Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - December 5, 2006
* Honoring Norman Borlaug
* ..... Another Hero, The Greatest Humanitarian, Nominations for Anti-Borlaug?
* Top 30 Living Influential Americans
* GMO is Safe
* Potential of GM Soy to Manage HIV/AIDS in Africa
* New Crops Needed to Avoid Famines
* GM Bananas to Fight Wilt in Africa
* Impoverished Burkina Faso Turns to GM Cotton
* UK - GM Potato Trials Given Go-Ahead
* BIO Welcomes Codex Alimentarius Project
* The U.N. Menu
* Organic Chicken is Fattier Than Battery Birds
* Flight from Science is Worrying - We Can't Have Rational Discourse
Honoring Norman Borlaug
- Prof. Jim Chen, Jurisdynamics Network, Dec. 4, 2006 (Associate Dean, Univ. of Minnesota Law School)
This network has already lauded Norman Borlaug, the recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. C.S. Prakash, professor of plant molecular genetics at Tuskegee University, is urging passage of H. R. 4924, the Congressional Tribute to Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Act of 2006. Public support is essential if H.R. 4924 is to be adopted before Congress recesses.
The Jurisdynamics Network wholeheartedly supports H.R. 4924. This bill, if passed, would confer the Congressional Gold Medal, our nation's highest civilian honor, on one of the greatest Americans of the twentieth century.
U.S. Readers: One can please call your congressional rep (Find the name and phone number of your representative at <http://www.house.gov/writerep/>http://www.house.gov/writerep/ or by calling 202-225-3121) and ask them to contact either Congressman Latham's (Republican from Iowa) Office or Congressman Boswell's (Democrat from Iowa) and ask for your Congressional Member's support to HR 4924.
More including reader responses at http://jurisdynamics.blogspot.com/2006/12/honoring-norman-borlaug.html
There is a movement afoot to honor Norman Borlaug with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor. Borlaug is a plant molecular geneticist who's research has been instrumental in the growth of nutritious foods that increase yeild and are resilient to diseases. It is estimated that his work has saved hundreds of millions of people from starvation.
I love heroes (not the show). Heroes are people we can look at and remember how good we can be, how smart, how noble, how caring. Especially in today's world, we should recognize and point to good men, to heroes. If there world were prefect, more people would know about Norman Borlaug than Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, John Kerry and George Bush put together.
The Greatest Humanitarian -- Norman Borlaug
Nominations for Anti-Borlaug?
Atlantic Monthly: Borlaug Among the Top 30 Living Influential Americans
GMO is Safe
- Hans Lombard, iAfrica, Dec 5, 2006 http://lifestyle.iafrica.com/
In October 2006, iafrica.com ran an opinion piece on the safety of genetically-modified food, which sparked a response from Hans Lombard, public relations consultant to the agricultural biotechnology industry in South Africa. Here is his unedited response...
Genetically modified crops (GMOs) have been produced for the past 11 years. Seven in South Africa. Yet we still have the anti-GM lobby claiming, without any substantiated medical or scientific evidence, that GM crops:
* Pose a health risk to man and beast.* Threaten the environment. * Will cross-pollinate with non-GM varieties.
As far as health risks and the safety of GM food are concerned, after 11 years on the market, there is not a shred of medical or scientific evidence available anywhere in the world to prove any adverse effects of GM food/crops on humans, animals or the environment. Nobody has suffered as much as a tummy ache from GM food. The environment is untarnished by it.
The most recent study from leading scientists of the Swiss Expert Committee for Biosafety (SCEB) reports: "The safety of GM crops is generally assessed more intensely than that of conventionally bred crops. In addition to the selection process performed during classical breeding, a thorough pre-market risk assessment of potential unwanted effects of the GM crop on the environment is a prerequisite to obtain permission to market any GM crop variety."
The Royal Society of London, one of the world’s leading and most respected academies of science, says: "There is no potential harm from GM technology. Biotech crops may even be safer than regular food." This report was endorsed by eight of the world's leading academies of science.
