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September 18, 2009


Danes Finally Get It Right; Rogue GMs are OK; Memorial in College Station; Hats Off Unsung Hero; Bread of Heaven; He Loved Baseball Too


* Danish Food Ministry: GMO Crops Can Help Climate and Environment
* Impact of Volunteer GM Maize on Conventional Crops is Low
* Memorial for the Father of the Green Revolution: October 6; College Station, TX
* The Economist on Norman Borlaug
* Hats Off to Norman Borlaug, Unsung Hero
* ISAAA Mourns the Loss and Pays Tribute to its Founding Patron
* He Loved Baseball Too

Denmark: GMO Crops Can Help Climate and Environment, According to A New Report from the Danish Food Ministry

- Denmark, Ministry of Agriculture 18.sep.09 Via Bites and http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org

Today, GMO crops are grown on 8% of the world's agricultural soil, and GMOs have potentials regarding climate and environment. These are the conclusions of a new report from the Danish Food Ministry.
The Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries has released a report on GMO's showing that the production of genetically modified (GM) crops has the potential to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2. The report also shows that GMOs are a promising way of producing plants that are more resistant towards changes in climate conditions.

Danish trials show that GM crops give farmers an opportunity to achieve the same harvest yield with reduced use of pesticides. That said, the report highlights that there is still a need for research into the possibilities and risks associated with GMOs, and the Food Ministry has therefore earmarked DKr 65 million for research into the use of biotechnology in farming and food.

"Today, eight percent of the world's agricultural land is used for growing GM crops, and GMOs have a positive potential that we must consider seriously," says the Danish Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Mrs. Eva Kjer Hansen:

"It would be unwise of us not to choose genetic technologies simply because we do not have sufficient information - these technologies have the potential to contribute to meeting the challenges facing us in terms of the climate and the environment as well as in questions of sufficient food supply."

The report collates the existing knowledge about GMOs and one of its purposes is to be a basis for the coming debate on the usefulness to society of growing GM crops in the future.

According to the report, the Danes are the people in the EU who feel best informed about GM foods; they are also among the consumers who associate the lowest risk with genetic technologies. However, the report further shows that Danish consumers have very poor faith in the public authorities' ability to ensure that GMOs organisms do not damage environment and human health.

"Twenty percent of Europeans believe wrongly that their own genes will be modified if they eat GM food," says Food Minister Eva Kjer Hansen. "It can be difficult to tell truth from fiction when you are talking about modern biotechnology, and that is why I wanted this report, which collates the present knowledge about the subject. There are many myths about GMOs and it is my hope that we will be able to wave goodbye to some of them with updated knowledge and debate."

The report's conclusions will be presented at a conference on Friday 18 Sep tember, arranged by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries in co-operation with the Confederation of Danish Industry. There will be a number of presentations based on the conclusions of the report. Read more about the report and register for the conference at http://www.fvm.dk/gmokonference. (In Danish only)


Impact of Volunteer GM Maize on Conventional Crops is Low

- European Commission, Environment DG Sep. 18, 2009 http://www.environmental-expert.com/

A recent EU-supported study has analysed the development of volunteer or 'rogue' GM (genetically modified) maize plants in a conventional crop field. It finds that their numbers are low and do not exceed the EU's threshold of 0.9 per cent for incidental GM content.

Scientific data on the role of maize volunteers on cross-pollination is limited. The most detailed studies have been conducted in Spain. The EU regulation on GM food and feed sets a threshold of 0.9 per cent incidental GM content in non-GM feed and food products. Above this threshold the products must be labelled as containing GM organisms (GMO). Volunteer plants are not planted deliberately by farmers. In the case of GM maize they usually grow from cobs or cob fragments that are left after harvesting and are particularly common in temperate regions.
To comply with the EU regulation it is important to understand the effect of GM volunteers on the yield of an otherwise conventional field.

The research took place in Girona, Spain, where both GM and conventional maize is grown. Twelve fields were researched in which GM maize had been grown in 2004 and conventional maize in 2005. The distribution of volunteer GM plants was recorded and classified over three years. The study also monitored the growth of the volunteers and the level of flowering and cob production. The research was supported by the EU SIGMEA and Co-Extra projects.

The density of volunteer plants ranged from residual (less than 30 per hectare) to extremely high (above 8000 per hectare and making up almost 10 per cent of total plants). The variation depended on several factors, such as climate and the preparation of the field before sowing. For example, furrows for irrigation eliminate a large number of volunteers.

