Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: September 22, 2006
* The Dawn of a New Day for Smallholder Agriculture
* Iowa seeks manure ban on soybean crops
* Spinach firm has permit troubles
* GM potatoes: Beating blight with biotechnology?
* Media urged to help spread information on farm technology
* GM: A decade of GM possibilities?
* Ten years later: ISAAA reviews future of biotechnology
* ISAAA's Crop Biotech UPdate, Sept 22, 2006
* Transgenics will make up 50% of crop
* Organic doesn’t always mean low-calorie
* Inaccuracy — not bias — is the scourge of the media
* Bravo WHO! Please keep thinking right!
The Dawn of a New Day for Smallholder Agriculture
- By Norman E. Borlaug, Rockefeller Foundation Life Fellow, September 13, 2006
College Station, Texas. On September 12, 2006, Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation announced a new alliance of tremendous importance for smallholder agriculture, especially in Africa. The Rockefeller Foundation invented international agricultural development assistance to Third World nations in 1943, with a pioneering program in Mexico to assist the government to build a research system that could transform food production and overcome hunger. I joined that program in 1944 and have been associated with international agriculture ever since. It was on the experimental farms and research laboratories in Mexico, and on farmers’ fields that the concept of international assistance took shape, and began to help food-deficit nations generate and transfer food production technology appropriate to their farmers.
From the successful beginnings in Mexico, the Rockefeller Foundation expanded its work to other Latin American nations, Asia, and later, to Africa. This initiative became known as the Campaign against Hunger, and culminated in what came to be known as the “Green Revolution.” I was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1970, in symbolic recognition of this work. Its impact on Third World food production and poverty reduction is legendary. In short, it helped cut in half the proportion of the world’s people, and save one billion people from hunger.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the Rockefeller Foundation was joined by the Ford Foundation, with its considerably larger endowments, in this quest. This dynamic partnership laid the groundwork for several generations of progress, not only in farmers’ fields and food markets, but also in the establishment of institutions with the capacity and talent to continue the work of scientific innovation and technology generation in smallholder agriculture.
For more than six decades, the Rockefeller Foundation has persevered in international agriculture, funding more recently some of the pioneering work in agricultural biotechnology to improve production and nutritional quality in basic foods, and in sub-Saharan Africa, to support governments to develop improved varieties of major food crops and to help build an emerging private sector network of small and medium enterprises to supply seed, fertilizers, and other essential farm inputs to farmers. Perhaps alone among private foundations, the Rockefeller Foundation has never abandoned its original commitment to fighting hunger, forged more than 60 years ago.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a much newer organization in international philanthropy, but ever bit as dynamic and visionary. Its contributions over the past 10 years in public health have been enormous, and go far beyond the financial size of its giving. It has been brilliant in building scientific networks involving public, private and non-governmental organizations in public health, and in strengthening technology and information delivery systems to alleviate the suffering of those afflicted with the scourges of HIV/AIDS and malaria.
More recently, the Gates Foundation has expanded its work to improve human nutrition through investments to enhance the nutritive value of the basic foods eaten by the poor. It supports research programs to enhance the levels of vitamins and other key micronutrients in rice, maize (corn), cassava, sorghum and bananas, which represent the major sources of calories for the world’s poor. This new area was a logical extension of its work in public health, since nutrition is critical to health, and a well-nourished body has more stamina to combat the invasion of infectious diseases.
This year, the Gates Foundation announced the expansion of its international programs to include smallholder agriculture. More than half of the world’s hungry are, ironically, smallholder farmers mainly in Africa and Asia, for whom there has been no green revolution. These poor farmers struggle to produce food in marginal lands, where drought and pests, soil infertility, and extreme remoteness conspire against their valiant efforts.
New science and technology, including biotechnology, will be needed to bring greater food security and prosperity to these lands and people. But it can be done. Thus, it was natural for the Gates Foundation to seek out the Rockefeller Foundation, to explore how its resources might be most useful. This dialog has culminated in the new strategic partnership that Bill and Melinda Gates and Judith Rodin announce today. In it, both foundations will enhance and coordinate their work to combat food insecurity, especially through their new Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.
It is an agreement of epic proportions, which I predict will form the core of a much larger movement in international agri-philanthropy, already underway in a growing number of private foundations. It can provide the needed continuity of funding to tackle some of these seemingly intractable problems. It can be a catalyst in linking the efforts of governments, international agencies, non-governmental organizations, private businesses, and hundreds of millions of poor farmers and consumers.
I am grateful that I have lived long enough to witness this announcement. It truly can be a defining moment in international agricultural research and development and will very likely spur, the dawn of what Gordon Conway, the past president of the Rockefeller Foundation, called, the “Doubly Green Revolution.”
Norman Borlaug served as an agricultural scientist for the Rockefeller Foundation for 39 years, first stationed to work in Mexico, and later to lead the wheat program of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). He is 92 and currently teaches part-time at Texas A&M University, and leads the Sasakawa-Global 2000 agricultural program in Africa, in collaboration with Jimmy Carter.
Iowa seeks manure ban on soybean crops
- Miami Herald, Associated Press, By AMY LORENTZEN
DES MOINES, Iowa - The state's Environmental Protection Commission is closer to implementing a ban on the spreading of manure on land planted with soybeans.
The commission met this week and instructed the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to craft a notice that begins the rule-making process for the ban.
If the rules change is approved, it could have a big effect on the farming community. Row crop farmers use manure as fertilizer, and livestock producers get rid of tons of animal waste by applying it to fields.
Environmentalists have argued that soybeans don't need the nutrients provided by manure. They say that its application on soybean fields creates nitrate pollution by leaving too much nitrogen in the soil, which then runs off into the state's waterways - some of the most nitrogen-rich waters in the world.
