Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org, May 15, 2007
* Unlocking the 'green revelation'
* GM sweet banana on trial
* Biotech crop export soars
* Interim solution
* 'EU not opposed to GM crops'
* Discovery could lead to designer plants
* Minichromosomes in maize
* Role of GM Livestock in the Treatment of Disease
* GM food debate needs to be realistic
* Public questions organic virtues
Unlocking the 'green revelation'
- Tiisetso Motsoeneng, iafrica.com, May 15, 2007
The world's agricultural sector is poised to enter a new growth phase, with genetically modified organisms, global warming and demand for energy being major trends pushing agriculture into a new growth territory, said Ernst Janovsky, head of agriculture at banking group FNB at the 41st Annual Nampo Harvest Week.
"Although we are only on the brink of understanding what GMOs can do for agriculture, the fact that farmers have to contend with input prices growing faster than output producers will continue to adopt any form of technology, including GMOs, to improve production productivity," said Janovsky.
He added that concerns around global warming around the world were mounting, pushing for the implementation of carbon-friendly legislation.
Due to the ability of plants to extract carbon from the air, agriculture was the prime beneficiary of that type of legislation, said Janovsky, adding that new markets will place upward pressure on agricultural commodity prices.
Oil price hikes open the door
Janovsky pointed out that climbing crude oil prices were paving way for a profitable biofuels industry in South Africa.
"Given the expected growth in demand it is expected that the oil price will continue to increase to plus/minus $100 a barrel and then level off as alternative resources are developed," he said.
But the agricultural industry will only get the most of the demand for alternative energy if crude oil price was at least $75 per barrel.
"This will create new markets for agriculture with the potential to unlock a green revelation," said Javanosky.
He added that the biofuels industry will also benefit livestock farmers due to the expected spill-over of feed byproducts, leading to a decline in feed prices.
Creating biofuel profitability
Janosky also said that for a biofuels industry to be profitable, local fuel prices needed to be above R10 per litre.
Last December, government approved a draft industrial strategy for developing South Africa's biofuels industry which could see the state and the private sector injecting R6-billion in capital investment.
According to the draft, the industry could contribute up to 75 percent of the country's renewable energy by 2013, without impacting negatively on food security.
"For the biofuels industry to become a viable business, that will encourage investments, government needs to implement legislation that will help push petrol prices higher than these levels," said Janosky.
The petrol price is currently hovering around per R7 per litre while crude oil - a major component in the making of fuel - is around $62 per barrel.
Researchers put GM sweet banana on trial in Uganda this month
- Esther Nakkazi, The East African (Kenya), May 14, 2007
Uganda will this week import genetically modified sweet banana plants from Belgium for field trials. The transgenic plants - plants that possess a gene or genes that have been transferred from a different species - are resistant to pests and disease.
The GM sweet banana locally known as "bogoya" and mostly eaten as a dessert, will from this month, be tested at the Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) for resistance to the notorious bacterial wilt and Black Sigatoka fungal disease.
Field results are expected within 5-10 years.
The new variety is expected to save up to 50 per cent of yields that are destroyed by pests and diseases thus increasing production of the country's staple crop, which is also popular in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to Geoffrey Arinaitwe, the Ugandan scientist who was involved in the development variety, if the field trials succeed, Uganda will be the provider of the technology in Africa.
Mr Arinaitwe said after the field trials in Kawanda, the best transgenic line will be selected and multiplied. Later, the technology will be transferred to highland bananas locally known as matooke and to the plantain variety.
The banana wilt is the number one fungal disease that affects banana production world wide. The wilt wipes out at least 90 per cent of the fruit on the trees it affects. An infected tree is poisonous to both humans and animals.
Scientists say the commonest way in which the disease is spread is through pollination by bees that pick pollen from the female of the plant and transport it to male banana plants for cross-pollination.
However, with the GM banana variety, scientists say there is no risk of contamination of other plants and to the environment in case of a disease breakout.
"The gene within the GM plant cannot be transferred to another plant because the banana will not produce fertile pollen. So there is no risk of gene contamination for other plants and the environment," said Mr Arinaitwe.
Bananas are cultivated in 80 tropical countries, representing the fourth most consumed food crop in the world. Efforts in the region include, a virus resistant sweet potato currently undergoing field trials in Kenya, while insect-resistant maize and cotton will be tested soon.
