* Supporting German Scientists
* Casting Your Votes in Spanish and German newspapers
* Rebuttal re Erroneous Analysis on Transgenic Insecticidal Crops
* Union of Concerned Scientists report on GM crop performance is misleading
* An Analysis of "Failure to Yield" by Doug Gurian-Sherman, U C S
* Strange fruit: Could genetically modified foods offer a solution to the world's food crisis?
* Learning from the Past: Successes and Failures with Agricultural Biotech
* Obama Appoints Raj Shah as Chief Scientist at USDA
* New Study: Governments Prolonging Global Food Crisis
* The World Must Feed Its Hungry
* New Journal: Food Security
* Opposition Decreasing or Acceptance Increasing?
* Prince Charles, the next Al Gore?
An Open Letter by Scientists to German Minister
- Startseite, Wissenschaftlerkreis Grüne Gentechnik E.v. April 15, 2009 http://www.wgg-ev.de/
In an open letter initiated by Wissenschaftlerkreis Grüne Gentechnik e.V., more than 1,600 scientists have appealed to Federal Minister Aigner not to sacrifice as a political manoeuvre a technology with such rich opportunities as green biotechnology.
Furthermore, they emphatically ask her to disclose the scientific basis for her political decision and for clarification for the public.
"We are about to go it alone and abandon a leading technology of our century. Our students have already recognized this. Given these conditions, also the often quoted Golden Rice Project will surely no longer be feasible in Germany." Prof. Dr. Peter Beyer, Co-developer of the Golden Rice, Institute of Biology, University of Freiburg
"Diminish the impact of the climate change and adapt plants to drought! Only science will secure the food of the world population - not ideology!" Prof. Dr. Reinhard Szibor, Institute of Forensic Medicin, University of Magdeburg
"Genetic engineering in plant breeding offers a still unexploited potential for organic farming, for improved protection of the environment, for sustaining the diversity of species and health." Prof. Dr. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Max-Planck-Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen
"Once again we banish an innovative technology from Germany instead of encouraging our best young scientists to engage themselves in this area. However, we need multi-disciplinary approaches especially for the changeover from the fuel-based economy to a sustainable, biological-based one. In this process, the breeding of new, adapted plants plays a crucial role - even if genetic engineering is used." Prof. Dr. Bernd Müller-Röber, Institute of Biochemistry and Biology, University of Potsdam
"You can do nothing but wonder why a lot of money is spent for safety research when the results are not accepted because of a 'gut feeling.'" Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Nellen, Department of Genetics, University of Kassel
"Genetic engineering as an innovative tool for plant breeding has a still unexploited potential for agriculture, an improved protection of the environment, for sustaining the diversity of species and health. We should not gamble away this potential by pseudo-scientific and emotionally charged debates with ensuing misguided political decisions in Germany and Europe." Prof. Dr. Gabriele Krczal, Director RLP AgroScience GmbH, lPlanta - Institute for Plant Research
"No research - no know-how gain! Whoever banishes safety research of GMO crops into the greenhouse, does not meet the natural conditions and takes the concerns of the population seriously." Prof. Dr. Klaus-Dieter Jany, Chairman of the CEF Panel at the EFSA, Vice-President for Research and Teaching at Wadi-International-University, Syria
"Both from a scientific as well as from an economic standpoint it would be a tragedy if we do not utilize the enormous potential of a technology that has been developed with great research expenses and is already applied worldwide, but leave this to others and buy back the abandoned know-how at a high price in the future." Prof. Dr. Andreas Schier, Study Group Phytomedicine/Biotechnology, School of Economy and Environment Nürtingen-Geislingen
In an open letter (http://www.gruene-gentechnik-online.de) more than 1,600 scientific signatories have already appealed to German Federal Minister Aigner not to sacrifice a future technology with great potential for reasons of short sighted political interest.
On the contrary, the scientists request that Minister Aiger makes scientific knowledge the basis of political decisions and the education of the population. Below is the English translation of the original German letter - if inclined please sign it below and your name will be added to the already 1,600+ scientists who have signed it. The signatures will soon be presented to Minister Aigner.