Some scientists say the fecal bacteria that winds up in rivers and lakes can suck up oxygen, killing fish, and create threats to human health.
"Many people will say that soybeans don't need the fertilizer anyway, and that's the whole reason for this" discussion, said Randy Clark, an attorney with the DNR. "The rest of the debate is: even if they don't need it, will this hurt?"
He said the ban would go into effect three years after its approval for existing soybean fields. It remains to be seen whether such a ban would cause many row crop farmers to switch their fields from soybeans to corn, which soaks up more nitrogen.
"There's a lot of study that's going to be done," Clark said.
Tracy Blackmer, director of research for the Iowa Soybean Association, said scientific studies show that soybeans do use the nutrients in manure. State regulators should focus on proper application techniques, not an outright ban, he said.
As long as the producer follows the appropriate guidelines, he said, "it is no different than other sound management practices."
Blackmer said the issue has become politicized, and could hurt farmers who rotate crops. "It creates more obstacles," he said. "Obviously, when you are applying manure, it has several years of value of nutrients in it."
Some state estimates show that about half of livestock farmers in Iowa indicated in manure-management plans that they may spread manure on soybean fields. However, state inspections show the actual percentage at any time is probably 10 percent to 20 percent. Some industry groups claim the numbers are even lower.
The DNR will craft a notice of intended action for approval at the EPC's November meeting. If approved, a public comment period would begin. The EPC would likely not make a final vote on the issue until next year, and then the Legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee would take a look at the changes, and could block or delay them.
Spinach firm has permit troubles
No evidence of link between wastewater woes, E. coli outbreak.
- Sacramento Bee, By Matt Weiser, Dorsey Griffith and Jim Downing, September 21, 2006
SAN JUAN BAUTISTA -- The spinach-packaging company in the cross hairs of an investigation into a nationwide E. coli outbreak has struggled to manage its wastewater and is in violation of a state water disposal permit, according to public records and state officials.
There is no indication these problems at Natural Selection Foods contributed to the current outbreak; by Wednesday investigators had not pinpointed a single source. But federal officials said wastewater management and processing habits at Natural Selection and other companies have not been ruled out.
"Yes, the investigation of the plants is ongoing, and investigators have been in there looking at all the practices in the plants in terms of areas where spinach could have been contaminated in the process," said Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer with the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
On Wednesday, the list of victims in the outbreak grew to 146 in 23 states. Meanwhile, government investigators stepped closer to the source of the outbreak, narrowing the list of suspect operations to three Northern California counties -- San Benito, Santa Clara and Monterey.
Investigators also found the E. coli strain responsible for the human illness in a single bag of spinach purchased in New Mexico and sold under the brand name Dole. The bag was traced back to Natural Selection Foods.
As of Wednesday federal officials said more than half the E. coli victims have required hospitalization, and 23 were diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can cause kidney failure. One woman has died.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he plans to promote California spinach in a commercial to help the industry rebound from the E. coli bacteria scare.
"We have to help the industry because every so often something like this happens, and we all have to really work together to help them again to get back because they are losing millions of dollars every day," Schwarzenegger said.
State agencies are meeting to discuss what "best practices" they can employ to protect against future outbreaks, said Susan Kennedy, Schwarzenegger's chief of staff.
Natural Selection, North America's largest processor of packaged salad greens, operated for years without a permanent disposal method for human sewage produced by employees, according to San Benito County records.
The company has two wastewater systems: one for sewage produced by its employees, another for "washwater" from vegetable packaging operations. The company has struggled with both in recent years.
In 1998, according to San Benito County records, Natural Selection suffered a failure of its onsite septic system, which handled the sewage generated by its approximately 400 employees. Until at least 2003, the records state, the company trucked this waste to an offsite facility.
The company won county approval to expand its vegetable processing facilities in 1999 -- on the condition that it build a new onsite sewage disposal system. The system was not built. Yet the county allowed the new buildings to be occupied in April 2000 after being told the septic system would be built that summer.
The company received a $150,000 bid for the system, but it still didn't get built, county records show. Instead, the company asked the city of San Juan Bautista for permission to connect to its sewer system.
Establishing that sewer connection took several years. But San Juan Bautista City Manager Jan McClintock said Natural Selection now is allowed to discharge wastewater at 90,000 gallons per day into the city's system. She said that volume includes some of the washwater from vegetable processing.
Cecile DeMartini, a water resources engineer at the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, said Natural Selection is allowed to dispose 70,000 gallons per day of vegetable washwater by irrigating nearby fields. By law, those fields can grow only crops for animal feed.
But DeMartini said that during an inspection in February, she learned the company was exceeding the permitted disposal limit. As of July, she said, the company disposed an average of 274,000 gallons per day on nearby fields.
"They could not tell me at what point in time they exceeded 70,000 gallons per day," she said.
San Benito County records show this limit was "frequently exceeded" as early as July 2001.
DeMartini said her agency is revisiting the permit conditions, which may result in permission for a larger discharge volume. The company may be fined for exceeding the current permit, but DeMartini could not estimate the size of those fines.
On Tuesday, Natural Selection spokeswoman Samantha Cabaluna said she was not familiar with the company's wastewater operations and declined to comment. She said she would try to learn about the issue, but attempts to reach her Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Drew and Myra Goodman, company founders and executives, did not respond to a message left at their home.
Natural Selection Foods started in 1984 on a small plot in the Carmel Valley called Earthbound Farm. In 1986, Earthbound sold its first pre-washed, bagged organic greens, becoming the first to succeed in a specialty market it now dominates.
By the mid-1990s, Earthbound was farming 800 acres and its salads were sold in Costco and Safeway. To fuel further expansion, the company struck deals with conventional growers, processing their crops while their fields went through the three-year organic certification process, said Samuel Fromartz of Washington, D.C., author of "Organic Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew."
