* GM Technology Pioneer�s Broadside
* Crop Biodiversity Going Up, Not Down
* Monsanto, DuPont Race to Win $2.7 Billion Drought-Corn Market
* For Earth Day, 7 New Rules to Live By
* Now, Pakistan Joins Bt Cotton Race
* New GM Crop Database from the Center for Environmental Risk Assessment
* Social Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops Assessed
* 'Designer' Corn Gene to Help Eyesight
* Potato-Head Regulators
* Why agriculture needs technology
* Is Organic Food Stuffed Full of Marketing Hype?
* Losing the Organic Debate
* Prof. Tom DeGregori on Organic Food
* Roger Beachy wins Peter Raven Lifetime Achievement Award
GM Technology Pioneer�s Broadside
- Joe Watson, The Press and Journal (Scotland), April 21, 2010
European policy and environmental groups in firing line as professor speaks out. The founding father of GM technology has called on scientists to do more to communicate the benefits of his invention.
Professor Marc Van Montagu, who with the late Jozef Schell developed the world's first transgenic plant in 1983, used a speech in Ghent, Belgium, to also brand parts of European policy on GM an absurdity as well as criticise environmental groups for spreading misinformation.
The 76-year-old professor expressed great disappointment the full potential of GM had yet to be realised as he addressed the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists' congress. And he blamed environmentalists for forcing the technology to improve plants and crops into the hands of just a handful of multinational companies as they were now the only organisations able to afford the tens of millions of pounds needed to clear the regulatory hurdles to secure commercial planting approval.
�The regulatory burden has become enormously expensive because of the testing that has to be done. No small enterprises nor small developing countries can do this. This is one of the discussions we need to have on how we can do more with all the tools that we have."
He repeatedly accused environmentalists of holding back the technology, citing India's recent decision not to allow a GM aubergine to be grown. The stance lacked a scientific basis and was instead the result of a campaign by environmentalists against it. India�s refusal would have far-reaching consequences. Many agrochemicals now banned elsewhere in the world because of their toxicity are still used on the crop in India, where children are regularly used to apply them. He said the GM aubergine offered the chance to greatly reduce agrochemical use, a move that would secure real progress for human health and the environment.
He hit out at those who persistently claim GM crops are dangerous. �There is no danger, but sadly it has not been possible to convince people of this after 25 years."
Prof Montagu said the technology offered society huge benefits and it could no longer afford to ignore these. He highlighted the benefits of using GM to develop plants that are better able to resist drought, make better use of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphate and provide alternative higher yielding plant-based rubbers as well as oil to replace fossil fuels. All of these traits and more would be required in the years ahead as the world faces up to coping with climate change and a growing population at a time when the amount of land available to grow crops will fall.
Those better-performing GM rubber and oil plants could bring huge benefits, and help stop the destruction of rain forests and the important wildlife, insect and plants that are in them.
Prof Montagu was in no doubt his technology was safe for people and for the environment as there had been no adverse effects since its development. �What we need is for people to believe scientists rather than Greenpeace. I have to say to all scientists that they should no longer sit in their laboratories but instead be out talking to society about GM and its benefits. �I am myself guilty of not doing this. It has only been in the last 10 years since I retired I have been able to do it and talk to society. It is up to us as scientists to try to find the words that convey the benefits and we will need help to do this. This industry will only work if it is accepted by society and the community at large."
Prof Montagu said Europe's zero tolerance to GM contamination in crop shipments from overseas was a nonsense. There was no such thing in science as zero tolerance as it was widely accepted there were background levels of contam-ination for a variety of substances, including arsenic and cyanide. �It is totally unrealistic (this policy)," he added.
He urged changes to policy as well as calling on the commission to accept scientific evidence rather than be swayed by outside interest groups that were spreading misinformation.
Crop Biodiversity Going Up, Not Down
- Albert Sikkema, Wageningen UR, April 15 2010, http://www.wur.nl/UK/newsagenda/news/Crop_biodiversity_going_up_not_down.htm
The decrease in biodiversity in the natural environment must lead to a decrease in the genetic variety of breeds among plant breeding companies. That would seem logical, wouldn't it? But it isn't the case. The genetic diversity in new breeds at plant breeding firms has increased slightly over the past few decades, after a fall in the nineteen sixties.
This is reported by researchers at the Dutch Centre for Genetic Resources (CGN) in the April edition of Theoretical and Applied Genetics. Mark van de Wouw of the CGN evaluated 44 publications in which the genetic diversity of crop varieties was studied with the help of genetic marker technology. 'If there are twenty varieties of a genetic marker instead of two, then of course there is a greater diversity. But if the overwhelming majority of the cultivars all have the same marker, it means the diversity is low. We analysed a number of studies this way in a meta-analysis.'