Dear Federal Minister Aigner,
We learn with amazement, that scientifically unfounded calls from a range of CSU politicians for an outrageous ban on GM crops, even on research field experiments for so called safety reasons. This really astounds the signatories below and actually will lead to a massive blockade of research in crop biotechnology.
It is unfortunately not new, that politicians completely ignore the results of extensive field research, which is supported by the German government. It is therefore not surprising that the public still believes that the possible negative impact of the cultivation of genetically modified plants are still unknown. Instead of countering these unfounded opinions with solid facts, it seems that CSU politicians are now strangely/oddly arguing that the research activities on GM safety are too risky. This is the unanimous opinion of the specialists of genetic engineering, united in the WGG.
We scientists criticize the politicians as that the many opportunities to educate the public concerning the green genetic engineering have not been taken up actively. It is clear, that the facts related to safety have not changed and to our knowledge, genetically engineered crops do not pose a greater risk than conventional ones. Still, many politicians prefer to come out with vague and sometimes populist statements in order to encourage the fears and cause doubts. Doubts must be addressed, but they should not be magnified on the basis of unconfirmed arguments and it is important on the contrary to give factual clarifications.
Still one year ago, the former Minister of Agriculture Seehofer (also CSU) spoke very positively about the high quality of the German GM biosafety legislation which should actually encourage GM safety research in Germany. But we also ask, what does it help to have a solid legislation, if it is not supported by the politicians themselves ? And what are even the most solid scientific data good for, when it is blatantly ignored, if it doesn't fit in the political picture?
We sincerely urge you not to sacrifice a technology with great potential for shortsighted political posturing. Please make sure that you start a dialogue with the experts in their relevant research areas and make use of their scientific knowhow both for your political decisions and to allow for the fact based education of the population
Dear AgBioView reader: Please sign on and show your solidarity with German scientists at http://genetech-ja-doch.blogspot.com
Also Please Cast Your Votes Against Anti-Biotech Question in Spanish and German newspapers:
Spain: One of the main Spanish Newspapers is running an online poll with the question: "Should GMOs be banned?" <http://www.elpais.com/encuestas/encuesta.html?id=12554&k=Alimentos_transgenicos>http://www.elpais.com/encuestas/encuesta.html?id=12554&k=Alimentos_transgenicos
Please be so kind as to cast your votes ASAP in the "No, no suponen ningun pelligro" (no they are not harmful)
Germany: The German newspaper Hannoverschen Allgemeinen, is currently running a poll on the ban of MON810 in Germany GM maize. The poll appears at the bottom of this page on the right hand side.
The question asked is: GM maize MON810 can no longer be cultivated. A correct decision?
Please click answer 2: Nein, Genmais hat viele unbestreitbare Vorteile, die der Mensch nutzen sollte
This translates as: No, GM maize has many indisputable advantages that we should make use of.
Rebuttal re Erroneous Analysis on Transgenic Insecticidal Crops
- Crop Biotech Update, ISAAA.org
An article by Lövei et al. (Transgenic insecticidal crops and natural enemies: a detailed review of laboratory studies, Environmental Entomology 38(2): 293-306 (2009)) purports that insect-protected crops based on the Cry proteins of Bacillus thuringiensis may have substantial negative impacts on non-target organisms.
A group of experts in this area strongly disagreed with this April, 2009 publication and felt that a rapid response was required but, because of production schedules of this bi-monthly journal, it could not accommodate a rapid rebuttal. Thus, A. M. Shelton and 14 colleagues published their Letter to the Editor in Transgenic Research (Setting the Record Straight: A Rebuttal to an Erroneous Analysis on Transgenic Insecticidal Crops and Natural Enemies).
Among the many concerns Shelton and colleagues describe in their rebuttal are the inappropriate and unsound methods for risk assessment that led Lövei et al. to reach conclusions that are in conflict with those of several comprehensive reviews and meta-analyses. Shelton summarized the concerns of the 15 authors by stating, "The Lövei et al. article advocates inappropriate summarization and statistical methods, a negatively biased and incorrect interpretation of the published data on non-target effects, and fails to place any putative effect into a meaningful ecological context." What was also troubling to this international group of 15 experts is the potential for the Lövei et al. article to be accepted at face value and impact some regulatory agencies.
