Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org, May 12, 2007
* Corn Yields May Jump 10%
* EU Must Speed Response to New GMOs
* Germany tightens GM restrictions
* Organic farmer sues
* Organic Food Is Not Healthier
* Bt Cotton
* When Will We Tire of the Fear Mongers?
Corn Yields May Jump 10% In Five Years, Monsanto Says
- Bloomberg News via Truth About Trade, May 9, 2007
Corn yields on marginal land could increase 10 percent within five years as genetic modifications help meet global food and fuel needs, according to Monsanto Co. executive Brett D. Begemann.
Increased yields from Monsanto-made seeds, especially in drought-prone regions of the U.S., should help the U.S. meet ambitious ethanol production goals while keeping food and animal feed prices manageable, Begemann, vice-president of the company's International Commercial division, said today in an interview at the World Agricultural Forum in St. Louis.
Ethanol is expected to use about 30 percent of the U.S. corn crop in the next decade, prompting intended corn plantings of 90.5 million acres this year, according to the Department of Agriculture. High yields on marginal land would keep productivity from falling as acres rise, Begemann said.
``There's no doubt' that genetically engineered seeds will ``significantly enhance the capacity' of farmers in areas such as the northern Great Plains, Begemann said. Will seeds ``be able to bring that land's productivity up to the level of central Iowa? We don't know that yet,' he said.
The forum brings together corporate executives and global non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, such as OxFam International every two years to discuss how business can help the world's poor. This year it received its first support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
At the forum, representatives from developing countries criticized Monsanto for selling expensive seeds that can't be replanted, forcing farmers to repurchase seeds every year.
``The problem with Monsanto is their research is very costly, but that doesn't mean that the cost of all the research be charged' to poor farmers, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, the fifth-most-populous state in India, told reporters.
Begemann said farmers in emerging markets can respond to market forces, choosing to buy or not buy seeds that give them the most profitable crops.
``Anyone involved in production agriculture today that understands the genetics of seeds is convinced that saving hybrid seed is the absolute worst thing you can do, because the yields are going to be less. That's the phenomenon of hybrids,' he said.
``Our frustration comes from intervention -- whether that be government or NGOs -- saying the seeds are too high, the farmers can't afford them,' he said.
Monsanto shares fell 82 cents to $58.82 per share in New York composite trading. The stock has gained 12 percent this year.
EU Must Speed Response to New GMOs - Farm Chief
- Reuters via Planet Ark, May 7, 2007
BRUSSELS - Europe must speed up its approval process for new biotech crops and foods to avoid future problems with key suppliers like Argentina, Brazil and the United States, Europe's farm chief said on Friday.
Shipments of maize feed products had fallen in the past few months due to efforts to keep out genetically modified (GMO) materials that were approved elsewhere but not in the 27 countries of the European Union.
EU regulators had to consider what would happen if imports had to be blocked altogether from given origins to avoid unwanted contamination, EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said.
"Many of our trade partners have a different perspective on GMO regulation from ours," she told delegates at an international cereals and oilseeds conference.
"One part of the problem seems to be that, when the European Union considers authorising a new GMO, the approval process takes a considerable time. We are examining why this is, and whether we can speed it up without compromising on the risk assessment," Fischer Boel said.
Soybeans and soy products were a bigger potential headache than maize since EU imports of maize feed were low, she said, adding that it would be hard to replace the larger volumes of soybeans and soymeal with other protein-rich feed.
"We hope to avoid having to block soya imports from our main suppliers -- the United States, Argentina and Brazil," Fischer Boel said. EU importers took more than 40 percent of Argentina's soy shipments and more than half of Brazil's, she said.
"Whereas this could be difficult in the case of the US, Argentina and Brazil ought to work with us actively on this issue, given that we take a high proportion of their soyabean exports," she said. "Nevertheless, we can't rely on hope alone."
For many years, little has changed in the split of opinion on biotech policy among EU governments, which are consistently unable to secure the weighted majority that is legally required to vote through a new GMO approval.
An application to approve a new GMO product usually takes many months, if not years, as EU governments raise objections that lead to extra scientific risk assessments. The application then goes to a committee of EU-27 experts, then is often escalated to ministers when the experts cannot agree.
European consumers are well known for their antipathy towards GMO foods but the biotech industry says its products are safe and no different to conventional foods. Europe's hostility to GMO foods is unfounded, it says.
