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September 16, 2009


UK Gov Pressures EU on GM; Organic Food Nutrition Wars; A Man for All Seasons; The Man Who Defused The 'Population Bomb'


* UK Government to Press EU on GM Crops
* UK: Food Standards Agency to Consult Consumers on GM Foods
* Commercialized GM Crops and Yield
* ASK-FORCE General Forum by Klaus Ammann
* The Organic Food Nutrition Wars
* A Man for All Seasons
* The Man Who Defused The 'Population Bomb'
* Rest in Peace, Dr. Borlaug
* Aussie TJ Higgins receives GRDC Seed of Light Award
* Eccentric Genetically Modified Fruits & Veggies
* Strange Genetically Modified Foods from Freaking News (You get the picture?)

UK Government to Press EU on GM Crops

- Farming UK, Sept 16, 2009, www.theranger.co.uk

The UK Government is pressing the EU to address the issue of GM crops to avert feed costs spiralling out of control.

Fears that feed prices could be driven prohibitively high by current EU policy have been raised by all sectors of livestock farming – including the egg industry. In April this year we reported the view of economic analyst Peter van Horne, who told those attending the International Egg Commission conference in London that expenditure on feed could increase by as much as 600 per cent for egg producers if the EU did not act. The British Government has now raised the issue as part of a study on the country’s future food security.

The main problem is soya. The major soya producing countries in North and South America have moved towards GM crops and growers are increasingly using varieties that have yet to be approved in Brussels. Peter van Horne warned in his report to the IEC that the EU needed to speed up the approval process for new varieties and adopt a more relaxed approach to the varieties awaiting approval to avoid a crisis.

Now the UK Government is also saying that the EU needs to improve the approval system. "They need to speed up the time it takes to approve new varieties," said a Defra spokesman. "That is what the Government is saying." He said that did not mean the EU had to compromise on safety. "However, if countries like Argentina and Brazil stop growing varieties that are approved by the EU that could lead to serious problems in terms of animal feed."

The issue of GM has been raised by the Government with the publication of the country’s first food security assessment. As he launched the assessment, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Hilary Benn said the UK would need to change the way food was produced and processed so that the country continued to enjoy healthy, affordable food in the decades ahead. Later, speaking on radio, he urged Brussels to accept a speedier GM authorisation process. He said, "If GM can make a contribution then we have a choice as a society and as a world about whether to make use of that technology, and an increasing number of countries are growing GM products."

Alongside the food security assessment, the Government published a number of other documents, including a report called ’Food Matters; One Year On’ This is an update of the Government’s 2008 Cabinet report on food policy. It is in this report that the worries about the EU’s GM approval system are raised. The Government had asked for two pieces of research into GM and its implications for animal feed – one by Defra and one by the FSA. The new report shows that both pieces of research point to potential problems for the livestock industry.

The new report says, Defra "confirms that if soya feed imports from South America were curtailed because of problems with the EU GM regime, it could have a serious effect on livestock production. There would be little scope for alternative soya supplies, and use of other protein feeds would cost more and be less efficient."

The FSA says, "the supply of GM and non-GM soya are of immediate concern to the animal feed industry. There are likely to be parallel issues for the food industry in the future which may have implications for consumer choice."

Peter van Horne detailed his fears in his report to the IEC. He said all three of the biggest soya producers were moving to GM. Some 90 per cent of the soya beans grown in the United States were now GM, Argentina was predominantly GM and Brazil – the smallest GM producer of the big three – was now 60 per cent committed to genetically modified soya. It was estimated that by 2010 the percentage of Brazilian soya dedicated to GM would have risen to 80 per cent.

He said, "New varieties of GM crops are coming to the market and they will need to be approved by the EU." With the wide spread of GM crops, the EU’s zero tolerance of GM varieties awaiting approval, together with its slowness in approving new varieties, it was likely that in the near future feed sourcing problems would become more severe. He said the EU needed to speed up its approval process to help ease the problem. "Two to three years is a long time," he said. The EU also needed to move away from a zero tolerance of new varieties awaiting approval, he said.