Their rebuttal can be accessedusing the following link: http://www.springerlink.com/content/q7hk642137241733/.
Union of Concerned Scientists report on GM crop performance is misleading
- PG Economics Limited, April 17, 2009. see full critique at http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk
PG Economics has reviewed the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) latest release Failure to yield: evaluating the performance of genetically modified crops, and concluded that the public, policy makers, stakeholders and media need to be aware of its misleading nature through a combination of inappropriate use of data and omission of representative, relevant analysis.
PG Economics concludes that the UCS report title does not reflect the report findings. Fundamentally,
the UCS report confirms that GM crop technology has improved crop yields and productivity in the US.
PG Economics has, below, identified a number of deficiencies in the UCS report and presented a summary of the key real impacts of GM technology. For those reviewing the UCS report, it:
* Misleads by examining issues from a narrow geographical perspective: Given GM crops have been grown commercially worldwide on a large scale since 1996, any appropriate evaluation of GM trait performance should be undertaken from a global perspective, rather than the US-only perspective adopted by the UCS. It is in developing countries where GM technology has delivered the highest positive impacts on operational yield (eg, corn in the Philippines, cotton in India) and facilitated the wider use of second cropping in a season (eg, soybeans following wheat in Argentina)
* Misleads by examining issues from a narrow crop perspective. The UCS report focuses only on soybeans and corn, yet ignores the two other crops in which GM traits are widely used; cotton and canola. GM trait use in these crops has resulted in higher operational yields for most users, increased production and improved standards of living for those farmers using the technology (including US farmers). For example, the average operational yield impact of GM insect resistant (GM IR) cotton technology (1996-2006) has been +11.1% across all global users
* Is inconsistent: the UCS document claims in the executive summary that 'GE (genetic engineering) has done little to increase overall yields. The headline to the release also says 'failure to yield', yet the detailed content of the report shows the opposite and subsequently acknowledges that GM insect resistant corn has increased (operational) yields in the US. The UCS report also states that 'now that transgenic crops have been grown in the US for more than a decade, there is a wealth of data on yield under real world conditions'. This gives the reader the impression that the paper is drawing on such research to come to its conclusions. Yet the vast majority of references cited in the report are of crop trials, not studies of real world experiences of commercial farmers using GM technology
* Makes inappropriate use of data. The UCS discusses the importance of increasing food production to feed a growing world population and especially the importance of improving agricultural productivity in developing countries. However, the vast majority of the data and studies drawn on do not examine agricultural productivity issues and the use of GM technology in developing countries but are almost all drawn from the US. The UCS also claims that public resources should be re-directed from GM technology research to low input/organic research. However, no data on the relative expenditures of public funds on each of these categories of research and no analysis of any benefits of such a change are presented.
A summary of key real impacts of GM technology and comments on the main deficiencies in the UCS report are presented below. For additional information: contact Graham Brookes on 00 44 1531 650123 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The real impact of GM crop technology
1. Peer reviewed research in scientific journals2 consistently shows that GM crop technology has delivered substantial economic and environmental advantages. In the first eleven years of commercial use (1996-2006), incomes of the 10.25 million farmers using the technology increased by over $33.8 billion and pesticide use is 7.8% lower (a saving of 286 million kg of active ingredient) than it would otherwise have been if this technology had not been used. The reductions in the use of insecticides and herbicides, coupled with a switch to more environmentally benign herbicides, have delivered significant net environmental gains. Important savings in carbon dioxide emissions were also made, equivalent to removing over 6.5 million cars from the roads in 2006.
2. GM crops, through two main traits of insect resistance and herbicide tolerance3 have, since 1996, added important volumes to global production of corn, cotton, canola and soybeans (Figure 1) - adding 53.3 million tonnes and 47.1 million tonnes respectively to global production of soybeans and corn. The technology has also contributed an extra 4.9 million tonnes of cotton lint and 3.2 million tonnes of canola.
