Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: May 26, 2006
* Organic Cotton
* David Suzuki
* World Bank papers - GM cotton
* OECD biotechnology statistics - 2006
* IFPRI discussion papers on regulation of GMOs
* Monsanto venture cotton hybrid approved in India
* China's Xiwang orders US GM corn, seeks more
* India to ease controls on gene-modified oils
* Centre soon to clear Bt-brinjal for market
* BASF expands crop biotech capabilities
* Get Off My Lawn
* The greens want to do right, but they are so wrong
* Is Organic Food Worth It?
Date: Fri, 26 May 2006 00:43:26 -0500
From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: Organic Cotton
I deeply resent the lies the organic cotton promoters tell to try and sell their product at the expense of mine. It is even a bigger problem that most of them actually believe what they say. The same is true for the whole organic industry.
If we conventional farmers had not implemented a boll weevil eradication program that organic growers fought, don't support and don't pay a cent for, they wouldn't be able to raise cotton today. I deeply resent their attack on me to try to sell a product that is in no way better than mine. Cellulose is cellulose no matter how it's grown. Now the organic cotton industry in the USA takes a free ride on my back after 40 years of effort to implement a boll weevil eradication program that they were helping to delay. Fortunately the number of organic acres is small enough that they don't provide a refuge large enough to give the weevil a start.
Agriculture made a grave mistake when we began to treat organic farming as a valid method of production and not as it is, a market made by spreading fear of the best methods science had at the time.
Retired farmer and Agricultural Researcher
Date: Thu, 25 May 2006 14:06:58 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Nihal DeSilva"
Subject: David Suzuki!
It is good to hear from Dr. David Suzuki about his view on agribiotech in general! It is with nostalgic feelings I can remember in late 70's while a doctoral student in Canada (OttawaU) I heard his most convincing arguments against genetic engineering and the introduction of foreign genes into plants,etc. The Asilmar (correct spelling?) conference was the culmination of views expressed for and against such risk procedures (?) but ayas had the day!! Dr. Suzuki, a renowned geneticist was against all forms of genetic engineering and as students we supported his views. Since then what has happened?? I think he is right in the sense that we should be aware of the pitfalls of hasty experimentation in this field and it is nice to see that what I said about the nutritional implications of golden rice is in agreement with the views of Dr.Suzuki. David, more good years of Science in your retirement years!
Dr. Nihal DeSilva
Saint Louis, MO
World Bank papers - GM cotton
As part of its Policy Research Working Paper series, the World Bank has recently published 2 studies on genetically modified cotton. The first, paper 3917, is entitled "Recent and prospective adoption of genetically modified cotton: A global computable general equilibrium analysis of economic impacts" by K. Anderson, E. Valenzuela and L.A. Jackson. The second, paper 3918, is entitled "The World Trade Organization's Doha cotton initiative: A tale of two issues" by K. Anderson and E. Valenzuela. The Policy Research Working Paper Series disseminates findings of work in progress to encourage the exchange of ideas about development issues. See
http://econ.worldbank.org/resource.php?type=5 or contact email@example.com for more information.
OECD biotechnology statistics - 2006
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has just published "OECD biotechnology statistics - 2006" by B. van Beuzekom and A. Arundel. The 157-page report includes data for 23 OECD countries and 2 observer countries, plus China (Shanghai) and comparable indicators given include the number of biotechnology firms, business expenditures on biotechnology research and development (R&D), biotechnology R&D in the public sector, biotechnology employment, and sales of biotechnology goods and services, plus patents, venture capital, genetically modified (GM) crop hectares and GM field trials. See http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/51/59/36760212.pdf (850 KB) or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
IFPRI discussion papers on regulation of GMOs
As part of its EPT (Environment and Production Technology Division) Discussion Papers series, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has recently published "A gap analysis of confined field trial application forms for genetically modified crops in East Africa: Evaluating the potential for harmonization" by N.A. Linacre and J.I. Cohen. See http://www.ifpri.org/divs/eptd/dp/papers/eptdp149.pdf (302 KB) or contact email@example.com for more information. IFPRI Division Discussion Papers contain preliminary material and research results and are circulated in order to stimulate discussion and critical comment.
