Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org ; April 17, 2006
* Anti-GM Activism Running Out of Steam?
* Liberal Improvement -- Organic Food
* Ban the Non-Existent Terminator?
* BASF Confident in Future of GM Food
* Future of GM Food at the Crossroads
* India Needs Biotech Crops and Foods
* Ag Biotech: Economic Development - NABC Meet
* Potato: Fascinating Roots……Exciting Future
'Anti-GM Activism Running Out of Steam?'
What Was JIGMOD Again?
- Andrew Apel, AgBioView, April 17, 2006 http://www.agbioworld.org
It was billed as "The Big Day." April 8, 2006 was supposed to see protests around the world, coupled with an Internet-based high-tech media onslaught. The Big Day was timed to coincide with the 14th annual Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) convention, and activists promoting their counter-event event named it JIGMOD, or 'Joint International GM Opposition Day.' The activists claimed that events in 216 localities across the world, with "about 1500 different types of actions" were set to occur. Cooperation between 100 different activist groups from more than 40 countries would make it all happen.
The BIO convention was held in Chicago, making the city a natural target for protesters. In that city alone, JIGMOD confirmed 27 speakers for a "Reclaim the Commons" event. The speakers included the most familiar opponents of biotech: Percy Schmeiser, Craig Winters, Jeffrey Smith, Brian Tokar, Ignacio Chapela and José Bové. The agenda also included street theater, samples of organic food and vodka, and a film festival.
At the BIO convention, attendance set a record of 19,479 attendees from 62 countries, including more than 4,200 people representing 1,476 companies.
At the JIGMOD event in Chicago, "about twelve" protesters showed up. That's nearly three speakers for every protester, and about one "official event" for each of them. The media onslaught was invisible, although José Bové -- one of the "confirmed" speakers -- got some attention by getting arrested in France a few days later. According to reports, he broke into a Monsanto facility in France.
What happened to JIGMOD? Planning for the event spanned at least three months, with a good deal of work devoted to gathering signatories to a letter denouncing agricultural biotechnology. Presentation of the letter was supposed to be a centerpiece of the action, but there was none.
What happened to JIGMOD is, nobody cared. This conclusion is borne out by figures available on the Internet, a place where activism is rampant. In the 114 days prior to the planned Chicago event, Technorati finds only 47 mentions of JIGMOD in the blogs it monitors. That's less than half a mention a day. Counting from March 16 to the date of the event, JIGMOD was never mentioned more than five times in a day, and on nine of the days, it never came up at all.
"What on Earth is JIGMOD?" David Tribe asked on his blog, GMO Pundit, back in February. From all the evidence available, the answer is: "Not much."
You can see video coverage of the "protest" by following the link below, which contains a nice sound-bite from Prakash.
Go to http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=local&id=4070031
and click on "watch the video."
More from Prakash
Chicago was a huge disappointment because there were less than a dozen protestors on the street and again these were all animal-right activists and not the usual anti-GM folks that I am used to.
On Sunday morning the Chicago streets were very quiet and I could not see any protestors. I was standing outside Hyatt waiting for a friend when I saw a TV reporter and asked her if she saw any activists and she said no. Soon a group of protestors appeared with signs denouncing animal testing and started screaming into their megaphones.
The TV reporter then came to me and asked if I would like comment. I said fine and started talking, and soon nearly a dozen TV cameras sprung up. I could not talk much as these activists were literally screaming behind me.
Two days later, the same group was outside the convention center where Bill Clinton was speaking at that time. I walked up to them and engaged in a conversation saying some thing like 'Looks like all your protests have gone out of fizz". They told me that I was supporting these 'evil drug companies' who were only interested in making profits and not saving any lives. I replied whether they got all their information from watching 'Constant Gardener'.
One young man started shouting profanity at me and I sensed that things may get worse soon. Thankfully a policeman came and asked us to move saying "you are not going to change each others mind..."