Germany tightens restrictions on GM corn
- Spiegel Online, May 10, 2007
http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,481952,00.html SPIEGEL ONLINE
The German government has imposed stricter regulations on the food company Monsanto regarding the sale of genetically modified corn seeds. The new rules are tantamount to an outright ban.
Genetically modified (GM) crops have long been controversial in Germany, where organic agriculture is booming. Now the cultivation of GM corn has been effectively banned by the government, according to media reports.
In its Wednesday edition, the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel reports that it has obtained a letter sent from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to the agricultural company Monsanto, which sells the GM corn MON 810 - which has been legal in Germany up until now - as seed. In the letter, the ministry writes that GM corn from the MON 810 product line can only be delivered to third parties if the firm also provides an accompanying monitoring plan which researches the effects on the environment. The German news agency DPA also reported Wednesday they had obtained a copy of the same letter.
"This amounts to a de facto ban on the cultivation of genetically modified corn," said Peter Rudolph, who is responsible for genetic technology in the Brandenburg state ministry of agriculture, in remarks to Der Tagesspiegel Tuesday. He said the letter basically means Monsanto will no longer be allowed to sell MON 810, as the company has not presented any monitoring plan up until now. Brandenburg is the German state with the largest quantity of GM corn under cultivation.
In the letter, the federal ministry justifies its decision by writing that new information "gives reasons to suppose that the cultivation of MON 810 poses a danger to the environment."
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture told the newspaper that the letter should not be interpreted as a ban, but rather as a tightening of the regulations concerning the cultivation of the GM corn.
The new ruling could mean that crops already planted may not be allowed to be harvested. Brandenburg farmer Jörg Piprek told Der Tagesspiegel the new ruling was absurd: "We've already planted the corn. They can't tell us after the fact that it was illegal."
The cultivation of genetically modified crops has been controversial all over Europe, with anti-GM activists going as far as ripping up crops. The German Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer has up until now justified the cultivation of GM crops in Germany by arguing they are allowed under European Union regulations.
Organic farmer sues over neighbor's pesticides
- Genevieve Bookwalter. The Sentinel (Santa Cruz), May 10, 2007
NORTH COAST - In a case that could reverberate through the county, a judge has ordered a farming service company to temporarily stop spraying pesticides that an organic farmer says are moving with the fog onto his field and destroying his crop.
Organic Jacobs Farms is suing Western Farm Services, a Fresno company that provides and applies pesticides for conventional farmers. The suit, filed by Larry Jacobs, seeks to stop the spraying of pesticides that could travel to his field and an unspecified amount of money to cover the crops he says he lost. The farmer who owns the conventional field is not named in the suit.
The pesticides apparently were applied correctly and did not blow onto the organic field, which would be illegal. Instead, all involved think they were picked up by fog, which can turn pesticides into liquid and carry them off days after they were sprayed.
If the courts rule in favor of the organic farmer and orders those spraying pesticides on nearby farms to stop all together, it could threaten the livelihood of conventional farmers all over the county who deal with fog and organic neighbors, said attorney Dale M. Dorfmeier, who represents Western Farm Services.
"What happens is, an organic farmer comes in with small acres in the middle of this intensive operation and then gets inadvertent drift that contaminates his crop," Dorfmeier said. "Then the demand is, 'Everyone else quit their practices so I can farm organic.'"
This particular case arose in December, when the dill grown on about 120 acres that Jacobs rents from Wilder Ranch State Park tested positive for pesticide residues. Because the residue is not legally allowed on those herbs, either organic or conventional, the entire $500,000 crop was lost, Jacobs said. Tests this spring showed similar results, and another crop was ruined, he said. The financial tally for that crop has not been completed.
To market their produce as organic, farmers must adhere to strict growing regulations and use no pesticides or herbicides. The field where the herbs grow is surrounded by conventional rows of brussels sprouts. The pesticides found on Jacobs' herbs is one regularly used on the neighboring crops to fight cabbage maggots and other annoyances.
Tests from the county Agricultural Commissioner's Office confirmed there was pesticide residue on the herbs, according to a report by deputy commissioner Lisa LeCoump. However, under state code, a pesticide sprayer's responsibility to stop chemicals from drifting into other fields ends after the pesticide is applied, the report said. As the pesticide was applied properly and did not blow away during the application process, the commissioner's office found no violation on the part of Western Farm Services. Advertisement
That's what sends attorney Austin Comstock of Santa Cruz, who represents Jacobs Farms, for a loop.