Report: Monsanto venture cotton hybrid approved in India
- St. Louis Business Journal, May 25, 2006
The Indian government said Thursday it approved the release of new cotton gene hybrid varieties and the large-scale trial of other varieties, according to a media report. The new hybrids include some developed by a Monsanto Co. joint venture in India.
The new Bt cotton hybrids given the go-ahead by India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee are in addition to varieties already approved and commercially cultivated in India that were developed by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Ltd., which is 26 percent owned by Monsanto.
The government committee approved commercial release of new hybrids and new trials in the country's northern, central and southern regions, according to the report. In addition to Mahyco, Nath Seeds and JK Seeds Ltd. Produce some of the newly approved hybrids.
In 2002, India approved cotton containing a gene from a bacterium species that paralyzes the digestive tract of bollworm pests.
A rise in the area under cultivation and the use of hybrids is expected to boost India's cotton production by more than 16 percent in the first nine months of this year, the report said.
St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. (NYSE: MON) develops insect- and herbicide-resistant crops and other agricultural products.
China's Xiwang orders US GM corn, seeks more
- CheckBiotech, May 26, 2006
HONG KONG/BEIJING - Xiwang Sugar Holdings Co., one of China's top corn processors, said on Thursday it had bought 50,000 tonnes of corn from the United States, marking the country's first major import of the grain in years.
The purchase came only 10 days after Beijing quarantine authorities gave the green light to a Chinese trader to bring in 100 tonnes of US corn in a test case of whether Beijing was ready to allow foreign corn into the country.
Xiwang president Wang Yong told reporters the company, based in the northern province of Shandong, had booked the cargo on Thursday. It planned to buy another 50,000 tonnes before the domestic harvest after September if all went well with the first cargo.
Asked about the prices, Wang said the US corn was slightly cheaper than domestic corn, which stood at about 1,350 (US$168) a tonne. He gave no further details.
China, one of the world's top corn importers only a few years ago, is expected to emerge a net importer of the grain possibly as early as next year, due to rising domestic demand, especially from the corn processing sector.
However, the Xiwang order came as a surprise due to narrow price gaps between domestic and US corn. Besides, many were not yet fully convinced Beijing would allow large quantities of US genetically modified corn.
Shenzhen Hualian Grains and Oils Trading Co, the buyer of the first 100 tonnes, had to park the cargo in Hong Kong for about a week as Beijing failed to provide import permits in time.
China's National Bureau of Statistics also revised the country's 2005 corn crop to a record 139.37 million tonnes.
Hualian, Booming Sugar
Asked about further imports, an official from Shenzhen Hualian told Reuters: "There is no price advantage right now."
"But we are preparing all formalities ... so that we can start imports (on a large scale) once the U.S corn prices become favourable to us," he added.
But Sunny Leung, Xiwang's financial controller, told Reuters the company expected the 2006 average corn price in the province to rise by about 15 percent from 1,250 yuan a tonne last year.
Xiwang Sugar, which competes against Global Bio-Chem Technology Group or newly-listed Luzhou Bio-Chem Technology, is riding on China's surging demand for corn sweeteners, helped by high natural sugar prices.
Leung said Xiwang planned to expand its annual corn processing capacity by 50 percent to 900,000 tonnes this year from 600,000 tonnes last year, driven by its glucose sector.
Asked if Beijing's quarantine authority would approve the imports, Leung told Reuters: "For large enterprises things are better ... I don't think there will be any problem."
India to ease controls on gene-modified oils
- Reuters, 2006-05-25
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India plans to ease restrictions on the import of genetically modified processed food including soyoil, a government statement said on Thursday.
The plan, if finalised, would exempt imports of soyoil from clearance by the government's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC).
"The Ministry of Environment and Forests has taken a policy decision that the GEAC would be involved only in regulation of organisms or products where the end product is a living modified organism," the statement said.
India is the world's leading edible oils importer, buying soyoil from South America and palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Centre soon to clear Bt-brinjal for market
- Deccan Herald, By Kalyan Ray, 25 May 2006
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) is considering seed company Mahyco’s application for large scale field trial and seed production of a genetically engineered brinjal that can fight pests attacking brinjal plants throughout its life.
Four years after biotech company ProAgro’s genetically modified mustard failed to pass the tests, another GM food crop has come up for clearance in front of the country’s highest regulatory body under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest.