Strong demand for soya in China is adding to the pressure in the market, and it is reported that some shipping companies that transport grain to the EU are increasingly wary of accepting grain cargoes, fearing hefty costs if any crop is contaminated with a non-approved GM variety. In the EU, any product containing an unlicensed GM crop variety is illegal and must be removed from sale. Cargoes are tested at ports by EU officials. Any crop found with GM material must be destroyed or returned to the exporting country. Shippers have raised transportation charges to cover the risks.

When Hilary Benn launched the food security assessment, he said the issue of food security was an important one. "Last year the world had a wake-up call with the sudden oil and food price rises. While we know the price of our food, the full environmental costs and the costs to our health are significant and hidden," he said.

"We need a radical rethink of how we produce and consume our food. Globally we need to cut emissions and adapt to the changing climate that will alter what we can grow and where we can grow it. We must maintain the natural resources – soils, water, and biodiversity – on which food production depends. And we need to tackle diet-related ill health that already costs the NHS and the wider economy billions of pounds each year.

"And because we live in an interconnected world – where the price of soya in Brazil affects the price of steak at the local supermarket – we need to look at global issues that affect food security here. "That’s why we need to consider what food system should look like in 20 years, and what must happen to get there. We need everyone in the food system to get involved – from farmers and retailers to the health service, schools and consumers."

The issue of GM is expected to be on the EU agenda in the autumn.


UK: Food Standards Agency to Consult Consumers on GM Foods

- Gemma Charles, marketingmagazine.co.uk, 16 September 2009

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is assembling a steering group to investigate consumer attitudes to genetically modified (GM) food.

The FSA has been asked by the government to lead a dialogue project to explore the subject of GM with consumers. It will provide an opportunity to discuss with consumers their understanding of GM and what they think it might bring in terms of risks and benefits.

It will also explore how people can be helped to make informed choices about the food they eat. At a board meeting held today Tim Smith, the FSA chief executive, announced that Professor John Curtice of the University of Strathclyde, is to chair the independent steering group that will advise the agency on the research. It is anticipated that this work will take around a year.


Commercialized GM Crops and Yield

- Matin Qaim , Arjunan Subramanian & Prakash Sadashivappa, Nature Biotechnology 27, 803 - 804 (2009) (Georg-August University of Goettingen, Germany) mqaim@uni-goettingen.de

A News story in your July issue highlights a controversial report from the Union of Concerned Scientists concluding that commercialized genetically modified (GM) crops have had negligible effect on food crop yields in the United States 1. Despite the increasing use of GM crops around the world 2, agricultural biotech remains contentious in some countries, especially in Europe3. Influenced by biased reports, Europeans tend to overrate GM crop risks, while underrating the benefits 4.

Claims that the technology is needed to ensure food security and poverty reduction are often considered empty promises and are dismissed as industry propaganda. This in turn prompts widespread public concerns about negative social implications in developing countries 5. Correspondence in this journal has also documented how GM crop opposition in Europe is hurting farmers and researchers 6. More seriously, through trade relations and lobbying efforts of antibiotech groups, European attitudes are spilling over to developing countries, where they crucially impede biotech developments as well 7. Here, we summarize our recent research on the socioeconomic effects of insect-resistant Bacillus thuringiensis toxin (Bt) cotton in India 8, 9. In this case, at least, there is strong evidence that the trait in this crop is already contributing to poverty reduction in the subcontinent.

Bt cotton containing the gene for the Cry1Ac protein was commercialized in India in 2002. Although only a few Bt cotton hybrids were initially available, their number has increased substantially to over 150 since 2004. Some of them also carry the gene for Cry2Ab. In 2008, around five million Indian small-scale farmers had adopted Bt technology, with an average cotton area of 1.5 ha. Many of them live below the poverty line. Several rounds of a representative farm survey reveal that Bt-adopting farmers use 41% less pesticides and obtain 37% higher yields, resulting in an 89% gain in cotton profits on average 8. In spite of seasonal and regional variation, these advantages have been sustainable over time. In monetary terms, mean profit gains are $135 per ha. For the 7.6 million ha currently under Bt cotton in India, this means an additional $1 billion in the hands of small-scale farmers. These are the technology's direct benefits.