But as organic agriculture took on the scale of conventional farming, Fromartz said, it became apparent the two forms face the same hazards.
"It's not like their irrigation water comes from different sources," Fromartz said.
Natural Selection uses onsite wells for its water. Records show this water usage averages about 70,000 gallons per day, but it can peak at more than 2 million gallons per day during the April-to-November harvest season.
Sometimes a disinfectant, like chlorine, is added to water on the production line to further sanitize produce. But in April the salad greens industry warned producers not to depend on this to remove all pathogens.
After the production line, solids are removed from the wastewater stream and the water is stored in an unlined pond onsite. From there, the water is pumped onto 97 acres of nearby fields as irrigation water, where it percolates back into groundwater.
The company tests groundwater monthly via monitoring wells. A sampling of those results in San Benito County files from 2001 showed no fecal coliform contamination in those wells.
Kevin Reilly, deputy director of the California Department of Health Services, said state officials inspect food processing plants like Natural Selection at least annually. But there are no routine inspections of farms.
Consumer advocates and academics say the nation's food inspection system has become an unreliable patchwork, especially in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which forced new duties on many agencies.
"We're busy fending off perceived terrorists, but with the same resources we were supposed to be using to fend off disease as it already existed," said Dean Cliver, a food safety expert at UC Davis.
• Earthbound Farm -- Natural Selection LLC -- was founded in 1984 by New York City natives Myra and Drew Goodman on a 2 1/2-acre plot in Carmel Valley.
• The couple sold organic raspberries by the roadside. Two years later they packaged their first batch of pre-washed, bagged organic lettuce.
• In 1994 Earthbound operated a 9,000-square-foot processing facility, selling organic greens to Costco and Safeway from 800 acres of farmland. A year later Earthbound became Natural Selection Foods.
• The Earthbound name was put on its organic products and the company teamed with large-scale Salinas-area growers to feed the demand for organic greens.
• Today Earthbound's organic produce comes from more than 26,000 acres in five countries, and the company's processing facilities total 570,000 square feet. It controls nearly three-fourths of the U.S. market in organic greens. Earthbound also processed an undisclosed amount of conventionally grown produce for at least 31 different brands.
GM potatoes: Beating blight with biotechnology?
- Arable Farming (Via CheckBiotech), September 21, 2006
An application has been made to test genetically-modified blight- resistant potatoes in the UK. But is GM the only way forward? Teresa Rush reports.
BASF's announcement that is has applied to Defra to trial genetically-modified blight resistant potatoes in the UK (see Arable Farming September 4 issue) has inevitably re-focused attention on the question of whether or not GM has a place in UK agriculture.
But, as next month's deadline for responses to the Government's GM co- existence consultation approaches, opinion appears to be as divided as ever.
In a straw poll conducted by Arable Farming's weekly sister publication, Farmers Guardian, responses to the question 'Should we grow GM potatoes in the UK?' were split pretty much down the middle, with the 'no' respondents including GM Freeze, the Soil Association and the Food Ethics Council and the 'yes' respondents including growers and the biotechnology industry-supported information initiative CropGen. However, not all of the growers answering 'no' were organic producers.
In addition to the GM - yes or no question BASF’s application has also brought into focus a number of issues relating to blight control in the UK: Is it becoming more difficult and expensive? Is there blight resistance available in conventionally-bred potato varieties? Are the BASF GM varieties resistant to the A2 blight strain?
In a report prepared for the Pesticides Safety Directorate, published at the beginning of this year, David Green of ADAS noted that data gathered for the agrochemical industry showed a trend towards an increase in the numbers of fungicides being applied to potato crops. The total value of blight fungicides applied to crops in 2004 was estimated as £19 million. The report also highlighted an increasing trend towards starting spray programmes earlier and maintaining intervals between applications cioser to routine seven-day intervals. lronically it would seem that this trend is driven by consumer demand for disease and blemish-free potatoes.
"There is ample anecdotal evidence that retailer quality demands are such that growers will not take chances with late blight and the financial penalties associated with tuber infection," the report concludes.
PSD's own pesticide usage data for 2004, the most recent available, shows that ware potato crops received on average ten fungicides, accounting for 62% of the total pesticide-treated area of ware potatoes. The equivalent figures for 2002 were nine fungicides and 61% and for 2000, eight fungicides and 60%.
There is anecdotal evidence too, from growers and agronomists, that blight control is requiring increased levels of fungicide inputs. TAG potato specialist Denis Buckley believes that the evolution of the Phytophthora infestans fungus is making the disease increasingly difficult to contain. "Blight control is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve. Either the market accepts newer, conventional varieties, we go down the GM route or we use more fungicides," he says.
One of the key issues occupying the minds of blight control experts currently is that of the spread of the A2 mating type of Phytophthora infestans. First detected in the UK in 1981 it is believed by some scientists to be more aggressive than the Al type, potentially requiring more robust fungicide programmes to achieve control. Fungicides appear to provide control of the A2 strains, although there is evidence of resistance to the phenylamide metalaxyl.
In sampling last year A2 strains were detected at 38 out of 99 sample sites, predominantly in the south west but also in Scotland and the eastern counties. According to David Shaw of the Savari Research Trust, none of the strains identified during 2005 were detected during sampling carried out between 1995 and 1998, when most of the A2s were of a single strain.
lt's not yet clear whether BASF's GM potatoes are resistant to the A2 types. GM project leader Andrew Beadle points out that one of the reasons that the company is seeking to test its GM potatoes in the UK is to assess the materials' resistance to the A2 blight strains. "Our assumption is that it will be resistant. We are trying to produce a plant that has broad resistance," he says.
