safety risks associated with the standard method of manufacturing the ingredient, reports Dominique Patton.
L-tryptophan is mostly used in the animal feed industry but it also has a number of food applications, including clinical nutrition and supplements designed for bodybuilders.
Current production is through fermentation however this method has been linked to safety issues in the past.
The NIZO team used the milk protein alpha-lactalbumin as the starting material for their new process. A-lactalbumin contains more tryptophan residues in its molecule than any other dairy protein.
However the resulting product can be considered safer than one produced through fermentation.
"We start with food grade materials and use food-grade enzymes," explained Dr Olieman.
He added that the issue with l-tryptophan is not "so much the purity but the nature of the impurities. Food ingredients that are enriched with peptides containing tryptophan might fulfil equally well the needs [of the food industry]," he said.
The enzymes and conditions were tested in small-scale laboratory experiments, he added, and significant steps need to be taken before the process can be carried out on an industrial scale.
The global food industry currently only uses around 100-150 tons of the amino acid annually but there could be further demand as the weight-loss foods market grows.
Unilever declined to comment on its intended use of tryptophan but amino acids, already widely used in Japan, are seeing growing interest from Europe's food industry, with a number of new peptide-based ingredients launched last year.