Liberal Improvement -- Organic Food
- Robert L. Pachico, University Wire, April 14, 2006
Kingston, R.I. - One of the most sickening statistics I know of is the fact that 59 percent of American men and 49 percent of American women are clinically overweight, meaning they have a body-mass index above 25.
It's not sickening because I dislike overweight people, far from it. It's because I compare that to another statistic that states that 25,000 people die of hunger every day. Only in a country like the United States, where we have too much food, can we justify a silly fad like organic foods.
Agricultural scientists around the globe are working to genetically engineer crops that give a higher yield per acreage and grow in harsher climates. These crops bring hope to the millions who go to bed every night with empty stomachs. But many on the left are against using genetically engineered crops (GE food) to feed the world. At the forefront of this fight is Greenpeace.
According to its Web site, "These genetically modified organisms (GMO) can spread through nature and interbreed with natural organisms, thereby contaminating non 'GE' environments and future generations in an unforeseeable and uncontrollable way ... Their release is 'genetic pollution' and is a major threat because GMOs cannot be recalled once released into the environment."
This doomsday scenario is just plain silly. Greenpeace wants us to believe that GE crops are "Frankenfoods" that will bring about disaster by harming other crops and anyone who eats them. They use scare tactics while completely disregarding the basic principles of agriculture and the fact that GE crops can save the lives of millions of starving people. But I guess it's pretty easy to protest when you're not hungry.
I would now like to introduce you to one of the greatest men to ever live. His name is Norman Borlaug, and according to his 1970 Nobel Peace Prize description, he saved over a billion people from starvation.
In the late 1960s, most experts said that global famines in which billions would die would soon occur. Biologist Paul R. Ehrlich wrote in his 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb, "The battle to feed all of humanity is over ... In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." Borlaug set out to prove those experts wrong.
First, after getting his doctorate in plant pathology and genetics, he moved to Mexico, where he engineered a strain of semi-dwarf high-yield and disease-resistant wheat. He then brought the strain to Pakistan and India. By 1970, all three nations had become net exporters of wheat. After winning the Nobel Prize, he went all over China and Africa spreading the word of ending famine through genetic engineering. As a result-and I just want to repeat this because it is so amazing-he saved a billion people, most of whom were a different race from him. And you've probably never heard of him.
But his humanitarian work is being threatened by Greenpeace and other fear-mongering environmentalists who push for 100 percent organic food production worldwide (Some even push for the end of cooking and want only raw foods, which is just plain nuts). But according to Borlaug, his co-workers at the Rockefeller Foundation, and others responsible for the so-called "Green Revolution," if all the existing farms switched to organic methods, we would only be able to feed two-thirds of Earth's population. In other words, organic food would kill 2.1 billion people.
According to the Greenpeace Web site, GE foods are not required to be tested by any U.S. government agency. This is astoundingly false. GE foods actually face the most rigorous testing of any food products available, and must pass standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. Millions of dollars each year are spent to make sure the pesticides used are safe, the crops won't affect the environment, and that the food itself is safe to eat. GE foods actually go through more safety tests than organic food.
The fact of the matter is the organic movement isn't about health issues; it's about being anti-government and anti-corporation. There's nothing wrong with having political opinions, but when you try to mask them as science or compassion wrapped in fear, you're no better than the government or corporation you're protesting.
This isn't just politics; it's a matter of life and death. In 2002, the government of Zambia was offered millions of tons of GE corn produced in the United States. Greenpeace and other organizations protested the offer and spread disinformation to the Zambian government. As a result, Zambia rejected the food and, according to the New Scientist, 2.4 million people in that country are still malnourished.
All the food we have is a result of increasing technology. Most of the food you eat today didn't exist hundreds of years ago. There were no different kinds of apples, corn or tomatoes before selective breeders modified them. The biotechnology movement is only one more step forward to increase the amount of food we can all eat. GE foods put the progress in progressive agriculture.
