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September 18, 2006


Sinister Spinach; EU votes on GM canola seed approval; Less Thirsty Plants


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: September 18, 2006

* Sinister Spinach
* EU votes on GM canola seed approval
* Instead of water wars, let's go for less-thirsty plants
* Ugandans laud World Health Organization for historic DDT decision


Sinister Spinach

- New York Sun Editorial, September 18, 2006

This just in from the federal Food and Drug Administration — and, as Dave Barry would say, we're not making this up: "FDA advises consumers to not eat fresh spinach or fresh spinach-containing products until further notice." That's right, spinach — that health food endorsed by everyone from your mother to Popeye the Sailor Man — is now a health threat. Why, next thing you know, tobacco will turn out to be good for you.

Spinach features prominently in "The Miracle Foods Cookbook: Easy, Low-Cost Recipes and Menus That Help You Lose Weight, Fight Disease, and Slow the Aging Process." The American Cancer Society Web site features a recipe for Saint Anthony Hotel's Famous Spinach Pudding. Of the American Heart Association's Web site's "Top Ten Food Tips," three of them identify spinach by name and advise consumers to eat it.

Yet suddenly, according to the FDA, spinach — or, more precisely, the E. Coli bacteria that it carries — causes diarrhea that can lead to Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, "serious kidney damage and even death." The FDA says it hasn't yet determined whether the problem is confined to organic spinach, but the spinach producer that has recalled much of its product has several organic brands.

It wouldn't surprise us one bit were it to turn out that the E. Coli bacteria came from manure that is being used instead of chemical fertilizer. In an effort to avoid the imagined health threats of chemical fertilizer, farmers and consumers are using bacteria-laden manure. In an effort to avoid the imagined health threats of radiation, the organic spinach isn't irradiated to kill the harmful bacteria, either.

So now hundreds of Americans are suffering, millions of dollars worth of spinach is being thrown away, and at least one person is reported to have died. The spinach scare comes the weekend that the World Health Organization recommended the use of DDT to fight malaria in Africa. In the 24 years since the chemical pesticide was banned in America because of health concerns, millions of African children have died of malaria.

The harm from organic spinach will likely be on a much smaller scale, but the principles may well be the same. Chemicals, radiation, and technology aren't always bad, but can actually lead to better health. What's "natural" — whether they are malarial mosquitoes or bacterialaden manure — isn't always best for your health. And the politically correct public health bureaucrats are usually a good decade or two behind the times.


EU votes on GM canola seed approval

- NutraIngredients.com, By Anthony Fletcher, September 18, 2006

18/09/2006 - A certain type of Canadian canola seed could be approved today for import into the European Union by spring 2007.

The European Union's Agricultural Council is voting today whether or not to approve the Bayer CropScience InVigor event, a genetically modified seed that represents 39 per cent of Canada's canola crop.

Canola is a genetic variation of B. napus with low levels of the natural rapeseed toxins glucosinolate and erucic acid, developed through conventional plant breeding. Canola is grown for its seed, which represents a major source of edible vegetable oil and is also used in livestock feeds.

Reuters reports that the ruling could have a major significance. Canada is already the largest exporter of canola, into Europe for industrial use, but it is not permitted to export the seed until all genetically modified canola events are approved.

The issue of GM approval within the EU is one of the most contentious in agriculture. The recent announcement that US authorities had traced amounts of unapproved genetically modified (GM) food in samples of rice prompted the EU to clamp down on all imports from the US.

The immediacy of this action illustrated the stringent controls the EU has in place to guard against unauthorised products entering the food chain, and also reflected consumer fears over the technology.

But the possibility of certain GM foods gaining market acceptance is slowly improving, as evidenced by today's vote. Bayer expects that the vote will result in neither a qualified majority for nor against the issue, but that the debate will pass onto the European Commission where the decision will be made on the recommendation of EFSA.

Other GM products are also edging closer to achieving market acceptance. Biotech giant Monsanto's GMO Roundup Ready canola for example is now in the post-approval process.

Many Member States, and millions of European consumers, remain steadfastly against the introduction of GM food. But despite the stringent controls in place, it is becoming harder for Europe's regulatory authorities to deny market access to certain GM products.

The proverbial straw that broke the camel's back was the WTO decision earlier this year that the EU and six member states had broken trade rules by barring entry to GM crops and foods.

The world trade organisation agreed with the United States, Argentina and Canada that an effective moratorium on GMO imports between June 1999 and August 2003 had been put in place. And although Brussels again began authorising imports of GMOs in May 2004, only seven crops and foods were the green light. Further bans were imposed by France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg and Greece.