The volunteer plants tended to be defective. They rarely produced cobs and those that were produced normally had no grains. Pollen dispersion appeared to be difficult because volunteers were much shorter than normal plants. When cross-fertilisation did occur it tended to be low.

On the basis of the number and fertility of the volunteer plants in the fields the study estimated the effect of the GM volunteers on the presence of GMO in the yield of a conventional maize crop grown in the field the following year. The percentage of GMO ranged from 0.016 to 0.16 per cent, depending on the field. This is well below the 0.9 per cent threshold established by EU legislation.

However, this contribution of volunteer plants to incidental GM levels should not be ignored, especially if the initial density of volunteer plants is above 1000 per hectare. This information is particularly valuable to growers who wish to know in advance the risk of incidental GMO from volunteers.
Maize volunteers are usually easily controlled by currently applied agricultural techniques and potential accidental presence may therefore be considered negligible.


Memorial for the Father of the Green Revolution


Dr. Norman E. Borlaug (March 25, 1914 - September 12, 2009)

Information for Borlaug Memorial

- Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture


The public memorial service honoring the life of Dr. Norman E. Borlaug will be held in Rudder Auditorium on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. The service will begin at 11:00 AM on October 6th, 2009.
College Station is serviced by Easterwood Airport (CLL) and has flights via Continental Connection (Houston) and American Eagle (Dallas). Airports in Houston and Austin are a 2-hour drive to College Station.

The service will be conducted by the Rev. Dr. David Beckman, Lutheran minister and Bread for the World president. Eulogies will be given by Dr. Robert M. Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense; Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture; Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation; and Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, a member of the Indian Parliament and long-time friend of Borlaug's.

At 3:00 pm on October 6th, there will be a scholars symposium honoring the work of Dr. Borlaug sponsored by the Soil and Crop Sciences Department - Texas A&M University. Location and details are forthcoming.

The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, memorials be made to:
Borlaug International Scholars Fund, 401 George Bush Drive, College Station, TX 77840

Online memorials can be submitted at http://givenow.tamu.edu/
Please select "College of Agriculture and Life Sciences" from the first drop box and then select "Borlaug International Scholars" from the second drop box.

This fund is for land-grant university degree training of future leaders in agriculture and food security from developing countries. This fund will be administered by the Texas A&M Foundation, a non-profit organization.

Dr. Borlaug's medals are on public display in the rotunda of the George Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M University. The medals include the Nobel Peace Prize and the Aztec Eagle from the Government of Mexico.

For questions or special needs contact:
+1.979.845.4164 or email BorlaugInstitute@ag.tamu.edu


Celebrating the Life of Dr. Norman Borlaug

Read and offer your own comments on the great man at


Norman Borlaug

- The Economist Sep 17th 2009 http://www.economist.com/

'Norman Borlaug, feeder of the world, died on September 12th, aged 95'

AS DAWN broke over northern Mexico, Norman Borlaug wriggled from his sleeping bag. Rats had run over him all night, and he was cold. In a corner of the dilapidated research station where he had tried to sleep, he found a rusting plough. He took it outside, strapped the harness to himself, and began, furiously and crazily, in front of a group of astonished peasants, to plough the land.

The point was that he needed a tractor, and at once. He had come to Mexico in 1944, leaving a good job at DuPont, to increase grain yields, and to bring these half-starving people food. Hunger made its own imperatives. Feeding people could not wait. For the next ten years he was to work 12-hour days in these dry, baking fields, walking at a half-stoop to examine the stems for disease, perching on a stool to remove, with delicate tweezers, the male stamens of wheat flowers, harvesting wheat at one altitude to plant it immediately at another, until by 1956 Mexico's wheat production had doubled, and it had become self-sufficient.

Wherever he went, Mr Borlaug showed the same impatience. Paperwork was spurned in favour of action; planting, advising, training thousands. In India, where he set up hundreds of one-acre plots to show suspicious farmers how much they could grow, he was so frustrated by bureaucracy that when at last his seed came, shipped from Los Angeles, he planted it at once despite the outbreak of war between India and Pakistan, sometimes by flashes of artillery fire. And when in 1984 he was drawn out of semi-retirement to take his seed and techniques to Africa, he forgot in a moment, once he saw the place, his plan to do years of research first. "Let's just start growing," he said.