BASF currently has "at least three" GM varieties in trials in Sweden, Germany and Holland. When scored for blight resistance on the same scale as conventional varieties the rating of the current GM material is 'significantly higher', says Mr Beadle.
According to plant pathologist Dr David Cooke of the Scottish Crop Research Institute very few conventionally-bred varieties have full resistance to blight but there is "pretty good" resistance already available in varieties like the early maincrop Lady Balfour, bred by SCRI in 2001 and the Sarpo varieties from Hungary.
While organic growers have taken up some of these varieties, most are not widely grown commercially, he says. In some cases improved blight resistance has come at the cost of other, less desirable, agronomic traits such as late maturity, but there is also reluctance in the marketplace to adopt new varieties - the UK potato acreage is dominated by fewer than 10 varieties.
Defra's Advisory Committee an Releases to the Environment (ACRE) will consider BASF's application to trial GM potatoes in the UK at its meeting in September. If approval is granted and the trials go ahead, they will be the first GM field trials since the Farm Scale Evaluations in 2003.
Media urged to help spread information on farm technology
- THE HINDU, 21 Sep 2006
Minister calls for more research in agricultural biotechnology Ramachandra Gowda calls for more research in agricultural biotechnology
Bangalore: "It is a matter of great pride that the country has excelled so much in the field of agriculture. In 1948, we were not in a position to feed the 33 crore population. Today, we not only have buffer stock, but we also export our food products," said Minister for Science and Technology Ramachandra Gowda.
He was speaking after inaugurating a media workshop on agricultural biotechnology here on Wednesday. The workshop was organised by the Karnataka Media Academy (KMA) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), New Delhi.
The Minister said knowledge and know-how about the latest in agriculture should percolate to farmers. "The media plays a vital role here. It should spread the message in such a way that the farmers understand the latest technologies," he said.
He also said that more research and development was required in the field of agricultural biotechnology. With the knowledge base it had, Bangalore was sure to become the international destination for biotechnology.
The State Government, he said, gave away M. Visvesvaraya and C.V. Raman awards to scientists every year. "Probably next year, we can even award journalists who specialise in science and technology," the Minister said.
Anup K. Pujari, principal secretary, Department of Information Technology, Biotechnology and Science and Technology, said that if the country had to achieve the targeted growth rate, the agricultural sector too had to grow. The media had the responsibility of disseminating correct information about biotechnology to farmers and the general public, he added.
C.D. Mayee, chairman, Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board, Indian Council for Agricultural Research, said that different people interpreted `biotechnology' differently. "The moment biotechnology became commerce after commercialisation, public outcry began not only about risks and hazards, but also about its social, economic utility and ethics," he said. He also said that to address the concerns, bio-safety regulations had been introduced by all countries, including India.
`Bt cotton yield up'
Speaking on the sidelines of the workshop, Dr. Mayee said that contrary to a few reports, the yield of Bt cotton had increased. "Earlier, there were a few glitches. However, the problems have been rectified. The fact that several institutions are coming up with their own technologies stands testimony to that," he said.
The University of Agriculture Sciences, Dharwad, had developed indigenous Bt cotton. "The technology is in phase three stage. The field trials are going on," he added. T.M. Manjunath, workshop coordinator and consultant of AgriBiotech, presented an overview of the workshop. V.N. Subba Rao, KMA chairman, welcomed the gathering.
Bhagirath Choudhary, national coordinator, South Asia office, ISAAA, proposed a vote of thanks.
GM: A decade of GM possibilities?
- Arable Farming (Via CheckBiotech), September 21, 2006
While genetically modified crops struggle against opposition in Europe, a group of US experts has looked at the potential for the next ten years. There are some exciting possibilities, butthe Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 2lst Century Agriculture, known as AC21, has recognised that new products must gain consumer acceptance.
"Transgenic varieties thus far in the marketplace have been beneficial to farmers and the environment, but have not provided marketing advantages to food retailers or improved nutrition or taste to attract consumers," the AC2I, says in its latest report, 'Opportunities and Challenges in Agricultural Biotechnology: The Decade Ahead', published recently. "In some countries, there have been increased risk management requirements as weil as opposition to introduction of the transgenic seed varieties and the foods produced fromthose crops."
They point out that food processors and retailers have been reluctant to introduce food products developed from GM crops in markets where there is a labeling requirement or consumer resistance to GM technology. "The resistance stems in part from some governments' and consumers' perception that there are unknown risks associated with genetically-engineered foods and an absence of obvious consumer benefits," they say.
The committee reckons it is impossible to predict exactly what new GM plants or animals will become available, but they suggest quite a list of possibilities. They include varieties designed to improve human nutrition, for example soybeans enriched in omega-3 fatty acids and crops designed to make better animal feed. There could also be crops resistant to environmental stresses like drought or resistant to pests and diseases. Possibilities include fusarium-resistant wheat; chestnut- blight resistant chestnut; plum pox resistance in stone fruit and various insect resistant crops.
There is the possibility of crops containing a number of transgenic traits. They can be designed to produce pharmaceuticals, such as vaccines and antibodies or engineered for particular industrial uses, for example with increased starch content, producing useful enzymes or modified to have higher content of an energy-rich starting material such as oil for improved utilisation as biofuel.
There might also be transgenic animals for food, or for production of pharmaceuticals or industrial products. The example the committee has come up with are transgenic salmon engineered for increased growth rate to maturity, transgenic goats producing human serum factors in their milk, and pigs producing the enzyme phytase in their saliva for improved nutrient utilisation and manure with reduced phosphorus content. However, they do recognise that this could be even more controversial than GM plants. "The development of transgenic animals may generate, for some people, higher levels of concern than those for plant breeding," they say. "This consensus report, from a diverse group of stakeholders who express different perspectives, will be important in helping us understand the evolving landscape for agricultural biotechnology," said deputy agriculture secretary Chuck Conner.
