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Date:

July 20, 2007

Subject:

Critics play God; Impact of Unapproved GMOs; French GMO Area Rises

 

* Biotech critics are playing God
* French GMO Area Rises Sharply
* Biotech Crops Reduce CO2 emissions
* Ever-changing Genomes
* EU Report: Impact of Unapproved GMOs
* GE fish owners treated 'like criminals'
* Letter to the President of the Republic
* Biotech is the Future
* Borlaug gets a good rap

-------------------

Biotech critics are playing God

- Calestous Juma, Business Day (Nairobi), July 20, 2007

http://www.bdafrica.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2021&Itemid=5821

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan always said he would become a farmer after leaving office. But one of his first acts as chairman of the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has been to respond to whether the alliance would promote the use of genetically-modified (GM) seed in African agriculture.

One of the most critical aspects of innovation policy is balancing between the expected benefits or new technologies and their unintended negative consequences.

Nowhere is this so vividly expressed as the debate over agricultural biotechnology. Arguments against the use of biotechnology in African agriculture have been conducted with unprecedented ferocity.

While critics of agricultural biotechnology claim to act on behalf of Africa's interests, they are undermining the continent's capacity to acquire the technological capacity needed to meet its agricultural and economic needs.

There are genuine concerns about the safety of the products that need to be addressed. Indeed, most of them have been addressed. But the chorus that products must be proven safe before they are introduced in the market is hardly used in the European countries that perpetrated the campaign.

In fact, to demand this is to try to outplay God since the future is unknowable.

Even God was not prescient of all that later transpired in the Garden of Eden. Using such a high standard of prescience not only defies logic (since one cannot prove a negative), but smacks of outright political arrogance.

Safety continues to be on the starting when debating the use of biotechnology in Africa. But the capacity needed to ensure safety is often derived from efforts to develop the technology itself.

Just like the capacity to manage the safety of swimming pools presupposes the existence of these facilities. It would be futile to go around introducing such safety laws in places with no swimming pools in the first place.

This is not to deny the importance of seeking to protect consumers and the environment against unintended harm. But this has to be balanced with the need to gain intended and unintended benefits from new products, which is done with most products.

By demanding prior knowledge of safety, Africa has been denied a chance to learn to use the technology and gain a better understanding of its negative impacts.

Advances in the safe use of biotechnology in South Africa, for example, show that safety measures co-evolve with the development of the technology. Safety without technology is empty; technology without safety folly.

Emptiness abounds in much of Africa's biotechnology discussions today. Africa's challenges are so grave that finding lasting solutions will require more creative use of existing technologies; not less as critics tend to argue. Areas with poor rainfall require more intensive land husbandry; not a fatalistic appeal to the vagaries of nature.

Africa must learn to stand its own ground and its leaders must show greater courage when matters crucial for the survival of their people are at stage. Caving in to external pressures is a poor substitute for taking charge of one's future.

It is not too late to reclaim the ground lost to groups that have no moral standing to determine Africa's destiny. Africa needs Kofi Annan's support now.

Prof. Juma teaches at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government where he directs the Science, Technology and Globalization Project. He is also co-chair of the African Union High-Level Panel on Modern Biotechnology

*******************

French GMO Area May Keep Rising Sharply - Growers

- Sybille de La Hamaide, Reuters via Planet Ark, July 20, 2007

http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/43181/story.htm

PARIS - The French area sown with genetically modified maize could continue increasing fourfold annually because it resists insect attacks and boosts yields, growers said on Thursday.

Maiz'Europe, the association gathering maize producers and scientists, said French farmers had sown over 21,000 hectares with GMO maize this season, just above the ministry estimate of 20,000 hectares and four times the area sown in 2006.

That compared to a total grain maize area of 1.4 million hectares in France this season.

"If GMO maize allows higher yields, that's exactly what farmers are looking for," Christophe Terrain, head of of the French maize growers group AGPM, part of Maiz'Europ, told a news conference. "There is enourmous demand by farmers for it."

However, Terrain said that growth could be limited in France consumers' refusal of the new technology.