As a boy, he hadn't known what hunger was. He came from a small Norwegian farm in Iowa, the land of butter-sculptures and the breaded tenderloin sandwich. But on his first trip to "the big city", Minneapolis, in 1933, grown men had begged him for a nickel for a cup of coffee and a small, dry hamburger, and a riot had started round him when a milk-cart dumped its load in the street. He saw then how close to breakdown America was, because of hunger. It was impossible "to build a peaceful world on empty stomachs".

Crop diseases drew his attention first, inspiring him to turn from forestry to plant pathology under Charles Stakman, a lifelong mentor, at the University of Minnesota. Rusts especially exercised him: how they lived, under the green live tissue of stems, how they spread, travelling for miles on the jet stream, and how they fell from the sky to infect even the healthiest crop, if the moisture and temperature were right. Rust had devastated the Midwest in the 1930s, and Mexico shortly before he went there. So Mr Borlaug first bred wheat cultivars for rust-resistance, a ten-year task, and then crossed them with Norin, a dwarf Japanese variety, to produce a shorter, straighter, stronger wheat which, when properly charged with water and fertiliser, gave three times the yield.

This was the wheat that swept India in its "Green Revolution", raising yields from 12m tonnes in 1965 to 20m by 1970, causing the country to run out of jute bags to carry it, carts and railcars to transport it, and places to store it; that made Pakistan self-sufficient in wheat by 1968; that almost doubled yields even in Sudan, on the edge of the Sahel. The famines and huge mortality that had been predicted for the second half of the 20th century never came to pass. More food led not to more births, but fewer, as the better-fed had smaller families. Global grain production outpaced population growth, and Mr Borlaug won the Nobel peace prize in 1970 for saving hundreds of millions of lives.

Greens attacked him, saying his new varieties used too much water and costly chemical fertiliser; his link with DuPont was noted. They complained that traditional farming was disrupted and diversity replaced by monoculture. Mr Borlaug called them naysayers and elitists, who had never known hunger but thought, for the health of the planet, that the poor should go without good food. Higher yields, he pointed out, saved marginal land and forest from farming. Inorganic fertiliser just replaced natural nutrients, and more efficiently than manure. As for cross-breeding, Mother Nature had done it first, cross-pollinating different wild grasses until they produced a grain that could eventually expand into modern bread.
The ticking clock

Genetic engineering of plants greatly excited him. The risks, he said, were rubbish, unproven by science, while the potential benefits were endless. The transfer of useful characteristics might now take weeks, rather than decades. More lives would be saved. The gene for rust-resistance in rice, for example, might be put into all other cereals. He hoped he might live to see it.

Meanwhile what he called the "Population Monster" was breathing down his neck, or rather ticking, like Captain Hook's crocodile. Every second brought two more people, crying to be fed. By 2050, he wrote in 2005, the world would need to double its food supply. Some 800m were malnourished as it was. Mr Borlaug loved to talk of reaching for the stars, but his day-to-day motto was an earthly one. Get the plough. Start growing now.


Hats Off to Norman Borlaug, Unsung Hero

- Jesse Jones, Vanderbilt Hustler, Sep. 17, 2009 http://www.insidevandy.com/drupal/node/10723

Norman Borlaug, father of agriculture's "Green Revolution" and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, died this week at age 95. His greatest accomplishment, the fruit of a decade of painstaking labor in the fields of Mexico, was the hybridizing of a high-yielding variety of wheat that grows shorter stalks but produces more grain than previous varieties. This variety was adopted by Mexico, India, and Pakistan, turning these grain importers into exporters. Borlaug also promoted increased use of mechanization, fertilizer, and pesticides. Today an estimated 245 million to 1 billion people are alive as a direct result of Borlaug's work.

Of course, like any great person, Borlaug had his haters. Environmentalists such as Rachel Carson blasted the Green Revolution for its use of pesticides. Though overuse of pesticides runs the risk of damaging the environment and negating the very benefits they confer, we cannot be blinded to pesticides' benefits when used in moderation. Other charges leveled against Borlaug include promotion of a monoculture susceptible to disease - a situation we face regardless given that the majority of the world's calories come from just four staple crops: wheat, rice, corn, and potatoes. Borlaug acknowledged the need for continual improvement while denouncing environmental "elitists" who "never went to sleep hungry."

