Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, <http://www.agbioworld.org>http://www.agbioworld.org, May 29, 2007
* Championing Biotechnology Discovery
* New-Tech Corn Sparks Debate
* Save the Mother!
* Perspectives on communication about ag biotech
* Adaptations to Climate Change
* Bt Cotton harmless
* How to dig yourself into a hole
* Nuclear scaremongers hold us to ransom
* Bt Cotton In Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh, India: 1. The NGO Charge Sheet
Championing Biotechnology Discovery and Invention with Dr. Roberta Bondar
- Dana Alexander, BIOTECanada (press release), Canada NewsWire via COMTEX, May 28, 2007 (dana.alexander+at+biotech.ca)
TORONTO -- In 1922, in the same location as Toronto's MaRS Discovery District, Banting and Best administered the first insulin injection. Today, a Canadian biotech company is fine-tuning a way to produce commercial quantities of human insulin from genetically modified safflower plants, significantly increasing access to treatment by diabetes patients worldwide.
"Roberta Bondar is an inspirational Canadian. We are honoured Dr. Bondar is lending her voice to the National Biotechnology Champion program," says Peter Brenders, President and CEO, BIOTECanada. "This program is designed to grow Canadian awareness of biotechnology in all of its applications and showcase world class Canadian leadership in technology improving our daily lives."
Dr. Bondar joined leaders from the industry today at MaRS in Toronto as they gathered for an afternoon of seminars and presentations at CANMEDBIO 2007. She will also be delivering the keynote address at the National President's Awards being held later in the evening.
"Discovery is vital to the Canadian dynamic of who we are and what we can achieve. As we progress further into the 21st century the challenge for all of us to adapt to new technologies and embrace their capacity to improve our lives is vital. For our health, for our environment, for our general well being-biotechnology has a lot to offer," commented Dr. Bondar.
Dr. Bondar demonstrates the adaptive thinking necessary for changing perspectives in our contemporary world. Dr. Bondar has been recognized with the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario, the NASA Space Medal, inducted into Canadian Medical Hall of Fame and into the International Women's Forum Hall of Fame for her pioneering research in space medicine. In addition, she has received 24 honorary doctorates from Canadian and American universities. In 2003 TIME magazine named her among North America's best explorers.
In closing, Peter Brenders remarked, "We expect the National Champion Program will develop into a series of initiatives designed to engage Canadians and broaden the dialogue about biotechnology and its potential."
About BIOTECanada - <http://www.biotech.ca>www.biotech.ca - BIOTECanada is dedicated to the sustainable commercial development of biotechnology innovation in Canada. It is the national industry funded association representing the broad spectrum of biotech constituents including emerging and established companies in the health, agricultural, and industrial sectors, as well as academic and research institutions and other related organizations.
New-Tech Corn Sparks Debate
- Willie Vogt, Wisconsin Agriculturalist, May 29, 2007 (wvogt+at+farmprogress.com)
A new corn trait approved for grain planted in the U.S. this season is getting a lot of attention this year. While industry sources worry over Agrisure RW and its lack of approvals in key export markets, farmers have snapped up hybrids with the trait helping its maker Syngenta Seeds have a first-year sellout. The product, which offers another approach for controlling corn rootworm, was approved by USDA in March.
Corn with the trait would be planted on less than 0.5% of the corn acres this year, the company reports. Yet, a wide range of industry, trade, food and even transportation organizations have delivered a resounding message: "great technology, but wait for Japan approval or take responsibility for managing the repercussions of its release."
At press time, the grain from Agrisure RW was not approved for import in any export market including Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Canada, although all are pending.
Syngenta, which has invested heavily in the technology, delivers a different message: "Why let another country's regulatory program delay our growers' use of technology," says Chuck Lee, head of Syngenta corn products. The trait developer says farmers have the ability to channel this grain and keep it out of the export market by selling it to feed users and to dry-grind ethanol plants that don't export their coproducts. Syngenta contends the market has changed thanks to rising demand for corn.