"The only limit is the market. In the southwestern part where GMO maize is mostly grown it's not a problem because Spain imports it all but elsewhere it would be harder," he said.

FARMERS FEAR CROP VANDALISM

US biotech giant Monsanto which produces the MON 810 maize -- the only biotech crop allowed in the country -- said last month it expected Europe to increase its GMO crop area by 50,000-100,000 hectares a year over the next decade, from 100,000 ha in 2007.

In France, Monsanto expects GMO maize to be grown on 600,000 hectares in 10 years, despite fierce opposition to GMOs crops sometimes called "Frankenstein foods".

Seed makers say that GMOs are perfectly safe.

Maiz'Europe Director General, Luc Esprit, said he expected activists to continue destroying French GMO fields, but on a lower scale following severe court sentences.

"Our feeling is that uprooting will continue but unlikely in public," he said.

Three farmers' GMO fields have already been attacked in France this season but Esprit said the area hit remained small.

Last year around 20 hectares were attacked out of a total of 5,200 sown with GMO maize.

However, he stressed that if the government did not help GMO growers protect their fields, there could be a serious incident.
---------
Guest ed. note: The fourfold increase in the area of GM maize in France compares to a five percent increase in organic acreage - nearly half of which consists of areas dedicated to "'pastures and meadows' that do not represent agricultural production." See, "Different organic farming patterns within EU-25," Eurostat,
http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-SF-07-069/EN/KS-SF-07-069-EN.PDF
*******************

Today Biotech Crops Made Reduction on CO2 emission Equivalent to Removing 3.6 Million Cars From the Road for One Year

- Biotechnology Alliance Association (press release), July 20, 2007

http://www.pr-inside.com/today-biotech-crops-made-reduction-on-r178588.htm

2007-07-20 10:03:55 - A new study by Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, two UK based economists, quantifies the cumulative economic and environmental impacts of biotech crops grown during the past decade (1996-2005). This is one of the first studies published in 'ISAAA Briefs (36) GM Crops: The First Ten Years - Global Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts- to quantify the cumulative global impacts of biotech crops during the first decade of production.

2006 marked the first year of the second decade of commercialization of biotech crops, 2006-2015. Farmers have consistently increased their plantings of biotech crops by double-digit growth rates every single year since biotech crops were first commercialized in 1996. The increase of 12 million hectares or 75 million Rai between 2005 and 2006 was the second highest in the last five years, and equivalent to an annual growth rate of 13% in 2006.The global area of approved biotech crops in 2006 was 102 million hectares (637.5 million Rai).

A historic milestone was reached in 2006, biotech crops were grown by approximately 10.3 million farmers in 22 countries in 2006.

The accumulated area of biotech crops planted in the last eleven years, 1996 to 2006, exceeded 500 million hectares (577 million hectares) for the first time. Remarkably, the global biotech crop area increased more than sixty-fold in the first eleven years of commercialization, equivalent to more than half of the total land area of China, making biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent history.

The continuing rapid adoption of biotech crops reflects the substantial and consistent improvements in productivity, the environment, health, economics, and social benefits realized by both large and small farmers, consumers and society in both industrial and developing countries.

A new study by Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, two UK based economists, quantifies the cumulative economic and environmental impacts of biotech crops grown during the past decade (1996-2005). This is one of the first studies published in 'ISAAA Briefs (36) GM Crops: The First Ten Years - Global Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts- to quantify the cumulative global impacts of biotech crops during the first decade of production.

Global accumulated economic impact of biotech crops for the decade 1996 to 2005, in terms of net economic benefits to biotech crop farmers, was $27 billion or 931,500 million Baht ($13 billion for developing countries and $14 billion for industrial countries).

In order to assess the environmental impacts of GM crops, the authors calculated changes in pesticide use with GM crops compared with non GM crops for each year data was available in countries where GM crops were grown. In addition to quantifying changes in total pesticide volume used in GM crops, they also quantified changes in the 'environmental footprint' with GM crops by using an environmental index quotient (EIQ). The EIQ is an indicator which has been previously cited in the published literature by other scientists.