The European Union Commission funded 81 scientific research projects on GMOs over a period of 15 years, costing R640-million, and came to the conclusion: "GM food is both safe for humans and the environment."
The French Academy of Science concurs. After intensive research it came out in full support of GMOs: "There is no evidence to date showing that GMOs pose potential health or environmental risks." France’s Academy Medicine says: "There is no evidence that GMOs pose a risk to humans."
Two highly reputable United Nations Agencies -- the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) have fully endorsed GMOs in a joint statement: "Biotechnology (GMOs) provides new and powerful tools for research and for accelerating the development of new and better foods."
As the old saying goes: The proof of the pudding is in the eating. In 2005 some 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries on all six continents planted 90-million hectares of GM crops, up 11 percent over the previous year.
In the USA, for the past 11 years, 280-million people (40-million in South Africa for the past seven years) have each year been eating GM food without developing as much as a headache.
As far as cross-pollination is concerned, plants can only cross-pollinate with plants of the same species. Maize cannot cross-pollinate with soya or cotton plants, or vice versa.
As far as maize is concerned, farmers have learned long before the advent of GM crops to plant neighbouring yellow and white maize at least 100 metres apart to avoid the two varieties cross-pollinating. If this management discipline is maintained, no cross-pollination can occur.
Hans Lombard is a public relations consultant to the agricultural biotechnology industry in South Africa.
Lombard made similar comments in response to a recent article in Noseweek magazine. You can read Lombard's response to the Noseweek article at, or click here (links at http://lifestyle.iafrica.com/dining_in/local_cuisine/506367.htm) to read journalist Jeffrey Smith's response to Lombard's claims.
The Potential of Genetically Modified Soy to Manage HIV/AIDS in Africa
- James Wachai, Dec 3, 2006 http://www.gmoafrica.org
Solae, a US-based soy ingredient company, last week announced that it has commissioned a study to establish if soy products can be used to improve the health of HIV/AIDS sufferers in South Africa.
In collaboration with the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH), and the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, Solae aims to make soy protein-enhanced drinks for HIV/AIDS sufferers.
This, inarguably, is an interesting venture, but the million-dollar question is, "Will politics derail it?
I pose this question because the soy Solae will use to develop these drinks will be genetically modified. About 90 per cent of soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified.
South Africa, on the other hand, is steadily becoming a hub of genetically modified crops. According to the latest report by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), the bulk of soy currently being grown in South Africa is genetically engineered.
Already, there are whispers out there that this is just another conspiracy between the biotech industry and the academia to exploit the vulnerability of HIV/AIDS sufferers in Africa to market genetically modified products. This is gross distortion of facts.
Solae and other collaborating partners have committed to let the findings of this study peer-reviewed and published in a respectable scientific journal. The argument that junk science will be used to develop this drink is, therefore, null and void.
Predictably, opponents of genetically modified foods will be out in droves to condemn Solae for trying "to force-feed Africans with genetically modified Organisms (GMOs)."
If such were to happen, anti-biotech activists will be the most absurd lot in the world. They will be laying bare their hypocrisy and ignorance about genetic engineering.
Anti-biotech activists have been shouting from the rooftops that pharmaceutical companies lower the prices of anti-retroviral drugs, themselves products of genetic engineering (GE).
If genetic engineering is such an unsafe and unacceptable technology, why are anti-GE activists not condemning biotech companies that manufacture anti-retroviral drugs?
The envisaged soy protein-enhanced drink to manage HIV/AIDS should be supported by all. It will be cheap and readily available to many HIV/AIDS sufferers who can't afford anti-retroviral drugs since Solae plans to make it available in supermarkets and other retail outlets.
New Crops Needed to Avoid Famines
- Richard Black, BBC News, Dec 5, 2006
The global network of agricultural research centres warns that famines lie ahead unless new crop strains adapted to a warmer future are developed. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) says yields of existing varieties will fall.