Yet, there are also indirect benefits. For instance, higher cotton yields provide more employment opportunities for agricultural laborers and a boost to rural transport and trading businesses. Income gains among farmers and farm workers entail higher demand for food and nonfood items, inducing growth and household income increases also in other local sectors. Using a village modeling approach and taking into account such spillovers to other markets and sectors, we find that each hectare of Bt cotton creates aggregate incomes that are $246 higher than those of conventional cotton (Fig. 1)9. For the total Bt cotton area in India, this translates into an annual rural income gain of $1.87 billion. That is, each dollar of direct benefits is associated with over 80 cents of additional indirect benefits in the local economy.

Figure 1: Household income effects of Bt cotton in comparison to conventional cotton in rural India.

The results shown include direct benefits among cotton farmers as well as indirect effects through spillovers to other rural markets and sectors. For the evaluation of income distribution effects, households were disaggregated using local poverty lines, which are very near to the World Bank's thresholds of $1 and $2 a day (purchasing power parity) for extreme and moderate poverty, respectively (ref. 9).

In terms of income distribution, all types of households benefit, including those below the poverty line (Fig. 1). Sixty percent of the gains accrue to the extremely and moderately poor. Bt cotton also generates net employment, with interesting gender implications. Compared to conventional cotton, Bt increases aggregate returns to labor by 42%, whereas the returns for hired female agricultural workers increase by 55% (ref. 9). This is largely due to additional labor employed for picking cotton, which is primarily a female activity in India. As is known, women's income has a particularly positive effect for child nutrition and welfare 10.

Numerous studies show that sizeable direct benefits are also observed for other GM crop applications in developing countries (reviewed by M.Q. in ref. 4), although a comprehensive evaluation of indirect social effects remains a clear priority. The results reported here cannot be simply extrapolated, as impacts always depend on the conditions in a particular setting. Nonetheless, the fact that a first-generation GM crop like Bt cotton already contributes to poverty reduction and rural welfare growth has not been widely recognized up till now and might further the public debate. Intelligent policies need to ensure that future biotech developments will also be pro-poor. (The financial support of the German Research Foundation (DFG) is gratefully acknowledged.)

1. Sheridan, C. Nat. Biotechnol. 27, 588–589 (2009).
2. Marshall, A. Nat. Biotechnol. 27, 221 (2009).
4. Qaim, M. Annu. Rev. Res. Econ. doi: doi:10.1146/annurev.resource.050708.144203 (2009).
5. Sheridan, C. Nat. Biotechnol. 27, 9–10 (2009).
6. Rauschen, S. Nat. Biotechnol. 27, 318–319 (2009).
7. Paarlberg, R.L. Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is Being Kept Out of Africa (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008).
8. Sadashivappa, P. & Qaim, M. AgBioForum
9. Subramanian, A. & Qaim, M. J. Dev. Stud.
10. Quisumbing, A.R., Brown, L.R., Feldstein, H.S., Haddad, L. & Peńa, C. Women: The Key to Food Security (International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC, 1995).


ASK-FORCE General Forum by Klaus Ammann


Is the impact of Bt maize on non-target insects significantly negative as Lovei et al. claim?

Rebuttal to a Review of Dona and Arvanitoyannis 2009

Do GM Crops fail to Produce More Yield ?

Austrian Mice Study: Experiments

Are Rat Organs Damaged after Feeding on GM soybeans as Dr. Ermakova claims ?

Are Bt-toxins killing aquatic insects ?

