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March 22, 2010


‘Frankenfood’ is Good for Us; Genetically Modified Famine; Sex, Bombs and Burgers; Golden Maize; Dams and Bombs; Deepak Chopra


* ‘Frankenfood’ is Good for Us
* Genetically Modified Famine - Ideology and the Poor
* Full Plate of Issues With World Food Supply
* Rare Variation in Maize Gene Means More Vitamin A from Maize
* Biotech and Ag Development - Transgenic Cotton, Rural Institutions and Resource-poor Farmers
* Dams and Bombs
* Deepak Chopra on Golden Rice
* Sex, Bombs and Burgers: How War, Porn and Fast Food Shaped Technology as We Know It


‘Frankenfood’ is Good for Us

- Editorial Board Daily Titan (Cal State Fullerton), March 22, 2010 http://www.dailytitan.com

Genetically modified and engineered crops (GMs), commonly referred to as “frankenfood” by activists who oppose the altered plants, have recently been given a vote of confidence in the eyes of the global agricultural community.

“In an announcement that drew little attention in November, China said it had approved biotech rice and corn varieties, which some believe could be the beginning of a broader acceptance of the 16-year-old technology,” According to an article in USA Today.

This announcement means a lot of things to a lot of people. To those countries that still oppose GMs like almost all in Europe and most of Asia and Aftrica, this is bad news because the pressure is on to abandon the agricultural methods that they have kept for centuries.

However, for those countries that support GMs, such as the United States, the adoption of these crops in China means the rapid expansion of an industry that could potentially provide people with jobs, and allow scientists to gain support to produce more crops with specific benefits to each country’s agricultural environment.

Although there are still some questionable methods involving the production and distribution of these GMs, it cannot be denied that GMs are now a much-needed necessity in every country.

Much of the argument against this “frankenfood” is not based on scientific fact and but purely on emotional attachment. Almost every serious argument put forward is simply accusing scientists of not testing enough (considered the precautionary principle), or not having long term research done, even though much of this product has been in our food and on the fields for more than a decade.

The truth is that genetically modified foods have been helping the U.S. sustain its population growth and should be used to help other countries as well. Many countries soon to receive these GMs, such as those in Asia and Africa, are in desperate need of corn that can grown in drought conditions, or rice that has self producing pesticides.

The health of the world supersedes the complaints of select groups of activists and it’s great that China will help in pushing that initiative forward. China is now the biggest investor in public GM crop research in the world and will rapidly influence the countries surrounding them.

The argument that these seeds and crops are distributed and controlled by heartless corporations falls flat on its face in the case of China, as much of the GM crop will be produced by smaller businesses. The genetically modified corn being produced throughout the nation may be used to produce feed for pigs, cows and chickens that are abused and injected with growth hormones. That corn may also be used to make high-fructose corn syrup, a product that contributes to the rising count of people with diabetes. However for third-world countries, a crop that is resistant to any manner of weather issues, pest issues and tough-to-farm soil, is an absolute life or death necessity.

In the end we should be blaming our own food industry for abusing these GMs, not the scientists attempting to make this world a better place for people to live.

This quote from the USA Today article by Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit group in Washington, D.C., best explained the situation: “Farmers are smart people -- they wouldn’t continue to grow these over the years if in fact they weren’t beneficial to them.”


Genetically Modified Famine - Ideology and the Poor

- Chuck Colson, Christian Post, From BreakPoint, March 16, 2010, http://www.christianpost.com/

'Should we use genetically modified crops to keep third world populations from starving? Your answer depends on your worldview. '

By 2050, the world's population, which is currently about 6.8 billion, is projected to peak at about 9 billion. That's an additional 2.2 billion people to feed, clothe, and house.

Assuming no change in food consumption patterns, food production will have to increase by one third just to keep pace with population increases. Then again, we live in a world in which an estimated 1 billion people today are undernourished. Our goal ought to be to produce more food, urgently.

A modest but important start would be to not let ideology get in the way of making sure people have enough to eat. An example of how this happens was related to me recently by this year's Wilberforce Award winner, former congressman Tony Hall. In 2002, famine brought on by drought and crop failures threatened Zambia and much of southern Africa. People left their land and walked 50 kilometers to towns in the hope of finding food.

Between 1 and 3 million Zambians required food assistance from the United Nations World Food Program, whose principal donor is the United States. That's where Hall enters the story. At the time, he was the United States Ambassador to the UN s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Hall, who has devoted his adult life to combating global hunger, was shocked and infuriated by what he saw. Zambia blocked the shipment of 40,000 tons of food and put thousands of more tons under lock and key. Why? Because the food included genetically modified maize and other grains. President Levy Mwanawasa said that he would not risk feeding his countrymen poison.