New forecasts say warming will shrink South Asia's wheat area by half. CGIAR is announcing plans to accelerate efforts aimed at developing new strains of staple crops including maize, wheat, rice and sorghum. At the network's annual meeting in Washington, scientists will also report on measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from farmland.
CGIAR links 15 non-profit research institutes around the world working mainly on agriculture in developing countries and the tropics. "We're talking about a major challenge here," said Louis Verchot of the World Agroforestry Centre (Icraf) in Kenya, a member institute of CGIAR. "We're talking about challenges that have to be dealt with at every level, from ideas about social justice to the technology of food production," he told the BBC News website. "We're talking about large scale human migration and the return to large-scale famines in developing countries, something which we decided 40 or 50 years ago was unacceptable and did something about."
The most significant impact of climate change on agriculture is probably changes in rainfall. Some regions are forecast to receive more rain, others to receive less; above all, it will become more variable. But increasing temperatures can also affect crops. Photosynthesis slows down as the thermometer rises, which also slows the plants' growth and capacity to reproduce.
Research published two years ago shows rice yields are declining by 10% for every degree Celsius increase in night-time temperature. A study from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (Cimmyt) in Mexico, yet to be published, projects a major decline in South Asia's wheat yield. The vast Indo-Gangetic plain produces about 15% of the world's wheat - but the area suitable for growing is forecast to shrink by about half over the next 50 years, even as the number of mouths to feed increases.
"The livelihoods of billions of people in developing countries, particularly those in the tropics, will be severely challenged as crop yields decline due to shorter growing seasons," said Robert Zeigler, Director General of the International Rice Research Institute (Irri), a CGIAR affiliate.
Conversely, rising temperatures will open up areas of the world which are currently too cold for crop cultivation, in regions such as Siberia and northern North America. And the same Cimmyt study forecasts that wheat will become viable in parts of Alaska.
But the CGIAR figures suggest that extra yield from these regions will not fill the shortfall in the tropics - added to which there are questions of how poorer tropical countries will afford to buy food from richer temperate states.
All this means, CGIAR says, that research into the technological, social and economic dimensions of future farming needs to accelerate.
Within the CGIAR network, various research initiatives are already under way to develop "climate-proof" varieties.
Scientists at IRRI in the Philippines have developed strains which can survive floods of several weeks. Serious flooding is forecast to worsen in some Asian countries, notably Bangladesh.
Conversely, some already arid regions of Africa are forecast to become even drier. With sorghum, the line of research being pursued at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) is to develop strains which can survive drought.
One of the most exciting initiatives aims to make a fundamental modification to rice so it becomes more efficient at using the Sun's energy. Rice is a so-called C3 plant. Other crops, including maize, use a better photosynthesis mechanism called C4, and IRRI scientists aim to develop rice strains which also use the C4 mechanism. "Boosting the photosynthetic efficiency of rice by changing it from C3 to C4 photosynthesis will be like supercharging a car's engine by fitting a new fuel injection system," said Irri's John Sheehy.
Despite reservations in other parts of the world, notably western Europe, genetic modification is becoming one of the staple tools of researchers aiming to enhance developing world agriculture. "I can understand the opposition to GM, and I sympathise to a certain extent with it," said Dr Verchot. "But in developing countries we're dealing with a crisis situation; and whatever tool is available, we need to apply it to that situation."
Away from the field of crop improvements, CGIAR scientists will also be detailing approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from farming. One simple method which is proven, but which by no means all farmers are aware of, is no-till or minimum-till agriculture, where fields are ploughed and disturbed as little as possible. This keeps carbon in the soil rather than sending it into the air as carbon dioxide.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, and is released when fertiliser breaks down.
Scientists with CIMMYT and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) have developed a hand-held sensor using light and infra-red radiation which can tell farmers whether plants need more fertiliser or not; less fertiliser use means less N2O produced.
All this and more will be discussed at the Washington meeting, along with a key question - is enough money going in to fund the acceleration which the CGIAR believes is needed? Louis Verchot answers with a simple statistic - CGIAR centres, with a mandate to find solutions for the whole of the developing world, have less to spend on research each year than France, for example, spends on research for its own farms.