Pest and disease-resistant GM crops have significantly reduced the use of chemical pesticides. The most important potential benefit of GM crops will be their contribution to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of reducing poverty and hunger by 50 per cent in 2015.
Prof Jocelyn Webster, executive director of AfricaBio a research organisation said cultivation of GM crops is one way of increasing food security in Africa. "These crops are not the final solution, but a vital tool in the fight against food insecurity in Africa and to make the continent less dependant on food aid," she said.
The Uganda National Council for Science and Technology has already provided a permit for the importation of the transgenic materials and the test site has been prepared.
Construction of a screen house to test the crop, said Tilahun Zeweldu, a biotechnology advisor at the Agricultural Productivity Enhancement Programme, working under aid agency Usaid.
Almost 24.5 per cent of incomes in Ugandan households come from bananas, while 70 per cent of farmers grow bananas as a staple food as well as for making local alcoholic brew and for spirits for export.
Andrew Kiggundu, a plant biotechnologist at KARI said strategic crops such as cassava resistant to the mosaic virus, sweet potatoes rich in Vitamin A and cotton have been earmarked for testing before the end of the year at Namulonge Research Institute and the National Agricultural Research Organisation.
India's biotech crop export soars as production zooms
- The Economic Times (India), May 14, 2007
KOLKATA: In case you didn't know it, India has emerged as the fastest biotech crop growing nation in 2006. Propelled by increased cultivation of biotech cotton, India has also outstripped China as the largest cultivator of the crop by 0.3 million hectares, according to Ms Martina Newell-McGloughlin, a noted US biotech expert.
Ms McGloughlin, who is also the director at California University's biotech research & education programme, said "India has about 3.8 million hectares under biotech cotton cultivation against 3.5 million hectares in China". She was talking at a meeting organised by Indian Chamber of Commerce here on Friday.
"India has developed 62 biotech cotton hybrids by 2006 compared to 3 biotech cotton hybrids in 2002. Biotech cotton exports from India have also gone up from 0.9 million bales in 2004 to 4.7 million bales in 2006. Indian biotech cotton cultivators are registering 88% increased profit per hectare which is about $250," said Ms McGloughlin.
Ms McGloughlin said global biotech crop cultivation had reached 252 million acres across 22 countries. "Biotech crop cultivation is growing manifold and majority of the cultivating countries are the developing economies. Biotech crops have also reduced pesticide footprint by 14%," she claimed.
- Business Standard (India), May 15, 2007
The conditional vacation by the Supreme Court last week of the eight month-old stay on conducting field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops prior to their release for commercial cultivation, serves a limited objective but stops short of resolving the contentious issue. The main fear of the petitioners who had objected to these trials was that alien genes incorporated into GM crops could escape from these fields to contaminate crops growing near-by. Since the toxicity and other health hazards of such genes were not fully known, such genetic contamination of food and other crops could have undesirable repercussions. From that viewpoint, the apex court has done well to put riders like a mandatory 200-metre isolation distance from neighbouring farmers' fields of similar crops, and better scientific supervision of GM trial fields. This should minimise the risk of unintended consequences.
That said, the court order is unlikely to satisfy the bioscience companies, both national and multinational, which have invested heavily in producing GM seeds specific to Indian conditions. For, the court has allowed the trials of only those GM crops for which the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has already granted approval, and not for putting fresh GM crops into field trials. As such, a large number of other GM crops for which applications are pending with the GEAC will have to wait for some more time.
Another critical, as also controversial, facet of the verdict concerns disclosure in court of data on toxicity and other such traits of under-trial GM crops. This is a piece of information which many treat as a commercial secret, under trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPs). It may be worth recalling that insufficient experimental trial data protection was among the reasons cited by the US recently for keeping India on the watch list for intellectual property issues. This, therefore, is a much broader issue that needs to be addressed as it has implications for not only agri-biotechnology but also for other bioscience-based sectors, notably the pharmaceutical industry.
India, despite its large and fairly competent scientific manpower, is still a greenhorn in frontier technologies like molecular biology and biotechnology. As a result, Indian farmers have been denied adequate opportunities to raise production and reduce costs through GM crops. The farmers' keenness to adopt GM varieties is apparent from the pace at which Bt-cotton, the only GM crop on the approved list, has spread regardless of the allegations that companies were pricing GM seeds very high. Indeed, GM crops no longer need to be viewed as a luxury. They are a necessity, since conventional plant breeding has failed to end the yield stagnation in most crops. Of course, the bio-safety concerns raised by activists should get due consideration because these are not factors that profit-driven companies will worry enough about without external prodding; this is even more important when it comes to GM food crops, unlike a GM fibre crop like cotton. It is only when such concerns are properly addressed that GM crops will gain full acceptance and deliver their full potential.