He was exaggerating for effect. He knew that these genetically modified crops were the same food eaten by Americans every day. Ambassador Hall and others told him and anyone who would listen that there was no evidence that these foods posed any risk to human health. They note that genetically modified food was already available in Zambian supermarkets.

But this game of chicken with the lives of Zambians wasn't primarily about evidence. Mwanawasa and other African leaders were under severe economic pressure from environmentalists and European governments not to accept food that contained genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Some European nations threatened trade sanctions against any country which accepted it. So Zambians continued starving.

For these opponents, concerns about GMOs is, as one expert put it, apparently ideologically driven. GMOs are very politically incorrect in Europe. The concern, therefore, isn't driven by increasing standards of living for the half of the world s population that lives on less than $2 a day.

Instead, this ideology is driven by profoundly anti-human sentiment. Much as in the global warming debate, the prescription of many environmentalists seems to be fewer and poorer people, which is obscenely easy for people in the affluent West to say.

Christianity, in contrast, sees human life and flourishing as an unequivocal good. It recognizes that feeding people and alleviating misery should be our priority. And it doesn t allow people to starve while grain rots in a storage warehouse.

So the next time you may be tempted to think that the politically correct movement is just a harmless fad, think about thousands of starving Africans. Worldviews matter.
Copyright 2010, Prison Fellowship Ministries.


Full Plate of Issues With World Food Supply

- Sylvia A. Smith, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, March 21, 2010 http://www.journalgazette.net/article/20100321/EDIT0501/303219968/0/FRONTPAGE

WASHINGTON - No one doubts that children who come to school energized by a bowl of oatmeal are better able to learn than kids whose stomachs are growling. Likewise, countries whose citizens are adequately fed are more likely to have the vigor to produce, innovate, make good governing choices, compete and trade than countries that are malnourished.

In short, countries not beset by starvation are better consumers of U.S. products than countries that don't have enough resources to feed everyone. So apart from humanitarian concerns, it's in our national economic interests to do what we can to take hunger out of the equation for as many countries as possible.

Some contend that food shortages elsewhere hurt U.S. security interests as well by destabilizing countries, but that may overstate the case. Consider the systematic starvation of the North Korean people. If there were a direct line between hunger and unrest, Dear Leader and Dear Leader Jr. would be long gone. And whether anti-West terrorists have enough to eat is not a credible explanation for their actions.

Nonetheless, U.S. economic interests are sufficient reason for considering world hunger and our role in reducing it. It's a campaign Sen. Richard Lugar has long waged, and bravo to him for his unwavering dedication to it. But we also need to keep in mind that feeding - or helping countries feed their own people - is not without consequences.

When fewer people are hungry, fewer children will die of malnutrition, and people will live longer. That means populations will stabilize and grow.

And that means even more food will need to be produced. Also, as countries prosper, their appetites change. A diet of rice and bugs no longer suffices, and the demand increases for chicken, goat and even beef. As the menu becomes more complex, there are requirements for more stoves to cook on and refrigerators to keep food fresh in - all of which takes far more resources than a bowl of rice every couple of days.

But the amount of arable land in the world is finite. Some inhospitable places can be made more favorable to crops through the use of fertilizers and seeds that have been tinkered with so they grow in dry areas, are resistant to pests and the like.

However, those chemicals can have an unhappy consequence for rivers and lakes, poisoning drinking water and creating dead zones in oceans. In short, imperiling life. The issue of genetically modified crops is fraught.

Nonetheless, growing more food on the same amount of land obviously requires those chemicals as well as genetically modified seeds.

Most Americans yawn at the controversy: We might recoil at the concept of Frankenfood, but we expect a red (though tasteless) tomato at the grocery store in March. And if that means using genetically modified tomato seeds, so be it.

Other nations start at the recoil and keep going in that direction. Countries in Europe, for instance, ban the importation of food grown from genetically modified seed. So African countries that go the genetically modified route cut off the closest export markets. That, in turn, reduces the country's (and the citizens') income, which sends them back to the lack of resources issue: poverty and hunger.

An answer? I don't know it. But I do know there's a consequence for every action in life, in government policy, in politics. And there's a consequence for every inaction.

Doing nothing means continued misery for places in the world where food is not abundant and is hard to grow. Doing nothing is essentially an endorsement of the idea that there are too many people on the planet, and a bunch of them should just go ahead and die.

Of course, doing something - more chemicals, more genetically modified crops - is not without consequences: more stress on the planet's resources, more conflict over strongly held views on the safety of genetically modified food.

Doing nothing is not an option on two counts, one tenderhearted, the other selfish: It's mean, and it hurts American chemical, seed and food producers by restricting available markets.

So we need to figure out how to minimize the bad effects of the "do something" option: fertilizers whose poisonous qualities dissipate before they reach waterways; a way to accommodate Europe's aversion to genetically modified food; expansion of markets for African countries, especially if Europe is closed to them; reduction of greenhouse gases that comes with increased use of fossil fuels.