"We're seeing awareness coming, we're seeing a shifting of resources, but we're clearly well below where we need to be," he said. "It's much easier to solve a problem before we get to a crisis. With climate change we're definitely talking about a crisis, and it's coming within our lifetimes."
GM Bananas to Fight Wilt in Africa
- Leena Tripathi M et al, http://www.scidev.net , November 28 2006 (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Kampala, Uganda)
There is no doubt that farmers and governments have tried to make the most use of available methods to fight banana wilt (see http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readnews&itemid=3149&language=1 Uganda 'needs biotech law' to save banana sector').
But these efforts need to be supported with additional alternatives developing transgenic banana varieties resistant to banana xanthomonas wilt (BXW) would boost the available arsenal to fight the disease and save livelihoods in the Great Lakes region.
The incomes of millions of farmers in East Africa are threatened by continuing outbreaks of BXW. The disease has been reported in Burundi, DR Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, which make up the largest banana producing and consuming African region.
Banana wilt attacks all banana varieties resulting in absolute crop loss. According to a recent impact assessment by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture ( IITA) in Uganda, letting BXW spread uncontrolled could cost the country's economy up to $200 million per year.
The most commonly recommended measures for managing BXW involve a set of practices that include removing the male flowers, disinfecting farming tools and using healthy planting materials. When well practiced these methods have succeeded in reducing the disease's spread.
But although over 85 per cent of Ugandan farmers are aware of these measures, a recent study shows that less than 35 per cent carry them out. Thus these practices alone might slow but not stop the spread of BXW, a goal that requires developing other options to be integrated into ongoing disease management efforts across East Africa.
For diseases like BXW that spread rapidly with total yield loss, developing resistant varieties is an economical and more sustainable option. It is also one that faces challenges. To date, no useful source of resistance has been identified in banana genetic material and conventional breeding of the crops remains a difficult and lengthy process.
One approach being explored is to transform farmer-preferred banana cultivars by introducing a resistance gene from sweet pepper. Such an initiative is spearheaded by the IITA in collaboration with Uganda's National Agricultural Research Organisation, the Kenya-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation and Academia Sinica in Taiwan.
Priority has been given to the major farmer-preferred banana varieties, including Kayinja. The improved varieties will be tested rigorously for efficacy against BXW and for environmental and food safety in compliance with regulations of each of the countries where such bananas could be grown and consumed.
Related SciDev.Net articles:
Uganda 'needs biotech law' to save banana sector http://www.scidev.net/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3149&language=1
GM bananas can wait
Impoverished Burkina Faso Turns to GMO Cotton to Boost Output, Quality
Boureima Hama, Agence France Presse, Dec. 3, 2006
Sideradougou, Burkina Faso - Africa's leading cotton producer has decided to launch a genetically engineered culture next June to boost crop production, overriding protests from anti-GMO activists.
Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in west Africa, is banking on the transgenic culture to increase output and lower production costs as it battles to weather the effects of the falling prices of the so-called white gold on the international market. "This new technology will reduce the cost of production for farmers and eliminate the predators of the cotton sector," said Agriculture Minister Salif Diallo.
But the plan has sparked concern from anti-GMO campaigners who argue that genetically modified organisms pose a potential danger to the environment and human health and will not solve Africa's farming problems.
Burkina launched trials of genetically-modified BT cotton in 2003. The industry earns 60 percent of state revenue and supports four million out of a population of 14 million people. Producers hope transgenic cotton will lead to a 30 percent increase in production per hectare and a reduction in the use of costly insecticides, Celestin Tiendrebeogo, director of the government-owned ginnery Burkina Fibers and Textiles (Sofitex) said.
But the Coalition for the protection of African Genetic Heritage (COPAGEN), a grouping of sub-Saharan farming and consumer organisations, is against the idea. "We have real concerns about a hasty (decision) ... on the introduction of transgenic cotton in Burkina Faso," the association warned.