Arpad Pusztai’s rat experiments on food safety: Anatomy of a controversy 1998 - 2009


The Organic Food Nutrition Wars

- Prof. Joe Rosen, Rutgers University (jrose@aesop.rutgers.edu)

“The Organic Food Nutrition Wars” has been published by the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) (http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.1232/news_detail.asp). A summary is provided:

In late July a study commissioned by the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Authority (Dangour et al., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.28041) found no nutritional difference between organic and conventional food. This should have come as no surprise to anyone, as numerous scientific reviews have for years concluded the same thing. However, the organic food industry has managed to convince many people that their products are more nutritious because they contain a little more vitamin C (about 10% on average), a lot less nitrate, and varying percentages of higher antioxidant concentrations. Two “not for profit” organizations have been in the forefront of attempts to convince the public that the Dangour study is wrong.

One of these organizations is the United Kingdom’s Soil Association, which has been trying to prove the nutritional superiority of organic food ever since it was founded in 1946. The Soil Association claims that there is much evidence for increased levels of antioxidants in organic produce but has yet to produce a single peer-reviewed scientific publication to back up this claim. In October 2007, amid much fanfare in the British media, we were told that peer-reviewed articles showing increased antioxidant levels of “up to 40%” in organic produce would be available by October, 2008, but we’re still waiting. On August 28 2009, Peter Melchett (Policy Director of the Soil Association) wrote that we will have to wait a bit longer as results “will be peer-reviewed and published next spring”. (That’s 2010, folks.)

In the USA, The Organic Center (an organization funded by the Organic Trade Organization and by CEO’s from the major organic food producers and retailers) continues to cling to the claim that organic produce was 25% more nutritious than conventional produce. But in order to be able to make this claim, the Organic Center had to include results from publications that were not peer-reviewed, data that were not statistically significant and results from experiments that did not fairly compare organic with conventional food. Their biggest stretch was in propagating the myth that higher nitrate levels in conventional food are unhealthy, when in fact the opposite is true. These glaring errors were exposed in a July 2008 article I wrote for ACSH and have never been corrected (http://www.acsh.org/docLib/20080723_claimsoforganic.pdf).


A Man for All Seasons

- Dr. Henry I. Miller, The Washington Times, September 16, 2009

Norman Borlaug, the plant breeder known as the father of the Green Revolution, passed away on Saturday at the age of 95. His life was one of extraordinary paradoxes: a child of the Iowa prairie during the Great Depression who attended a one-room school, aspired to become a high school science teacher but flunked the university entrance exam -- yet ultimately went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for a series of agricultural innovations that averted malnutrition, famine and the death of millions.

Mr. Borlaug combined science, common sense and plain old hard work. First, he and his colleagues laboriously crossbred thousands of wheat varieties from around the world to produce some new ones with resistance to rust, a destructive plant pest; this raised yields 20 percent to 40 percent.

Second, he crafted so-called dwarf wheat varieties that would not fall over in the field when aggressively fertilized to achieve maximum yields.

Third, he devised an ingenious technique called "shuttle breeding" -- growing two successive plantings each year, instead of the usual one, in different regions of Mexico. The availability of two test generations of wheat each year cut by half the years required for breeding new varieties. Moreover, because the two regions possessed distinctly different climatic conditions, the resulting new early maturing, rust-resistant varieties were broadly adapted to many latitudes, altitudes and soil types.

This wide adaptability, which flew in the face of agricultural orthodoxy, proved invaluable, and Mexican wheat yields skyrocketed. Similar successes followed when the Mexican wheat varieties were planted in Pakistan and India, but only after Mr. Borlaug convinced politicians in those countries to change national policies in order to provide the large amounts of fertilizer needed for wheat cultivation.

In his professional life, Mr. Borlaug struggled against prodigious obstacles, including what he called the "constant pessimism and scare-mongering" of critics and skeptics who predicted that in spite of his efforts, mass starvation was inevitable and hundreds of millions would perish in Africa and Asia. His work resulted in high-yielding varieties of wheat that transformed the ability of Mexico, India, Pakistan, China and parts of South America to feed their populations.