'European Union not opposed to GM crops'
- Joseph Olanyo, The Daily Monitor (Uganda), May 14, 2007
PRETORIA - Genetically Modified crops from African countries will not be denied entry into the European Union (EU), top research scientists have said. Speaking at an AfricaBio Biotechnology Communicators training workshop in Pretoria, South Africa recently, the International Agro Biotechnology Research Specialist, Willy de Greef, said the EU was not opposed to the development of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
"We are concerned that you always do not hear the truth. It is often claimed that the EU is opposed to GMOs. Many people have been told negative things, but we will continue with the meetings to ensure that the technology is adopted," Mr Greef said.
GMOs are organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. GM foods are developed and marketed because of their perceived advantage to either the producers or consumers.
The training workshop was organised by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in conjunction with AfricaBio. It attracted journalists and research scientists from Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and South Africa.
Mr De Greef's remarks come against a background of widespread opposition to the development of GMOs. However, Mr De Greef said six EU countries are currently planting GM crops, with several more hoping to start soon.
He said Spain is leading the way with 60,000 hectares already planted. France, Czech Republic, Portugal, Germany and Slovakia, he said, have also increased their acreages fivefold in 2006, from 1,500 hectares in 2005 to 8,500 hectares in 2006.
"What the activists are not telling you is that the most likely GMO crops to be produced in Africa are maize, soybean, cotton and possibly cassava at some future state," Mr Greef said.
"With the exception of cotton, none of these crops are currently being exported to the EU. Should Africa one day become self sufficient in maize and soybeans, surplus exports of approved GM products to the EU will never be in jeopardy."
The President of AfricaBio, Prof Diran Makinde said the majority of Africa's scientists, agricultural research institutions and political leaders have embraced the GM technology and are speeding up the process for the adoption of GM crops.
Prof Makinde, also working with New Partnership for African Development said Heads of State at the African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa early this year, endorsed a 20-year bio-technology action plan calling for cooperation among States in specific regions to bolster biotechnology research and address bio-safety concerns.
"The reason no GM crops are being grown in Africa is because various countries are still in the process of formulating regulatory procedures to legalise the production of GM crops," Prof Makinde said.
Discovery could lead to designer plants
- Mark Colvin, ABC News (Australia), May 14, 2007
MARK COLVIN: Researchers at the University of Adelaide have successfully developed hardier crops by transferring genes from tough varieties to weaker ones. The discovery could open up a new era of designer plants and some of them could help farmers battling salinity and drought. Professor Mark Tester led the team, whose research involved transferring genes from weeds.
Nance Haxton reports.
NANCE HAXTON: Professor Mark Tester was fascinated by the question of why some plants are tougher than others.
It's what drove him to develop the latest designer crop.
By passing on the qualities of resilient plants to those that are less hardy, Professor Tester has produced crops that are more suited to the notoriously difficult Australian environment.
MARK TESTER: So we're trying to identify the genes in the tough plants and move them from those tough plants into the plants which have other desirable traits like high quality or high yield.
NANCE HAXTON: Drought, salt and acid are constant challenges to farmers struggling against the vagaries of the Australian climate and conditions.
Professor Tester hopes to give farmers the reliability they seek, without reducing the size of their harvest, by passing on some of the characteristics of common weeds to less robust varieties of crops we rely on for food.
He says the initial results on their test varieties of rice and the common weed Arabidopsis are so positive, they are now ready to apply the same techniques on other crops such as barley and wheat.
MARK TESTER: If we alter the patterns of expression of that gene. It's like turning on lights in a different room inside the plant. We're turning on genes in different cells in the plant and that is altering, really significantly, the amount of that toxic sodium reaching the shoots.
So the results are very exciting at the moment.
NANCE HAXTON: So obviously applications for really saline areas of Australia?
MARK TESTER: Absolutely.
We've got to learn how to turn on the lights in the right rooms inside a wheat plant. We're able to do it in Arabidopsis and rice and now we have to apply those tricks that we've learnt into wheat plants.