After just ten years of commercialization, biotech crops hade made significant, positive impacts on the global environment.

Farmers used almost half a billion lbs (224 m kg) less pesticide with GM crops since 1996, a reduction of 7%. This represents about 40% of the annual volume of pesticides used in the European Union. (Table 1.)

The global 'environmental impact' of pesticide use has been reduced by over 15% due to the planting of biotech crops.

The authors further reported that GM crops resulted in a significant reduction in the emission of CO2 into the environment. This reduction in CO2 emissions with biotech crops comes from two sources. First, they report a reduction in the use of diesel fuel in GM crops, due to a reduction in pesticide spray applications and a reduction in plowing. In 2005, the carbon dioxide savings from reduced fuel use in GM crops was close 1 billion kg. Second, they report an increase in the amount of carbon held, or sequestered in the soil due to a reduction in plowing associated with biotech crops. This accounted for a reduction of 8 billion kg of carbon dioxide emissions in 2005. The authors report that these two factors contribute to a combined reduction of over 9 billion kg (20 billion lb) of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere due to GM crops in 2005. This reduction is equivalent of removing almost 3.6 millions cars from the road for one year.

The report confirms that farmers earned higher incomes in every country where biotech crops are grown.

In 2005, farmers who planted biotech crops earned over 5 billion in incremental income compared with growers who planted non biotech crops

Since 1996, global farm income from biotech crops increased by a cumulative total of $27 billion from a combination of higher productivity and reduced costs.

Farmers in developing countries captured the majority of the extra farm income from biotech crops, mostly from insect resistant cotton and herbicide tolerant soybean.

KEY FINDINGS:

After just ten years of commercialization, biotech crops hade made significant, positive impacts on the global environment. Less pesticide with GM crops since 1996, a reduction of 7% in the European Union and 15% reduction to the Global.

Biotech crops made a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices by 9 billion kg of carbon dioxide. This is the equivalent of removing almost 3.6 million cars from the road for one year.

In addition to environmental gains, substantial net economic benefits were achieved at the farm gate level by farmers who planted biotech crops. Since 1996, global farm income increased by a cumulative total of $27 billion from a combination of higher productivity and reduced costs.

Note: Graham Brookes is a specialist in agricultural economics, agricultural policy, evaluation, trade and marketing and assessing the economic impact of new technology. Media Inquiries: Biotechnology Alliance Association Tel. 0-2940-5264

Author: Biotechnology Alliance Association Web: http://thaibaa.org

*******************

Ever-changing Genomes

- Science Daily, July 19, 2007

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070719141135.htm

Instead of immutable proprietary software, any species' genetic information resembles open source code that is constantly tweaked and optimized to meet the users' specific needs. But which parts of the code have withstood the test of time and which parts have undergone rapid evolutionary change has been difficult to assess.

An international collaboration by researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the University of Chicago, and the Max-Planck Institute for Developmental Biology developed a simple method to comb whole genomes for all the software fixes and security patches accumulated over time. In a first trial run, the scientists catalogued the genetic variations in 23 strains of the mustard weed Arabidopsis thaliana that were collected from the wild all over the world.

"Our study represents one of the first whole genome scans for levels and patterns of genetic variation within a species," says Joseph R. Ecker, Ph.D., professor in the Plant Biology Laboratory and director of the Salk Institute Genomic Analysis Laboratory, who led the current study published in last week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. "It reveals the regions that are currently targeted by natural selection or have been so during the evolutionary past."

In an independent study the collaborators -- this time led by Detlef Weigel, Ph.D., director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute -- went through the genomes of 20 different strains of Arabidopsis thaliana with an even finer-toothed comb, allowing them to determine the exact nature of the changes. The findings of the second study are published in the July 20 issue of the journal Science.

"We found that one out of 10 genes is very different," says Weigel. "This plasticity is truly surprising for a genome that's very streamlined and unlike bigger genomes doesn't contain a lot of junk DNA," he adds.