Ten years later: ISAAA reviews future of biotechnology
- foodproductiondaily.com, By Lorraine Heller, Sept 22, 2006
22/09/2006 - The next decade is set to see a global doubling in biotech crop availability, as countries become increasingly less sceptical and begin to see the benefits, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).
With last year marking the tenth anniversary of the commercialization of biotech crops globally, chair of the ISAAA board of directors Clive James this week presented a review of the past decade of biotechnology, together with an examination of its future prospects.
Speaking at the World Grains Summit - a forum and exhibition designed to examine the latest developments in grain-based science and technology - James said that by 2015 it is estimated that the number of countries growing biotech crops will "at least double", from 21 in 2005 to around 40.
The number of biotech farmers around the world are forecast to increase from 8.5m to 20m, while the global area planted with genetically modified crops will increase from 222m acres to 500m acres.
And these, he said, are "conservative estimates".
According to the ISAAA, a non-profit organisation designed to promote biotechnology in developing countries, interest in and acceptance of biotechnology is rapidly increasing as countries become increasingly convinced of its benefits on an environmental and economic level.
"What we're seeing is an impetus which has changed completely. Countries see how other countries have benefited, and they're thinking "why not us too?", said James.
Most growth in biotechnology during the next ten years is expected to occur in key developing countries of Asia, led by China and India, as well as in Pakistan and Vietnam. This shows a marked global expansion from the previous decade's focus on the Americas.
Brazil also has an enormous potential to grow to be the leading GM crop producer in Latin America, while the number of biotech countries in Africa is expected to increase "modestly" beyond the current South African monopoly. European Union countries - traditionally more sceptical of the technology - are expected to see a "slow to modest" growth.
One indication that the world is warming to biotechnology is the rate at which global interest has been increasing. The ISAAA sends out 250,000 e-mails per month to interested subscribers across the globe, and the figure is growing at 2,000 per month.
And its latest annual report reached around 500m individuals through extensive media coverage, according to James. Some 95 percent of the articles published were positive or neutral, he said, which shows a huge shift in perception since 1988, when around 90 percent of articles were negative.
But the spread of biotechnology will not occur without challenges, he added.
"When we first started, we asked 'what are the risks?' We now have a very solid database that is both consistent and compelling in favour of biotechnology. But we need to continue with responsible and efficient stewardship."
"We need improved communication with society and we need to take knowledge-based decisions regarding biotechnology crops."
Regulation is also an issue that needs to be addressed, according to James, who said that this needs to be simplified.
"The bar is set too high for developing countries. With the solid knowledge base that we have, we should be able to reduce regulation and still be responsible," he said.
In a review of the industry's development over the past decade, James examined how biotechnology has delivered on the promises made at the outset.
These promises included an improved productivity and income, with yields during the period reporting an increase of 5-40 percent, and total biotech crop production in 2005 reaching a value of $50bn.
Another impact of genetically modified agriculture has been the protection of biodiversity, said James, since doubling crop production on the same area of land has played a significant role in saving forests.
Another environmental impact has been a reduction in the need for 'external inputs', such as pesticides, and the conservation of soil and water, which paves the way to sustainability.
Biotechnology has also contributed to a stability of yield, with promising progress having been made with drought tolerance.
A final impact highlighted by James is the social benefit achieved - the alleviation of poverty - with an improved environment and health and time saving technology leading to more affordable food, feed and fibre.
"What we see today is just the very small tip of the iceberg," said James, who cautioned that a global approach to biotechnology must be based on facts and knowledge, not on an attempt to market fear.
"If you say no to this technology, you're saying no to the whole iceberg. Be careful about the decision you take and its consequences," he told an audience of scientists and food manufacturers.
"The biggest pollutant in the world today is poverty. The potential we have in the second decade to address this pollutant is huge. Biotechnology transcends a much deeper issue if you look at what addressing poverty means in terms of peace.
"The greatest risk associated with this technology is not to use it," he concluded.
- ISAAA's Crop Biotech UPdate, Sept 22, 2006
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- Iran-Iraq Cooperate for Agriculture
- Define Precautionary Principle, Says UNU-IAS Report
- Afghanistan Produces Quality Potato through CIP Project
- Plants as Commercial Pharma Factories: Now One Step Closer Europe
- IRD Works on RYMV Resistance in Rice
- EFSA Panel Reports to EC on GM Rice Issue
- France, Argentina Reinforce Collaboration for Agric Research
- Spain Approves Eleven New Biotech Varieties
- Fungus Sweet to Sugar Beets
- New Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
- Bt Corn – a Solution to Mycotoxin Contamination
- Biotech Grapevine Ready for Field Trials
- Research Tracks, Controls Fruit Vitamin C Levels
- Bioethanol to Take Root in South Africa
- New Gene Analysis System Introduced for Rice
- Chevron Grants US$ 25 Million to UC Davis for Biofuel Research ANNOUNCEMENTS
- Bt Cotton: Brazilian Farmers to Use 25% Less Insecticides DOCUMENT REMINDERS
All articles available at:
Transgenics will make up 50% of crop
- GAZETA MERCANTIL ONLINE (Brazil), September 21, 2006
São Paulo - Brazil is going to increase its plantings of transgenic soybeans in the next crop year. The estimate is that between 40% and 50% of the area planted to the commodity will use genetically modified seeds - up to 11 million hectares. This represents an increase of up to 15% compared with what was planted last year.