NANCE HAXTON: Not all farmers are happy with the new development however.
Scott Kinnear is the spokesman for Biological Farmers of Australia.
SCOTT KINNEAR: Well of course developing crops that have the properties of resistance to salinity and drought are extremely useful. However, the techniques that are used are the critical question that needs to be answered.
And any techniques that involve genetic engineering, cutting and splicing of genes from one species across to another, we are very concerned about the long-term health and environmental impacts.
NANCE HAXTON: So what are your concerns regarding genetically modified technology, what are your concerns based on?
SCOTT KINNEAR: The cutting and splicing of genes across species boundaries is the strongest concern people that people have to genetically modified foods.
In particular we don't know where that gene sequence is being inserted in the genome we're seeking to place it, we don't know which genes are being switched on or switched off on either side, and that's a real concern that we may be producing compounds in plants at high levels which normally wouldn't have been produced at such levels. Or we may be switching off the production of very important compounds in plants that are necessary for good health of either the animals or the people who eat those plants.
And we know that public resistance is still very strongly for good reason opposed.
NANCE HAXTON: Professor Tester concedes that much of the Australian public is not yet ready to eat genetically modified crops.
But he hopes to ease many people's concerns by combining genetic engineering with conventional inter-breeding techniques that have been used for thousands of years.
MARK TESTER: Well I think most people are not wanting to have GM crops put in their mouths yet. And I think that's a concern to be respected.
But, I would hope that people will be able to start taking on board that GM is a technology whose consequences actually depend on how it's used.
So if you're going to put into crops a gene that's never been in the food chain before, I think you have a right to ask questions and people are right to ask questions.
But if we're manipulating plant genes in plants - that is not significantly different to what plant breeders have been doing for the last 10,000 years and so I think a different set of questions should be asked for that application of GM.
MARK COLVIN: Professor Mark Tester from the University of Adelaide ending that report by Nance Haxton.
Researchers attach genes to minichromosomes in maize
- Biology News Net, May 14, 2007
A team of scientists at the University of Missouri-Columbia has discovered a way to create engineered minichromosomes in maize and attach genes to those minichromosomes. This discovery opens new possibilities for the development of crops that are multiply resistant to viruses, insects, fungi, bacteria and herbicides, and for the development of proteins and metabolites that can be used to treat human illnesses.
In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Weichang Yu, Fangpu Han, Zhi Gao, Juan M. Vega and James A. Birchler built on a previous MU discovery about the creation of minichromosomes to demonstrate that genes could be stacked on the minichromosomes.
"This has been sought for a long time in the plant world, and it should open many new avenues. If we can do this in plants, many advances could be done in agriculture that would not otherwise be possible, from improved crops to inexpensive pharmaceutical production to other applications in biotechnology," said Birchler, professor of biological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science.
A minichromosome is an extremely small version of a chromosome, the threadlike linear strand of DNA and associated proteins that carry genes and functions in the transmission of hereditary information. Whereas a chromosome is made of both centromeres and telomeres with much intervening DNA, a minichromosome contains only centromeres and telomeres, the end section of a chromosome, with little else. However, minichromosomes have the ability to accept the addition of new genes in subsequent experiments.
Birchler said there have been unsuccessful efforts to create artificial chromosomes in plants but this is the first time engineered minichromosomes have been made. Minichromosomes are able to function in many of the same ways as chromosomes but allow for genes to be stacked on them. Although other forms of genetic modification in plants are currently utilized, the new minichromosomes are particularly useful because they allow scientists to add numerous genes onto one minichromosome and manipulate those genes easily because they are all in one place, Birchler said. Genetic modification with traditional methods is more complicated because scientists have little control over where the genes are located in the chromosomes and cannot stack multiple genes on a separate chromosome independent of the others.
By stacking genes on minichromosomes, scientists could create crops that have multiple beneficial traits, such as resistance to drought, certain viruses and insects, or other stresses. In addition, minichromosomes could be used for the inexpensive production of multiple foreign proteins and metabolites useful for medical purposes. Because of their protein-rich composition, a part of the maize kernels (called an endosperm) can be used to grow animal proteins and human antibodies that treat diseases and disease symptoms. Minichromosomes could enable new and better production of these foreign proteins and antibodies. In addition, scientists also may be able to use them to develop plants better suited for biofuel production.