"The market has not changed," says Martin Barbre, chair of the NCGA Biotech Working Group. The Illinois farmer worries that putting this new trait into the field without approval by a major corn customer could hurt business. "If a grower makes a mistake with this there will be trouble. These countries have zero tolerance [for traits that are not approved]. If we see this product in a Japanese port this fall without approval there we will see a market drop that will affect growers profits in the future. The Japanese approval system is very predictable and thorough. We as producers need to protect our markets. We aren't letting another country control our use of technology, we are delivering what our customer wants."
While Syngenta says it will sell out of hybrids with the Agrisure RW trait, in part due to the small amount available this season, there are farmers afraid to plant the grain, according to field reports. Many are also upset that the technology is available without export market approvals.
While Syngenta says it will sell out of hybrids with the Agrisure RW trait, in part due to the small amount available this season, there are farmers afraid to plant the grain, according to field reports. Many are also upset that the technology is available without export market approvals.
Observers of this issue are quick to point to past biotech challenges including Starlink and others. Lee notes that Starlink was different because that product had never been approved for food use. Agrisure RW has all food and feed approvals for sale in the U.S. market.
However, Randall Gordon, vice president, communications, National Grain and Feed Association, remarks that the number of acres to be planted with Agrisure RW this year is more than was planted to Starlink, which was legal to plant in the U.S. for animal feed use only. "We're still dealing with the aftermath of Starlink after, what, six years?" he says. Some segments of the grain industry still are conducting tests for the presence of Starlink to meet zero-tolerance demands of trading partners and domestic users.
He adds that Syngenta has put the onus, market risk and the cost of keeping this technology out of the export market entirely on the producer and the U.S. grain handling and processing system. "If Syngenta is so certain its stewardship program is fail-safe, why is it unwilling to provide commercial assurance to protect subsequent handlers from economic damage if Agrisure RW is detected in export shipments?," Gordon asks.
At a crossroads
For Syngenta's Lee the issue at hand is about a market that must adjust for a changing tech world. "We think it's time all of us in the grain industry need to change," he says. "If you think back a decade ago we figured out how to work around Europe."
Syngenta's position is that every country has the right to conduct their regulatory reviews under their own terms, but the challenge this raises for U.S. agriculture is when these reviews are not synchronized with available U.S.-approved technology, growers are denied yield and quality-enhancing products.
He says the grain industry must "step up to the plate" to meet customer demands for identity preserved products. "If Japan wants corn without these traits fully approved in the U.S. then they should be willing to pay for that corn," Lee says.
But NGFA's Gordon counters that the industry didn't "work around" the European market - it "lost" it. Further, he says identity preserving grain adds costs that exporters have limited ability to pass on to foreign buyers in the highly competitive grain export market.
"What makes Syngenta's action so significant - and troubling - from our perspective is that it is the first and only biotech provider to make an overt, conscious decision to commercialize a biotech trait without obtaining approval from important U.S. export markets - like Japan - that have fully functioning, science-based regulatory systems for assessing the safety of these products," the NGFA's Gordon says. "That's a dangerous, high-risk path to embark upon."
For growers who plant Agrisure RW this season the world will be watching. All buyers must provide a signed stewardship form that shows they have a safe, domestic market for the grain. The trait is available from Garst, Golden Harvest and NK Brand dealers, and in demonstration trial and test plots of other independent and regional seed companies.
Save the Mother!
- Esther Nakkazi, East African (Nairobi), May 29, 2007
ELIZABETH NAKKU WAS pregnant when one day, as she was walking to market in Kireka, a suburb of Kampala, she collapsed. Good Samaritans took her to a local clinic, but the nurses there declined to handle the patient and, instead referred her to Mulago Hospital.
Nakku, 28, had had a successful first delivery with assistance from a traditional birth attendant and so had assumed all would be well with the second pregnancy. When she was diagnosed at Mulago, the medics said her problem had something to do with poor diet, leading to anaemia, a condition caused by iron deficiency. A blood transfusion was then administered.