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) is considering seed company Mahyco’s application for large scale field trial and seed production of a genetically engineered brinjal that can fight pests attacking brinjal plants throughout its life.
Representatives of the company made presentation on the bio-safety of four Bt brinjal hybrids — MHB-4 Bt, MHB 9 Bt MHB 80 Bt and MHBJ-99 Bt containing cry 1 Ac — in front of the GEAC on Thursday.
The committee, sources said, was reasonably satisfied with the data and a decision may be expected in the next meeting.
If cleared, this will be the first genetically engineered food crop in India as Bt cotton is the only permitted GM crop.
“The GM brinjal has not been cleared. We have told the company that biosafety data would be put on the environment ministry’s website for public comments,” one of the GEAC members told Deccan Herald. The company has applied for large scale trials and seed production of four Bt brinjal hybrids.
The GM variety contains Cry-1Ac gene from a soil microbe that makes the plant tolerant to the fruit and shoot borer, one of the major pests. This will be the second food crop after ProAgro, a subsidiary of German giant Bayer CropScience applied to GEAC in 2002 for its GM mustard. However, the regulatory body did not give the clearance citing paucity of reliable scientific data. For the first time, GEAC has cleared two Bt-cotton varieties that have two Bt genes making these plants more resistant to bollworm pests. Mahyco and JK Seeds are the two manufacturers. So far, all Bt cotton hybrids cleared in India have only one Bt-gene. The committee has also cleared 16 Bt cotton hybrids for south zone, 12 for central and eight for north zones. All these varieties have a single gene.
BASF expands crop biotech capabilities
- Nutraingredients.com, 26/05/2006
BASF's acquisition of CropDesign, a Belgian biotech company, will help establish the German chemical giant as a leader in the development of important crop traits in corn, soy bean and rape seed.
The acquisition complements BASF Plant Sciences existing gene discovery activities and extends its position in access to agronomically important genetic traits. CropDesign specialises on traits for yield-enhancement, drought tolerance and improved nutrient use efficiency of crops such as corn and rice.
Traits are important plant characteristics driven by genes and are the basis of the commercial use of plant biotechnology. BASF Plant Sciences long-term strategy is to develop next generation plant biotechnology products that offer clear benefits for consumers and the environment.
Indeed, BASF is convinced that crops with higher yields will become increasingly important to meet the nutritional needs of a growing global population.
"In 15 years we will have close to eight billion people on our planet, almost 1.5 billion more than today," said BASF board member Peter Oakley.
"With lead times of 12 to 15 years in research we have no time to lose."
BASF's recently announced plans to invest $320 million over the next three years in the development of what it calls 'next generation' biotech crops. This announcement, together with the recent acquisition, demonstrates BASF's intention to expand its involvement in agriculture and nutrition.
"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.
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.
"CropDesigns excellent portfolio of important agronomical traits will significantly strengthen our product pipeline of higher yielding crops," said Hans Kast, president and CEO of BASF Plant Science.
"The screening capacities of CropDesign and the BASF Plant Science company Metanomics in Berlin offer us both a worldwide unique combination of screening parameters and an extremely high throughput of genes to be tested. This secure us a strong and sustainable competitive advantage to continuously develop our position among the market leaders in plant biotechnology."
BASF Plant Science's research is based on the metabolic profiling technology at Metanomics. Here, scientists identify the metabolic functions of every plant gene, which allows the development of plants with desired characteristics.
The database contains metabolic profiles associated with approximately 30,000 plant genes - knowledge that is already unique to BASF in plant biotech industry.
In December 2005, BASF Plant Science and CropDesign already signed a broad licence and research agreement. The acquisition now secures BASF Plant Science full access to additional traits and to all research and development options of the company that were not yet covered.
Both parties agreed not to disclose financial details. BASF said that CropDesigns employees will continue to work at the research facilities in Gent, Belgium, which will become a unit within BASF Plant Science.
Get Off My Lawn
- Truth About Trade, By John Rigolizzo, Jr., 5/26/2006
"What is a weed?" Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked. "A plant whose virtues have not been discovered."
That's a funny line, but I can't keep myself from thinking that perhaps the virtues of weeds haven't been discovered for a simple reason: They don't have any!