"The technique used to create our engineered minichromosomes should be transferable to other plant species," Birchler said.
He said he hopes that he and other scientists can use the technique to create minichromosomes in other plant varieties and produce more resistant plant strains, develop more medically useful proteins and metabolites, and study how chromosomes function.
Construction and behavior of engineered minichromosomes in maize
- Weichang Yu, Fangpu Han, Zhi Gao, Juan M. Vega, and James A. Birchler, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.0700932104), Published online before print May 14, 2007
Engineered minichromosomes were constructed in maize by modifying natural A and supernumerary B chromosomes. By using telomere-mediated chromosomal truncation, it was demonstrated that such an approach is feasible for the generation of minichromosomes of normal A chromosomes by selection of spontaneous polyploid events that compensate for the deficiencies produced. B chromosomes are readily fractionated by biolistic transformation of truncating plasmids. Foreign genes were faithfully expressed from integrations into normal B chromosomes and from truncated miniB chromosomes. Site-specific recombination between the terminal transgene on a miniA chromosome and a terminal site on a normal chromosome was demonstrated. It was also found that the miniA chromosome did not pair with its progenitor chromosomes during meiosis, indicating a useful property for such constructs. The miniB chromosomes are faithfully transmitted from one generation to the next but can be changed in dosage in the presence of normal B chromosomes. This approach for construction of engineered chromosomes can be easily extended to other plant species because it does not rely on cloned centromere sequences, which are species-specific. These platforms will provide avenues for studies on plant chromosome structure and function and for future developments in biotechnology and agriculture.
CAST Paper Examines the Role of Transgenic Livestock in the Treatment of Human Disease
- Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (press release), May 14, 2007
Washington, D.C. The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) is releasing a new Issue Paper, The Role of Transgenic Livestock in the Treatment of Human Disease. Written and reviewed by a six-member task force, this paper is Part 6 in the CAST series on "Animal Agriculture's Future through Biotechnology."
Transgenic livestock have the potential to play a critical role in the production of new medications for the treatment of human disease. According to Task Force Chair Carol L. Keefer, University of Maryland, "This role may consist of the actual production of recombinant proteins, including biotherapeutic proteins and antibodies, or it may involve the development of new animal models that can be used in studies relating to human diseases. Both approaches can provide significant advances in the development of new treatments."
Specific topics covered in the paper include:
·Methods of transgenic animal production, including pronuclear microinjection and somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)
·Recent developments in SCNT-based gene transfer technologies, including gene targeting and transchromosomic technology
·Transgenic animals as disease models for the development of new treatments
·Transgenic livestock as producers of new medications, including biopharming, bioproducts from milk, and bioproducts from serum
·Economic and regulatory issues
·An in-depth description of the steps involved in producing transgenic animals by SCNT (Appendix 1.)
"As scientists continue to perfect technologies in the near future, more applications of transgenic animals for the treatment of human diseases will become available," concludes CAST Executive Vice President John Bonner. "The new CAST Issue Paper suggests that education regarding the advantages and challenges associated with this new technology is the key to public understanding, and CAST is pleased to be part of that effort by providing this important contribution to the scientific literature."
The full text of the paper The Role of Transgenic Livestock in the Treatment of Human Disease (Issue Paper No. 35) may be accessed on the CAST website at www.cast-science.org, along with many of CAST's other scientific publications, and is available in hardcopy for $5.00 (includes shipping) by contacting the CAST office at 515-292-2125. CAST is an international consortium of 37 scientific and professional societies. It assembles, interprets, and communicates credible science-based information regionally, nationally, and internationally to legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public.
GM food debate needs to be realistic
- Shane Morris, Irish Medical News, May 8, 2007, page 17
As someone who organised the first public debate on GM food in Ireland over 10 years ago I am the first to welcome debate. However, public debate should be founded in realism not rhetoric otherwise the GM food debate will end up like the MMR vaccination debacle.
During the past decade as I have studied the debate on GM food I have noted considerable scaremongering regarding health concerns (e.g. GM Crop Link to Meningitis - Daily Mail, 26/4/ 1999; GM cotton could affect gonorrhoea - Reuters, 29/9/ 2000). Over years, Dr Elizabeth Cullen has been at the forefront of scaremongering on GM food in Ireland. An example of such was her The Irish Times (17/5/2006) diatribe where as a medical professional she made erroneous and misleading claims. For example, her statement in the aforementioned article that in the creation of GM crops "The piece of DNA is generally inserted into a virus, which then infects the targeted cell." This false claim drew the following response by Prof Phil Dix from NUI Maynooth, "This is not true. If a biological vector is used (which is not always the case) it is invariably bacterial, not viral. I would be most concerned if my GP did not know the difference between bacteria and viruses." (The Irish Times, 23/5/2006).