The United States is one of the few countries where citizens have the luxury to reject food. Most people worldwide are too busy scrounging for any food they can get. They don't care if their food was made in a laboratory, they just don't want their children to go hungry. And that brings up another interesting point: Greenpeace and other organizations only pop up in places where the people aren't starving. I can scarcely imagine them coming out of a Third World country. And yet these children of affluence are trying to tell the Third World what to eat when they don't have the technology or the means to feed themselves. They should be working to spread technology, not hinder it. What a self-centered and racist lot they are!
Ban the Non-Existent Terminator?
- Prof. Mertxe de Renobales; gbprescm#vc.ehu.es
In the recent AgBioView article 'Soybean seed activism' (April 10th, 2006), David Wood mentiones that a 'Ban Terminator' Campaign has been organized (www.banterminator.org).
But, there is no indication in this article as to whether or not the so-called 'Terminator' technology is already in use in a commercial crop. My question is: does anybody in this list know whether, or not, there is any type of commercialized seed that incorporates the genetic use restrinction technology (GURT)? If so, where are these seeds being sold?
I understood that although the technology exists, it had not been incorporated into any commercialized seed, but maybe things have changed recently... Thank you very much for your help.
- Mertxe de Renobales, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Universidad del País Vasco / Euskal, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.
BASF Confident in Future of GM Food
- Anthony Fletcher, Food Navigator, April 14, 2006 http://www.foodnavigator.com/
BASF's plans to invest $320 million over the next three years in the development of what it calls 'next generation' GM crops underlines where food technology is headed.
The announcement demonstrates BASF's intention to expand its involvement in agriculture and nutrition and shows that GM technology is increasingly being seen as the future of food production by big business at least.
"BASF has identified plant biotechnology as the largest of five key future-growth clusters," said Dr Hans Kast, president and CEO of BASF Plant Science. "Through the investment in plant biotechnology, BASF is expanding its leading role with products in the area of agriculture and nutrition. By combining our advanced technology platform with our comprehensive product portfolio, BASF is shaping the future of this industry."
BASF would not be doing this if there were not sufficient demand. More and more farmers are planting GM crops, while traditionally hostile regulators such as those in the EU are softening up to the technology. Indeed, demand has driven annual double-digit increases in biotech crop adoption since the crops were first commercialised a decade ago, with four new countries and a quarter million more farmers planting biotech crops last year. The 8.5 million farmers planting biotech crops in 2005 also marked a significant milestone as the 1 billionth cumulative acre, or 400 millionth hectare, was planted.
The planned investment will further increase BASF's capacity in this field. The Plant Science division already employs approximately 500 employees, who form part of the global BASF Research Verbund, a large, international R+D network comprised of numerous co-operations with research institutes, universities and biotech companies.
Metanomics for example is a BASF Plant Science company based in Germany, which covers BASFs gene-discovery research. Scientists at Metanomics work to identify the metabolic functions of each and every plant gene, which allows for the development of plants with desired characteristics. "Metanomics is our competitive advantage in this market, and our products will demonstrate the benefits of this research," said Kast.
To apply this gene-mapping knowledge to optimise and control specific traits in a plant, BASF uses the expertise of scientists at SunGene, another BASF Plant Science company in Germany. SunGene focuses on metabolic engineering of biosynthetic pathways in order to increase the content of valuable compounds in plants, such as vitamins, carotenoids and proteins.
In addition, SunGene develops transformation and enabling technologies for highly efficient transfer and expression of genes in crop plants. The company now believes that its first genetically modified plants are ready for the global market. The Germany-based chemical giant unveiled its plans at the Biotechnology Industry Organisation's (BIO) annual convention.
A major focus has been placed on healthier nutrition, underscored by the development and commercialisation of new corn products for the feed industry in the US. An example is NutriDense, a nutritionally enhanced corn that offers more protein, more essential amino acids, more oil/energy, more available phosphorous, and thus less environmental emissions.
BASF's increased involvement in this field reflects a softening up of the regulatory environment in Europe, increased demand and, perhaps, growing consumer acceptance.