3. Across the countries using insect resistant biotech crops, the average positive yield impact of the technology has been +5.7% and +11.1% respectively for biotech insect resistant maize and cotton respectively. Positive yield impacts have been highest in developing countries - eg, an average yield impact of +50% for biotech insect resistant cotton in India and an average of +24% for biotech insect resistant maize in the Philippines
4. In terms of contribution to feeding the world's population, the additional production arising from GM crops (1996-2006) has contributed (after taking account of non food and feed use), enough energy (in kcal terms) to feed 310 million people for one year (similar to the annual requirement of the combined populations of Indonesia and Vietnam). The contribution of additional protein and fat was enough to meet the requirements of 920 million and 390 million people respectively.
5. In 2006, GM crops contributed enough energy, protein and fat4 to meet the requirements of about 67 million (similar to the population of Thailand), 207 million and 124 million people respectively.
6. Production of soybeans, corn, cotton and canola on the areas planted to biotech crops, in 2006, were respectively +20%, +7%, +15% and +3% higher than levels would have otherwise been if GM technology had not been used by farmers. Figure 1: Additional crop production arising from positive yield effects of biotech traits 1996- 2006 (million tonnes)
7. If biotech traits had not been available to the (10 million plus) farmers using the technology in
2006, maintaining global production levels at the 2006 levels would have required additional plantings of 4.6 million ha of soybeans, 2 million ha of corn, 1.8 million ha of cotton and 0.15 million ha of canola.
8. About half of the $33.8 billion increase in farm income has been to farmers in developing countries (in 2006, 53.5% of the total benefit went to developing country farmers). This has added to farm household incomes which, when spent on goods and services, have had a positive multiplying effect on local, regional and national economies. In developing countries, the additional income derived from biotech crops (of which insect resistant (IR) cotton has delivered the highest levels of income benefit per hectare in countries such as India and China) has enabled more farmers to consistently meet their food subsistence needs and to improve the standards of living of their households. For example, household income levels have typically increased by over a third for many farmers using IR cotton in India and for farmers using IR corn in the Philippines.
9. 90% of the farmers benefiting from using the technology are small, resource-poor farmers in developing countries like China and India.
10. GM crops have also delivered a number of other more intangible benefits to farmers. These include:
Disingenuous and inaccurate claims are made. For example, the UCS report claims to be 'the first to evaluate in detail the overall, or aggregate, yield effect of GE after 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization in the US'. The evidence says otherwise, with numerous yield impact studies of the technology in the US (largely ignored by the UCS report) being available, some of which estimate aggregate impacts across the country and which can be found in peer reviewed scientific journals, all pre-dating the UCS paper.
It also claims that 'the biotech industry and others have trumpeted them (biotech traits) as key to feeding the world's future population'. As agriculture technology analysts, we are not aware of such claims having been made by anyone in the biotech sector, with the vast majority of pronouncements and literature on the subject 'trumpeting' the importance of using a range of approaches and technologies to feed the growing world population, of which GM technology is one tool.
An Analysis of "Failure to Yield" by Doug Gurian-Sherman, Union of Concerned Scientists
- Wayne Parrott, Professor. Department of Crop & Soil Sciences, University of Georgia http://mulch.cropsoil.uga.edu/~parrottlab/GMOResources.htm
The report by the Union of Concerned Scientists rightly differentiates between intrinsic yield (what the crop could produce) and operational yield (what the crop actually produces). The premise of the report is that GM crops are a bad means to achieve global agricultural sustainability simply because they have not affected intrinsic yield.
Surprisingly, while the report mentions 'wealth of data on yield under real-world conditions' it fails to use these data. The report focuses on corn and soybean, omitting the extensive data available from cotton and canola.