The Irish medical profession's approach to GM food should be that irrespective of the process used to create foods - be it genetic engineering, conventional breeding, and a whole host of powerful techniques in between, the end product needs to undergo scientifically valid safety assessments (e.g. Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the European Food Safety Authority consider GM food on the market safe). In the meantime one wonders when concerned Irish doctors will be raising fears regarding the "natural" pesticide rotenone which is used in organic farming. Rotenone, a product derived from the roots of several tropical and subtropical plant species belonging to the genus Lonchocarpus or Derris, has been linked to causing Parkinson disease in rats as it seems to inhibit mitochondrial enzyme complex I thus having toxic effects throughout the body (Betarbet et al, Nature Neuroscience 3, 2000).
If Dr Cullen is truly serious about her own words that "caution should prevail", I look forward to her IMO motion condemning organic farmers for using rotenone and demanding the immediate removal of the roughly 680 rotenone-containing products (mainly "natural" garden and animal-care products) from the supermarket shelves worldwide (Morris et al, The Lancet, Vol. 357, January 27, 2001). As I wait for this to occur I will continue to grow my own organic tomatoes in the back garden (but with no rotenone use) but I'll buy only genetically engineered Bt corn where I can, (often no pesticide application, much reduced carbon footprint and near no chance of dangerous cancer causing mycotoxins which is a risk with conventional/organic corn).
Public questions organic virtues
- The Sunday Times (UK), May 13, 2007
PEOPLE are sceptical about the benefits of organic food and think those who become obese from eating unhealthy foods have only themselves to blame, according to a Sunday Times-YouGov poll of nearly 2,000 people carried out last week, writes David Smith.
Asked whether organic produce was better than conventionally produced food, 45% said it was but 47% said it was no different and 1% thought it was worse. Manufacturers and retailers charge a premium for organic food but David Miliband, the environment secretary, said recently there was no evidence it was better for you.
People do support better labelling. A "traffic light" system, in which foods are labelled green, red or amber depending on their fat, sugar and salt content, has been opposed by some supermarkets. But 55% of people back it, while 32% want labels showing fat, sugar and salt levels as a proportion of recommended daily intake.
There is suspicion of food manufacturers over high fat, sugar and salt content: 56% of people say they deliberately promote such foods.
There has been controversy over the NHS attitude to obese patients. Hospitals have refused treatment for the clinically obese, and most people (52%) think it common practice. Some 31% thought the NHS should treat the obese but 52% said it should do so only if they change their lifestyle and 13% said it should provide no treatment.
[poll data: http://extras.timesonline.co.uk/yougovresults.pdf ]
Proposals to ban life-saving chemicals would cost countless lives
- Canada Free Press, By Paul Driessen & Cyril Boynes, Jr., May 15, 2007
The World Health Organization intends to phase out chemotherapy drugs, due to concerns about their health effects, WHO Public Health and Environment director Dr. Maria Neira announced recently. Those effects include anemia, diarrhea, reduced resistance to infection, potential birth defects and hair loss.
"These drugs save lives, but they are dangerous," she stated. "WHO is determined to end their use, motivate researchers to develop safer cancer treatments, and emphasize acceptable alternatives, like broccoli."
Imagine the shock and outrage that would follow such an announcement. Europe and the United States would demand her ouster and threaten to slash WHO's budget, if it tried such a thing.
But of course Dr. Neira and WHO made no such proposal. Instead, she and her co-conspirators are promoting something even more irresponsible – and deadly. They want to reverse the September 2006 decision to restore DDT to the Organization's malaria-fighting arsenal.
"WHO is concerned about health effects associated with DDT," she said during a recent conference in Dakar, Senegal. Her position, not the September decision, represents WHO's position regarding DDT for malaria control and its commitment to phasing the chemical out, she asserted.
Dr. Arata Kochi, director of WHO's malaria division, made his decision based on decades of evidence, and because he recognized that no other chemical in existence, at any price, does what DDT does.