A decade ago, Arabidopsis was widely adopted by plant scientists as an easily manipulated model for other plants because it is simple to grow in the laboratory, has a short life cycle and a small genome. Compared to corn, which might have as many as 2.5 billion base pairs of DNA and the human genome with roughly 3 billion pairs, Arabidopsis only has about 120 million base pairs of DNA.

With nowhere to run, plants are under constant threat from heat, cold, high acidity or salinity, or pathogens such as viruses and leaf-munching insects. In response, plants mobilize physiological and biochemical defenses that help them survive. "We expected certain classes of genes to be highly variable due to natural selection in different environments. Both studies revealed precisely which gene family members indeed were shaped by evolution," says Justin Borevitz, Ph.D., a former post-doctoral researcher in the Ecker lab and now an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago.

As a general rule, genes that don't change over time are under strong negative selection because they perform important housekeeping functions, while genes that vary widely such as disease resistance genes are under strong positive selection. "We covered both ends of the spectrum and ended up with a top list of no changes and a top list of a lot of changes," explains Borevitz. "All the data have been placed in a publicly accessible database and now researchers everywhere can look up their favorite genes."

To assemble their lists, the Ecker team poured over data derived from old-fashioned gene-chip technology, in which 25 nucleotide-long samples of every gene expressed in an Arabidopsis cell are spotted onto a tiny glass slide known as a microarray. The chopped up genomes of the different strains were then allowed to bind to their immobilized counterparts. Reduced hybridization resulted in a signal telling the researchers which regions the genomes differed from the fully sequenced reference strain.

"This method is simple and relatively inexpensive and can be applied to any organism whose whole genome has been sequenced and for which a gene array is available or can be easily made," explains Ecker. "For these reasons it is attractive to a wide audience practicing evolutionary genomics."

Weigel's team went a step further and effectively re-sequenced whole genomes with the help of nearly a billion 25-mers tiled on 5 large arrays that cover every possible nucleotide exchange on both strands of DNA. The high-resolution approach revealed a high number of specific changes in genes belonging to the so-called F-box superfamily, whose members plays a crucial part in flagging proteins for degradation.

"As highlighted by both studies, many genes that harbor major-effect changes in wild populations are likely to mediate interactions with the environment," says Weigel. "Ultimately, experiments under more natural conditions will be required to fully appreciate the functional relevance of such sequence variation."

*******************

EU Report on the Impact of Unapproved GMOs

- EuropaBio via SeedQuest (press release), July 19, 2007

http://www.seedquest.com/News/releases/2007/july/19856.htm

Brussels - The EU Commission has published its first ever report on the economic impact caused by EU unapproved GMOs on Europe's feed imports and livestock production.

EU Commission DG Agriculture report - http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/envir/gmo/economic_impactGMOs_en.pdf

Statement and Q&A document on this report produced jointly by European commodity traders, the European Feed Manufacturers', the European seed and bean crushers, meal producers, vegetable producers/processors and the European biotech industry, EuropaBio:

http://www.europabio.org/articles/Final_Low_Level_Presence_Reference_and_Key_messages_docume%85.pdf

*******************

GE fish owners treated 'like criminals'

- Stuff (New Zealand), July 20, 2007

http://www.stuff.co.nz/4134511a11.html

Christchurch fish owners say they are being treated "like criminals" by Biosecurity New Zealand after officials destroyed genetically engineered (GE) tropical fish at their home yesterday.

Cashmere tropical-fish owners and breeders Tristan and Carissa Clements said they were surprised when Biosecurity officials told them their brightly coloured zebra danio fish were illegally genetically engineered.

Five Biosecurity officials and two security guards visited them yesterday to kill about 20 fish.

A total of 300 tropical fish from five Christchurch properties were destroyed.

Officials said the fish were "humanely euthanased".

Biosecurity was told of the GE fish after members of the public saw them for sale on an internet auction site.

Other danio species kept on properties with GE fish were also killed.

Tristan Clements bought the fish from Christchurch shop Organism Ltd, knowing they were modified but believing they had been approved for sale.