Today, thanks to bioengineering, we may be on the verge of another Green Revolution. For example, "Golden Rice," named for the golden hue conferred by the increased amount of vitamin A, could help reduce blindness in malnourished children. However, some conspiracy theorists, organic farmers, and organizations such as Greenpeace believe genetically modified (GM) crops - which they call "Frankenfoods" - are a conspiracy to decrease the world's population or an attempt by agribusinesses to establish a monopoly, while religious groups in India and elsewhere see GM crops as a threat to the natural God-given order. The powerful farm lobbyists in Europe prey on such fears to burnish their support of unreasonable subsidies for local farmers who grow certified "natural" crops. Meanwhile, European leaders' ban on GM crops discourages farmers from America, Africa, and Southeast Asia from adopting these crops. This Luddite resistance has ensured that Golden Rice is still on the shelf 9 years after its creation - not very promising results for an ambitious young scientist looking for a new project.

In fact, humans have been creating "Frankenfoods" for thousands of years, selectively breeding for the biggest and toughest strains of crops. What difference does it make if we accelerate the process by splicing in an extra gene? Environmentalists should welcome any way of increasing agricultural yield from land currently in use, as that would certainly help slow deforestation of the rainforests - not to mention feeding starving children!

Though Borlaug will never have the star power of an Einstein or a Tesla, his work is equally testament to the power of one scientist to change the course of humanity. Though Borlaug's achievements are remarkable, he predicted that we will still need to double the world's food supply by 2050. It is up to the next generation of researchers to carry on Borlaug's ethos of selfless devotion, and to the rest of society to support all scientific endeavors. In the meantime, hats off to one hell of a man.

-Jesse Jones is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at jesse.g.jones@vanderbilt.edu


ISAAA Mourns the Loss and Pays Tribute to its Founding Patron, Nobel Peace Laureate Norman Borlaug, 1914 - 2009

- Clive James, isaaa.org

Father of the Green Revolution. Nobel Peace Laureate. Champion of Small and Resource-poor Farmers in the Developing World. Founder of the World Food Prize.

Dr. Norman Borlaug, an icon of agricultural development for the poor, died on September 12, 2009 at the age of 95 years young. Born on a farm in Cresco, Iowa, USA, he left his footprints in agriculture through his personal and professional commitment to fight hunger and poverty, pioneering work in the development of high- yielding, and disease-resistant semi-dwarf wheat varieties, and his strong advocacy for the use of genetically modified (GM) crop varieties.

In 1970, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Dr. Norman Borlaug, with the Nobel Prize Committee concluding that, "more than any other single person of this age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world. We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace.... He has helped to create a new food situation in the world and who has turned pessimism into optimism in the dramatic race between population explosion and our production of food."

On being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for saving one billion people from hunger, Norman Borlaug wisely reminded the world that he had "just bought some time" and that continued investment in improved crop technology was a "must" for feeding the world of tomorrow. "Norm", as he liked to be known to his legion of friends around the world, was an ardent advocate of biotech/GM crops, which he viewed as one of the necessary technology tools for ensuring future food security. He opined that "Over the past decade, we have been witnessing the success of plant biotechnology. This technology is helping farmers throughout the world produce higher yield, while reducing pesticide use and soil erosion. The benefits and safety of biotechnology has been proven over the past decade in countries with more than half of the world's population. What we need is courage by the leaders of those countries where farmers still have no choice but to use older and less effective methods. The Green Revolution and now plant biotechnology are helping meet the growing demand for food production, while preserving our environment for future generations."

In 2000, Dr. Borlaug, accompanied by ISAAA's Founder and Chair, Dr. Clive James, and Randy Hautea, Global Coordinator, and Philippine Government officials, met with the Philippine's National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) to share his views and experiences on the critical challenge of food security and the vital role of science and technology in meeting the challenge. On this occasion he was conferred as an honorary member of the NAST. During this visit to the Philippines, Norman Borlaug helped support ISAAA's new knowledge sharing initiatives through the establishment of the Global Knowledge Center (KC) on Crop Biotechnology. One of the products of ISAAA's Knowledge Center is the email newsletter Crop Biotech Update (CBU) which is now distributed weekly to 650,000 subscribers in 200 countries, and growing at approximately 5,000 per month. Norman Borlaug will always be fondly remembered as a very special member of the ISAAA family, because of his personal warmth and integrity, and his unique contribution to the improvement in the lives of millions of poor people worldwide.