How successful were Mr. Borlaug's efforts? From 1950 to 1992, the world's grain output rose from 692 million tons produced on 1.70 billion acres of cropland to 1.9 billion tons on 1.73 billion acres of cropland -- an extraordinary increase in yield of more than 150 percent.

Without high-yield agriculture, either millions would have starved or increases in food output would have been realized only through drastic expansion of land under cultivation -- with losses of pristine wilderness far greater than all the losses to urban, suburban and commercial expansion.

Mr. Borlaug recalled to me without rancor the maddening obstacles to the development and introduction of high-yield plant varieties: "bureaucratic chaos, resistance from local seed breeders, and centuries of farmers' customs, habits and superstitions."

Both the need for additional agricultural production and the obstacles to innovation remain, and in recent years, Mr. Borlaug applied himself to ensuring the success of this century's equivalent of the Green Revolution: the application of gene-splicing, or "genetic modification" (GM), to agriculture. Products in development offer the possibility of even higher yields, less inputs of agricultural chemicals and water, enhanced nutrition, and even plant-derived, orally active vaccines.

However, extremists in the environmental movement are doing everything they can to stop scientific progress in its tracks, and their allies in national and United Nations-based regulatory agencies are more than eager to help. Mr. Borlaug saw history repeating itself: "At the time [of the Green Revolution], Forrest Frank Hill, a Ford Foundation vice president, told me, 'Enjoy this now, because nothing like it will ever happen to you again. Eventually the naysayers and the bureaucrats will choke you to death, and you won't be able to get permission for more of these efforts.' Hill was right. His prediction anticipated the gene-splicing era that would arrive decades later-- The naysayers and bureaucrats have now come into their own. If our new varieties had been subjected to the kinds of regulatory strictures and requirements that are being inflicted upon the new biotechnology, they would never have become available."

Mr. Borlaug observed that the enemies of innovation might create a self-fulfilling prophecy: "If the naysayers do manage to stop agricultural biotechnology, they might actually precipitate the famines and the crisis of global biodiversity they have been predicting for nearly 40 years."

Mr. Borlaug's story is a saga of the greatness of America during the 20th century -- of opportunity, individuality, courage and achievement. He strove to exploit new technology in a way that was based on good science and good sense.

As remarkable as Mr. Borlaug's scientific and humanitarian accomplishments were, his friends will remember him as well for his modesty, guilelessness and kindness. His modus vivendi might be summed up in several observations that he made about the importance of food and the application of science to feeding the hungry.

First: "There is no more essential commodity than food. Without food, people perish, social and political organizations disintegrate, and civilizations collapse." Second: "You can't eat potential." In other words, you haven't succeeded until you get new developments into the field and actually into people's bellies. And finally: "It is easy to forget that science offers more than a body of knowledge and a process for adding new knowledge. It tells us not only what we know but what we don't know. It identifies areas of uncertainty and offers an estimate of how great and how critical that uncertainty is likely to be."

How to capture the essence of Mr. Borlaug? I'm reminded of a line from a poem by Matthew Arnold, who described Sophocles as a man "who saw life steadily, and saw it whole."
Henry I. Miller, a physician, is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author of "The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution" (Praeger Publishers 2004).


The Man Who Defused The 'Population Bomb'

- Gregg Easterbrook, The Wall Street Journal , Sept. 16, 2009

One of America's greatest heroes remains little known in his home country.

Norman Borlaug—arguably the greatest American of the 20th century—died late Saturday after 95 richly accomplished years. The very personification of human goodness, Borlaug saved more lives than anyone who has ever lived. He was America's Albert Schweitzer: a brilliant man who forsook privilege and riches in order to help the dispossessed of distant lands. That this great man and benefactor to humanity died little-known in his own country speaks volumes about the superficiality of modern American culture.