Loss of iron in women increases during pregnancy and iron tablets are administered if the condition is not serious, says Victo Nabuule, a midwife at the obstetrics and gynaecology emergency annex ward at Mulago Hospital. "Most pregnant women do not know what to eat," she said. "Some suffer from malaria and become anaemic, they bring them here when they are 'paper white' and very weak."
Iron deficiency prevents oxygen from being carried in the blood. Ms Nabuule said lack of a balanced diet makes pregnant women weak and vulnerable to infection. It can also make them give birth to unhealthy babies and suffer excessive bleeding during childbirth.
Excessive bleeding from pregnancy related complications in Uganda accounts for about 26 per cent of deaths in childbirth.
On average, 16 women die of pregnancy-related problems every day in Uganda, said Dr Olive Sentumbwe-Mugisa, an official of Family Health and Population at the World Health Organisation. Although the problem of maternal and child mortality cannot entirely be solved through nutrition, scientists believe biotechnology can reduce the number of children lacking Vitamin A and Uganda's maternal mortality, which stands at 505 deaths per 100,000 live births.
BIOTECHNOLOGY MAY ALSO play a role in combating diseases such as HIV/Aids and it is set to become integral to future advances in medicine, particularly in vaccines.
Ugandan scientists have now embarked on a biotechnology project to increase micronutrients in staple foods like bananas, maize, cassava and sorghum in order to give pregnant women, HIV- infected people and young children a chance to eat a balanced diet.
Dr Geoffrey Arinaitwe, a plant biotechnologist at Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute, said under the project, genes will be introduced into banana cells to increase the micronutrients. "All bananas have micronutrients in very small quantities," said Dr Arinaitwe. "This project will increase by tenfold the amount of nutrients in bananas, which I believe will prevent early childhood deaths and maternal mortality." The bananas will look like normal bananas on the outside but with increased yellowing of the pulp.
The project, which started a year ago, will fortify bananas to make them an important sources of Vitamin A, B and iron. In sub-Saharan Africa more than three million children under the age of five suffer from blindness due to lack of Vitamin A. Deficiencies of iron, Vitamin A, protein and zinc are ranked among WHO's top 10 leading causes of death through diseases in developing countries.
The project, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Queens University of Technology in Australia, is working on improvement in food quality for health. Ugandans do not get enough iron in their diets from the two main staple foods - bananas and maize - that they consume. The per capita consumption of bananas for Ugandans is 1 kg per day.
More than 50 per cent of the blood collected from donors in the country is used to save the lives of anaemic children, while 25 per cent of transfusions is done on pregnant women with childbirth complications. Vitamin A deficiency is prevalent in the developing world and mostly in countries with the highest rates of child mortality like Uganda. It leads to blindness and weakens the immune system. Bananas are sources of potassium, contain vitamin C and B6 and provide soluble fibres.
Heads of state at the African Union summit meeting in Addis Ababa this year endorsed a 20-year biotechnology action plan calling for co-operation among African nations in specific regions to bolster biotechnology research and address biosafety issues.
In 2006, the global area of approved GM crops grew to 102 million hectares, the first time more than 100 million hectares was under such crops in a single year. The number of farmers growing GM crops exceed 10 million, 90 per cent of them being small-scale, resource-poor farmers from developing countries whose income from these crops contributed to poverty alleviation. In the same year, the number of countries planting GM crops increased to 22, up from 17 in 2004; of these, 11 are in the developing world.
Forty per cent of the global GM crop area in 2006 was in developing countries where growth was higher - at 21 per cent - compared with 9 per cent in industrial countries. The most important potential benefit of GM crops will be their contribution to the Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty and hunger by 50 per cent in 2015.
Perspectives on communication about agricultural biotechnology
- Dominique Brossard -dbrossard-at-wisc.edu-
"Brossard, D., & Shanahan J. (2007). Perspectives on communication about agricultural biotechnology. In D. Brossard, J. Shanahan & C. Nisbett (Eds). The public, the media, and agricultural biotechnology. Wallingford, UK: CABI publishing." Excerpt below.