Finally, the report focuses on the US, omitting the results from the rest of world. Collectively, these omissions in the UCS report serve to distort the actual situation. Operational vs Intrinsic yield The first premise of plant breeding and genetics is that it is necessary to stop the losses before it is possible to move forward- In other words, it is necessary to get to the point where Intrinsic Yield (IY) equals Operational Yield (OY). Historically, pests and unfavorable growing conditions mean that IYs are almost never achieved, yet the UCS report downplays the importance of OY.
The current generation of GM crops were designed to preserve OY, and have succeeded in doing so around the world. Furthermore, they have made substantial contributions to sustainability indicators and have succeeded in decreasing the agricultural footprint in the environment. These factors alone are enough to justify the use of GM crops as part of an overall strategy for agricultural development around theworld. Parting thought: Why haven't the gains been greater? The major traits deployed in GM crops thus far- such as resistance to viruses, herbicides, and insects-- are clearly directed at OY. It is unfair, then, to complain about the lack of increase in IY as is done in the UCS report.
An analysis of "Failure to Yield", page 9 Besides the currently marketed traits, there are numerous examples of many other traits that could contribute to increases in OY in crops. These include tolerance to abiotic stress, such as heat, drought, salt and cold tolerance, and resistance to bacterial, fungal and virus diseases. Unfortunately, the current regulatory regime is completely disproportional to the risk. As a result, only select genes in select crops would have great enough usage to generate enough revenues to cover the cost of deregulation. To the extent to which groups like UCS have advocated prohibitive and disproportional regulations, they are responsible for the lack of even greater achievements in OY and perhaps even in IY. In fact UCS is on the record as opposing engineered stress tolerance in crops (see the UCS comments on the proposed rule changes for Importation, Interstate Movement, and Release Into the Environment of Certain Genetically Engineered. These are available at http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/UCS-comments-GE-rule.pdf).
As mentioned at the beginning, such a stance by UCS is untenable and contradictory- yield losses caused by adverse growing conditions defeats the purpose of having a higher IY- that is why it is so important to increase OY, and increasing OY is done with resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses-i.e., adverse growing conditions. In the end, after helping prevent scientific advances with GM crops, UCS is not in a good position to be calling GM crops a failure because their scientific advances have not been greater.
PS- a necessary correction to the UCS paper. It cites an article in the Des Moines Register as its source that the new soybean varieties for 2009 and their higher yield are the result of conventional breeding. Aside from the obvious limitations involved in getting its scientific information from the popular press, a simple search of the governmental regulatory records would have shown that the new soybeans are indeed the result of GM, having a new gene for herbicide resistance that is replacing the gene originally used in the first generation of GM soybean.
Strange fruit: Could genetically modified foods offer a solution to the world's food crisis?
- Paul Valleyley The Independent, April 19, 2009
How much do you spend each week on food? It depends on how much you earn, of course. But roughly speaking, the average Briton devotes around 7 to 10 per cent of their income to titillating their taste buds. Yet it's different if you're poor - and very different if you're very poor. If you'd been unlucky enough to be born in parts of Africa, Asia or Latin America you could be spending 50 or even 70 per cent of what you earn each week just on trying to fill your belly.
And that fact could be about to alter what British shoppers are able to put in their supermarket trolleys. For Genetically Modified foods are back on the agenda.
GM foods have been out of the UK shops for almost a decade now, ever since the concentrated tomato paste based on the Flavr Savr(r) modified tomato was taken off the shelves in double-quick time, following campaigns in 1999 by anti-GM protesters and a lot of "Frankenfood" headlines in the popular press. Those were the days of mad cow disease, dioxins in chickens and antifreeze in German wine, when public suspicion of what might be happening to our food was first aroused.
But change is in the air. A few weeks ago the chief executive of Tesco, Sir Terry Leahy, admitted that UK supermarkets may have been too quick to jump on the non-GM bandwagon and signalled Tesco is willing to re-open the debate. The World Bank is calling for a new agricultural revolution, based on biotechnology. The pressure group Sense About Science has launched a major PR initiative with a report entitled "Making Sense of GM".
Even the Pope has given his blessing to a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences - which includes many of the most respected names in 20th-century science - at the Vatican in Rome next month, after it produced a report entitled "Feeding a Hungry World: The Moral Imperative of Biotechnology". There have also been more Google searches on GM food in the past two years in the UK than anywhere else in the world.