Born in 1914 in rural Cresco, Iowa, where he was educated in a one-room schoolhouse, Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work ending the India-Pakistan food shortage of the mid-1960s. He spent most of his life in impoverished nations, patiently teaching poor farmers in India, Mexico, South America, Africa and elsewhere the Green Revolution agricultural techniques that have prevented the global famines widely predicted when the world population began to skyrocket following World War II.

In 1999, the Atlantic Monthly estimated that Borlaug's efforts—combined with those of the many developing-world agriculture-extension agents he trained and the crop-research facilities he founded in poor nations—saved the lives of one billion human beings.

As a young agronomist, Borlaug helped develop some of the principles of Green Revolution agriculture on which the world now relies—including hybrid crops selectively bred for vigor, and "shuttle breeding," a technique for accelerating the movement of disease immunity between strains of crops. He also helped develop cereals that were insensitive to the number of hours of light in a day, and could therefore be grown in many climates.

Green Revolution techniques caused both reliable harvests, and spectacular output. From the Civil War through the Dust Bowl, the typical American farm produced about 24 bushels of corn per acre; by 2006, the figure was about 155 bushels per acre.

Hoping to spread high-yield agriculture to the world's poor, in 1943 Borlaug moved to rural Mexico to establish an agricultural research station, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Borlaug's little research station became the International Maize and Wheat Center, known by its Spanish abbreviation CIMMYT, that is now one of the globe's most important agricultural study facilities. At CIMMYT, Borlaug developed the high-yield, low-pesticide "dwarf" wheat upon which a substantial portion of the world's population now depends for sustenance.

In 1950, as Borlaug began his work in earnest, the world produced 692 million tons of grain for 2.2 billion people. By 1992, with Borlaug's concepts common, production was 1.9 billion tons of grain for 5.6 billion men and women: 2.8 times the food for 2.2 times the people. Global grain yields more than doubled during the period, from half a ton per acre to 1.1 tons; yields of rice and other foodstuffs improved similarly. Hunger declined in sync: From 1965 to 2005, global per capita food consumption rose to 2,798 calories daily from 2,063, with most of the increase in developing nations. In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared that malnutrition stands "at the lowest level in human history," despite the global population having trebled in a single century.

In the mid-1960s, India and Pakistan were exceptions to the trend toward more efficient food production; subsistence cultivation of rice remained the rule, and famine struck. In 1965, Borlaug arranged for a convoy of 35 trucks to carry high-yield seeds from CIMMYT to a Los Angeles dock for shipment to India and Pakistan. He and a coterie of Mexican assistants accompanied the seeds. They arrived to discover that war had broken out between the two nations. Sometimes working within sight of artillery flashes, Borlaug and his assistants sowed the Subcontinent's first crop of high-yield grain. Paul Ehrlich gained celebrity for his 1968 book "The Population Bomb," in which he claimed that global starvation was inevitable for the 1970s and it was "a fantasy" that India would "ever" feed itself. Instead, within three years of Borlaug's arrival, Pakistan was self-sufficient in wheat production; within six years, India was self-sufficient in the production of all cereals.

After his triumph in India and Pakistan and his Nobel Peace Prize, Borlaug turned to raising crop yields in other poor nations—especially in Africa, the one place in the world where population is rising faster than farm production and the last outpost of subsistence agriculture. At that point, Borlaug became the target of critics who denounced him because Green Revolution farming requires some pesticide and lots of fertilizer. Trendy environmentalism was catching on, and affluent environmentalists began to say it was "inappropriate" for Africans to have tractors or use modern farming techniques. Borlaug told me a decade ago that most Western environmentalists "have never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for 50 years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists in wealthy nations were trying to deny them these things."

Environmentalist criticism of Borlaug and his work was puzzling on two fronts. First, absent high-yield agriculture, the world would by now be deforested. The 1950 global grain output of 692 million tons and the 2006 output of 2.3 billion tons came from about the same number of acres—three times as much food using little additional land.