"We are victims in this," he said. "Biosecurity was incompetent and allowed them through customs.

"We bought them and bred them legally and we've done nothing wrong. We feel we've been treated harshly."

Clements said he had no opinion on the GE debate and would like compensation for the GE fish and other danio species that were killed at his house last night.

The fish were allowed into the country after Singapore importers said the fish were brightly coloured as a result of dye - not uncommon in tropical fish.

Biosecurity incursion manager David Yard said the fish were not authorised and were therefore illegal new organisms in breach of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.

"The fish in question were cleared for entry at the time, due to an incorrect declaration by the importer, who believed they were dyed red, rather than genetically modified," he said.

"The importer's belief they had been dyed was supported when the fish were examined under UV light and did not fluoresce or glow, as is typical with this type of genetic modification."

Biosecurity said the fish posed no environmental risk but were killed and disposed of as hazardous waste.

------

GloFish(R) Fluorescent Fish Photos: http://www.glofish.com/photos.asp

*******************

Lettera Aperta al Presidente della Repubblica

- Galileo 2001 (Association), July 6, 2007

http://www.galileo2001.it/identita/comunicati/070607_lettera_aperta.php

(Translation by courtesy of Piero Morandini)

Open Letter to the President of the Republic

Most respectful Mr. President,

We want to bring to your attention the serious non compliance of Italy in respect to the resumption of open field research on GMOs, blocked now since 8 years in our country.

Research in this sector concerns the enforcement of the Directive 2001/18 EC acknowledged in our law system with the legislative decree DL n. 224/2003. This decree refers the definition of the experimental protocols under the jurisdiction of the Ministry for Agricultural and Forestry Policies.

The ministry, after a long and complex consultation with technical personnel from the Ministry for the Environment and from the Regions, established 9 protocols suited to different plant species and has sent them to the Ministry for the Environment for a non binding consultation

The Ministry for the Environment replied with a note (20 June 2007) denying its approval of the protocols because of the absence of measures of liability concerning failures of complying to the dispositions detailed in the protocols. This justification is, in our opinion, totally extraneous to the technical context concerning the approval and borne out of a rather arbitrary interpretation of the precautionary principle, thus reduced to pure obscurantist immobilism [immobilism: the decision to block the situation as it stands].

Mr. President, we turn to you as a warrantor for the constitution: it states (art. 9) that "The [Italian] Republic promotes the development of culture and scientific an technical research" and (art. 10) that " the Italian law system conforms abides by the norms of international law generally recognized".

We hope, therefore, in your authoritative intervention so that open field research on GMOs may restart according to the principles laid by the EC and we pray that you, with your authority and prestige, may convey to the top level of the Italian government the fundamental need that such a research may not be further considered as a criminal act and penalized as compared to the other European countries.

We dare to remember in this respect, that the European Commission, during a recent reexamination of its strategies on life sciences and biotechnology for the 2002-2010 period, has adopted on April 11th 2007 a document suggesting among the main targets the promotion of research and the development of markets for biotech products, the increased adoption of new technologies and the sustainable development of agro-forestry sector through biotechnology. GMOs cannot thus be excluded since they are one of the most effective tools to improve the selection, agricultural practices and qualitative and quantitative characteristics of food products.

The demand for legality so far exposed is coupled to a feeling of hope in all Italian researchers who would like to put their knowledge, mind and expertise to the benefit of their own country. To support a sector, that one of research, which is a guarantee of indipendence to every nation: not only as an engine for economic development, but also as a possibility of autonomous perspective of growth and opportunity. Since the beginning of the halt of research in the GMO sector, as recalled, 8 years have passed and this time has not been sufficient to take responsible and propositive [that actively proposes an alternative] decisions on the issue. The Italian researchers and citizens ask you to intervene to end this unending and deleterious delay, thus giving back to the Italian research the possibility of development and to the Country a system that, after years of ban, may bring it back to the constitutional legality, restoring the access to knowledge.