Because his client doesn't use these chemicals, and neighboring farms do, Comstock said the circumstantial evidence is "overwhelming" that they were somehow transported from the adjacent fields. Therefore, he said, those who applied the chemicals should be held responsible.
"There's a traditional concept in Anglo-Saxon law that you use your property in a way not to damage mine," Comstock said. "If you damage mine there's some redress there"
On Tuesday, a Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge agreed and issued the injunction against Western Farms to stop spraying nearby farmland if the pesticide might carry over to Jacobs Farms. The case will be heard again later this month.
While the case is uncommon, precedent does exist. North of Sacramento, herbicides properly sprayed on rice still were making their way to nearby orchards and killing them, said Glenn Brank, spokesman for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. The orchard growers sued, and the state responded with stricter ordinances for the herbicide sprayers.
While that case did not involve fog, Brank said it still could set an example to be followed here.
Brank said he doesn't blame Jacobs for filing suit.
"If people think they've suffered a loss and someone else is responsible, they have a legal right to recover," Brank said.
Read All About It: Organic Food Is Not Healthier
- Joseph D. Rosen, Ph.D., American Council on Science and Health, May 9, 2007
Between March 27 and April 3, four articles appeared in the mainstream British press that only served to further confuse readers about the alleged nutritional superiority of organic food.
"Organic IS healthier, say food scientists" was the headline of a March 27 article written by the Telegraph's science correspondent, Nic Fleming. According to the story, scientists at the University of California reported that organically-grown kiwis exhibited small but statistically significant increases in vitamin C and in polyphenol content compared to conventionally-grown kiwis. (Many polyphenols found in food are chemical antioxidants that are thought to be protective against free radical processes that may, in part, be responsible for chronic illnesses such as cancer and coronary heart disease.) Mr. Fleming, however, made no mention of the fact that studies such as this one have been reported many times in recent years and results have been inconsistent. Sometimes the organic produce is higher in antioxidants, and sometimes the conventional produce is higher.
My own (as yet unpublished) review of the scientific literature demonstrates that the agricultural production method is not as important as the variety (cultivar) of the fruit or vegetable, the year that the produce was grown, geographic location, soil conditions, and amount of sunlight the crops received. To Mr. Fleming's credit, he does mention that another University of California professor questioned whether the small increases in antioxidant activity would have any real impact on human health. But then he concludes his article by writing that others had shown that organic milk "has 68% more omega-3 fatty acids -- important for normal brain functioning than other milk." Milk is very low in omega-3 fatty acids to begin with and 68% more of a very tiny quantity is still a very tiny quantity. Furthermore, nutritionists recommend that adults drink low-fat or nonfat milk because of the high saturated fat content of whole milk. There is nothing magical about omega-3 fats -- when the saturated fats are removed, so are the omega-3 fats.
There was more news to follow. On April 2, the Daily Mail ran a story titled, "Proof at last that organic apples can be better for you." The next day The Independent carried an article written by Ian Herbert titled, "It's not just a fad -- organic food is better for you, say scientists."
Both news stories were about three organic food lectures presented at a conference held at the University of Hohenheim in Germany between March 20 and 23. According to the The Independent, scientists from Britain, France, and Poland presented evidence that "organic carrots, apples, peaches, and potatoes...have greater concentrations of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and chemicals that protect against cancer and heart disease than conventional produce." (Nowhere in the published proceedings of the conference are there any presentations comparing the nutritional content of organic carrots and potatoes to their conventional counterparts; maybe Mr. Herbert got potatoes and tomatoes mixed up.)
The Daily Mail story was a bit more accurate, correctly matching up the Polish researchers with the apple and tomato studies and the French investigators with the peach study. According to the Daily Mail, researchers at Warsaw Agriculture University found "organic tomatoes had more vitamin C, beta-carotene, and flavonoids than conventional ones." (Flavonoids are antioxidants and are a subclass of polyphenols.) The article also noted that the organic tomatoes contained less lycopene than the conventional tomatoes but failed to mention that lycopene is a much more effective antioxidant than beta-carotene and is one of the few antioxidants for which there is at least some epidemiological evidence of efficacy in preventing prostate cancer. Apparently the reporter for the Daily Mail never read the article the researchers submitted for publication.