Van de Wouw was amazed to find that the genetic variety in the crops has increased over the past forty years, after a drop of six percent in the nineteen sixties. 'Many biologists believe that genetic erosion is getting steadily worse, and that genetic variety in crops is decreasing with it. Only that idea has never been verified.' Van de Wouw has two explanations for the way the genetic variety of the cultivars has held up. New techniques make it easier for plant breeders to introduce genes from other varieties into their species. And secondly, since many gene banks were set up in the nineteen sixties, more genetic material has become available to the plant breeding sector.
Monsanto, DuPont Race to Win $2.7 Billion Drought-Corn Market
- Jack Kaskey and Antonio Lig, Businessweek, April 21, 2010 http://www.businessweek.com
Lance Russell�s neighbors aren�t used to seeing corn growing in the fields around Hays, Kansas, where the plants tend to wither and keel over in the hot, dry summers. They may be in for a surprise this summer.
Russell is planting DuPont Co.�s drought-tolerant corn, one of the seeds heading to market next year that�s designed to thrive where water is scarce. An experimental plot in 2009 improved on the economics of the sorghum crop �by a landslide,� Russell said.
Monsanto Co., DuPont and Syngenta AG are vying for a similar windfall. After battling for a decade to corner the $11 billion market for insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant technologies, the world�s biggest seed companies are vying to develop crops that can survive drought. At stake is a new global market that may top $2.7 billion for the corn version alone. �It�s a race at the moment,� said Juergen Reck, a Frankfurt-based analyst at Macquarie Group Ltd. �They must see market potential.�
The technology will have wide-ranging effects, from helping farmers draw less irrigation water to lowering insurance premiums and boosting land values in drought-prone regions, agricultural economists say. The seeds also may increase corn plantings in the U.S. Great Plains at the expense of wheat and sorghum while altering the market for biofuels.
Perhaps most importantly for farmers, corn yields may climb. DuPont says seed being tested on 5,000 acres (2,023 hectares) this year is expected to boost yields in dry environments by at least 6 percent. Syngenta is targeting yield increases of at least 10 percent for its corn. Both companies used conventional breeding to develop the seeds for sale next year, with biotech versions due later in the decade.
The seeds will be a �big market� for Basel, Switzerland- based Syngenta, Chief Executive Officer Michael Mack said in a telephone interview. �Farmers around the world are going to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to technology providers in order to have this feature.�
Monsanto is moving directly to a biotech version that it says will increase corn yields 6 percent to 10 percent. The company�s seed, developed with BASF SE, may be put on sale in 2012 and become the first product genetically engineered to tolerate drought.
The Monsanto-BASF partnership, created in 2007, aims to have its drought genetics in 55 million acres of U.S. corn by 2020. In comparison, St. Louis-based Monsanto had at least one biotech trait in 82 percent of the nation�s 86.5 million acres of corn last year.
Insurance for Growers
Monsanto and BASF are also developing drought-resistant versions that can serve as insurance for growers who normally have adequate rainfall or access to irrigation. The seeds may generate annual sales of almost $1 billion assuming the trait retails on average for $18 an acre, according to Ludwigshafen, Germany-based Germany BASF, the world�s largest chemicals company. �All players expect blockbuster potential,� said Patrick Rafaisz, a Zurich-based analyst at Bank Vontobel AG.
The global market for drought-tolerant corn may reach 150 million acres, Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont said in a February presentation, without providing a timeframe. That implies a market of $2.7 billion, based on BASF�s $18-per-acre projection. In comparison, global sales of all seeds in 2008 were $26 billion, including $9 billion of corn, Edinburgh-based industry consultant Phillips McDougall said in a December report.
Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of global fresh-water use, Monsanto Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant said in an interview. Reducing irrigation not only contributes to more sustainable farming, it�s a �game changer� that will boost profits and help feed a rising world population, he said.
�The biggest single issue in farming going forward is water, use of water, water availability in many parts of the world, so I think it will be a significant product,� Grant said.
Monsanto also is engineering crop seeds including cotton, wheat and sugar cane for drought tolerance, and the company and BASF are donating drought-resistant corn technologies to farmers in sub-Saharan Africa through the Nairobi-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation.
The prospect of drought-resistant seeds isn�t winning over opponents of genetically modified foods, who say the latest technology may taint conventional corn supplies and allow large companies to perpetuate an industrial agricultural system that harms water resources.
�System of Expansion�
�Their approach is that the market system of expansion we have is just fine and we can use technology to adapt to any problems and make money at the same time,� Maude Barlow, chairwoman of Washington-based Food and Water Watch, said in e- mailed responses to questions. �We are also very concerned about the possibility of this genetically engineered corn contaminating the stock.�
The technology will expand the U.S. corn-growing region westward while helping the country�s farmers cut their irrigation bill, said Kevin C. Dhuyvetter, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University. The trait may reduce farmers� insurance premiums and ultimately boost land values in water-starved regions of Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, he said. �If we can apply 2 inches less water, that would be a huge benefit because the groundwater supplies are always diminishing,� Dhuyvetter said in a telephone interview.