Below is a special tribute from ISAAA, in free verse, by Dr. Clive James, (Founder and Chair of ISAAA and former Deputy Director General CIMMYT, Mexico) to Norm Borlaug, who was his mentor and personal friend for 30 years. The verse is an adaptation of a verse composed by Huexotzin, Prince of Texcoco, Mexico, circa 1484 at the passing of his grandfather, the famous Aztec King Nezahualcoyotl, who like his grandson Huexotzin, was a botanist and a poet. Given Norman Borlaug's great love for Mexico he would probably be very proud to be honored as the latter-day Prince of Texcoco and the Yaqui Valley in Sonora, where he toiled for more than 50 years. He would often say of the Yaqui Valley "this is where I truly feel at home and where I am at peace".

Norman Borlaug, 1914 - 2009

"Bread of Heaven* - Feed us till we want no more"

You tell me I must perish
Like the millions I helped nourish
Something remaining of my name
Something remembered of my fame
But the wheats I bred in Mexico, are still young
And the Yaqui genes, will still express their humanitarian song

*"Bread of Heaven" is the famous British hymn sung at state occasions, such as Princess Diana's funeral, and captures the principal goal that Norm lived for - alleviation of hunger -


Norman Borlaug Loved Baseball Too

- Dean Kleckner, September 18, 2009

Norman Borlaug once told me that he would trade away all of his life's accomplishments just for the chance to play second base for the Chicago Cubs.

Thank goodness he couldn't hit home runs or field ground balls as well as Ryne Sandberg! Billions of people are better off for it.

Borlaug, who died Saturday at the age of 95, was one of the great men of our time. Perhaps you've read a few of the obituaries. He was called "the father of the Green Revolution." He won the Nobel Peace Prize. His pioneering work on high-yield crop varieties changed the way the world feeds itself.

There were a lot of differences between me and Norm, starting with baseball: I'm a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, the arch-rivals of the Cubs. Yet I've always felt a slight kinship with him because both of us grew up on farms in northeast Iowa, about 30 miles away from each other.

One day, he returned home, as he often did. This time, however, he was a celebrity because he had accepted his Nobel Prize just ten days earlier. At a church in Cresco, he talked about what he had learned: "In Iowa, we live in a privileged world," he said. "We take the prayer, 'give us our daily bread' as automatic and always so. But it isn't for half of the people of the world, who go hungry several times a week."

I wish I could say that I was in attendance at that particular gathering in 1970. (My knowledge of this event comes from an account in the Des Moines Register.) I didn't have the benefit of meeting Norm until a number of years later. Since then, I've listened to him speak many times. His energy and intelligence always struck me. He was active into his nineties, supporting advances such as genetically modified plants.

Norm's most impressive quality was his profound humility. He felt embarrassed to be called "the father of the Green Revolution" because he knew that so many people had contributed to its success.

Yet he truly deserved the honor. "Through his work in the laboratory and in the wheat fields," said the chairman of the Nobel committee, Borlaug "has helped to create a new food situation in the world and -- has turned pessimism into optimism in the dramatic race between population explosion and our production of food."

Consider just one example of Norm's impact: In the 1960s, Indian farmers were able to adopt the tools of the Green Revolution and increase their wheat production in just four years by an order greater than had been achieved in the previous four millennia.

I once experienced a role reversal with Norm. I was giving a talk and he was in the audience. I knew he was out there. It made me a little uncomfortable. This was no time to mess up.

I made one of my standard points: Without advances in technology, farmers wouldn't be able to feed all of the people in the world. Afterward, Norm approached me and said that I was wrong.

Uh oh. Who was I to disagree with him? The surest way to lose an argument is to start one with Norman Borlaug.

Norm, however, reinforced my point by making it in a more powerful way. "We'll always feed the people who are here," he said. "The question is, which ones won't be here?"

Thanks to the ingenuity of Norm and many others, a billion extra people are probably alive today. Maybe two billion.

None of this was inevitable. About forty years ago, lots of people, including distinguished scientists, worried about the "population bomb." They believed that a growing global population would outpace the availability of natural resources, leading to widespread famine and death.

This may be Norm's greatest legacy: Before catastrophe struck, he defused the "population bomb."

A lot of American kids dream of playing in the big leagues. Only a lucky few earn the opportunity. Even fewer, however, accomplish as much as this Iowa farm boy.

The Cubs will always have a second baseman. We'll never have another Norman Borlaug.
Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade & Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org