It can be observed that there are few hard and fast principles that have been offered in the way of "best practices" for communication about agricultural biotechnology. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2000), for instance, urges the parties to "promote and facilitate public awareness" (p. 18), and also to "consult the public" and "inform the public" about activities related to the protocol and to the products of biotechnology (Article 23). But how this is accomplished varies enormously from country to country; it is clear from the welter of different extant examples and approaches that no cookie-cutter approach will suffice for developing an approach to understanding how to communicate about biotechnology, much less understanding public opinion about it.
Especially lacking is an approach that links together the main variables involv ed in communication about biotechnology. While there are comprehensive reviews of some of these variables individually, there are few to our knowledge that discuss the accumulated research and link together findings into a comprehensive model that answers the following question: How do communicators and policy makers develop information and communication strategies that meet commonly agreed-upon scientific, ethical and practical standards? To begin to answer this question, we will first review some of the research, with illustrative examples from the developing world and from US and European research. More particularly, we will discuss and synthesize international research examining the potential role played by a number of variables in opinion formation about agricultural biotechnology. These variables include knowledge/awareness of agricultural biotechnology, institutional trust; mediated discourse; and risk communication.
We also discuss attitudes toward genetically engineered foods around the world and their impact on use.
Of course, there are macro-economic effects on production of GM crops, as some governments fear the loss of exports to anti-GM European states. However, effects of attitudes extend to the individual consumer level. Rousu et al. (2004) found that negative information about GM from activist groups reduces consumers' willingness to purchase GM products. However, they highlighted that better access to information from parties perceived to be reliable and disinterested third parties could negate this influence. This underlines the need for active communication perceived to be balanced, from actors who do not stand to profit from GM activity. Moon and Balasubramaniam (2003) found that consumers in the UK were willing to pay more for non-GM breakfast cereal than consumers in the US, consistent with more skeptical attitudes in the UK. The willingness was directly linked to risk and benefit perception. Other factors, such as the higher prices of GM seeds, mean a confused marketplace in many countries that has not yet taken off.
Evolutionary Adaptations to Climate Change
- Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso, CO2Science.org (Volume 10, Number 22), May 30, 2007
One of the grandest of catastrophes that climate alarmists contend will result from CO2-induced global warming - which they predict will be unprecedented in terms of both speed and level of temperature attained - is that many species of plants and animals will not be able to migrate poleward in latitude or upward in altitude fast enough to remain within temperature regimes suitable to their continued existence, and, therefore, that untold numbers of them will be driven to extinction. However, there are several things that could plausibly prevent this scenario from ever occurring.
Number one, the globe may not warm as predicted. Number two, the increase in the air's CO2 content may confer upon plants, and possibly animals as well, an ability to better cope with higher temperatures, as explained in considerable detail in our major report The Specter of Species Extinction. And third, according to the findings of an exciting new paper (Franks et al., 2007), climate change may rapidly impose natural selection on species and thereby cause genetically-based evolutionary shifts, which may enable them to successfully cope with the changing climate and thereby avoid what might otherwise prove an insurmountable problem.
So what, exactly, did Franks et al. do that led them to this intriguing conclusion? In a nutshell, and with respect to a specific real-world environmental change, they compared plant "phenotypic and fitness values of ancestral, descendant, and ancestral x descendant hybrid genotypes grown simultaneously under conditions that mimicked the pre- and post-change environment." The environmental change of which they took advantage, in this regard, was a switch from above-average to below-average precipitation in southern California (USA), which led to abbreviated growing seasons from 2000 to 2004, while the plant they studied was Brassica rapa L., more commonly known as field mustard.
Fortuitously, as they describe it, they had "collected B. rapa seed in 1997, before the drought, and then again in 2004 from two populations," a dry site and a wet site. Hence, they could grow - at the same time and under the same circumstances, in a new set of experiments - plants that had experienced extended drought conditions (descendants) and plants that had not experienced such conditions (ancestors), as well as hybrids of the two; and they could see if flowering times (FT) differed as would be expected from life history theory, which "predicts that the optimal FT in annual plants will be shorter with shorter growing seasons," as were imposed by the extended drought that occurred between the two times of their seed collecting.
