Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - November 10, 2006
* No Way to Protest
* Kenya Inches Close to Food Sustainability
* Biotechnology Unzipped: Promises and Realities
* Europe: Study Shows GM OK to Environment
* India: Tech-savvy Indian President Advocates Transgenic Route for Farm
* Costa Ricans Willing to Try GM Banana
* Ag Biotech: Overregulated and Underappreciated
* Watch Borlaug on You Tube
* Enviro Fog Calculus
* E.coli Is "All Natural" Too
No Way to Protest
- Editorial, Business Standard (India), Nov. 9, 2006 http://www.business-standard.com
Environment activists have torched experimental transgenic rice fields to lend a fresh stimulus to the debate on genetically modified (GM) plants. While debate on the benefits of GM foods is necessary, vandalism as a form of protest cannot be endorsed. The protestors have also roped in some farmers' organisations, notably the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) of Mahinder Singh Tikait. The involvement of such bodies will divert attention from serious debate, and shift focus to uninformed action--recall the campaign which said that farmers would not be able to use neem twigs to brush their teeth if the Dunkel draft went through in the last WTO trade round.
What farmers need to see is real productivity change, and when they do that they will adopt new technologies, not reject them. This is borne out by the way farmers have lapped up insect-protected transgenic cotton (Bt-cotton) despite intense propaganda against it.
The interesting twist in the case of rice is the support lent to the anti-GM rice agitators by rice exporters (without, of course, being party to acts of vandalism like destroying experimental farms). What the rice exporters fear--and with some reason--is the open field trials of the GM rice resulting, even accidentally, in genetic contamination of other rice varieties, including commercially important Basmati rice, for that will jeopardise rice exports, certainly to the European Union and perhaps to other destinations as well. Basmati exports to the EU alone are valued at around Rs 500 crore a year.
The rice exporters' disquiet is understandable also because the EU is known to be highly sensitive to GM products, as reflected in its recent ban on all rice imports from the US on the detection of just a trace of contamination in an imported consignment. Thus, it is imperative that sufficient precaution is taken by way of suitable isolation to ensure that genes do not escape from the trial fields and get established in other crops. Since genetic engineering is a relatively new science, caution is essential to ward off any unintended problems. In areas where stringent bio-safety measures are not possible, open field trials should not be allowed.
This does not mean that GM research should be abandoned, or that GM products should not be subjected to field trials. Besides being economically important because of their higher productivity and lower input cost, GM products offer numerous advantages. Crops with in-built resistance against pests and diseases can help curtail the use of pesticides.
The transgenic, Vitamin-A enriched Golden Rice, which is ready to go commercial in several countries, can help curb the deficiency of this vital vitamin that prevents blindness among children who are fed a rice-dominated diet. Fruits and vegetables containing doses of vaccines against dreaded diseases are among the other distinct possibilities that are on the verge of being realised.
Those concerned with possible damage to the environment would be well advised to sit with the authorities concerned and review--and, if needed, modify--today's GM seed-testing procedures instead of resorting to unlawful acts.
Otherwise, India, already a late starter in harnessing the potential of biotechnology, will fall further behind others, to the detriment of its agriculture and denying the country several associated benefits.
Kenya Inches Close to Food Sustainability
- James Wachai, Nov. 10, 2006 http://b-science.blogspot.com
Kenya has begun a countdown to commercializing genetically modified maize(corn). Scientists at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and Insect Resistant Maize for Africa (IRMA) have already developed a new maize seed, resistant to the stem borer. Stem borer destroys 400,000 tonnes of Maize in Kenya, alone. In Sub-Saharan Africa, chronic cases of stem borer infestation account for 10-70 per cent of yield losses. This has had devastating effects on Africa's efforts to feed its ever soaring population. Maize is the primary staple food and an occasional cash crop in many parts of Africa.
The first case of stem borer was discovered in Malawi in 1932. Since then, a raft of methods, pointedly, biological control, habitat management and use of natural pesticides, have been used to deal with the stem borer menace. Unfortunately, very little has been achieved. Bounty yields, a common occurrence in countries such as US, Canada, Argentina, India and China, which have embraced biotechnology, have not been forthcoming. For instance, Niger, one of the poorest countries in Africa is currently facing acute food shortage due to crop failure and drought. About 3.6 million people are on the verge of death due to hunger. Horrifying is news that 800,000 children are chronically malnourished.
Niger is a semi-desert country where lack of rain can result to massive crop failures. This situation and others in Africa can be avoided. Dishing emergency food aid, as is happening at the moment, will help in the short run. But long-term measures need to be explored.
The development of seeds with tolerance to drought and low soil fertility through modern biotechnology could benefit Niger and other countries in similar situations. Maize varieties with improved nutritional content will be a boon to malnourished children who strand the African continent.