Effect on Markets
By expanding the corn-growing region, the technology can help grow more grain to meet government targets that call for tripling use of biofuels including ethanol, which is made from corn in the U.S, by 2022, said Art Barnaby, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University.
Growing more corn may lower prices, benefiting grain- importing countries, Barnaby said in a telephone interview. The biggest buyers of U.S. corn last year were Japan, Mexico and South Korea, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Still, price changes won�t be significant because increased supply may be consumed by rising ethanol production and a growing world population, he said.
Climate change may affect all of the variables. Global warming will increase vulnerability to drought in many U.S. regions, according to the Geological Society of America, and that may increase the need for drought-resistant seeds. �If you are in the drylands, this is a big deal,� Mark Gulley, a New York-based analyst at Soleil Securities, said in a telephone interview.
It certainly is for Russell, the Kansas farmer. He said DuPont�s drought-tolerant corn outperformed other varieties by 15 percent last year when the weather was relatively moderate. �Honestly, I wouldn�t mind a dry, hot year where I can really test these varieties,� Russell said.
For Earth Day, 7 New Rules to Live By
- John Tierney, New York Times, April 19, 2010. full article at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/20/science/20tier.html
On the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, is the middle-aged green movement ready to be revived by some iconoclastic young Turqs?
No, that�s not a misspelling. The word is derived from Turquoise, which is Stewart Brand�s term for a new breed of environmentalist combining traditional green with a shade of blue, as in blue-sky open-minded thinking. A Turq, he hopes, will be an environmentalist guided by science, not nostalgia or technophobia.
Ordinarily I�d be skeptical of either the word or the concept catching on, but I believe in never ignoring any trend spotted by Mr. Brand, especially on this topic. He was the one, after all, who helped inspire Earth Day by putting the first picture of the planet on the cover of his �Whole Earth Catalog� in 1968.
Now he has another book, �Whole Earth Discipline,� in which he urges greens to �question convenient fables.� In that spirit, let me offer a few suggestions gleaned from the four decades since Earth Day. Here are seven lessons for Turqs of all ages:
1. It�s the climate, stupid. The orators at the first Earth Day didn�t deliver speeches on global warming. That was partly because there weren�t yet good climate models predicting warming in the 21st century and partly because the orators weren�t sure civilization would survive that long anyway.
They figured that the �overpopulated� world was about to be decimated by famine, the exhaustion of fossil fuels, global shortages of vital minerals, pollution, pesticides, cancer epidemics, nuclear-reactor meltdowns, and assorted technological disasters. Who had time to worry about a distant danger from a natural substance like carbon dioxide? Well, the expected apocalypses never occurred, and it�s the unexpected problem of greenhouse gases that concerns scientists today. Greens say they�ve shifted their priorities, too, but by how much?
2. You can never not do just one thing. Environmentalists of the 1970s liked to justify their resistance to new technologies by warning that you could never do just one thing. It was a nice mantra and also quite accurate. New technologies do indeed come with unexpected side effects.
But resisting new technology produces its own unpleasant surprises. The �No Nukes� movement effectively led to more reliance on electricity generated by coal plants spewing carbon. The opposition to �industrial agriculture� led to the lower-yield farms that require more acreage, leaving less woodland to protect wildlife and absorb carbon.
3. �Let them eat organic� is not a global option. For affluent humans in industrialized countries, organic food is pretty much a harmless luxury. Although there�s no convincing evidence that the food is any healthier or more nutritious than other food, if that label makes you feel healthier and more virtuous, then you can justify the extra cost.
But most people in the world are not affluent, and their food budgets are limited. If they�re convinced by green marketers that they need to choose higher-priced organic produce, they and their children are liable to end up eating fewer fruits and vegetables � and sometimes nothing at all, as occurred when Zambia rejected emergency food for starving citizens because the grain had been genetically engineered.
In �Denialism,� a book about the spread of unscientific beliefs, Michael Specter criticizes the �organic fetish� as a �pernicious kind of denialism� being exported to poor countries. �Total reliance on organic farming would force African countries to devote twice as much land per crop as we do in the United States,� he writes. �An organic universe sounds delightful, but it could consign millions of people in Africa and throughout much of Asia to malnutrition and death.�
4. Frankenfood, like Frankenstein, is fiction. The imagined horrors of �frankenfoods� have kept genetically engineered foods out of Europe and poor countries whose farmers want to export food to Europe. Americans, meanwhile, have been fearlessly growing and eating them for more than a decade � and the scare stories seem more unreal than ever.