This work revealed, in the researchers' words, that as predicted, "the abbreviated growing seasons caused by drought led to the evolution of earlier onset of flowering," such that "descendants bloomed earlier than ancestors, advancing first flowering by 1.9 days in one study population and 8.6 days in another," and they say that "the intermediate flowering time of ancestor x descendant hybrids supports an additive genetic basis for divergence." In consequence of these observations, they state that "natural selection for drought escape thus appears to have caused adaptive evolution in just a few generations," further stating that "abundant evidence has accumulated over the past several decades showing that natural selection can cause evolutionary change in just a few generations (Kinnison and Hendry, 2001; Reznick and Ghalambor, 2001)."
In discussing the significance of their findings, Franks et al. say their results "provide evidence for a rapid, adaptive evolutionary shift in flowering phenology after a climatic fluctuation," which "adds to the growing evidence that evolution is not always a slow, gradual process but can occur on contemporary time scales in natural populations," and, we would add (as was the case in this study), in response to real-world climatic changes.
Franks, S.J., Sim, S. and Weis, A.E. 2007. Rapid evolution of flowering time by an annual plant in response to a climate fluctuation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 104: 1278-1282.
Kinnison, M.T. and Hendry, A.P. 2001. The pace of modern life II: from rates of contemporary microevolution to pattern and process. Genetica 112: 145-164.
Reznick, D.N. and Ghalambor, C.K. 2001. The population ecology of contemporary adaptations: what empirical studies reveal about the conditions that promote adaptive evolution. Genetica 112: 183-198.
Bt Cotton harmless, stresses Dr. Deshpandey
- Fibre2Fashion.com, May 29, 2007
Bt cotton issue has emerged as the major concern of textile industry, with experts offering mixed views.
Dr. LA Deshpandey, Head of Crop Improvement, Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) explained the difference between Bt cotton seeds and spurious seeds to Fibre2fashion, "As such there is no difference between Bt.cotton and spurious seeds. Spurious seeds are second generation seeds, these genes segregate to 3:1 ratio. In that case 75 percent of the plant had Bt genes in spurious genes."
Rejecting the claims the Bt seeds have adverse effects, Dr stressed, "Bt. Cotton seeds are harmless. The toxin in Bt cotton is not harmful for mammals."
Talking about authorized seeds, Deshpandey, stated, "There is no control of Government Agency. There is Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of India (GEAC), it is a committee that approves the proposal and it is considered as recommendation by the companies."
He further informed that this year 75-80 percent area will be covered by cultivation of Bt seeds.
Statistics show that Gujarat is the top cotton producing state in India and also provides good quality. The western state is also No 1 in cotton export business.
A lesson in how to dig yourself into a hole
We should not be surprised that the Soil Association is so careless of the wider interests of the world
- The Independent (UK) May 29, 2007
When is organic food not organic food? When it's not British. That seems to be the message from the Soil Association, the country's most venerable advocate of organic farming methods.
This week the association will issue a "consultation document" suggesting a range of responses to the apparently embarrassing fact that a significant proportion of the food which it certifies as organic is air-freighted into our shops - and hence adds to greenhouse gases. According to the BBC, one of the plans being considered by the Soil Association is "an outright ban". Since the organisation has no legal powers of any sort, I presume this means that it will withdraw its certification from any imported foods, regardless of whether they have been grown in accordance with its regulations.
The director of the Soil Association, Patrick Holden, is one of the hardliners: he believes that almost all food exports worldwide should be ended. I say "almost" because I can't believe that he would ban the export of food to famine zones. Yet the consequence of such a policy, if the world was mad enough to listen, would be famine on a vast scale: most notably in Japan, which could never generate enough food to feed its own people.
Some in the organic movement might say that this would serve the Japanese right: they should not have bred so far in excess of their ability to feed themselves. In a sense this callousness is at the heart of their ideology. Earl Butz, a former US Secretary of Agriculture, argued almost 40 years ago that if America switched entirely to organic methods, "someone must decide which 50 million of our people will starve!".