It is worth noting that the development of maize seed resistant to pests such as stem borer not only heralds a new chapter in Kenya but Africa as a whole. Other African countries should now borrow a leaf from these two countries. They should swim by the waves rest they continue to be perpetual beneficiaries of relief food.
Kenyan scientists have demonstrated determination to seek homegrown solutions to Africa's food problems.
It would be interesting to hear the views of critics of modern biotechnology about this latest development.In the past, they have accused rich countries of foisting novel technologies such as biotechnology on "hapless" Africa, in total disregard of their environmental impact or health complications associated with consumption of genetically modified food.
The jury is now out. To quote Dr Stephen Mugo, a plant breeder with CIMMYT, "The converted seeds have been studied, multiplied and tested in laboratories and greenhouse conditions."
James Wachai is a communication specialist who uses his expertise to increase public understanding of science and technology, specifically biotechnology. Read more from James at http://www.gmoafrica.org.
Biotechnology Unzipped: Promises and Realities
by Eric S. Grace, A Joseph Henry Press book, 241 pages, Revised Second Edition 2006, $19.95 ISBN: 0309096219
In this update to the very popular first edition of the same name, skilled science popularizer Eric Grace helps readers understand what biotechnology is and what implications it holds for all of us.
Following on the heels of the success of the first edition, this thoroughly updated version offers an in-depth and accessible review of the basics of biotechnology. Accomplished science communicator Eric Grace focuses on the ethical implications involved, the wide range of public opinions both at home and abroad, the role of the media in communicating a complicated science topic, and the formidable problems associated with patenting life itself.
With an emphasis on medicine, agriculture, and the environment, Grace explores the promises and realities of biotechnology. He deals frankly with the fact that biotechnology is first and foremost a commercial activity, often driven by big business and directed by the bottom line. And as biotechnology is used more frequently in medical diagnosis and treatment, we are witness to significant setbacks and reversals, dimming hopes that were prevalent when the first edition was released.
But we are also witness to the burgeoning use of the technology in forensic science where DNA analysis has become commonplace in solving crimes. Likewise, DNA analysis has been a boon to studies of human history and evolution, revealing ancient details originally thought lost to us. At the same time, new uses for genetically altered bacteria are being discovered that help us clean up the environment by breaking down or sequestering toxic chemicals.
While the public remains concerned about biotechnology, there is increasing awareness of the potential benefits. This updated edition of Biotechnology Unzipped helps put the many issues in perspective and provides answers to the most important questions
Europe: Study Shows GM OK to Environment
- CropBiotech Net, http://www.isaaa.org/kc
Data available so far provides no scientific evidence that the commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops has caused environmental harm. This was the conclusion of a study "Ecological impacts of GM crops: Experiences from 10 years of experimental field research and commercial cultivation", commissioned by the Swiss Expert Committee for Biosafety.
The study focused on insect resistance maize, herbicide tolerant soybean and soilseed rape, three of the major GM crops of significance for Swiss agriculture. Dr. Joerg Romeis of the Agroscope Reckenholz-Tanikan Research Station which conducted the study said that a number of issues related to the interpretation of scientific data on effects of GM crops on the environment were brought up. The study highlights these scientific debates and discusses the effects of GM crop cultivation on the environment considering the impacts caused by cultivation practices of modern agricultural systems.
Email Dr. Romeis at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information and how to obtain a copy of the report.
India: Tech-savvy Kalam Advocates Nano Use, Favours Transgenic Route for Farm Research
- The Financial Express, Nov. 10, 2006 http://www.financialexpress.com
The tech-savvy President APJ Abdul Kalam called for use of nano and transgenic technologies as part of the multi-dimensional approach to farm research for facilitating second green revolution in the country.
Inaugurating a seminar on re-orienting agricultural research to meet the millenium development goals organised by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) in Delhi on Thursday, the president suggested select areas for researches in agriculture, using nano technology.
He identified areas like the use of nano-porous zeo-lies for slow-release and efficient doses of water and fertilisers for plant and of nutrients and drugs for livestock. He also suggested use of nano-capsules for herbicide delivery and nano-sensors for soil quality and for plant health monitoring.
"Application of nano-technology which is knocking at our door in food processing are nano-composites for plastic film coating used in food packaging, anti-microbial nano-emulsions for applications in de-contamination of food equipment, packaging or food processing," he said.
On use of plant genomics, Kalam said this has opened up new avenues to modulate gene expression so that the plant can be converted into proficient genotypes or varieties to be used as bio-factories for producing useful protiens, therapeutic molecules, nutritional compositions and stress tolerant crops to meet the needs in an eco-environment friendly manner.