The pro-GM nations argued these prohibitions were not scientifically justified and thus contrary to WTO rules. The US food industry has persistently said that the EU ban has cost them some $300 million a year in lost sales.

It is clear that Member States still need to be convinced that introducing genetically modified ingredients into food production is acceptable. The Commission has asked EU members over ten times to vote on authorising a GMO food or feed product, but in the large majority of cases, there was no agreement or simple deadlock.

Luxembourg, Greece and Austria consistently vote against GMO approvals.


Instead of water wars, let's go for less-thirsty plants

- SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, By Henry I. Miller, September 17, 2006

Wars have been fought over politics, economics, territory, ethnic origin, race, religion and national pride. We may soon have to add a new reason: water, which is in increasingly short supply -- and increasingly sought after.

More than a third of the world's population lives in regions where water is scarce, and unless we take radical action, in 50 years half will be living with shortages, depleted fisheries and polluted coastlines and groundwater. This could lead to violent confrontations over sources of water, according to a study published last month that was sponsored by several international groups, including two United Nations organizations.

Waste and inadequate management are the main culprits behind growing water shortages, particularly in poverty-ridden regions. The study proposes ways to reduce by half the amount of water that will be needed to grow food in rain-fed and irrigated areas for an additional 2 billion to 3 billion people.

But the proposals amount to no more than vague, sweeping, pie-in-the-sky remedies typical of U.N. agencies -- "reform the state to improve the governance of water," and "deal with tradeoffs and difficult choices," for example. Certainly they provide no roadmap for how to get from here to there. And, not surprisingly, the report ignores the fact that U.N. agencies themselves have made workable solutions more elusive.

Conspicuously absent from the analysis is any mention of the need for new, gene-spliced crop varieties, which are thought by agricultural scientists to be critical to meeting water shortages. Irrigation for agriculture accounts for roughly 70 percent of the world's fresh water consumption -- even more in areas of intensive farming and arid or semi-arid conditions -- so the introduction of plants that grow with less water would allow much of that essential resource to be freed up for other uses.

Especially during drought conditions -- which currently plague much of Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, Australia and the United States -- even a small percentage reduction in the use of water for irrigation could result in huge benefits, both economic and humanitarian. However, during the past decade, various U.N. agencies, including the two that sponsored the current report on water usage -- the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Convention on Biological Diversity -- have created major regulatory obstacles to the use of gene splicing, sometimes called genetic modification.

Gene splicing offers plant breeders the tools to make old crop plants do spectacular new things. In the United States and at least 17 other countries, farmers are using gene-spliced crop varieties to produce higher yields, with lower inputs and reduced impact on the environment.

Plant biologists have identified genes that regulate water utilization that can be transferred into important crop plants. These new varieties are able to grow with smaller amounts or lower quality water, such as water that has been recycled or that contains large amounts of natural mineral salts. Where water is unavailable for irrigation, the development of crop varieties able to grow under conditions of low moisture or temporary drought could boost yields and lengthen the time that farmland is productive.

Aside from new varieties that have lower water requirements, pest- and disease-resistant gene-spliced crop varieties also make water use more efficient indirectly. Because much of the loss to insects and diseases occurs after the plants are grown -- that is, after most of the water required to grow a crop has already been applied -- the use of gene-spliced varieties that experience lower post-harvest losses in yield means that the farming (and irrigation) of fewer plants can produce the same total amount of food. We get more crop for the drop.

But research is being hampered by resistance from activists and discouraged by governmental over-regulation -- including by the U.N. agency that sets international food standards, and by onerous, unscientific regulation of field trials under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

In addition, a technical working group of the U.N. Environment Program is considering whether to recommend a moratorium on all field testing and commercialization of gene-spliced trees. That would be a devastating blow to efforts to preserve biodiversity and to prevent deforestation worldwide.

The United Nation's periodic warnings of dire, impending shortages of water belie its actions, which not only are harmful to health and exacerbate water shortages, but also make a mockery of the organization's overblown Millennium Development Goals. The most ambitious objective, "to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger" by 2015, certainly cannot be accomplished without innovative technology -- which, in turn, cannot be developed in the face of bans and excessive regulatory barriers.

The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization calls on one hand for greater allocation of resources to agriculture, and then makes those resources drastically less cost-effective by gratuitous, unscientific over-regulation of the new biotechnology.