Sprayed just once or twice a year on the walls of houses, this powerful repellant keeps most mosquitoes from entering; irritates those that do come in, so they don't bite; and kills any that land. Used this way, DDT can reduce malaria rates by 75% – and it is perfectly safe for people and the environment.
In effect, DDT places a huge bednet over the entire house. From dusk to dawn, it protects the inhabitants, whether they are sleeping or doing housework and homework.
The US Agency for International Development also reversed its policies and redeployed DDT. And European Commission President Barroso wrote that the EU recognizes and supports the right of countries to use DDT, under Stockholm Convention and WHO guidelines.
Fed up with the sickness and death, African countries are again using DDT and other sprays, not just to stabilize or "roll back" malaria, but to eradicate it.
Dr. Neira and her colleagues, however, appear wedded to the disastrous policies that kept malaria at unconscionable levels: 400 million cases and up to 2 million deaths a year – half of them children. They continue to oppose insecticides, especially DDT, and insist that bednets, drugs, education and other "acceptable," non-chemical interventions will suffice.
These other interventions are also essential. But they are not enough to end malaria's reign of terror.
The nasty effects of chemo drugs are real. The alleged risks of using DDT are pure speculation. They are trumpeted by radical groups like Pesticide Action Network, who insist: Some researchers think DDT could be inhibiting lactation and might be related to premature births, low birth weights and slow reflexes in babies.
These risks are unproven and trivial, compared to the undeniable risks that DDT can prevent.
"Millions cannot work or go to school for weeks every year because of malaria," Uganda's Fiona Kobusingye points out. "Countless people die. Mothers have anemia, premature births and tiny babies because of it. Parents and children get severe permanent brain damage from it. And many people die from HIV/AIDS and other diseases that are made worse by malaria."
Anti-pesticide activists claim Mexico "greatly reduced malaria without using DDT," by employing politically correct alternatives to insecticides. They deliberately ignore two critical points.
* According to the Pan American Health Organization, Mexico had a mere 3,400 cases of malaria in 2004. In Kenya that year, 34,000 people died from malaria! In Nigeria, 58,000 parents and children died; in Uganda, 100,000.
* Mexico's real weapon is drugs. To treat those 3,400 cases, it dispensed 10.3 million Chloroquine, Amodiaquine and Primaquine tablets! These powerful drugs can cause genetic mutations and physical defects in fetuses. They also carry high risks that the malaria parasites will become resistant to the drugs.
To say this is preferable to DDT is preposterous. It is medical malpractice.
No wonder people have called anti-insecticide policies "eco-imperialism," "eco-manslaughter," "neo-colonialism" and "racist experiments" on the world's poor.
No wonder they ask whether anti-insecticide policies are driven in part by neo-Malthusian eugenics theorists like Paul Ehrlich, who wrote in The Population Bomb that "exported death control," in the form of DDT and other technologies that prevent disease and death, is a major cause of "over-population."
Club of Rome founder Alexander King said, "My chief quarrel with DDT in hindsight is that it greatly added to the population problem." And oceanographer Jacques Cousteau told Novelle Observateur, "In order to stabilize world populations, we must eliminate 350,000 people a day."
Whether such obscene attitudes are at the root of anti-insecticide policies is somewhat beside the point, however. The reality is that those policies perpetuate disease, poverty and death.
"We continue to squander resources on half-measures, when we could use proven, effective tools," says, African Union disease control coordinator John Kabayo. "Bed nets are meaningless in societies that have no beds. To totally and predictably eradicate malaria, we need a combination of tools and strategies, applied in a dedicated program of systematic military-style operations. Bed nets on their own will, at best, only divert resources and prolong the misery perpetrated by this needless disease."
Under the Stockholm Convention, whether to use insecticides or spatial repellants like DDT is a decision for health ministers in countries that face endemic and epidemic malaria. Bureaucrats in malaria-free Geneva offices have no right to deny them to malaria victims.
WHO legitimately worries about obesity, cancer and smoking. But malaria is one of the world's most critical healthcare issues. It should also be one of the easiest to control, and even eradicate.
WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan needs to give her unqualified support to Dr. Kochi – and let Dr. Neira know she must put people's lives first, and stop undermining agency policies, or find other employment. Returning to the lethal policies of recent years would be unforgivable.
Cyril Boynes is CORE's director of international affairs and Honorary Consul General of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom of Uganda to the Americas.
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net