The president informed that research group under K Veluthambi at Madurai-based Kamraj University has identified three anti-fungal genes. This group has developed 30 transgenic rice lines using these genes which overcomes rice blast disease and sheath blight disease. He said a group of scientists have given intensive training to the farmersof Bihar for using genetically modified seeds to suit the soil, fertiliser use and proper water management.
Kalam also had a word on organic farming, which has resulted in 500% increase in income among horticulture and livestock farmers in Uttaranchal.
Costa Ricans Willing to Try GM Banana
- CropBiotech Net, http://www.isaaa.org/kc
Costa Rica is the second largest exporter of banana worldwide. Results of an exploratory study of the consumption and adoption of transgenic bananas in the country indicated that farmers are willing to adopt transgenic varieties because of potential savings in pest management costs. "This situation could be similar in other developing countries… any developments that could reduce management costs would be welcome by producers", wrote Francisco Aguilar and Bert Kohlmann in their paper published by the International Journal of Consumer Studies.
The research has determined that a majority of Costa Rican consumers are also willing to buy and consume transgenic bananas. Those consumers that are young, have a small household, and higher levels of education and income, were found to be more likely to try the product. Aguilar and Kohlmann recommend that consumers be informed about transgenic products, their benefits, and associated risks. Only 35% of the consumers in their research were aware of the technology.
The complete paper is at
Agricultural Biotechnology: Overregulated and Underappreciated
- Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko, Issues in Science & Technology (Winter 2005), Excerpt below. Full article at http://www.issues.org/21.2/miller.html
Curiously, instead of steadfastly demanding scientifically sound, risk-based regulation, some corporations have risked their own long-term best interests, as well as those of consumers, by lobbying for excessive and discriminatory government regulation in order to gain short-term advantages. From the earliest stages of the agbiotech industry, those firms hoped that superfluous regulation would act as a type of government stamp of approval for their products, and they knew that the time and expense engendered by overregulation would also act as a barrier to market entry by smaller competitors.
Those companies, which include Monsanto, DuPont-owned Pioneer Hi-Bred, and Ciba-Geigy (now reorganized as Syngenta), still seem not to understand the ripple effect of overly restrictive regulations that are based on, and reinforce, the false premise that there is something uniquely worrisome and risky about the use of recombinant DNA techniques.
The consequences of this unwise, unwarranted regulatory policy are not subtle. Consider, for example, a recent decision by Harvest Plus, an alliance of public-sector and charitable organizations devoted to producing and disseminating staple crops rich in such micronutrients as iron, zinc, and vitamin A. According to its director, the group has decided that although it will continue to investigate the potential for biotechnology to raise the level of nutrients in target crops above what can be accomplished with conventional breeding, "there is no plan for Harvest Plus to disseminate [gene-spliced] crops, because of the high and difficult-to-predict costs of meeting regulatory requirements in countries where laws are already in place, and because many countries as yet do not have regulatory structures."
And in May 2004, Monsanto announced that it was shelving plans to sell a recombinant DNA-modified wheat variety, attributing the decision to changed market conditions. However, that decision was forced on the company by the reluctance of farmers to plant the variety and of food processors to use it as an ingredient: factors that are directly related to the discriminatory overregulation of the new biotechnology in important export markets. Monsanto also announced in May that it has abandoned plans to introduce its recombinant canola into Australia, after concerns about exportability led several Australian states to ban commercial planting and, in some cases, even field trials.
Other companies have explicitly acknowledged giving up plans to work on certain agbiotech applications because of excessive regulations. After receiving tentative approval in spring 2004 from the British government for commercial cultivation of a recombinant maize variety, Bayer CropScience decided not to sell it because the imposition of additional regulatory hurdles would delay commercialization for several more years. And in June 2004, Bayer followed Monsanto’s lead in suspending plans to commercialize its gene-spliced canola in Australia until its state governments "provide clear and consistent guidelines for a path forward."
Another manifestation of the unfavorable and costly regulatory milieu is the sharp decline in efforts to apply recombinant DNA technology to fruits and vegetables, the markets for which are minuscule compared to crops such as corn and soybeans. Consequently, the number of field trials in the United States involving gene-spliced horticulture crops plunged from approximately 120 in 1999 to about 20 in 2003.
Watch Borlaug on You Tube
If you want to see an activist view of GM food: "Contaminated"
Enviro Fog Calculus
- Angela Logomasini, Washington Times, Nov. 10, 2006 http://www.washtimes.com/
A new report by the World Wildlife Fund says if current trends continue, the Earth will be too small to sustain humanity. "Pressures on the Earth's natural systems are both predictable and dire," says the Living Planet Report 2006. But if current trends continue, such environmentalist predictions will continue to be wrong -- and dangerous.