"Without high-yield agriculture," Borlaug said, "increases in food output would have been realized through drastic expansion of acres under cultivation, losses of pristine land a hundred times greater than all losses to urban and suburban expansion." Environmentalist criticism was doubly puzzling because in almost every developing nation where high-yield agriculture has been introduced, population growth has slowed as education becomes more important to family success than muscle power.

In the late 1980s, when even the World Bank cut funding for developing-world agricultural improvement, Borlaug turned for support to Ryoichi Sasakawa, a maverick Japanese industrialist. Sasakawa funded his high-yield programs in a few African nations and, predictably, the programs succeeded. The final triumph of Borlaug's life came three years ago when the Rockefeller Foundation, in conjunction with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced a major expansion of high-yield agriculture throughout Africa. As he approached his 90s, Borlaug "retired" to teaching agronomy at Texas A&M, where he urged students to live in the developing world and serve the poor.

Often it is said America lacks heroes who can provide constructive examples to the young. Here was such a hero. Yet though streets and buildings are named for Norman Borlaug throughout the developing world, most Americans don't even know his name.

Mr. Easterbrook is a contributing editor of the Atlantic and author of the forthcoming "Sonic Boom," due out by Random House in January 2010.


Rest in Peace, Dr. Borlaug

- Pioneer Press, Sept. 15, 2009 http://www.twincities.com/opinion/ci_13343140

A lot of places claim Norman Borlaug, the eminent plant scientist who is credited with agricultural developments that saved hundreds of millions from starvation. He grew up in Iowa, studied at the University of Minnesota, did much of his groundbreaking plant research in Mexico, traveled the world to spread the message of the 'Green Revolution' and was on the faculty at Texas AM University since 1984.

Borlaug died in Dallas over the weekend. He was 95. "More than any single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world,'' said the Nobel committee in 1970, when Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

We have long claimed Borlaug because he got his academic start at the University of Minnesota. He came here in the 1930s as a student-athlete, a wrestler and a scholar, and received his undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees at the U. He often returned to campus discuss his passion for improving agricultural productions.

"Norman Borlaug remains one of the University's most distinguished alumni — a scientist, educator, humanitarian, and Nobel laureate whose work made him a hero around the world," said University President Robert Bruininks. He said Borlaug "continued to push the university, and me personally, to a greater understanding of the world's food needs in the face of growing environmental concerns.''

His name is affixed to the largest building on the U's St. Paul campus and, perhaps more significantly, to a fellowship for international agriculture, which allows students to spend part of their year working on plant science in a developing nation, just like Dr. Borlaug did.

In a nation of such abundance, it can be a stretch to imagine the significance of Borlaug's work. Here and now, we have so much food that we pay farmers not to produce more. We have so much food that we can afford to turn some of it into automobile fuel. We have so much that we're making ourselves fat and sick. It wasn't always so and still isn't in parts of the world. And, given how recent agriculture on Earth really is, and the amazing adaptability of bugs, past performance is no guarantee of future abundance.

Among the things that make Borlaug's legacy so compelling is the practical sensibility with which he leveraged his fame and good name — for example, on behalf of agricultural development in impoverished countries. "Hunger and peace are interrelated," Borlaug said in a conversation originally published in Minnesota magazine in 2004. "Have you ever been hungry — hungry for three or four days? One needs to have that experience. When people are hungry, it disrupts everything. If you were hungry and your children were starving, you would breach the laws pretty easily. You would steal for those children. When you have poverty, hunger and misery, it's easy to plant terrorism and all other kinds of 'isms.'"

Although some critics seemed overeager to blame Borlaug's movement for the excesses and shortcomings of industrial agriculture, or for political failures he had nothing to do with, Borlaug had fans from right and the left.

"In later life," the Wall Street Journal opinion page noted this week in marking his passing, "Borlaug was criticized by self-described 'greens' whose hostility to technology put them athwart the revolution he had set in motion. Borlaug fired back, warning in these pages that fear-mongering by environmental extremists against synthetic pesticides, inorganic fertilizers and genetically modified foods would again put millions at risk of starvation while damaging the very biodiversity those extremists claimed to protect. In saving so many, Borlaug showed that a genuine green movement doesn't pit man against the Earth, but rather applies human intelligence to exploit the Earth's resources to improve life for everyone."