COPAGEN and another regional organisation called JINKUN alleged that the Burkina government had begun trials of BT cotton three years ago without first setting up any regulatory controls, under pressure from US biotech firms Monsanto and Syngenta, and the US state departments for development aid and farming.
Introducing transgenic cotton is "a Trojan horse" that would allow such biotech multinationals to bring a whole range of GM crops into Africa, they said. "The problems of cotton in the sub-region today have nothing to do with seeds or productivity or yields," they argued. "In general terms, GMOs are not a solution for Africa.
The activists argue that the major problems agriculture faces include poor water management, low soil fertility, lack of access to land and to loans at acceptable interest rates, and the local processing of raw materials. According to Burkinabe researchers, BT cotton is a variety more resistant than other cotton species cultivated in the very arid west African country.
Diallo argues that GMO cotton will get rid of four of the six main predators of the cotton plant, translating to savings of 36,000 CFA francs (54 euros) in the cost of insecticide per hectare.
For the Burkinabe authorities, production on a large scale of GMO cotton is in "response" to the serious crisis that the "white gold has gone through" for three years and which has resulted in huge losses of earnings to the state and the growers. In 2005, when the country produced a record 700,000 tons of cotton, the three leading cotton companies in Burkina made nearly 40 billion CFA francs (61 million euros) in losses.
In addition to the subsidies granted by industrialised countries to their growers, blamed for the fall in world prices, Burkinabe cotton has to also weather competition from synthetic fibres. The principal victims are the peasants who in large numbers had ditched cereal production for the cotton, which has been credited for improving living conditions.
Thanks to cotton, drinking water wells and grain mills have eased the daily drudgery for women, while more children can now go to school. The small round mud huts have been gradually replaced by concrete brick houses while "made in Korea or Taiwan" motor bikes have displaced bicycles plying the dusty village paths.
But in recent years, the purchase price of cotton has been in a tailspin, dropping from 210 CFA francs per kilo in 2003 to 165 CFA francs this year (0.32 to 0.25 euros). Sofitex forecasts the price could drop further to around 150 CFA (0.23 euro) in 2007.
Along with Mali and Chad, Burkina Faso is leading a WTO lobby group to improve the world market price for cotton, advocating the scrapping of US subsidies. The price crisis aside, growers are now looking forward to the introduction of the GMO plant.
"If GMO cotton can swell our output and save us more money, we go for it!" said Sawadogo Mamadou, a peasant in Kouere, west of the country.
UK - GM Potato Trials Given Go-Ahead
- BBC, Dec 1, 2006
A plan to grow genetically modified potatoes on two trial sites in England has been approved by the government. Defra granted permission for BASF Plant Science to grow the vegetables at field sites in Cambridgeshire and Derbyshire.
The crops have been modified to include a gene from a wild species of potato in a bid to make them resistant to blight, a disease costing growers £70m a year. But the Soil Association said it was "a stupid decision" and warned other crops risked contamination by GM.
BASF aims to develop potatoes resistant to Phytophthora infestans , a fungal organism that produces late blight. The plant breeder says it has found a trait in a wild potato from a remote valley in the Central American Andes that causes resistance to the fungal organism.
The biotechnology firm applied to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to hold trials at the headquarters of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) in Cambridge and on a farm at Draycott in Derbyshire. The GM potato crops are to be planted next spring, and trials will last several years. BASF said the investigations would take up a maximum of one hectare within a plot of two hectares at each site per year.
BASF corporate communications manager Chris Wilson said: "Nothing from these trials will be eaten. The potatoes grown will be tested under carefully controlled conditions and then destroyed. "The possibility of a food crop from it is maybe 10 years down the line."
Similar scientific tests are already under way in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, but BASF wants to be sure its GM potato variety is resistant to blight under UK growing conditions. Defra held a public consultation on the firm's application between September and October.
However, Friends of the Earth GM Campaigner, Clare Oxborrow, said: "These GM trials pose a significant contamination threat to future potato crops. "We don't need GM potatoes and there is no consumer demand for them. Even the county council and the food industry have raised concerns about the impact of these trials." She said the government should instead promote "safe and sustainable agriculture".