[signatories]

*******************

Biotech is the Future - We Dare Not Be Left Behind

- Florence Wambugu, The Nation (Nairobi), July 19, 2007

http://allafrica.com/stories/200707190050.html

Nairobi - THE UNITED NATIONS University and the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) last week appointed Nairobi a regional centre of expertise on education and sustainable development.

Nairobi becomes the first city in Africa to get such an award, joining 35 other global cities.

It adds to the many feathers the country already has as home to international science organisations such as Unep, the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (Icraf), the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe), the International Potato Centre, and the Nepad Bioscience Facility for Eastern and Central Africa.

If confirmation was needed that Kenya is a regional powerhouse in science and technology, then this honour does it.

On the other hand, although the debate on the Kenya Biosafety Bill is raising local temperatures, it also brings into sharp focus the country's regional leadership in science and technology.

While we debate various sections of the Bill, we should note that countries in the region are looking to us to provide a strong regional position on agricultural research and development.

With or without such a policy, Kenya and the region will be affected by global trends in biotechnology, and we need legislation to support the import, production and export of biotech products.

Although different views have been, and will be, expressed about the Bill, there is consensus that science and technology are key ingredients for national and regional economic competitiveness.

While pursuing scientific and technological enquiry, few can dispute that sustainable development must be the cornerstone of the search for new solutions to man's challenges.

Kenyans are yet to fully appreciate that knowledge generation by institutions devoted to science, research and technical innovations is the bedrock of a modern knowledge economy. As we approach the elections in December, debate is likely to revolve around economics and politics. However, to achieve the goals so well-articulated in Vision 2030, science and technology must be given due recognition and integrated in the structure of our economy.

The Government deserves praise for publishing "Developing Kenya's Biotechnology Policy", which is a precursor to the Kenya Biosafety Bill.

The two documents are an acknowledgment that genetic modification technology - like many other technologies - will continue to affect national and regional agricultural research.

Being the most advanced East African country in biotech research, the country has a regional mandate to ensure the best policies and laws are in place.

INCREASINGLY, THE REGION appreciates the inter-dependence that already exists. Even in non-biotech activities, such as the importation of, say, tissue culture bananas, the need for common phyto-sanitary standards is well acknowledged. It is far easier for diseased bananas to enter Kenya from Uganda than, say, India.

For this reason, while each country should seek to optimise agricultural and other technologies, we need to increasingly see ourselves as East Africans.

Kenya must come up with a biotechnology legislation that paves the way for regional regulatory framework. The Bill must also be in harmony with existing international instruments like the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (2000), the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary Measures (1995), the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (1994), the International Plant Protection Convention (1997), and the Aarhus Convention (1998).

These international frameworks can help East African countries establish appropriate regulatory structures that deal with potential concerns.

Thinking regionally and internationally will provide the basis for future harmonisation of national regulations for crops, livestock, fish, forest trees, and micro-organisms, while meeting international obligations.

Work towards such harmonisation can only move forward through inter-sectoral collaboration at national and regional levels, and would require support from several international organisations, regional bodies, regional centres of excellence and related agencies.

This calls for dialogue on choices for the region. Harmonisation measures and quality legislation will lead to improvement in the quality of agricultural produce and make the region an agricultural powerhouse and encourage more fresh produce exports to global markets.

While there is need to protect Kenya's investment in science and technology through national policy and legislation, it is important to understand that the country's leadership position requires carrying other countries along.

As host to the meeting at which the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was opened for signature in 2000, Kenya was the first country to sign up. The country ratified the Protocol in 2003 and the Biosafety Bill was drafted in 2005 and published this year to bring Kenya's law and practice in line with the protocol.

Though a step in the right direction, let us not forget that our future is intricately tied to that of our brothers and sisters in the region.

Dr Wambugu is the chief executive officer of Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International

*******************

Borlaug gets a good rap for food feat

- Marc Hansen, Des Moines Register, July 19, 2007

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070719/OPINION01/707190406

Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, saved a billion lives, give or take a few hundred million, in the war against hunger.