It's not necessary to have been in Richard Nixon's cabinet to have taken such an attitude. Norman Borlaug, a former winner of the Nobel Peace Prize as the father of the "green revolution", is a leading advocate of synthetic fertilisers to increase the yield of crops; he points out that in the last half of the 20th century, worldwide cereal production tripled, while using only 10 per cent more land. In essence, Borlaug's argument boils down to this: a hungry world can keep the rainforests away from farmers, or it can abandon synthetic fertilisers. It cannot do both.
It is not as if organic food is actually better for the health of the consumer, as our own Environment Secretary pointed out last month. David Miliband argued that organic food was, instead "more of a lifestyle choice". He is surely right. The neurotic English middle classes have increasingly deluded themselves that their children are less likely to get cancer if they are fed only organic food. There are many other consumers whose motives are more broadly altruistic in a muddle-headed sort of way: they think that their food was happier to be farmed organically - although so far Gallup has not worked out a way of polling the opinions of animals, still less those of vegetables.
In mooting a ban on the air-freighting of fresh produce, the Soil Association is not thinking either of the health of British children, or indeed the opinions of British vegetables. It believes in the theory that increased carbon emissions will lead to a dramatic surge in global temperatures. This would be good news for farmers and consumers in this part of the world, as the corn belt moves northwards: but it would make the climate in Africa even more hostile than it is already. If there is one, this is the moral argument behind the Soil Association's half-baked new policy.
Perhaps we should ask the Africans themselves before we start boycotting their produce for their own good. In February, Tesco, without any warning, declared that it was cutting by two-thirds the amount of fresh food and flowers that it air-freights from East Africa. I don't know if that will have the desired effect of making the British middle classes less antipathetic towards our most successful retailer; but I do know that it caused outrage among the farmers of East Africa.
As Claire Melamed of ActionAid protested at the time: "Developing countries stand to lose billions from our new-found concern for the planet. In Africa alone more than one million people depend on selling fruit and vegetables to British shoppers. Cutting African farmers off from international trade will cause devastation which far outweighs the tiny reduction in the UK's carbon emissions."
Perhaps we should not be too surprised that the Soil Association - and its followers in the British organic movement - are so careless of the real interests of those in the wider world. A fascinating article in The New Yorker recently traced their origins to the works of Sir Albert Howard, who in 1940 published An Agricultural Testament. Howard, who gloried in the title of "Imperial Economic Botanist" to the British Raj, did not care for the scientific agricultural revolution . It was - horror! - a German invention: shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch had invented a way of synthesising ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen, thus making possible the production of almost unlimited quantities of nitrogenous fertiliser.
Sir Albert believed that this Hunnish invention would ultimately destroy our precious British soil, if it were to be practiced here. "Soil," he wrote "is the capital of nations," and Britain should "go back to nature" to "safeguard the land of the Empire from the operations of finance". Patrick Holden and the Soil Association are intellectually indistinguishable from Sir Albert Howard, without the excuse he had of not having witnessed the extraordinary success of modern farming methods in eradicating famine.
The inescapable logic of their position is that we should not just be banning international trade in food: the same argument would also demand that we should end all imports and exports - even ships use prodigious amounts of oil in their engines. We would return to an age in which British landowners - notably the Prince of Wales, patron of the Soil Association - would be able to charge a monopoly rent. It was against such profoundly selfish and reactionary forces that Adam Smith inveighed so brilliantly in the 18th century.
As that great Scot wrote in The Wealth of Nations: "By means of glasses, hotbeds and hotwalls, very good grapes can be raised in Scotland, and very good wine too can be made of them at about 30 times the expense for which at least equally good can be brought from foreign countries. Would it be a reasonable law to prohibit the importation of all foreign wines, merely to encourage the making of Claret and Burgundy in Scotland?"
Somehow I don't think Patrick Holden CBE has ever quite understood what Adam Smith was on about. Thank goodness the rest of the world got the message.
Nuclear scaremongers hold us to ransom
- Bernard Dineen, Yorkshire Post (UK), May 29, 2007
IF we are not careful, pressure groups like Greenpeace will bankrupt Britain.