This requires research at places like Purdue. It requires diplomacy. It requires increased trade options for Africa. Many people in government and on both sides of the aisle are working on these issues.

If we can take a break from the sour and hostile mood we all seem to be in these days, we ought to thank the people in "the establishment" who do what they can to work on these issues.

Sylvia A. Smith has worked at The Journal Gazette since 1973 and has covered Washington since 1989. She is the only Washington-based reporter who exclusively covers northeast Indiana.


Rare Variation in Maize Gene Means More Vitamin A from Maize


Washington, D.C., March 20, 2010: A team of scientists has discovered rare variations of a maize gene (crtRB1) that can lead to an 18-fold increase in beta-carotene content of maize in an academic research setting. Plant breeders are starting to use these naturally occurring genetic variations to breed maize that can provide more beta-carotene to malnourished people. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A.

Millions of people in developing countries are too poor to buy foods rich in beta-carotene, such as fruits and vegetables. This results in vitamin A deficiency, which blinds up to 500,000 children annually. The poor eat cheaper staple foods, such as maize, daily. Increasing the amount of naturally produced beta-carotene in maize can upgrade its status to a 'superfood' that provides a valuable nutrient in addition to calories.

Most of the beta-carotene produced in maize is converted into other carotenoids, which make less or no vitamin A. The favorable variations of the crtRB1 gene slow down this conversion process resulting in more beta-carotene, and hence, more vitamin A. The team also identified a molecular marker, essentially a genetic signpost, which makes the most favorable form of the gene easier to find.

"We can now, not only search for this form of the gene in maize using cheap molecular markers, but also breed it into any maize variety in the world," says Dr. Torbert Rocheford, a member of the team. "This could translate into improving the health of children through better nutrition, especially in Africa where maize is a popular staple food."

"We are on track to release conventionally-bred vitamin A maize in Zambia by 2012-beyond that, this research could accelerate breeding of maize with even more vitamin A," says Dr. Howarth Bouis, Director of HarvestPlus, which along with USAID and other organizations funded this research. Under the best scenario, the crtRB1 gene variations can increase concentration of beta-carotene from a little above zero, to about 57% of the micronutrient target (15 micrograms/gram beta-carotene) that HarvestPlus has determined would improve poor people's nutrition and health.

Article Reference: Rare genetic variation at Zea mays crtRB1 increases ?-carotene content in maize grain. Nature Genetics, March 21, 2010, DOI:10.1038/ng.551


Biotechnology and Agricultural Development - Transgenic Cotton, Rural Institutions and Resource-poor Farmers

- New Book Edited by Rob Tripp, Routledge, ISBN: 978-0-415-54384-2, $45.95, 2009, Pages: 304


This book addresses the continuing controversy over the potential impact of genetically modified (GM) crops in developing countries. Supporters of the technology claim it offers one of the best hopes for increasing agricultural production and reducing rural poverty, while opponents see it as an untested intervention that will bring corporate control of peasant farming. The book examines the issues by reviewing the experience of GM, insect-resistant cotton, the most widely grown GM crop in developing countries.

The book begins with an introduction to agricultural biotechnology, a brief examination of the history of cotton production technology (and the institutions required to support that technology), and a thorough review of the literature on the agronomic performance of GM cotton. It then provides a review of the economic and institutional outcomes of GM cotton during the first decade of its use. The core of the book is four country case studies based on original fieldwork in the principal developing countries growing GM cotton (China, India, South Africa and Colombia). The book concludes with a summary of the experience to date and implications for the future of GM crops in developing countries.

This review challenges those who have predicted technological failure by describing instances in which GM cotton has proven useful and has been enthusiastically taken up by smallholders. But it also challenges those who claim that biotechnology can take the lead in agricultural development by examining the precarious institutional basis on which these hopes rest in most countries. The analysis shows how biotechnology’s potential contribution to agricultural development must be seen as a part of (and often secondary to) more fundamental policy change. The book should be of interest to a wide audience concerned with agricultural development. This would include academics in the social and agricultural sciences, donor agencies and NGOs.