Future of GM Food at the Crossroads
- Anthony Fletcher, Food Navigator, April 14, 2006 http://www.foodnavigator.com/
Events over the past few months might have shaped the future of GM food in Europe for decades to come. FoodNavigator looks at the decisions that have influenced the proliferation of this controversial technology.
When Jose Bove was arrested this week for storming Monsanto's facilities in southern France, it had the air of a last, principled stand against the inevitable invasion of GM (genetically modified) food in Europe.
This is because a number of recent decisions appear to have all gone in favour of the biotech industry. Europe's food safety authority announced this week for example that five GM food products banned in some EU member states present no health risk.
"The GMO Panel is of the opinion that there is no reason to believe that the continued placing on the market of Bt176, T25 and MON810 maize, and Ms1xRf1 and Topas 19/2 oilseed rape is likely to cause any adverse effects for human and animal health or the environment under the conditions of their respective consents," said an EFSA statement this week.
In addition, the EC recently adopted an overview of the state of implementation of national co-existence measures. This led to this month's Vienna summit, which formed part of the Commission's consultation process on ways to ensure co-existence.
Although little was decided, the nature of the debate illustrated how far advanced the question of GM crops in Europe has advanced. "This is not a question of health or environmental protection, because no GMOs are allowed on the EU market unless they have been proved to be completely safe," said Mariann Fischer Boel, commissioner for agriculture and rural development, told delegates. "But segregation measures must be in place to ensure that accidental traces of GMOs in conventional or organic products are kept within the strict ranges defined by EU legislation."
In other words, food safety is no longer the main arena for conflict the debate has largely moved on to how GM crops can exist alongside conventional crops. A major catalyst for this paradigm shift was the landmark WTO decision in February, which ruled that the EU and six member states broke trade rules by barring entry to GM crops and foods.
By agreeing with the United States, Argentina and Canada that an effective moratorium on GM imports between June 1999 and August 2003 had been put in place, the ruling effectively opened up the European market to GM food.
This is the point we are at today. Consumer choice has become the ideal that both sides claim to hold.
Anti-GM campaigners argue that GM crops will cause widespread contamination, leaving consumers with no GM-free choice at all. Pro-GM forces on the other hand argue that consumers must be given the choice, and that the WTO ruling backs this up.
Europe's infamous reticence was however once again demonstrated in another EU initiative this week, which aimed to restructure the authorisation process for GM products. Consumer groups have long complained that EFSA works too closely with biotech companies. But the biotech sector is worried that this new initiative represents a weakening of resolve.
It claims that any move to undermine EFSA's scientific independence would damage consumer confidence in all aspects of food safety but its main concern is that Europe's regulatory body will be open to influence from anti-GM lobby groups.
A GM-free Europe is an increasing impossibility, But the continent remains as uneasy as ever about the introduction of the technology.
India Needs Genetically Engineered Crops and Foods
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India; krao#vsnl.com, www.fbae.org, www.fbaeblog.org
The past couple of months there was an enhanced tempo of anti-agribiotch propaganda in India, though much of it is old wine in the old bottles from the old companies. Among them, Dr Suman Sahai, by her much too often voiced rhetoric, wants the public to believe that GM crops are a losing proposition everywhere (Times of India, February 1, 2006). She has even interpreted the Prime Minister of India's call for a 'focus on dry land agriculture, small farmers and labour intensive technologies', as a stand against genetically engineered (GE) crops and foods.
For the anti-tech lobbies, everything the industry proposes automatically becomes suspect. The agricultural biotech industry has its own perception, based on systematic and meticulous surveys of the country's needs, and on what is beneficial to the farmers, the industry and so to the country. The industry would lose heavily, if the farmers do not accept what the industry produces. It is certainly necessary to be a watchdog of the activities of the industry, but a witch-hunt stance is in no body's interest.