If the reporter had done so, it would have been evident that there was a distance of 60 km between the organic and the conventional farms from which samples were taken, a distance much too far to make meaningful scientific comparisons in studies of this type. As for the increased levels of flavonoids in the tomatoes, a reading of the article revealed that the only flavonoid measured was quercitin. Quercitin is just one of the many flavonoids found in tomatoes, and finding an increased concentration of only one flavonoid is meaningless. Even more meaningless is attaching significance to results obtained from only one growing season. Research published in 2006 by Alyson Mitchell's group at the University of California demonstrated that there were increased quercitin levels in organic tomatoes grown in 2003, but no differences were found in the 2004 and 2005 growing seasons.
A second presentation by the Polish scientists compared organic and conventional apple purees. According to both newspaper articles, the organic apple puree was higher in phenols, flavonoids, and vitamin C. A reading of the published proceedings told a different story, however. Although the organic purees had significantly higher levels of vitamin C and flavonoids than the conventional purees, the differences (and health advantage, if any) disappeared after the purees were pasteurized. In fact, the conventional apples had levels of flavonoids about three times higher than the organic apples after pasteurization. Total polyphenol content, a much better indication of antioxidant content than flavonoid content, was not significantly different between the two farming methods, either before or after pasteurization. The data showed, once again, how polyphenol content is influenced by fruit variety. For example, the conventionally-grown Boskoop cultivar had 80% more total polyphenol content than the organically-grown Lobo cultivar.
According to the Independent, the French researchers found that organic peaches "had a higher polyphenol content at harvest." True, if you only look at their 2004 results. In the 2005 harvest, there were no differences whatsoever in polyphenol content between organic and conventional peaches, illustrating once again the importance of carrying out these types of experiments over several years before any valid conclusions can be made.
Opinion, Built on Partial Information, Built on Weak Data
The newspaper accounts of these events did not tell the complete story because the reporters did not read what the Polish and French investigators wrote; nor is there any evidence that they spoke to them about their actual data. Instead, they apparently obtained their information from the recollections of one or more persons who had recently returned from the conference.
Partially based on the misinformation published in the Independent and the Daily Mail, Peter Melchett wrote an opinion piece ("Organic Farming Bearing Fruit") in The Guardian on April 3. Lord Melchett is the proprietor of an organic farm and is the Policy Director of the Soil Association, an organization whose income is derived, in part, from certifying organic farms. Melchett uses the studies reported on in the newspaper stories I have discussed above as a springboard to urge the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) declaration that organic food is more nutritious than conventional food.
I doubt, however, that the FSA will be convinced by the papers presented in Germany that organic food is any healthier. After all, the papers were not peer-reviewed by other scientists and did not appear in respected scientific journals. Moreover, they essentially confirmed the findings of other researchers, i.e., antioxidant content of a food is determined by factors more important than whether or not food is grown organically or conventionally (cultivar and year to year variation, for two). Melchett appears to be living in a world of his own, claiming that the scientific evidence that organic food is better for you is growing, when in fact it is not. Actually, the scientific case for the nutritional superiority of organic food is so poor that Melchett was recently reduced to arguing on a BBC broadcast that "science doesn't tell us the answers, so some of it we have to go on feelings."
Finally, Melchett complains about last year's refusal by the FSA to declare organic milk more nutritious even though it contained more alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, than conventional milk. Melchett is either unaware of or is ignoring a 2004 peer-reviewed publication written jointly by scientists from the U.S. National Cancer Institute, Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm warning that "increased dietary intakes of ALA may increase the risk of advanced prostate cancer." Certainly, a proponent of the precautionary principle, like Melchett, should not urge people to drink organic milk until there is definitive proof ALA does not increase the risk of so lethal a disease.
Joseph D. Rosen, Ph.D., is an Emeritus Professor of Food Toxicology at Rutgers University and an ACSH Advisor.
- Shanthu Shantharam, Frontline (India), May 05-18, 2007 (Vol. 24 No. 9)
THERE is not a shred of scientific evidence, or reason, to believe that Bt toxin can be either toxic or poisonous for mammals such as sheep and cattle ("Fatal feed", April 21). I have visited villages in Andhra Pradesh where Bt cotton is grown. Also, I am a former regulator of GM crops in the United States and have first-hand knowledge of the toxicity of Bt toxins.
Contrary to your reports, I did not see any fear in the villages, and no one had ever heard of sheep deaths due to Bt cotton. The non-governmental organisations your reporters interviewed have been repeating these allegations but no one in the world believes them. It might interest you to know that many acknowledged experts in the field of biotechnology, GM crops and Bt cotton have been following these allegations from India for almost two years and have found them to be baseless.