This is the time of year when Americans all over the country go to war against weeds. I don't mean just on the farm, where weed control is a constant battle. Suburbanites are our brothers in arms, for they fight weeds on their lawns and in their gardens. With Memorial Day weekend right around the corner, many of us are breaking out our lawnmowers and weed whackers. The season of lawn care is upon us.
Indeed, it might be said that we have an obsession with the grass around our homes. "Although there are plenty of irrational aspects to life in modern America, few rival the odd fixation on lawns," writes Ted Steinberg, a professor of history and law at Case Western University, in his new book American Green. "Fertilizing, mowing, watering--these are all-American activities that, on their face, seem reasonable enough. But to spend hundreds of hours mowing your way to a designer lawn is to flirt, most would agree, with a bizarre form of fanaticism."
At least it's not an unhealthy form of fanaticism: Well-maintained lawns keep our neighborhoods looking nice, they force us off the couch and out the door, and they even have environmental benefits because they prevent soil erosion and cut down on greenhouse gases. According to one estimate, lawns soak up 12 billion pounds of carbon each year.
NASA scientists have calculated that lawns cover almost 50,000 square miles of the United States--an area larger than the whole state of Pennsylvania. Ordinary household lawns take up most of these square miles, but golf courses account for a growing portion of them.
Keeping weeds off these lawns is a big business. Steinberg estimates that Americans spend $40 billion on their lawns each year, and a big chunk of that cash goes toward fighting the war on weeds.
The war may seem never-ending--a kind of quagmire that bogs us down every summer. Yet biotechnology may be on the verge of helping Americans not only wipe out weeds, but also worry less about their lawns. "What if grass were engineered to require less water, fertilizer, and pesticide?" asks David Wolman in the April issue of Wired. "What if it required fewer trimmings by toxin-spewing mowers? What if lawns were customizable?"
That's the future some researchers envision, as they work to create new varieties of grass that are tougher, healthier, and prettier. Wolman describes one experiment in Ohio that involves dwarf grass: It "doesn't grow as tall and, therefore, doesn't need as much mowing. For the everyman, that means fewer hours with a lawnmower. It also means enhanced color: The same amount of chlorophyll is concentrated in a smaller blade. The grass on this side of the GMO divide is, literally, greener."
Who doesn't appreciate the potential of that? Less lawn doctor, more quality time with the kids. Well, there's that other group of fanatics: the enemies of biotechnology. They find a way to oppose just about everything.
These activists fret about GM grass giving rise to "superweeds" that can't be controlled through conventional methods of eradication. Their aim is to create a new kind of bogeyman in the public mind--a "Frankenfood" of the lawn. But this is silly. Lawns that do a better job of fighting weeds are developed to resist a very particular form of herbicide--other types of herbicide can kill GM grass with ruthless efficiency. Superweeds are a myth.
Genetically-improved grass is not a commercial product yet--it's still going through the regulatory process that governs all biotech plants. I hope it's approved, but I'm happy to wait. In the meantime, I'll ponder a question: What is an anti-biotech activist? Are they truly worried about my little micro-climate in front of my house? Can they force me to believe doing things the 'old way' is really the best way? Perhaps it's the ever changing nature of science that has them all aflutter. It's their choice of course, to speak fear and monsters and such. I say, "Get off my lawn!"
John Rigolizzo, Jr. is a fifth generation farmer, raising fresh vegetables and field corn in southern New Jersey. The family farm manages both road side retail and wholesale markets. John is a board member of Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrrade.org) a national grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA formed and led by farmers in support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology.
'The greens want to do right, but they are so wrong'
Meet the Sixties black civil rights activist who now thinks that environmentalism is one of the greatest threats to Africa.
- Spiked Online, By Brendan O’Neill, 25 May 2006
‘We are fighting the same battle, for the liberation of black people. In the past that meant taking on old racists and colonialists – now it means challenging environmentalists too.’
Roy Innis doesn’t mince words. As national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the New York-based black civil rights group founded in the Forties, he has caused a mighty stink with his attacks on greens. Innis thinks that environmentalist thinking is helping to ‘strangle Africa’. He argues that European Union restrictions on the use of the pesticide DDT to combat malaria are ‘killing black babies’; that Western liberals’ handwringing over genetically modified crops and food is ‘holding Africa back’; and that ideas of sustainable development are causing a ‘stagnation in African development’. As you can imagine, he hasn’t made himself especially popular in the process – he’s even earned the tag ‘Uncle Tom’, a stooge for Big (White) Business, from some of the more intemperate greens.