In 2005, the technology covered about 30% of the surface planted to the oil seed crop. "Now the situation is that, in crisis, the farmer wants to cut costs by using the transgenic technology," said Mauro Osaki, a researcher at the Center of Advanced Applied Economic Studies at the University of São Paulo (Cepea/USP), explaining why there will be a boom in the use of seeds of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
According to researcher Amélio Dall'Agnol, of Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (Embrapa Soja) agricultural research company, this is the first crop in which there will be a volume of certified transgenic seeds, since last year the companies were still multiplying the grain. Nevertheless, a great part of the crop still will be "criola" (farm grown, without certification), believed to be approximately one-fourth of what will be planted.
Data from Embrapa Soja and the Brazilian Seeds and Sprouts Association (Abrasem) show that Rio Grande do Sul state - where the planting began illegally in 1997, with contraband from Argentina - continues to lead in the planting, between 95% and 98% of it being genetically modified seeds. The other states of the South also will be among the biggest users of the technology, with about 50% of the crops in Santa Catarina and Paraná. In the Midwest, only 25% of the crop will be GMOs.
Organic doesn’t always mean low-calorie
- Yale Daily News, By Robert Nelb, September 20, 2006
One cannot escape a Yale dining hall without noticing the organic, sustainable and healthy food that's offered at every meal. Not only do "chicks dig it," but the new menu is tasty, it's good for the environment and it's become a new selling point for the Yale admissions office. A win-win for everyone, right? Maybe not.
Amid all the hype, our educational eating experience has missed a key distinction. Organic food, sustainable food and healthy food are not always one in the same. While an organic and sustainable diet can work at elite institutions such as Yale, it is far from a panacea for our ever-growing obesity pandemic.
First, organic foods aren't inherently healthy. The major advertised benefit - that organic foods picked at the peak of freshness are bursting with micronutrients - is supported by little empirical evidence and has little effect on an individual's overall health.
Meanwhile, with regard to the major health challenge of today - an overabundance of macronutrients, such as fats and calories - organic foods offer little relief. The organic brownies we ate yesterday during lunch, for example, don't have fewer calories than the non-organic variety. Yet the average Yale diner may have failed to notice this fact, since the Yale Sustainable Food Project explicitly chooses not to post the nutritional values with its food.
Still, proponents of organic food insist that the reduced use of pesticides helps promote another important public health aspect - food safety. Even this claim, however, has been thrown into doubt. The recent E. coli outbreak traced to the largest producer of organic spinach, Natural Selection Foods, has resulted in a massive recall of both organic and regular spinach.
While organic food's health benefits remain uncertain, one fact is clear - organic foods are significantly more expensive than non-organic foods. At a time when obesity predominately affects the poor who cannot afford regular fruits and vegetables, insisting on an all-organic diet is at best elitist and at worst detrimental to the public's health.
Sustainable food, on the other hand, is not inherently organic, and it may avoid some of the elitist stigma of organic food. Preferring locally grown products to the mass-produced organic options shipped from far away and now sold at Wal-Mart, sustainable food advocates focus on promoting the local community and protecting the environment. While Yale spends millions of extra dollars on its sustainable food, sustainable food in general has become more accessible to low-income residents through WIC and food stamps, which are accepted at farmers markets.
The ability of farmers markets and sustainable food to solve food-access issues, however, is ironically not too sustainable. While local food may be more accessible and slightly cheaper at the peak of the season, our perennially cold New England winter can quickly decrease the supply and increase the price of local produce.
What we read most often from the YSFP is that sustainable food helps us develop a connection with what we're eating and then somehow magically encourages us to eat a healthier diet. While I enjoy the almost literary quality of their promotional materials, I'm not convinced, and I have yet to see a peer-reviewed scientific study that suggests that "playing with our food" makes any significant difference in the deadly obesity epidemic.
Good-tasting and generally healthy YSFP menu options certainly offer some help, but how much of the new taste is really a result of the food itself versus the recipes and preparation? An overcooked pizza tastes the same to me whether its ingredients are sustainable or not.
In sum, as "sustainable" and "organic" have become the newest catchwords for today's most popular food, the one descriptor that seems left behind is "healthy." It may be the least sexy of the three, but for more than 1 billion overweight individuals across the globe, healthy eating can be a matter of life or death.
We know today more than ever before that the obesity epidemic is real, and that it is having a devastating impact on the poor and disadvantaged in our community and around the world. The choice to act is now ours. We can enjoy the fancy, feel-good food in our dining halls, or we can look beyond the fads to find some real solutions to one of the most pressing challenges of our generation.
Inaccuracy — not bias — is the scourge of the media
- Scidev.net, 9 May 2005, By David Dickson
The media is often criticised for focusing excessively on 'bad' news about GM crops (indeed about events in general). Such criticism ignores the fact that the main problem is not media bias, but inaccurate reporting.
One of the common misconceptions about genetically modified (GM) crops is that their main contribution to human well-being is through increasing farmers' profits by raising crop yields. This might be through the production and sale of food (such as corn or rice) or staple commodities (such as cotton). But in each case, critics seek to contrast the pursuit of profit with the potential damage that such crops could cause, either through their impact on human health or through their disruption of natural cycles.
What is often forgotten, however, is that there are sometimes ways in which increasing crop productivity can also benefit both human health and the natural environment, as a direct (if sometimes unintentional) by-product. Perhaps the best example is crops that have been genetically engineered to be resistant to destructive insects: these can significantly reduce the use of pesticides.
In many developing countries, the excessive use of chemical pesticides has taken a heavy toll. Badly protected farmers who spend large amounts of time drenching crops with liquids designed to kill unwanted pests frequently fall victim to overexposure to the same poison; in some countries the deaths are numbered in the thousands every year. And the damage such pesticides often inflict on local wildlife can be almost as severe.