The secretary-general of the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization announces that "integrated water-resources management is the key to achieving the Millennium Development Goals of securing access to safe water, sanitation and environmental protection," while a veritable alphabet soup of other U.N. agencies are making virtually impossible the development of gene-spliced plants that can grow with low-quality water or under drought conditions.

The regulation of gene-splicing (among other critical technologies and products) is a growth industry at the United Nations, one that regularly defies scientific consensus and common sense. The result is vastly inflated research and development costs, less innovation and diminished exploitation of superior techniques and products -- especially in poorer countries, which need them desperately, as the most recent U.N. report makes clear.

Journalist Claudia Rosett has questioned "whether in this age of fascist movements, terror tactics and weapons of mass murder, we can afford the indulgence of coddling as our leading global institution this sorry excuse for what was meant to be an honest forum for free and peace-loving nations." We cannot.

Henry I. Miller, a physician and fellow at the Hoover Institution, headed the FDA's Office of Biotechnology from 1989 to 1993. His most recent book is "The Frankenfood Myth." Contact us at insight@sfchronicle.com.


The deadline of submission of papers / abstracts for ISSAAS' National Conference on Natural Resource Management in Agriculture at ACTETSME, UP Los Baños Campus, College, Laguna on 26 October 2006 is extended until September 30, 2006.
Academics, researchers, and all those involved, in one way or another, in natural resource management in agriculture, may e-mail abstracts of papers to lutgardatolentino@gmail.com by indicating the subject of e-mail as "ISSAAS Conference Abstract". Or send it via courier or postal mail to:

International Society for Southeast Asian
Agricultural Sciences (ISSAAS) - Philippines
Agricultural Systems Cluster
UPLB College College of Agriculture
College, Laguna, Philippines

For further inquiries, please contact:

ISSAAS Secretariat
Telephone No.: (+649) 536-5816
Email: issaas_phil@yahoo.com

Ugandans laud World Health Organization for historic DDT decision

- Congress of Racial Equality, September 18, 2006

CONTACT: Fiona Kobusingye (077) 2 441-793
Carlos Odora (077) 2 690-574

Today, hundreds of Ugandans will take to the streets of Kampala – not in protest – but in a March of Thanksgiving, to praise the World Health Organization (WHO) and the new leader of its malaria program, Dr. Arata Kochi, for publicly authorizing the use of DDT for malaria control.

After decades of failure and increasing disease that led to millions of deaths, things are finally changing. New WHO policies under Dr. Arata Kochi are leading the way.

Ever since a Malaria Expert Committee meeting in 1998, the WHO position has been that “... for some time to come there will continue to be a role for DDT in combating malaria.” However, many officials still did not publicly support the chemical’s use in controlling this killer disease. That is why last week’s decision even more momentous. On September 15, in Washington DC, Dr. Kochi issued revised guidelines that underscore the “major role” that DDT and other insecticides “will again play” in preventing malaria. Indoor spraying and ACT drugs are vital to any cohesive, comprehensive, effective program, he emphasized.

Euphoric Ugandans, many of whom have lost loved ones to this dreaded disease, see this policy as an opportunity for Uganda to look forward to the eventual eradication of malaria. Uganda suffers 100,000 deaths annually, notes Minister of Health Dr. Stephen Malinga – the equivalent of a jetliner with 275 people slamming into the Rwenzori Mountains every day.

EU President José Manuel Barroso allayed the fears of the Ugandan business community, with regard to threatened trade bans, in his response to a letter from physician and US Senator Tom Coburn. The European Union fully supports the right and responsibility of countries to use DDT and other “appropriate malaria control techniques,” under Stockholm Convention and WHO guidelines, he declared. Only produce “contaminated with DDT above accepted residue levels” would be affected. Of course, such contamination is highly unlikely under limited modern indoor residual spraying (IRS).

Carlos Odora, Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM), Kampala Fellow, emphasized that Uganda will implement indoor residual spraying with conscious responsibility and caution. He asked the consumers in Europe to trust that Uganda will ensure that no produce or products will enter Europe contaminated by DDT – and to support the use of this life-saving insecticide-repellant, and all other malaria control measures.

Fiona Kobusingye, Chairperson of CORE-Uganda, said the marchers will pass by the offices of WHO in Kampala, the European Union, the American Embassy, NEMA, and the Ministry of Health, delivering letters of gratitude. She said CORE-Uganda and Africa Fighting Malaria will continue to lobby and educate the EU and European consumers, to ensure that products are not banned, and its business and economic interests are not harmed, because the country seeks to protect the lives of its children.