‘Yeah, I’ve heard that one’, he says. ‘I’d like to know where these people were in the Fifties and Sixties when my organisation provided the shock troops on the civil rights battlefield. Look at my work on civil rights and you’ll see I’m the opposite of an Uncle Tom.’
How has the chairman of an organisation whose members confronted the racist cops and KKK members of the American Deep South in the heady summer of ’64 ended up eye-balling greens, those usually well-meaning young trendies, in 2006? CORE was founded in 1942, as the Commission of Racial Equality, by a group of interracial students in Chicago. It grew through the Fifties and Sixties to become one of the main groups involved in the protests against segregation in the South in 1963 and 1964. It organised the ‘Freedom Rides’, when both black and white activists rode on public buses through Birmingham and Montgomery in Alabama in a naked challenge to that state’s segregation of public transport, and sponsored the 1963 March on Washington at which Martin Luther King delivered his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. CORE also opposed imperialism and colonialism in Africa and other parts of the Third World (1).
Yet now Innis, chairman of CORE since 1968, speaks passionately about challenging greens. That’s one hell of a turnaround, isn’t it, from taking on the racist authorities to attacking people who care about nature? ‘We’re being consistent’, he says. ‘Our aim has always been to raise up black people, at home and in Africa. Some of the old barriers to doing that are still around but there are new ones as well.’ And one of the biggest new barriers, he reckons, is the politics of environmentalism. He’s particularly disturbed by the global restrictions on the use of DDT to fight malaria. His wife is a Ugandan, some of whose friends and family members have been killed by the disease. Innis has been on numerous fact-finding trips to African countries to uncover the impact of malaria on people’s lives and livelihoods. ‘What hits me every time – every time – is that this is a disease we can control’, he says. ‘We eradicated it in America and Europe with DDT, so why not in Africa?’
DDT – or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, to give it its full, if rarely used, name – is a flashpoint issue in the debate about environmentalism. The pesticide kills mosquitoes, the blood-sucking pests that spread malaria. It was one of the main weapons in the Western authorities’ war on malaria in the mid-twentieth century. Malaria once killed thousands of Americans and Europeans every year. It did in Oliver Cromwell, among others. As Innis has written, ‘From Italy and Romania to Poland to the English Channel…malarial mosquitoes ruled over Europe for centuries’ (2). The development of DDT in the twentieth century helped to put an end to that. After the Second World War governments in Europe and the US intervened aggressively against malaria, including with DDT, and consigned the disease to the dustbin of history – at least in the West – where it belonged.
But in the Sixties and Seventies, green activists raised concerns about the impact of DDT on wildlife and the environment. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring, widely described as the ‘bible of environmentalism’, claimed that DDT harmed birds of prey and their eggs (3). Following intense lobbying and campaigning, DDT was banned in America in 1972 by the Environment Protection Agency and its use was severely restricted in Europe, which impacted on its use in countries in Latin America and Africa where malaria is still a big problem. And all of this happened despite the fact that, as a member of the organisation Africa Fighting Malaria points out, where heavy use of DDT in agricultural settings did occasionally cause harm to birds of prey that harm subsequently ‘proved reversible’, and ‘after 50 years of study there is not one replicated study that shows any harm to humans at all’ (4).
Yet African states are still put under pressure to avoid using DDT. This year the EU warned of possible agricultural sanctions against Uganda, Kenya and other countries that defiantly use DDT and vow to continue doing so. An EU official warned the Ugandan authorities that if indoor spraying of DDT meant there was ‘a risk of contamination of the food chain’, then while ‘[it] would not automatically lead to a ban of food products…it will mean that that particular consignment cannot be sent to Europe’ (5). ‘The EU should be saying that DDT is safe and poses no threat to EU consumers’, says Innis. ‘Instead they make either direct or oblique threats about possible trade sanctions. What they’re really saying is, “We’ve benefited from DDT and gotten rid of malaria but you people in Africa cannot do the same”.’