Environmentalists have been making such wrongheaded -- anti-growth, anti-technology -- predictions since Rachel Carson launched the movement with her 1962 book "Silent Spring." She warned of an impending cancer epidemic unless we stopped using many manmade chemicals -- particularly the pesticide DDT. It didn't happen.
Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich warned in 1969 that American life expectancy could be reduced to only 42 years by the 1980s because of an epidemic of cancer caused by modern chemicals and pesticides. It didn't happen.
In the 1970s, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors published the book "Limits to Growth" warning that if policymakers didn't limit growth, the world would run out of resources and suffer economic collapse. They even developed an elaborate computer model to prove their point. But it didn't happen.
In the real world, resources increased and economies expanded, particularly in places that allowed the most economic freedom. There, human ingenuity produced wealth, discovered new resources and developed technologies that improved human well-being.
Unfortunately, growth has not been as great as possible because it is limited by at least one thing -- foolish anti-growth policies advocated by environmentalists. We could see greater growth if commerce was not limited by government impediments to free trade, bans on vital chemicals and other technologies, regulation on energy sources and campaigns against agricultural biotechnology.
Consider a few examples, starting with the most obvious. Beginning in the 1970s, regulators around the world followed Rachel Carson's suggestion that lawmakers ban the pesticide DDT, once used to control malaria, because they figured bed nets and other measures were enough. After millions of deaths and hundreds of millions of people falling sick every year for a couple decades, World Health Organization regulators and officials finally decided DDT should be used to curb the death toll. Tragically, millions had to die before officials realized the Greens were wrong.
In his book, "The Green Wave," environmental policy expert Bonner Cohen highlights yet another tragedy produced by policymakers following the Greens' advice. This time, they heeded the activists' fearmongering related to genetically modified food rather than listen to scientific experts around the world that have deemed such food safe. In 2002, Zambia and Zimbabwe's governments locked up warehouses full of U.S. genetically modified corn donated by the U.S. government to help feed people during a famine in these two nations. The reason? "We would rather starve than get something toxic," exclaimed Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa at the World Summit on Sustainable Development that same year.
But the starving citizens at home didn't agree; they eventually broke into the warehouses and seized the corn. Unfortunately, fear generated about the safety of biotech food promises to hinder its development and undermine efforts to increase food production in nations where many people starve.
Other examples hit closer to home. New York Times science writer Gina Kolata detailed another case in which lawmakers followed dangerous environmentalist advice. U.S. officials banned use of mercury in blood pressure equipment because environmentalists claimed the mercury was dangerous to public health. Activists and regulators assumed substitute technology would work just as well. Yet, it doesn't. There are cases in which faulty equipment led to faulty readings and improper administration of medication. People have needlessly suffered strokes as a result. Yet regulators have not backed away from those policies.
The WWF says the American way of life is unsustainable. In reality, it's the WWF advice and that of many other anti-growth, anti-technology groups that should be considered unsustainable. After all, if any of the WWF dire predictions come true, it's likely to be a result of their foolish anti-growth policies.
Angela Logomasini is director of risk and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
E.coli Is "All Natural" Too
If its reaction to September's spinach E.coli outbreak is any indication, the organic food industry isn't looking to change. In a unified act of finger pointing, organic advocates nationwide blamed the competition -- agribusiness and so-called "industrial" farms -- for what would appear to be "their" fault.
Critics have pointed out that the truth looks to be more complicated than that, as California health officials have pegged a local stream and even a wild boar as potential infectious agents. But there's one thing everyone seems to agree upon, which is the one thing everyone typically agrees upon after something like this: We need more government regulations.
As Hoover Institute fellow Dr. Henry Miller points out, though, there's no way we can ever regulate our way to a foolproof system: "[T]here is a limit to how safe we can make agriculture, given that it is an outdoor activity and subject to all manner of unpredictable challenges. If the goal is to make a field 100 percent safe from contamination, the only solution that guarantees this is to pave it over and build a parking lot on it."
One solution -- especially for small family farms -- may be to embrace genetically modified foods. This is ironic since organic producers define themselves in direct opposition to agricultural biotech innovations.
As Dr. Miller goes on to say: "There is technology available today that can inhibit microorganisms' ability to grow within plant cells and block the synthesis of the bacterial toxins. This same technology can be employed to produce antibodies that can be administered to infected patients to neutralize the toxins, and can even be used to produce therapeutic proteins that are safe and effective treatments for diarrhea, the primary symptom of food poisoning."
But don't expect your favorite organic producer to embrace this triple-threat technology, even if it would keep his customers from getting sick. Why? The technology in question is biotechnology, or gene-splicing -- an advance the organic lobby has vilified and rejected at every turn.
For organic marketers, the irony is more bitter than fresh-picked radicchio. The technology that affords them the best method of safeguarding their customers is the one they've fought hardest to forestall and confound.