And the Soil Association's policy director Lord Peter Melchett told BBC Radio Five Live: "Nobody thinks that GM potatoes will seriously be used by British consumers or bought by them." He dismissed the idea scientists would be able to prevent contamination of other crops by GM. "Well, there aren't any such guarantees," he said.
Lord Melchett also said the idea it would deal with the problem of blight was "fantasy". "Blight is a disease which evolves very quickly; you knock it back one way, it comes back another," he said.
But Professor Philip Dale, an emeritus fellow at the plant-breeding John Innes Centre, hit back at Lord Melchetts' comments. "The Soil Association is opposing this because they have a substantial investment in the commercial future of organic agriculture and they see these kinds of advances in general agriculture to be a threat to the profitability of organic farming.
"The negative views on GM crops and foods expressed in the GM Nation public debate (as the report acknowledges) were largely influenced by campaigning groups who for their various reasons wish to stop the evaluation of GM crops. They even wish to deny farmers and consumers the choice to evaluate them."
BIO Welcomes Codex Alimentarius Project to Develop Adventitious Presence Policy
- Bio.org, December 1, 2006
Codex agrees to U.S. government proposal to develop a food safety risk assessment process on low-level presence of rDNA material
Biotechnology Industry Organization President and CEO Jim Greenwood today issued the following statement on the adoption by the Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Food Derived from Biotechnology, in Chiba, Japan, of a U.S. government proposal to develop a food safety risk assessment process for adventitious presence:
"Today, the Codex Alimentarius Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Food Derived from Biotechnology agreed to accept the U.S. government's proposal on Low-Level Presence of Recombinant-DNA Material. The task force has formed a working group, which will be chaired by the United States, Germany and Thailand, to draft an annex to the Codex Plant Guideline addressing the elements of a safety assessment for low-level presence of rDNA material in food, and identifying information-sharing mechanisms to facilitate utilization of the Annex and the data necessary to conduct an assessment of food safety by an importing country. BIO and its members applaud the Codex's commitment to ensuring food safety for consumers, farmers, food processors, and grain handlers. BIO also thanks the U.S. government for successfully advocating adoption of this project by the Codex.
"Over the last several years, BIO and its members have continually urged Codex to implement a science-based policy that governs incidental or trace amounts -- or so-called 'adventitious presence' -- of biotechnology-enhanced events in food and feed. This intergovernmental task force's safety assessment will complement the policies on adventitious presence adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection agency in September 2006 and by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June 2006.
"The EPA and FDA food safety evaluations recognize that adventitious presence is a safe and natural part of plant biology, seed production, and the distribution of commodity crops. They have served as a crucial step toward development of comprehensive international science-based systems that regulate modern agricultural products. This is especially important in today's global trading arena as more than 8.5 million farmers are growing biotech crops in 21 countries."BIO represents more than 1,100 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and 31 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of healthcare, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology products.
The U.N. Menu
- Henry I. Miller Wall Street Journal, Dec. 4, 2006
CHIBA, Japan-- The U.N. task force that wrapped up here on Friday deliberated on the regulation of foods obtained with recombinant DNA (or gene-splicing) technology. They ignored the rule of holes: When you're in a hole, stop digging. The more this ongoing project progresses, the worse for science and technology -- and consumers everywhere.
The scope of this exercise, held under the auspices of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which sets food standards on behalf of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization, makes no sense. Now in its seventh year, the mission is to create more stringent regulatory requirements only for those foods made with the newest, most precise and predictable techniques of biotechnology -- gene-splicing, or genetic modification -- while exempting others made with far less precise and predictable conventional technologies. Having already stifled innovative research on food plants and microorganisms, the commission is now penetrating other areas, such as animals and even animals immunized with high-tech vaccines.