A long, laudatory obituary published by the New York Times took also took note of that criticism. "Dr. Borlaug declared that such arguments often came from 'elitists' who were rich enough not to worry about where their next meal was coming from," the Times wrote. "But over time, he acknowledged the validity of some environmental concerns, and embraced more judicious use of fertilizers and pesticides."

All along the way, Borlaug was a friend to Minnesota. Back in St. Paul in 2007 to celebrate the centennial of the University's plant pathology program, Borlaug talked with Pioneer Press reporter Tom Webb about a variety of subjects, including the balance between food and fuel production. He also talked about his college years. "I owe a lot to the University of Minnesota, and the people of Minnesota, for the excellent education that I got here," Borlaug told Webb. "I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity."

Minnesota — and all of us who consume food and/or produce it — owe a lot to Dr. Borlaug. We're deeply grateful for his life's work.


Aussie TJ Higgins receives GRDC Seed of Light Award

- Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), via Checkbiotech.org, September 15, 2009

One of Australia’s leading researchers in plant gene technology has been recognised for his advocacy of and commitment to communicating the outcomes of scientific research. Dr TJ Higgins, retiring Deputy Chief of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CRIRO) Plant Industry Division, has been presented with the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Seed of Light award.

Dr Higgins received his award from GRDC Southern Regional Panel chair David Shannon at a CSIRO function in Canberra where colleagues and industry personnel gathered to thank and farewell Dr Higgins who has retired after 36 years with the CSIRO. The Seed of Light honour came as a surprise to Dr Higgins who was unaware that he had been nominated for the award, which recognises excellence in grains research and development communications.

Mr Shannon said Dr Higgins had achieved a reputation both in Australia and throughout the international science community based on his research, his public advocacy of science and his science management skills. “Dr Higgins has been a tireless public spokesperson on all matters related to gene technology and GM crops,” Mr Shannon said.

“His expertise in this area has built up over many years through his personal involvement in GM programs aimed at improving nutritional quality and insect resistance of legume crops. “In all of this, Dr Higgins has been a model of integrity, aiming to provide the non-scientific community with an accurate appraisal of GM issues free from emotionally-charged arguments advanced by special interest groups in the community.”

Mr Shannon said that to help educate the public and de-mystify the science around GM technologies, Dr Higgins had for many years led and presented the Plant Industry Gene Technology for Decision Makers (formerly part of Industry Link) program which involved courses to inform a wide cross-section of the Australian community, including professional groups such as executives from industry, teachers, journalists and bureaucrats.

“There is no doubt that these courses have played a significant part in improving the understanding of GM issues and its value to both producers and consumers in Australia,” Mr Shannon said. “Dr Higgins’ dedication to the cause of informing the public debate around GM issues has been of enormous significance.

“The principles and practices that he has implemented in his multi-faceted role in the GM debate, that aim to improve agricultural outcomes both in Australia and internationally, provide an ample demonstration of his commitment.”

Mr Shannon said Dr Higgins’ enthusiasm for science education had also been utilised by the Science Olympiad program which identifies gifted and talented secondary school students who represent Australia in international science competition.


Eccentric Genetically Modified Fruits & Veggies

The food we eat – from corn to cattle – has been domestically modified for thousands of years. Today scientists, agronomists and geneticists are taking the next step: improving our food from the inside out. Though some may resist GM foods and doubt their long-term safety, plans are afoot to expand the roster of fine-tuned fruits & veggies even further. Here are 10 more of the most intriguing GM fruits & vegetables ever to drop off the vine.

see for yourself at http://webecoist.com/2009/09/01/10-more-intriguing-genetically-modified-fruits-veggies/


Strange Genetically Modified Foods from Freaking News (You get the picture?)