"It feels as if we are being given a second chance to explain the potential of genetic modification and as a society we need to get it right this time," says Professor Chris Lamb, the director of the John Innes Centre, Europe's premier research plant and microbial research institute. "Genetic modification of crops is a safe technology. It has the potential to be a powerful tool for improving the sustainability of agriculture and for helping to provide global food security."
Not everyone agrees. Prince Charles has in recent times repeated his warning that the moving of genes between species and varieties is "guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time". Organisations like the Soil Association, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth continue to oppose the new technology, along with anti-GM pressure groups such as Genewatch and GM Freeze which has published a series of counterblasts to the pro-GM lobby with titles like "Feeding the World with GM Crops: Myth or Reality?"
And anti-GM activists are still on the alert - last year they sabotaged the only GM trial approved by the British Government in 2008, a project directed by Professor Howard Atkinson from Leeds University who had modified 400 potato plants to make them resistant to nematode worms (which cost the UK potato industry around £50 million a year). It meant that almost all of the 54 GM crop trials attempted in Britain since 2000 have suffered vandalism of some type.
What has brought about this revival of interest in GM? A concatenation of factors has built up. Last year saw a massive rise in food prices across the world following poor harvests in bread-baskets like Australia. Then came a big rise in the price of oil, from which fertiliser is made and which fuels tractors. Next came speculation on world commodity markets after the loss in confidence provoked by the worldwide recession. All this was against a background of larger swathes of arable land being switched from food t o the production of biofuels.
At the same time increased affluence in China and India has led to increased meat consumption, which means more cereals are demanded for animal feed. On top of that climate change is turning productive land to desert or salt wastes or flooding it. And all the time the world's population grows by an extra 6 million every year.
Learning from the Past: Successes and Failures with Agricultural Biotech
From Monday, April 20 to Sunday, May 17, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) will host an e-conference entitled "Learning from the past: successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in the developing countries over the last 20 years." This is the 16th such e-conference hosted by the FAO Biotechnology Forum and is an official FAO activity. The forum's aim is "to provide balanced information on agricultural biotechnology, and specifically its application in developing countries. "
This upcoming e-conference aims to analyse past experiences with different biotech crops in the developing world. After the conference, a document will be prepared summarising the main issues that were discussed, based on the participants' messages.
Obama Appoints Raj Shah as Chief Scientist at USDA
WASHINGTON, April 17, 2009 - President Barack Obama today announced his intent to nominate Rajiv J. Shah, M.D., as Under Secretary of Research, Education and Economics (REE) and Chief Scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dr. Shah will serve with Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The REE mission area provides the science that federal agencies, policymakers, researchers and others draw on to meet challenges facing America's food and agriculture system. The four REE agencies are the Agricultural Research Service (including the National Agricultural Library), Economic Research Service, National Agricultural Statistics Service, and Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.
"Dr. Rajiv Shah is a globally recognized leader in science, health and economics, disciplines that are critical to the missions of this department," said Vilsack. As Director of the Agricultural Development Program at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rajiv has a profound influence on helping the world's poor lead healthy and productive lives. With his extensive background, Rajiv will help guide advances in food safety, nutrition, energy and climate, agricultural productivity, and global food security-to name a few of USDA's challenges."
The foundation's agriculture programs represent a multi-billion dollar global effort to reduce hunger and poverty. Shah joined the foundation in 2001 and has served as Director of Strategic Opportunities and Deputy Director of Policy and Finance for Global Health. In these roles, he helped create the foundation's Global Development Program and the International Finance Facility for Immunization, an effort that raised more than $5 billion for child immunization and has the potential to save more than five million lives around the world.
Before joining the foundation, Shah was a health care policy advisor on the Gore 2000 presidential campaign and a member of Governor Ed Rendell's (D-PA) transition committee on health. He is a co-founder of Health Systems Analytics and Project IMPACT for South Asian Americans. He also served as a policy aide in the British Parliament and worked at the World Health Organization.
Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Shah earned his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and M.S. in health economics from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the London School of Economics. In 2007, Shah was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
NY times story on Raj Shah from last year"
New Study: Governments Prolonging Global Food Crisis
London - Agriculture ministers from the Group of Eight (G-8) and major developing nations will meet in Italy this weekend to offer government solutions to the world's food crisis. But a new IPN study - "Feed the World"* - written by agricultural economist Douglas Southgate shows that governments were the primary cause of the crisis, which began in 2007. Government policies have prolonged the crisis, particularly affecting the world's poorest people.
Study author Professor Southgate, of Ohio State University, said that governments' responses - such as bans on food exports in emerging economies, coddling of biofuels development and needless restrictions on agricultural biotechnology - have made the food crisis worse. He added:
"Meddling by politicians makes food more expensive for millions of the world's hungry. It is a wholly preventable tragedy. That is just unacceptable." (The World Bank says that 28 countries still maintain export bans on agricultural goods.)
But there is a solution. Professor Southgate's study, which is co-published by IPN and over 20 research institutes around the world, argues that politicians both in rich and poor countries must eliminate subsidies, quotas and other trade restrictions, as well as make other policy changes.
Professor Southgate observed that "Modern agriculture can feed the world - if only governments would stop standing in the way." The agriculture ministers are due to release their own report this weekend, but Professor Southgate is sceptical that it will lead to anything substantive:
"Governments are good at blaming others. It's time they take responsibility. And frankly it's time for action, not words. If governments are serious about solving the food crisis, they should eliminate the barriers to food production and distribution that they have created", he said.
Professor Southgate's new study identifies numerous policy changes that would improve agricultural output and reduce the price of food for everyone. These include: ... scrapping agricultural subsidies
... scrapping import and export restrictions on agricultural goods as well as inputs, such as fertiliser, pesticide and new crop varieties ... improving protection of property rights ... eliminating subsidies and trade protection for biofuel development ... taking full advantage of the opportunities for sustainable agriculture created by biotechnology.
* "Feed the World: The Challenge of Agricultural Development" Published April 2009 by International Policy Network ( www.policynetwork.net), a global think tank based in London. Available at: http://www.policynetwork.net/uploaded/pdf/feedtheworld_southgate_april2009.pdf
The World Must Feed Its Hungry
- Editorial, Financial Times, April 172009
'As we agonise about the recession, we should remember that humanity's greatest economic problem is more basic: how to get enough food, a challenge still faced by millions.'
This weekend the Group of Eight leading countries gathers in Italy for its first ever meeting of agriculture ministers. Their goal must be to move food policy up the global political agenda to a position where it is treated as the vital international security matter it is.
Last year's record-high food commodity prices sparked riots as 100m people needed help from the World Food Programme. Thousands of desperate people in dozens of countries took to the streets in upheavals potentially far more destabilising than any reactions the financial meltdown has yet provoked. This danger will not go away.
Prices have come down, but remain higher than in decades. Even short disruptions cast long shadows: malnutrition in infancy can permanently impair children's physical and cognitive development. Climate change, decades of declining investment in agriculture, and current policy mistakes conspire to make the crisis structural.
All countries share an interest in food security - their own, and for the sake of stability, that of others. But they must not confuse security with self-sufficiency. The world can produce enough food for all: as the economist Amartya Sen points out, famines are caused not by lack of food but by income inequality. The poor must get help - in ways that do not undermine food production.
Food exporters and importers alike need well-functioning international markets in food, which encourage efficient global production patterns. The responses to the crisis, sadly, have been in the opposite direction: export bans, land grabs of arable territory and secretive bilateral barter deals. These policies must stop. They are self-destructive and costly, and for poor countries ruinous. They do harm to others, as they undermine trading systems that benefit all.
Governments must provide global public goods. Research is needed to boost productivity, especially for African crops, and must not be hampered by opposition to genetically modified food. Mechanisms must be found to hedge against price volatility that discourages production even when prices are high.