Innis has seen for himself the devastation caused by malaria. At Christmas his nephew, also a CORE activist, returned to a school in Uganda that he sponsors and found that 50 of the 500 children had died from malaria in a 12-month period. ‘What a waste of human life’, says Innis. ‘What an avoidable tragedy.’ He says the reason the malaria thing makes him so angry is that even in the poorest parts of Africa this disease can be stopped by a simple application of DDT. ‘You just spray a small amount, twice a year, on the walls of homes and it keeps 90 per cent of mosquitoes from coming in. It irritates those that do come in, which means they rarely bite. Every African home that needs it should have DDT sprayed on the walls.’
It isn’t only the restrictions on DDT that anger Innis. He also champions the development of genetically modified crops, arguing that they could massively benefit African farmers. ‘Lots of people in America and Europe panic about GM, but I’ve spoken to Africans who want it’, he says. ‘We don’t want Africa to be left behind again and to lose out on this scientific revolution. GM could increase yields and ensure a good quality of nutrition.’ And he isn’t very impressed by arguments for sustainable development, claiming that it ‘stagnates real development, which is what Africa needs’.
Innis recognises that most green activists mean well. ‘They want to do right, but they are so wrong on some things’, he says. His main concern is that environmentalist thinking has been elevated into an official dogma, taking centre stage in numerous debates about the developing world at the UN and the EU. He goes so far as to claim that green thinking about the Third World is ‘like a new form of colonialism’; he talks of ‘eco-imperialism’. ‘It is a colonialist mentality’, he says. ‘Making decisions for other people from one’s own perspective rather than from the perspective of the people being affected – that is my definition of a colonialist mentality and that is the approach taken by some officials and green activists to the Third World.’
The attitude of green groups (and other aid organisations) towards Africa and its problems are certainly deeply patronising and even dangerous. But I wonder if perhaps Innis, and other commentators and activists who try to challenge environmentalist orthodoxies, focus too much on the individual greens themselves – as if Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth were single-handedly, as part of some dastardly plot, subjugating the Third World to their political whims and storming the UN and the EU to force officials to spread environmentalism around the world. I would argue that these groups merely express, if in a more explicit form, the narrow outlook and low horizons of Western politics more broadly today. From the top down in the West – and especially in that creaking and slothful institution, the EU – meaningful development and industrialisation are seen as too risky and potentially damaging. Greens add a radical gloss to what is in fact a mainstream orthodoxy.
And by focusing on flashpoint issues such as DDT or GM, anti-green critics could also be said to be avoiding the hard arguments about what the Third World really needs. No doubt easy access to DDT would help to combat malaria and make life more pleasant for hundreds of thousands of Africans. But there are more fundamental reasons – to do with lack of development and widespread poverty – that means diseases can take hold in Africa in a way that they don’t in most of the West. I’m sure introducing GM to Africa would be beneficial to farmers, but it would be no substitute for industrialisation and urbanisation, for liberating people from being reliant on farming in the first place, whether it be of the GM or non-GM variety.
Yet Innis is raising important – and controversial – questions. He’s received a lot of flak for his arguments. Some greens seem especially irritated that a black man with a track record of fighting for civil rights is daring to criticise their aims and agenda. They claim that he has taken CORE from its civil rights roots to ‘the far right’. One commentator has awarded CORE the ‘Uncle Tom award’, and the organisation has been accused of accepting ‘Black Gold’ (geddit?) from oil companies and from Monsanto, the multinational biotech company developing GM technologies (6). Innis denies it. ‘I wish it was true. Where is the money at? I haven’t seen it. I wish government and industry were giving more support to our programmes, but it’s just not true.’ Anyway, what does it matter where he gets his funds from if his arguments are on the money? Too often in these kinds of debates there is a tendency to look endlessly for some hidden pay packet or agenda instead of addressing the arguments being put forward. Forget about CORE’s bank balance: what do greens make of CORE’s arguments about the impact of environmentalism’s low horizons on progress and development in Africa?
‘If you criticise these things, you get a rough ride’, says Innis. ‘Environmentalism is seen as the gospel truth, but it’s far from that. We should be free to debate these things. For some people, it will be a life-and-death debate.’
Visit Brendan O’Neill’s website here.