Small farmer and India's food security
The interests of the small farmer are of paramount importance. Nevertheless, what the anti-tech activists often propose as critical to small farmers well being will only shackle them to the morass they have been in for centuries. The issue of small farmers' interests and that of nation's food security are often at cross roads. The country's technological competence, food security and business interests cannot be put at risk, in the name of protecting poor farmers' interests. Land holdings smaller than 20 acres are not commensurate with profitable agriculture. The thousands of farmers, whose land holdings are above this, would certainly benefit from mechanization and modern technologies for pest- or herbicide-resistance. All the consumers of agricultural produce would benefit from quality and nutritional enhancement.
India's export trade interests
India's interests in agricultural trade rest in exporting quality products. The Swaminathan Committee recommendation that 'Transgenic research should not be undertaken in crops/commodities where our international trade may be affected, e.g., Basmati rice, soybean or Darjeeling Tea' ignores several ground realities and reflects an anxiety to appease the anti-tech lobby. Indian produce such as Basmati rice and Darjeeling tea need improvements on several counts. Other countries are striving to produce improved Basmati and tea, for example Pakistan's GE basmati rice. There is an enormous disparity between the high-pitched praise of Indian produce for the export market and its actual position in international markets. Consumers go for quality and not just brand names. As conventional agricultural technologies have not been effective in improving the quality of India's export commodities, we should adopt better technologies, where modern biotechnological means are a viable option.
India's soybean exports are not serious concern. The suggestion that non-Bt soybean is superior to Bt soybean is absurd. In fact Bt-crops also prevent post-harvest losses due to insects hatching out of stored seed.
Countries opposing GE crops
Suman Sahai's assertion that 'many countries are closing their doors to GM produce' has the European Union (EU) in mind and even so it is far from reality. The EU had imposed a de facto moratorium on GE crops and foods, in response to the din raised by anti-tech groups. However, on February 7, 2006, in a confidential but leaked, interim report, the WTO ruled against EU's stand. Over the past three years the EU has approved over 180 GE crops for field-testing. In 2006 itself, the EU has so far approved 92 GE crops for field-testing in Spain (37), France (18), Germany (9), Hungary (7), Portugal (5), Sweden (4), Czech Republic (3), Poland (2) and Ireland (1). The traits include herbicide tolerance, pest resistance, high enzyme levels, high yield, photosynthetic efficiency and others, in transgenic corn, potato, rapeseed, cotton, tobacco, flax and sugar beet. At least 15 public institutions, besides about the same number of biotech corporations, are involved in developing these transgenics. The EU has also approved import of about 25 GE corn varieties for use as feed and some GE varieties are likely to be approved as food soon.
Weeds, weeding, herbicides and herbicide resistant varieties
Anti-tech activists are up against herbicide resistant transgenics. Herbicide tolerant crops are needed because weeding constitutes about 30 per cent of cultivation costs and this has to be brought down, and also because manual weeding is time consuming, expensive and incomplete. It has to be repeated thrice or more during the crop season, resulting in seasonal pressure on labour availability, besides raising costs. Farmers with larger land holdings opt for herbicides. But, herbicide tolerant varieties offer several advantages, over herbicide sprays. They also facilitate minimum tillage cultivation and so help in soil conservation.
Biodiversity and GE crops
Loss of biodiversity is a lame excuse to prevent new technology, as studies have shown that biodiversity in and around crop fields has actually increased with Bt crops, compared to conventional crops that are subjected to ill-advised heavy chemical inputs of fertilizers and pesticides that affect biodiversity in several ways.
Responsibility of the Government of India
Despite the overwhelming evidence in favour of GE crops, anti-tech lobbyists have a single-tracked approach to biotechnology. They make themselves out to be David fighting the biotech Goliath. GE crops are not forced on anyone. However, a farmer should be free to choose between conventional and GE crops. It is up to the Government of India to ensure that the country's policy on GE is not derailed by the cacophony of the anti-tech lobby with a vested interest in keeping the Indian farmer poor and the country's agricultural competence low.
Against this background, the announcement by Kapil Sibal, India's Minister for Science and Technology, on April 9, 2006 in Chicago, that biologically engineered crops and pharmaceuticals are critical to the long-term economic and agricultural security of India, is a welcome sign.