GM crops have become a favourite whipping boy of anti-GM activists in India whose understanding of the science of biotechnology is skewed by their ideological and political opposition to the modern technology. Your reporters should have asked two basic questions: why such reports come only from Andhra Pradesh when Bt cotton is grown in almost half a dozen other States; and, secondly, why no other credible scientific report on the deaths of these animals exists.
President, Biologistics International
When Will We Tire of the Fear Mongers?
- Jay Lehr, Ph.D., The Heartland Institute, June 1, 2007
I have noticed throughout my life that there barely has been a day the news media was not trumpeting a foreboding event, an impending environmental danger, or some risky food or technological hazard clearly intended to generate fear.
Some of us are old enough to remember when cranberries were driven from supermarket shelves by a phony fear campaign. More of us remember the Alar apple scare. For a while we thought twice about putting a cell phone to our ear or passing beneath a power line.
Radon gas has yet to harm anyone, yet EPA still supports scary radio ads. Asbestos coatings on the pipes in our public schools never caused lung problems among our children, but all those coatings have been removed now. Asbestos levels in the schools remain unchanged.
Properly using insecticides in our homes never made anyone ill, but fewer are available to us today thanks to bans. Freon is gone from our aerosol cans and air conditioners but ozone levels above the polar regions thicken and thin with the seasons as always, and skin cancer rates depend, as they always have, on how far we live from the equator and our exposure to mid-day sun.
Babies were never sickened by TRIS, the fire retardant in their jammies. DDT never caused cancer or thinned a single bird egg. It did stop malaria in its tracks and saved millions of lives, but it is not available much any more. As a result, millions die or become sick each year.
Sea level may rise a foot this century, according to a new report from that font of unvarnished truth, the United Nations. But seas have been rising seven inches a century for at least the past 800 years. No one knows where former vice president Al Gore gets his scary 20 foot prediction for sea-level rise.
Moderate trans fat in our diets causes no harm, but lack of exercise does. Yet we are outlawing trans fat, I suppose because we cannot mandate exercise. You can no longer take Vioxx for your arthritis because folks with known heart disease might get their hands on it and minimally increase their chance of a heart attack.
Not one person has ever become ill from a genetically modified food or one irradiated to reduce bacteria, yet both of these healthful technologies are impeded by the fear mongers and their partners, the risk-averse bureaucrats.
Come to think of it, I cannot think of a single environmental or public health "crisis" that has ever proven to be true. They just fade away as time and reality wear them thin. Eventually they fall into the shadow of the next "fear du jour."
I once was mistakenly confident that all this would change at midnight on December 31, 1999. I believed the merchants of fear had made the mistake every scam artist knows to avoid: predicting a specific event on a specific date. The advent of the new millennium, they predicted, would cause the world to shake and reverberate with the catastrophe brought about by our predicted inability to re-program our computers.
Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Yet, while we proved quite capable of solving the computer programing problem, we appear to have learned nothing from that false alarm or the alarmists who sounded it. We awoke the next morning and shook off the fact that the Earth remained in a smooth rotation around its axis.
I recognize now that we are all programmed to fear the unknown with unbridled conviction. I suspect this condition was passed down from our ancestors who once lived in caves, hiding from the wild beasts outside, which could readily devour them. Those cave dwellers who ventured out with little discretion often did not return to advance the human race with their progeny. Those who hid quietly in the cave, controlled by their fears, lived to bear children, who passed on their fear genes to their children and so on until, many generations later, we have them.
Geneticists are actually on track to locate those genes in our DNA, but it is not likely we will ever want to remove them. They play an important role in our survival, not to mention inclining most of us to heed our mom's admonitions not to touch our tongue to a frozen pipe, or venture out onto thin ice, or touch the hot burner on a stove, and of course to look both ways when crossing the street.
But now that we are grown up, shouldn't we be able to distinguish between real and unwarranted fears? Shouldn't we notice that past environmental and public health "crises" never were true, and shouldn't that realization lead us to stop over-reacting each time a new doomsday scenario appears in the daily newspapers?
Skepticism isn't a bad thing when it comes to dealing with con men, telephone marketers ... and environmentalists and "public health advocates." Should we not, by now, know to wait until additional, more credible information comes our way?
There apparently are people who gain pleasure and often money from watching us cringe in fear of the unknown. When, if ever, will we show them we're made of sterner stuff than that?
Jay Lehr, Ph.D. is science director for The Heartland Institute.
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net