It has been obvious for decades that we need nuclear power if we are to compete in the world. North Sea oil is running out and we are now net oil importers from an unstable Middle East. Coal is no longer the answer.
There is a plentiful supply of gas - but how reliable is the supply? Russia's President Putin has already demonstrated that he is prepared to use gas and oil as a political weapon, and he is capable of bringing his enemies to their knees, as the hapless Ukrainians have discovered.
There are rich supplies in Central Asia but they have to be delivered along thousands of miles of vulnerable pipeline, at the mercy of international terrorists.
So, the case for nuclear would be unanswerable, were it not for the pressure groups. What is amazing is the reverence with which the news me dia treats them.
Last week, every TV appearance by Alistair Darling, the Trade and Industry Secretary, was matched by one from a Greenpeace spokesman. There is every reason for Darling to be there, but who elected Greenpeace to speak on our behalf?
Channel 4 have already admitted that they allowed themselves to be "bounced" by Greenpeace while covering its occupation of the Brent Spar oil platform. So have the BBC. This was one of Greenpeace's biggest successes. They forced Shell to abandon plans to dump the platform in the deep ocean by peddling a scare story about 5,500 tons of oil on the platform which would threaten marine life.
Then it emerged that the allegation was completely false and Greenpeace was forced to apologise. Claims that the Sellafield nuclear processing plant would cause 2,000 deaths was branded "a gross over-simplification" by the advertising watchdog. Another advert which said pollution at sea meant that "you're not half the man your father was" was also condemned.
As with GM Foods, these propagandists are experts at scaring people. They are forever talking about Chernobyl, as if that Soviet cesspit had anything in common with our nuclear industry. They peddle cancer scares with abandon. They know exactly how to manipulate TV.
Thanks to them, we have lost at least 20 years and are now struggling to catch up, while the French have forged ahead (as with railways) by building a highly efficient nuclear industry.
The propagandists are forever trying to dub nuclear power dangerous, yet the industry which has been a constant source of danger was the coal industry, where thousands of miners lost their lives and millions of people were affected by pollution.
The Finns have proved that the new breed of nuclear-powered generators are smaller, and can be largely underground. That is the future, and we should not allow scaremongering pressure groups to hold us to ransom.
Bt Cotton In Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh, India: 1. The NGO Charge Sheet
C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India firstname.lastname@example.org, <http://www.fbae.org>www.fbae.org, <http://www.fbaeblog.org>www.fbaeblog.org
Lately, the Warangal District, in the semi-arid Telengana region of the State of Andhra Pradesh (AP), India, has become the epicenter of everything going bad in the cultivation of Bt cotton. Reports of phenomenal failure of Bt cotton, farmer distress, death of sheep, death of cattle and alleged farmer suicides have show cased the Warangal District as an example of all that could go wrong with modern agriculture. Anti-tech activism has extrapolated all this to the other parts, in and out of AP, such as Vidharbha region of Maharashtra. A rational and scientific assessment does not support such an intensely negative outcome from Bt cotton cultivation. To assess the ground realities first hand, Professor Ronald Herring, Cornell University, Ithaca, Dr S Shantharam, Biologistics International, of USA, and I, have visited the Warangal District for about a week in the middle of December 2006.
Before going to Warangal, we visited the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), Hyderabad/ Secunderabad and the Andhra Pradesh State Seed Certification Agency, Hyderabad, for a first hand assessment of opinions and reports.
Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA)
The CSA are the main anti-Bt cotton activists in AP. The two functionaries of CSA we met raised the following issues against Bt cotton:
a) Economical and technical features not up to the mark: What is the mark and whose mark? There is certainly no serious deficiency in basic technical features and performance of Bt cotton. Achieving maximum economic benefits from a crop's potential depends upon several local factors, such as the soil type, irrigation facility, weather conditions in a particular season that influence pest pressure, and the awareness of the farmer in adopting appropriate cultivation practices. There has been a phenomenal increase in the acreage under Bt cotton, year after year, even in Warangal District. The Bt cotton acreage increased from 2.27 lakh in 2005 to 8.30 lakh in 2006 in the AP, from 6.23 to 18.40 in Maharashtra, and from 1.27 million to 3.8 million in the country, during the same period. The horror stories of failure of Bt cotton in AP and Maharashtra do not reconcile with statistics from diverse sources.