If that's his most amazing accomplishment, this might be his second-most amazing accomplishment: Three years ago, when Borlaug turned 90, somebody recorded a rap song in his honor.

Not just anyone can win a Nobel Peace Prize or a Congressional Gold Medal. As you might have heard, Borlaug walked away with the latter on Tuesday.

None of my high-achieving friends, not even the hall-of-fame light bulb salesman down the street, can hang that on the old resume.

But name another 90-something who's the subject of a rap song - a 90-something who grew up in the mean bean fields of Cresco, Ia.

The song is titled, appropriately enough, "The Norman Borlaug Rap (Thank You, Norman)."

Have a listen at www.agbioworld.org/index.html.

The song begins like this:

I don't know what you been told
about farming and food in days of old,
but listen and take this to the bank:
If there's food in your tummy then you'd better thank
N-O-R-M-A-N.

The concept and the Web site belong to C.S. Prakash, a professor of plant molecular genetics at Tuskegee University in Alabama.

Prakash, who was in Washington to see Borlaug shake the president's hand, knows a lot about biotechnology, but not so much when it comes to hip-hop.

He took his son to a Ludacris concert in Atlanta once, and boy, was that an ear-opener.

Dr. Prakash apologizes for any lack of profanity or misogyny in the Borlaug song. The idea was to bring the story to the streets, and this was the vehicle.

Straight out of Iowa Norman came,
then traveled the world, saw suffering and pain.
Millions of people were starving, yo
in Pakistan, India, Mexico.

But just a few years after Norman came,
They all had bumper crops of grain.
Norman found the great solution,
known as the Green Revolution.

Billions of people are alive today
because of work done by the man named
Norman.

"So much has been written," Prakash says. "We wanted to do something different. How do you bring the message to the common person and the high school kid, in their lingo?"

You start by getting your 11-year-old son in involved. The lead singer here is Rohan Prakash, who is now 14 and has gravitated away from rap and on to skateboarding.

"In a way, I'm glad his rap career is over," the father says. "He wanted to be the first Indian kid in rap."

Official statistics are hard to come by, but Rohan might have succeeded.

To lend the project "an element of authenticity," the father enlisted the help of a black barber friend, who moonlights as a DJ in a local club. They brought in a professional musician and some girls to do the chorus.

Two days later, there it was, the finished product.

Norman Borlaug, you may be
the greatest man in history.
Using science and your brain
To stamp out hunger, woe and pain.

Creating new varieties
of plants with new technologies.
You're the man we look up to.
That is why we're thanking you.

"It's really sort of amateurish," Prakash says, "but Borlaug got a chuckle out of it."

The same probably cannot be said of the alleged "environmental extremists" who believe Borlaug has done more damage than good. What can I say? Save a billion lives, and you're bound to have critics.

Prakash thought it would be fun to "take a jab" at those critics.

But then some people started to panic,
telling the farmers to go organic.
Technophobes started making a mess
of Norman Borlaug's great success.

Some of the naysayers believe Borlaug helped cause global overpopulation, was responsible for harming the environment and made the agricultural-industrial complex what it is today.

I'm no expert, but I'll go with my gut. On the one hand, you have manmade pesticides and fertilizers. On the other, worldwide famine.

If that's the choice, you take the chemicals and run.

Green groups thought they found the cure
in stinky piles of cow manure,
Telling their governments not to send
Fertilizer aid to our African friends.

So Norman came back to defend
high-yield agriculture with his friend,
Jimmy Carter, ex-president,
to help all the African residents.

Norman and Jimmy hopped in a plane
to help the Africans grow more grain.
Soon the men were able to triple
corn yields that the Greens had crippled.

Borlaug's fame is much greater outside the United States, Prakash says.

"Most people don't understand the political significance of his work. He contributed to world stability. When people become self-sufficient in growing food, they become more affluent and stop fighting. He couldn't have done it alone, but by no means has his influence been exaggerated."

Feeding the planet is his game
and yet he does not have much fame.
Got the highest scientific acclaim,
and now you better know his name is
Norman.

Somebody say yo.

-------------------
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net