It is one thing to regulate novel foods with traits that are of potential concern, but quite another to regulate merely because a certain technique has been used, especially when that technique is state-of-the-art. It is rather like circumscribing for extra regulation only cars outfitted with disk brakes, radial tires and air bags -- and then limiting only those vehicles to a lower speed.
The members of this task force, including representatives of the U.S. government, disregard the scientific consensus that gene-splicing is an extension, or refinement, of older, traditional techniques of genetic modification, and that it does not warrant discriminatory, excessive regulation. They overlook the fact that during two decades of widespread use, the performance of gene-spliced crops has been spectacular, with farmers enjoying increased yields, decreased use of agricultural chemicals, and lower occupational exposures to pesticides.
The approach of Codex is also incompatible with FDA policies, which are the most scientifically defensible, risk-based approach to biotech regulation in the world. Dr. Eric Flamm, a senior FDA bureaucrat and the head of the U.S. delegation, is unfazed by the inconsistency; he says that the members of the delegation to Codex represent not their own agencies, but the U.S. One wonders whether the commissioner of the FDA -- who proclaims during every speech that the agency is committed to science as the basis for policy -- shares this view.
Why does the U.S. go along with this travesty? The representatives of U.S. regulatory agencies on the task force offer several rationales: Because virtually every other country has in place irrational, unscientific regulation, we must follow suit; the task force is really addressing issues of trade, not science; and most important, American industry demands that we play along.
Unpersuasive on all counts. The Codex standards only provide cover for unfair trade practices, because with them in place, a country wanting to block trade in gene-spliced foods for any reason can defend against charges of unfair trade practices simply by remonstrating that it's deferring to Codex.
It is true that big agribusiness companies (dozens of whose lobbyists flock to the task force meetings) endorse the Codex process. They like regulation because it limits competition and provides a sort of Good Housekeeping seal of approval. But they fail to realize that encouraging excessive, unscientific regulation is like eating your seed corn: a short-term expedient but a long-term catastrophe, especially for smaller farmers, plant breeders and academic researchers (who are not represented at Codex).
American regulators have become surrogates of big agribusiness companies at the expense of academic research and the well-being of other sectors of the U.S. economy. American officials now regularly encourage unscientific, excessive regulation, although the outcomes consistently sacrifice U.S. interests to those of the European Union and anti-technology NGOs (which, inexplicably, are permitted full participation in the task force). What makes this particularly absurd is that the U.S. provides about a quarter of the base budget of the U.N. As a scientist, I feel embarrassed; as a former regulator, appalled; and as an American taxpayer, violated.
Dr. Miller, a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, was the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the FDA from 1989 to 1993.
Atlantic Monthly: Borlaug Among the Top 30 Living Influential Americans
Also see http://jurisdynamics.blogspot.com/2006/12/honoring-norman-borlaug.html (this has been picked up and linked by many bloggers)
Organic Chicken is Fattier Than Battery Birds
- Eva Langlands, Sunday Times (UK), Dec 3, 2006 http://www.timesonline.co.uk
Organic chicken is less nutritious, contains more fat and tastes worse than free range or battery-farmed meat, scientists have discovered.
Tests on supermarket chicken breasts found organic varieties contained fewer omega-3 fatty acids and lower levels of antioxidants, giving the meat an inferior taste. Some were found to contain twice as much cholesterol. The study, by food scientists at Strathclyde University, contradicts the common view that the premium paid for organic meat guarantees a healthier and tastier product.
Despite costing twice as much, the organic products scored lower in all the nutritional tests in the study, "It is safe to say that you are not getting any nutritional benefit from buying organic chicken," said Alistair Paterson, co-author of the study, which is published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. "You could be better off buying conventional or free-range chicken. There is no guarantee that organic chicken gives you more omega-3, better taste or a lower cholesterol level."
Organic food, which is produced according to standards covering the use of pesticides, additives, animal welfare and sustainability, has become big business with sales in the UK doubling in six years.
Last year, the market was worth £1.6 billion, up from £800m in 2000, according to Datamonitor, the market research firm, and is forecast to be worth £2.7 billion by 2010. However, there are growing concerns that the increasing industrialisation of organic farming to meet demand has led to a dilution of its green credentials and quality.