(1) See the Congress of Racial Equality website:
(2) ‘Africa Malaria Day – action or bombast?’, by Roy Innis
(3) DDT, eggshells and me, Ronald Bailey, Reason, 7 January 2003:
(4) See Without DDT, malaria bites back, by Roger Bate:
(5) Uganda defies EU, begins DDT programme to fight malaria, Paul Driessen, Environment News, 1 May 2006
(6) The Uncle Tom Award, Freezerbox, 14 March 2005:
Some consumers readily pay more for organically grown fruits and veggies. Is the benefit worth it?
- The Hamilton Spectator, By Rebecca Field Jager, May 25, 2006)
They don't look more healthy. Mind you, judging by the price tag, they ought to be. But according to dietitian, Lois Ferguson, and home economist, Mary Wiley, organic fruit and vegetables cost about 40 per cent more than regular ones but are zero per cent more nutritious.
During a recent visit to Hamilton, they bought nine dollars worth of organics and nine dollars worth of conventionally grown vegetables at a local grocery store. The result? The organic pile was half as high.
The price difference has health professionals concerned.
"We're worried about moms who think organic produce is better for their families so they buy it, but because they're on a budget, they buy less," says Ferguson. "The result is their children don't end up getting the five to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables recommended daily by the Canada Food Guide."
Certainly, budget is top of mind for many Canadian families. According to a recent survey by Pollara, 80 per cent of women with children feel it's a challenge to provide healthy, nutritious food to their families while sticking to a budget. According to Statistics Canada, the average Ontarian spends $125 on groceries per week.
Nine dollars goes to vegetables.
If organic produce is not more nutritious, why then do people buy it?
Janet Jacks, owner of Goodness Me! Natural Food Market believes that organically grown produce does indeed contain more nutrients.
"What's in the soil determines what's in the plant. Since the 1940s, when we began using chemical fertilizers, we've been depleting the minerals in our soil, so now, although vegetables look healthy, they're less nutritious," she says. "The more crops that are organically grown in the soil, the more the nutrients are replenished, so today there's a good chance organic vegetables will contain more minerals."
But nutritional content is not the main reason most people are willing to spring for organics. Rather, they're paying for what's not in the food.
"People are worried about chemicals and don't want residues. They don't want dyes or wax like you get on regular peppers and cucumbers. Also, people don't want food that is genetically modified because we haven't studied the results of its long-term impact."
Philosophically speaking, organic aficionadas are traditionally friends of the earth, adds Jacks.
"As Franklin Roosevelt said, 'A nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.'"
Weighing in on the controversy is Dr. Joe Schwarcz, the director for McGill University's Office of Science and Society and the author of Let Them Eat Flax (ECW Press, $18.95).
"The idea that organics are pesticide-free isn't entirely true," he says. "They use no synthetic pesticides, yes, but natural ones are allowed."
Schwarcz cites arsenic as an extreme example of a natural pesticide. He doesn't go so far as to say organics may be riddled with such hazardous stuff, but notes that the notion of producing enough crops to feed the planet "organically" is romantic as well as passe.
"Before 1900, everything was organic and people starved," he quips.
Today, in a country as regulated as Canada, Schwarcz maintains that produce that reaches the retail shelf is completely safe.
"No, the PMRA (Pest Management Regulatory Agency) can't say any substance is 100 per cent safe for everyone because even something as natural as a peanut can kill some people."
Schwarcz advises consumers to ignore media hype surrounding food scares and miracle foods and go beyond the headlines when making decisions.
"It's easy to take scientific information out of context," he claims. "Tomatoes, for example, contain lycopene, which wards off certain cancers. This makes the news and suddenly everyone is buying tomatoes.
"Then they tell us that red has three times the lycopene as pink so certain tomatoes are better than others. Also, lycopene is concentrated beneath the skin so cherry tomatoes are best because they have the highest skin to flesh ratio. Suddenly cherry tomatoes are the new miracle food, but no one tells you how much you would have to eat for it to make a difference."
High cancer rates are another example of information being taken out of context, Schwarcz claims.
"Cancer rates have always remained fairly constant with some such as stomach cancer going down, and others such as breast cancer on the rise. But if you pool them all together, you get a straight line. Cancer is an age-related disease and today, people are living longer. The thing to remember is, you can't get out of life alive."
Perhaps not, but even if it costs a little more, clearly many people will die trying.