Agricultural Biotechnology: Economic Development through New Products, Partnerships, and Workforce Development
- June 12-14, 2006; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
A limited number of scholarships will be available to undergraduate and graduate students interested in attending NABC 18 http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/ent/nabc/registration.html
A scholarship will cover the same items and amenities as the general registration fee described above. It will not include lodging. Preference will be given to students from developing countries and those showing financial need. Applications must be received by close of business Monday May 1, 2006.
The Potato: Fascinating Roots……Exciting Future
- Dean Kleckner, AgWeb, April 13, 2006
It’s a tradition to plant potatoes on Good Friday--a habit most observed by an older generation, perhaps, and most applied to family gardens rather than large commercial operations. My grandparents did it. And as I recall, it was timed to the stages of the moon.
Traditions are cultural habits, and like all habits they’re hard to break: The bottom line is that a lot of people will be heading outside today to do what they do every Good Friday.
In the years ahead, they may be able to do this with the best potatoes modern science can offer: GM potatoes that improve nutrition for consumers as well as efficiency for farmers.
Whatever the future holds, the origins of this Good Friday practice have their fascinating roots in the past--and specifically in the Irish past. Today, the people of Ireland are known for their super-sized love of potatoes: Every Irish man, woman, and child eats more than 250 pounds of them each year.
In the 19th century, however, many Irish Protestants refused to eat potatoes on the grounds that they weren't mentioned in the Bible. There's a good reason for this: Potato cultivation first occurred in the pre-Columbian Andes Mountains, and it wasn’t until about 1570 that a potato made its first transatlantic crossing. Even then, the plant took a couple of centuries to catch on in Europe.
The Irish were among the earliest adapters, but there remained this little problem with the Bible. So Irish Catholics came up with an ingenious solution: They planted their potatoes on Good Friday and claimed that the plants had been 'baptized.' For some reason, this seemed to silence the objections. Although Irish Catholics and Protestants remain divided in fundamental ways, they all seem to enjoy their potatoes.
Lately, Ireland has become ground zero in the fight over biotech potatoes. The issue doesn’t divide people by religion, but by their faith in science: It pits those who understand the importance of scientific research and the ability of modern technology to improve our lives against those who harbor irrational fears based upon anti-biotech superstition.
Several years ago, scientists discovered a species of wild potato in Mexico. It’s not suitable for commercial cultivation, but it contains a genetic trait that commercial cultivators would love to have in their crops: A resistance to blight, the disease that can wreak havoc on potato farmers. As it happens, this disease was the cause of the Irish Potato Famine--a 19th-century incident that cut the Irish population roughly in half, through starvation and emigration.
Scientists have figured out how to transfer this blight resistance from the wild potato and place it in a commercial variety. The hope is that they may now spend several years testing the new plant in the fields of Ireland.
It's crucial that they be allowed to do so, without suffering from the sabotage that has plagued similar biotech experiments. Biotechnology improves both the quantity and quality of our food. Although Ireland probably never will experience another bout with starvation, the same can’t be said for the developing world--and there are genetically enhanced potatoes in the biotech pipeline that will help poor farmers grow healthier crops. Some may even enrich the potato's nutritional content--the so-called 'protato' contains greater amounts of protein, and allowing it to realize its potential may help result in combating the scourge of childhood malnutrition among the impoverished.
And I'm sure you've heard of hot potatoes--but what about glowing ones? Several years ago, Scottish scientists developed a potato that uses jellyfish genes to glow when it needs watering. The glow requires a special device to detect. It’s important to note, if these plants were ever commercialized, they almost certainly would never enter the human food chain. Farmers would plant just a few in each field as 'sentinels'.
So I’m happy to report that we’re not on the verge of glow-in-the-dark French fries--though come to think of it, a few of them in a bowl next to the Jack-o-lantern on Halloween might be a tradition that would be fun starting.
Dean Kleckner is an Iowa farmer and past president of the American Farm Bureau. He currently chairs Truth About Trade and Technology.