b) Promises on reduction of pesticide use, yield increase and higher profit not realized: No evidence was offered other than perceptions and opinions. This is contrary to all reports, and feed back from the farmers, which indicate that Bt cotton, did substantially reduce pesticide use, increased yield by preventing loss due to bollworm, which enhanced profits, all reflected in the increase of acreage.
c) There was no environmental and socio-economic impact assessment: Studies prior to commercialization in India and elsewhere for over a decade, have not indicated any adverse environmental impact. The socio-economic impact is rooted in a tension free cultivation and higher financial returns, which were realized by the farmers to a great extent, when the cultivation conditions and practices were right and the expectations were not unrealistic. If the farmers from any part of the country suffer losses, they would immediately dump any technology and this has not happened.
d) Spurious seed in authentic packaging: This is a serious problem of marketing throughout the country. Some greedy farmers and unscrupulous dealers have sustained a vast market for illegal and/or spurious Bt cotton seeds, which has affected all others. Scientists of the Agricultural Research Station (ARS), of the Acharya NG. Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU, Hyderabad), at Warangal, also expressed concern over this issue. The Governments in different States have taken remedial measures, but there was some laxity on account of political compulsions.
e) No authentic information on cultivation practices: This is partly true, as the seed dealers did not always provide adequate and appropriate post-sale monitoring and guidance in most places. There were mistakes in choosing the Bt varieties suitable for a particular area. A large proportion of the farmers did not plant refugia, which should have been enforced. The Officers of the ARS, ANGRAU at Warangal, also feel that the farmers need regular guidance on the choice of seed varieties and on crop cultivation methods.
f) No studies on the efficacy of Bt technology in controlling bollworm: This is totally baseless. Bt cotton was mainly developed to control bollworm and its efficacy has been demonstrated all over the world and so in India too.
g) All India coordinated field trials only on agronomical parameters: Not true again. The mandatory all India coordinated trials were conducted by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Both agronomical parameters and biosafety issues were evaluated during different field trials, which were accepted by the Review Committee for Genetic Modification (RCGM), before recommending to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for commercialization.
h) Andhra Pradesh has neither State nor the District Committees mandatory under the regulatory regime of GE crops: This is an administrative lapse, though AP is not alone in this. Cultivating any genetically engineered crop without these committees to oversee and monitor is highly irregular. Nevertheless, it is hard to form scientifically competent committees at the State and District levels. It seems necessary to review the purpose, need and practicability of such committees.
i) Death of sheep: At the time of our discussion, death of sheep was the major issue and the number of dead sheep mentioned was 120, but not in thousands. The death of goats and cattle on account of consuming Bt cotton leaves, and farmer suicides on account of cultivating Bt cotton, was not yet made an issue. The death of cattle in the Warangal District was discussed on this blog earlier (March 14, 2007). However, like Professor Herring, one would be amazed to note that the number of both dead cows and dead sheep became 1600, which also seems to be the number of dead cows mentioned on a poster in Delhi, in a different context.
j) The undercurrent: The strongest undercurrent behind the tirade against Bt cotton is the anti-Monsanto campaign. The NGOs have a tongue-in-cheek admiration for the performance of Navabharath's illegal Bt cotton, which contained the stolen Monsanto's Cry 1Ac gene. Almost every other Bt cotton variety contains the same sublicensed gene. If Monsanto's Cry 1Ac dominates the Indian Bt cotton scene, the fault lies more with the public sector which has not yet released any of the promised Bt cotton varieties.
There is a certain element of truth and genuineness of concern in what the NGOs say, but distortion of facts, exaggeration of problems and scaremongering ruin their case. The anti-tech activists are stretching them too far from science to pursue their political agenda of 'GM-Free India', and in the process are throwing the baby out with the bath water.
*by Andrew Apel, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net