The G8 has rightly invited important emerging countries to the table. But are agricultural ministers, who usually see their job as helping their own farmers, up to the task? Food security is the greatest threat to human well-being today. It should not be lost in quibbles about the branding of Parma ham.
New Journal: Food Security
A new journal 'Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food' was launched in February of this year.
The foreword in the inaugural issue is authored by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug. Authors of other articles include Per Pinsturp-Anderson, chairman of the Science Council for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and Joachim von Braun, director-general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IPPRI).
According to its website, the journal Food Security will offer a mixture of original refereed papers taking a synthetic view of the science, sociology, and economics of food production, agricultural development, access to food, and nutrition, together with review articles, case studies, and letters to the editor. To address the challenge of global food insecurity, the journal will probe the constraints - physical, biological, and
socio-economic - that not only limit food production but also limit the ability of people to access a healthy diet. The journal is available online at the link below.
Read papers from the first issue
Opposition Decreasing or Acceptance Increasing? An overview of European consumer polls on attitudes to GMOs
Full Report at http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/news/stories/415.an_overview_european_consumer_polls_attitudes_gmos.html
In the field and on the plate, gene technology is seen as controversial, particularly in Europe. The European Commission, as well as national institutes and agencies, regularly conduct polls in order to assay the general tendencies of consumers. This overview attempts to capture this plethora of opinion representation and identify common trends and indicators.
The majority of consumers regard gene technology with hesitation, but approval has grown continuously in the Eurobarometer polls in recent years. Approximately one half of consumers are able to accept gene technology, particularly when benefits for consumers and for the environment can be linked to GMO products. In 2007, 80 % of respondents did not cite the application of GMOs in agriculture as a significant environmental problem. Many consumers seem unafraid of health risks from GMO products: according to polls, most European consumers do not actively avoid GMO products while shopping.
Polls make clear that the majority of European consumers regard gene technology in agriculture and food products with some scepticism. In a Eurobarometer poll in 2005, only 27 % of Europeans expressed a positive attitude towards GM food whereas significantly less, 21 % were positive to GM food in the 2002 Eurobarometer. In individual Member States, however, attitudes towards GM food are markedly varied. For example, 46 % of consumers in the Czech Republic approved of GM foods. With 38 % and 34 % respectively, such approval is also comparatively high in Portugal and Spain. In contrast only 14 % of Greeks and 13 % of Luxembourgers, for example, commend this technology.
Furthermore, it's evident that accurate information on GMOs is key to raising consumer acceptance. The Eurobarometer poll in 2005 shows that 42 % of the section of the European public that is clearly "decided" on key questions regarding GM food (49 % of the total sample) supports GM food. Additionally, 44 % of the respondents declared that they would definitely/probably buy GM food, if it were approved by the relevant authorities.
Conclusions: Surveys show that while European consumers today may still have reservations about GM products, this should not be considered as a blanket refusal for such products. On a whole, surveys and shopping trials have shown just the opposite, namely that:
* there is still a very big demand for information on GMOs with only a small portion of the population today having already formed a definite opinion about it,
* more than 40 % of consumers surveyed who had already formed a 'decided' opinion on GM products, spoke positively of them,
* acceptance of the new technology has increased steadily since 1999,
* GM products having significant environmental or consumer benefits were rated positive by more than half the consumers and would be bought,
* around 80% of consumers tested do not actively avoid GM products when shopping,
* in actual shopping scenarios, low-priced GM products even reached dominant market share.
These results show that GM foods, contrary to widespread opinion, may have considerable chances on the European market. Former EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, who left the post in 2008, describes the current situation as follows: "Public fears may be misplaced, but they cannot and should not be dismissed. We need to do a better job of setting out the issues so that people are aware of the potential benefits of GM food ".
Prince Charles, the next Al Gore?
" Britain's Prince Charles is to release a book and documentary warning of the negative impact big businesses are having on the environment."
"The book will feature Charles' views as an organic farmer and will include his thoughts as a campaigner against genetically modified crops and modern architecture.
The project is already being likened to former US Presidential candidate Al Gore's film 'An Inconvenient Truth', which looked at the issue of global warming."