All the more reason, therefore, to welcome the results of a study carried out in China, and published two weeks ago in the journal Science, demonstrating a dramatic fall in pesticide poisoning among farmers growing GM crops (see GM rice 'good for Chinese farmers health and wealth). The study showed that up to 11 per cent of farmers growing non-GM rice suffered from symptoms of pesticide-poisoning. In contrast, there were no cases of poisoning among farmers growing GM rice.
In principle, environmentalist groups might be expected to applaud such results. After all, such groups have, in the past, been among the loudest critics of the excessive use of chemical pesticides both in developed and developing countries. Remember the way that Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, a violent protest against such practices in the United States, triggered the emergence of the environmental movement in the early 1960s.
Similarly, it could be argued that, since such groups claim to have the interests of farm workers and small farmers at heart — particularly when it comes to condemning their potential exploitation by multinational seed corporations — they should have another reason for welcoming the results of the Chinese study.
But praise has not been forthcoming from GM critics. And, partly as a result of this silence, the media has also been relatively silent. The news of the Chinese results has not been totally ignored. But its coverage has been relatively muted, and certainly far less than if the outcome had been the reverse — namely if the studies had revealed that the GM rice actually increased the health problems experienced by the farm workers who handled it.
All this has prompted its own comments in some quarters. A member of the board of directors of the American Council on Science and Health — an industry-funded body that frequently challenges the actions of environmentalists on health and safety issues — for instance suggests that rather than remaining silent, critics of excessive pesticide use "should be on the rooftops shouting hosannas to biotechnology and promoting the use of insect-resistant crops".
An appropriate response
But this reaction prompts its own response. Environmental groups are frequently criticised for taking an excessively negative attitude towards the issues they are concerned about. Yet that should surprise no one, since it is after all not their function to promote new technologies, particularly those in the commercial sphere; that can be left the public relations experts.
Rather, such groups are important in any society precisely because of their role in pointing out — and indeed in focusing on — either undesirable side-effects of scientific and technological progress that have been given insufficient attention, or potential dangers before they occur. If such groups had been stronger in the United States in the 1950s, the widespread ecological damage recorded by Carson might never have occurred.
The same can be said about the media. It is not the role of the media to give equal prominence to all news about an issue, whether good or bad. The prominence given to a particular story will be based on a news editor's assessment of the potential interest of readers or viewers. Significantly, publications that have focused on providing only 'good' news seldom generate wide audiences (or sales).
Blaming the media for giving higher priority to negative, rather than positive, stories about GM crops is therefore missing the point. Partly such criticism is frequently overstated; supporters of GM often exaggerate the relative balance between the two types of stories that appear in the media. Partly the coverage provided by newspapers reflects the type of information that people want to read about, particularly in a world where the potential dangers of science and technology are often downplayed.
The scourge of inaccuracy
None of this is a reason to feel complacent about the way that issues surrounding GM are covered in the media (or portrayed by environmentalist critics, which often comes to the same thing). As has been pointed out in the past in these columns, proponents of GM crops often have a valid point when they claim that coverage of the issue is often distorted.
But the real crime is not bias in itself. Indeed, it would be naïve to pretend that a journalist can (or should even pretend to) remain totally objective about the issues he or she is covering, and a passionate interest can often inspire high-quality reporting. In contrast, the worst distortions come when facts are reported inaccurately. For the wrong facts can never become the basis of good decisions, and truthfulness (whether in reporting or campaigning) is essential in a way that objectivity is not.
Yet inaccuracies abound on both sides of the GM debate. On the one hand, over-enthusiasts for GM have been heard to argue that GM foods are completely safe to eat, make no significant impact on the environment and will eventually solve the world's food problems. On the other, critics will play equally loose with the truth to claim that such foods have been "shown" to be dangerous to human health, or to overstate the potential environmental dangers compared to other types of agricultural innovation (such as chemical pesticides).
Thomas Jefferson, one of the key authors of the US Declaration of Independence, once wrote that "whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government". Less familiar is the phrase that followed: "that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights". Jefferson was not saying that information about the good should balance information about the bad. Rather, he was saying that information about the bad should be accurate if it is to be corrected.
Bravo WHO! Please keep thinking right!
- Accra Daily Mail, By Franklin Cudjoe, September 22, 2006
Until last Friday, September 15 2006, the single most pernicious suitor of female mosquitoes, DDT, had been discarded by the World Health Organization (WHO).
But just as it recently made frank remarks much to the annoyance of Oxfam and Medicine San Frontiers, that drug patents were not the main barriers to accessing essential medicines in poor countries, WHO has delivered yet another painful but effective pill.
This time the one-stop pill promises to end the endless pain and circus about the desirability of the single most effective weapon against the war on malaria- DDT.
Official estimates from Ghana’s National Malaria Control Programme show that 17,000 Ghanaians die annually from Malaria. The Ghanaian Health Minister says the disease has been responsible for 36 per cent of all admissions in the country’s hospitals over the past ten years.
However, in a country where statistics aren’t sacrosanct and reluctantly used when it bodes political distaste, one wouldn’t be surprised to know that Malaria inflicts more damage in the country side where the poor cannot afford what is even the cheapest remedy.
The picture emerging for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa is even gloomier. In 2002, malaria killed 150,000 Ethiopians, 100,000 Ugandans and 34,000 Kenyan children.
Malaria accounts for 10% of Africa's disease burden, with an annual estimated damage to the continent of US$12 billion. According to the Global Heath Reporter, the estimated cost to effectively control malaria in the 82 countries with the highest burden is about $3.2 billion annually.
However, such amount is usually a cash cow for consultants as Paul Driessen author of “Eco-Imperialism: Green power · Black death” notes- “In 2004, USAID spent $80 million “on malaria.” But 85 percent of this went to consultants, and 5 percent to promoting the use of insecticide-treated nets. It spent nothing on actually buying nets, drugs or pesticides.”