The Strathclyde team found that organic chicken was lower in antioxidants than conventional or free range chicken and, in blind tastings, scored lowest for succulence.
According to Paterson, the differences in taste and nutritional composition are due to the feed the animals are given. Synthetic vitamin supplements are standard in conventional feed but are prohibited under organic farming rules.
The Soil Association, representing organic producers, insisted that organic standards were not being compromised. "This research contradicts the bulk of evidence which shows organic food is higher in omega-3, vitamins and minerals than conventional chicken," said Hugh Raven, director of Soil Association Scotland.
The Flight from Science is Worrying - It Seems We Can't Have Rational Discourse
- Sam Burson, Western Mail (UK), Dec 4 2006
A LEADING Welsh theologian warned yesterday that superstition is replacing science in modern society.
Professor Tom O' Laughlin claims there is a lack of rational discourse on science because playing on emotions is an easier task.The Lampeter University professor's comments come as a report due out this week calls for more respect for science.
Prof O' Laughlin suggests we need more calm Mr Spocks and less hysterical Dr McCoys when it comes to discussing emotive issues, such as vivisection, embryonic research and nuclear energy.He was referring to the iconic emotionless Vulcan and the fiery human who famously bickered in the Star Trek TV series and films.
The Policy Exchange, a leading UK think-tank, is this week launching its Science vs Superstition report.It calls for an end to "Neo-Luddism" and claims too much fear surrounds science, when it should be held up as a way forward.
The paper argues that demonstrations against controversial scientific practices are harming the future of Britain and that science needs to be embraced for the good of the country.The Policy Exchange says science itself must be examined so people can realise its benefits, rather than be in fear of the possibilities it creates.
A statement by the group of academics making up the organisation said, "While many people seem to lack the vision of a genuinely better future, the authors of this collection of essays believe that it is time to make the case for a more positive attitude towards the future - a future that is made better through science."
The publication deals with subjects including vivisection, nuclear power, GM crops, embryonic stem-cell research and research ethics committees.Speaking ahead of the launch on Wednesday, Policy Exchange Director Nicholas Boles said, "Science vs superstition emerged out of the debate about vivisection in Oxford when one young man had the courage to take on the extreme element of the animal-rights movement.
"Too often, in today's society, science is seen as an enemy."On the contrary, science is our ally in efforts to deal with the big global issues of the 21st century - such as climate change, energy security, famine and disease.
"The UK has a record of scientific achievement to be proud of."If our position at the forefront of invention and innovation is to be preserved, it requires politicians of all parties to argue the case for science and provide a safe and liberal climate for our scientists to pursue new technologies."
Prof O'Laghlin said a balance needs to be restored so less heated debate on such issues can take place.He said, "There are tensions which are bad but also tensions which are very good."In Star Trek, there was the cool of Mr Spock and the folly of Dr McCoy."One of the good things was that the captain needed them both for advice.
"The challenge for the scientist is to take an interest in human needs and realise people are not all scientists who are just doing other things."The challenge for people frightened of science is to realise that, if you give up on it, you really have to go and live on Bardsey Island and not phone anybody.
"There would be something wrong about someone who wants to use a mobile phone and says science is rubbish."But there would also be something sad about a scientist who says he can communicate with e-mail, so doesn't need to meet anyone."
But he fears the pendulum has swung too far away from rationality to emotion and added, "The flight from science is a worrying phenomenon."It seems that we can't engage in a rational discourse."And he fears the trend is now irreversible, adding, "I think it (the future) is going to go along the route of superstition.
"I don't think, at the moment, there's an environment of rational discourse - not because people dislike science but because it's easier to be irrational."The Americans have elected a president who can't even say the word 'nuclear'."At the moment, I don't see us coming back to a balance."We're going to become rather more reactionary in our opinions rather than having rational discourse."Politicians don't like to play up big ideas but play up fears because it's easier."