Table of Contents

1. Biotechnology and Agricultural Development Robert Tripp 2. Cotton Production and Technology Robert Tripp 3. Development, Agronomic Performance and Sustainability of Transgenic Cotton for Insect Control Ann M. Showalter, Shannon Heuberger, Bruce E. Tabashnik, and Yves Carrière 4. Transgenic Cotton. Assessing Economic Performance in the Field Robert Tripp 5. Transgenic Cotton and Institutional Performance Robert Tripp 6. Farmers’ Seed and Pest Control Management for Bt Cotton in China Jikun Huang, Ruijian Chen, Jianwei Mi, Ruifa Hu, and Ellie Osir 7. India’s Experience with Bt Cotton: Case Studies from Gujarat and Maharashtra N. Lalitha, Bharat Ramaswami, and P.K. Viswanathan 8. The Socioeconomic Impact of Transgenic Cotton in Colombia Patricia Zambrano, Luz Amparo Fonseca, Iván Cardona and Eduardo Magalhaes 9. Ten years of Bt cotton in South Africa: Putting the smallholder experience into context Marnus Gouse 10. Summary and Conclusions Robert Tripp

Robert Tripp has a doctorate in social anthropology and has spent his career working on issues related to agricultural technology development and dissemination. He spent 15 years with the Economics Program of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and 12 years as a research fellow with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).


Dams and Bombs

- Gail Omvedt. Excerpt below. Full commentary at http://www.ambedkar.org/gail/Damsand.htm

Agriculture itself is hardly natural; it is a human mode of production with ambiguous implications for nature. In contrast to the earlier hunting systems, agricultural systems are oriented to the production of life and requires nurturing the soil, in contrast to hunting which seems based on extraction and the taking of life. But agriculture has its own element of aggression against nature: agriculture cannot exist without a certain degree of destruction of the forests and without forcing changes in the livelihood on those who surround it.

The "traditional'' way, as we have argued, also involved interference with nature, sometimes aggression against nature; it involved irrigation projects of various sizes and types. The traditional way was also a way linked to caste hierarchies - even the small-scale, local irrigation projects were often totally controlled by the upper-caste, priestly landowning elites of the villages.

It was linked to a division expressed in the Marathi saying, "in the house of the Brahmans there is knowledge, in the house of the Kunbis there is grain, in the house of the Mahars there is song.'' Needless to say, the Brahmans also had sufficient grain and while the Kunbis may have been more prosperous than the Mahars, both were deprived of the knowledge that is the real basis of prosperity in the world. These forms of feudal bondage and not simply the desire for economic progress lie behind the desire of farmers, agricultural labourers and Adivasis themselves for development.

What they want is to learn from the best of traditional ways of life and production, not to be limited to them; to fight the hierarchical and exploitative aspects of traditional values in maintaining the positive aspects; and to unite these with modern science and technology, not to turn their backs on science as inherently destructive. The NBA has become the voice of the eco-romanticists of the world, not that of the adivasis, Dalits and Bahujan farmers of the valley.

(Hat tip: Sid Shome)


Deepak Chopra on Golden Rice


"Part of the difficulty is forming an intention that doesn't interfere with the intention of the universal. In developing countries with a food shortage, scientists recently attempted to introduce "golden rice," a genetically engineered variant that contains natural insecticides so that the rice grows abundantly. But there were problems. The genetically engineered rice doesn't have natural odors that attract various insects important for maintaining and propagating the food chain. Ecologists fear that this rice might upset the local ecosystem, eventually disrupting the weather, which could have dire consequences for the entire planet"

Prakash responds:

Dear Deepak:
As a longtime admirer and reader of your books and lectures, I am disappointed that you make such stupid and ignorant remarks on golden rice. This rice is engineered with a simple provitamin A gene from maize, and can save about half million children from going blind. It is not engineered with an insecticide and there has not been any evidence that it has any odor. It has not even released for farmers yet anywhere! And yet, you go on to say much nonsense about it and the most egregious thing you say about it is affecting the weather. I am surprised that all these educated readers of yours nodding their head at this asinine remark.


- Prakash

* Luis D. says * Mar 20, 2010 9:09 AM

I am terribly disappointed by your lack of intellectual stringency. Your statement about Golden Rice shows that you don't know anything about it and you don't seem to care. I encourage you to look for the right information. It is not true that this modified rice produces a toxin of any kind. It just contains lots of provitamin A, anything wrong about that? Do you really care about the thousands of children going blind every year in Africa? For good or bad, you are a person who many in the world turn to for pebbles of wisdom, next time please try to read about a topic before pompously lecturing about it. Kiyat lajjaaspadam !


Sex, Bombs and Burgers: How War, Porn and Fast Food Shaped Technology as We Know It

- New book by Peter Nowak, Viking Canada (March 2, 2010) amazon.ca, CDN$ 32.00 (Hardcover) , 384 pages, ISBN-10: 0670069663

War. Fast Food. Pornography. Pervasive in our culture, these three obsessions may seem to represent the worst qualities of humankind. But what have our lust, greed and rage driven us to achieve?

In this surprising and original book, Peter Nowak argues that most of the major technological advances of the last sixty years have stemmed from the trio of billion-dollar industries that cater to our basest impulses. From Saran Wrap to aerosols, digital cameras to cold medicine and GM foods to Google, many of the gadgets and conveniences we enjoy today can be traced back to either the porn, military or fast food industry.