Poignantly, Malaria rates have risen 10% in the eight years since the World Health’s Organization’s Roll Back Malaria campaign promised to cut rates in half by 2010.
WHO’s decision promises to cut the cash cow that rewards bureaucratic inefficiency with gold plated Mercedes and pointed ball pens.
The decision comes after decades of lobbying by reality-based groups and individuals that the only common-sensical approach to fighting malaria in countries especially averse to logical physical planning is DDT.
An Economic Historian who worked on primary sources on the history of malaria eradication in Southern Italy between 1943-1955 told me last year that “DDT was banned because it slightly thins the eggs of birds of prey.
But the ban probably caused up to 400 million unnecessary premature deaths since the 1950s, in the Third World! That's more deaths than Hitler, Stalin, MaoTse Tung, Idi Amin and all the tyrants and wars of the whole 20th century, all put together. So hypocritical too, the West only banned it after they'd already cleaned up their malaria! India never accepted the ban.”
Is it DDT safe? According to Paul Driessen “Hundreds of millions of people –
American GIs, Holocaust survivors, and parents and children all over the USA, Europe and Asia – were sprayed with DDT, with no significant ill effects”.
But some African countries had since 2000, disregarded the UN and WHO when it comes to DDT. Paul Driessen testifies-“South Africa’s DDT household spraying program cut malaria rates by 80% in 18 months. The country was then able to treat a much smaller number of seriously ill patients with new artemisinin-based drugs, and slash malaria rates by over 90% in just three years! Mozambique trains a few people in each community, and sends them out to spray every house twice a year, in a successful and inexpensive program. Zambia has a similar program.”
My Historian friend also testifies, “I myself had a lot of small mosquitoes in my bedrooms in Italy for 17 years because my wife wouldn't let me use insecticides - not even the benign ones still authorised for sale after the ban.
We got stung and stung and couldn't sleep at nights. When she left, I sprayed and in 20 minutes all the mosquitoes disappeared for ever.”
However, the Ghanaian Health Minister confessed to this writer that he had been meaning to introduce DDT in Ghana, but his subordinates at the Health Ministry had scuttled the efforts- the same aloofness that killed and callously attacked the nervous system of many a malaria patient in Ghana after the infamous artesunate-amodiaquine was trumpeted as the best remedy against Malaria.
The Ghanaian Food and Drugs Board in particular, woefully failed to conduct proper tests before recommending the artemisinin-based drug to their already economically burdened victims.
Now though we can breathe a sigh of relief from the bureaucratic mischief surrounding Malaria treatment and particularly the cacophonous advertisements of mosquito coil repellents.
But many more battles remain when it comes to treating diseases in developing countries.
Unfortunately, the intransigence of health authorities in developing countries originally armed by top-down politics, emotionalism (the forte of groups like MSF) and blinded by limited or non-existent property rights give way to piracy- the human vector that exacerbates disease.
Why for instance, should the Ghanaian Food and Drugs Board urge Indian generics maker Workhadt, to export the drug ZITHROMAX to Ghana through its representative Sharp Pharmaceuticals, and register it in 1999 when Pfizer Ghana the original patent holder until 2008 had already registered it prior to the date? Quite irresponsibly, the FDB tells Pfizer to go to court and sort it out with Workhadt.
Imagine Ghana, a country whose judicial system is corrupt, slow in disposing over 60,000 land cases not to mention its institutional inefficiencies that fail to separate simple pirated music and video CDs from their original copies, veering into intellectual property battles!
Nigeria is no better. However, after a seven year legal battle, the Nigerian Federal Court of Appeal on 15 May 2006, delivered judgement in favour of Pfizer Nigeria for the “tort of unlawful interference in business interest” against sellers of a parallel import of its VIAGRA tablets.
Counterfeits make over 50 % of the Nigerian as well as Ghanaian drugs market with little political will to fight the menace. Even in relatively well off South Africa, piracy does not make it to the top 20 priority crimes list.
The Nigerian ruling is instructive in that it demonstrates a commitment to an enabling business environment that will induce other pharmaceutical companies to invest in new and better medicines that will replace old, less effective and efficient ones.
Weak Intellectual Property laws means lower economic growth as the emergence of copy industries adds little value than innovator industries would have.
However Big Pharma continues to be demonized by misguided anti-development establishments even after making huge concessions on first line treatment of HIV/Aids- from US$ 10,000 to US$ 130 a year, after investing over US$500 million in search of effective antiretroviral.
However altruistic Big Pharma is expected to be, altruism and morality are not the defining factors in economic development.
What enhances economic development is a strong property rights based economy with a political will to enforce contracts under the rule of law,lower taxes, minimal government parastatals, decentralised markets , free speech and a decentralisation of power and resource ownership.
Taken together, these broad reforms will enhance individual entrepreneurship and promote economic well being of a country. As economies of poor countries develop, environmental cleanliness and good physical planning will ultimately act as insurance against diseases of poverty.
Meanwhile, let us thank the WHO for the bold decision on DDT and urge it to do more. As my historian friend noted, “No one would like to be trapped inside a net in bed with a hungry female mosquito, equipped with infra-red sensory detection. She will always get her fill of blood in the end and wait patiently until her target is asleep. What man can escape a predatory female?”
Franklin Cudjoe is director of Ghanaian think-tank Imani (www.imanighana.org) and co-author of “The Water Revolution: Practical Solutions to Water Scarcity” and author of a forth coming publication, “Hobbled Trade: Trade Barriers within Africa”. Imani is beginning a project on the economic burden of diseases in Ghana. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to support this project.