Last week, the National Academy of Sciences reported that genetically engineered foods had helped consumers, farmers and the environment by lowering costs, reducing the use of pesticide and herbicide, and encouraging tillage techniques that reduce soil erosion and water pollution.
�I daresay the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we�ve been wrong about,� Mr. Brand writes in �Whole Earth Discipline.� �We�ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool.�
Now, Pakistan Joins Bt Cotton Race
- Zia Haq, Hindustan Times (India), April 20, 2010
Pakistan, the world�s fourth largest cotton-grower, is set to introduce genetically modified Bt Cotton to sharply raise its production, a move that could enable it to compete with India, the biggest cotton exporter in Asia after China.
The country signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with crop biotech firm Monsanto on April 10. Though among the top five cotton producers, Pakistan trails behind India, which switched to Bt cotton in 2002. The neighbouring country relies on imports of over 2 million bales. A bale of cotton is about 170 kg.
�Monsanto plans to introduce Bollgard-II cotton technology (in Pakistan), undoubtedly the most studied cotton technology globally,� a Monsanto spokesperson told Hindustan Times. The MoU provides for a �framework to continue discussions focused on introducing Bt cotton in Pakistan�, the spokesperson said.
Pakistan aims to boost production, aiming 20 million bales by 2015 under the �Cotton Vision 2015 Targets� unveiled this year.
India�s estimated cotton production during 2009-10, according to the government�s second of the quarterly advance estimates, is pegged at 22 million bales. India grows Bt cotton in 9 states in about 80 lakh hectares, which helped raise yields by 31%, according to a farm ministry reply to a Parliament query.
Pakistan�s Cotton Vision 2015 forecasts various options, including transgenic crops, to reach �production levels of 20.7 million bales by 2015�, by adding 25,000 acres of cotton areas annually, along with 5 per cent growth in per hectare yield. Higher yields could enable Pakistan to contribute to the international market in three to four years� time, an industry source said.
New GM Crop Database from the Center for Environmental Risk Assessment
- CERA. (2010). GM Crop Database. Center for Environmental Risk Assessment (CERA), Washington D.C. http://cera-gmc.org/index.php?action=gm_crop_database
GM Crop Database, which is unmatched by any other web-based resource in providing accurate, provides factual, safety-related information about regulatory evaluations and approvals of genetically modified (GM) plants. Previously hosted by AGBIOS, this searchable database is used extensively by regulatory agencies, the academic and product developer communities, and members of the value chain.
CERA's database of safety information includes not only plants produced using recombinant DNA technologies (e.g., genetically engineered or transgenic plants), but also plants with novel traits that may have been produced using more traditional methods, such as accelerated mutagenesis or plant breeding. These latter plants are only regulated in Canada.
Also, please note that regulatory approval should not be interpreted as an indication that the product is in commercial production. There are many examples of products that were granted regulatory approval but were never commercialized, or if they were, have been subsequently discontinued.
By setting conditions for more than one criterion from the options below, you can construct boolean queries. For example, selecting "maize" as the crop plant and "herbicide tolerance" as the trait will display a listing of herbicide tolerant maize products. http://www.cera-gmc.org
Social Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops Assessed
- Brian Clark, WSU today, Apr. 19, 201 http://wsutoday.wsu.edu/
PULLMAN - Recognizing that the social dimension is as important as the technological and economic aspects, the National Academy of Sciences turned to WSU when it wanted expertise to assess the sustainability of U.S. agriculture.
Raymond A. Jussaume, WSU professor of rural and community sociology, served on an NAS National Research Council committee that recently published a report called "The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States."
Jussaume's primary role on the committee was assessing the social impact of genetic engineering technology in American agriculture. Genetic engineering involves the direct manipulation of an organism's genes. Genetic engineering is different from traditional breeding, where the organism's genes are manipulated indirectly.
"We conducted a broad survey of all scientific work in this area in order to shed light on the farm-level impacts of GE technology on U.S. agriculture," Jussaume said.
"We found that farmers who have adopted
genetically engineered crops are reaping economic benefits. But the benefits really depend on the particular farm and its situation," he said.
For instance, farmers wanting to control weeds with the herbicide glycophosphate (marketed by Monsanto as Roundup) benefit from GE crops, as genetically modified soy beans, corn and cotton are resistant to the effects of the herbicide.
"It's not just the genetics that make the positive impact," Jussaume said. "It's a whole package of management practices. By having to spray less, for instance, the farmer is freed up to do other tasks or find off-farm employment."
Improved water quality may be the single largest benefit of using GE crops, the report said. Insecticide and herbicide use declines with the adoption of GE crops, reducing runoff into streams and lakes, while tillage to control weeds also decreases, thus enabling farmers to adopt conservation tillage techniques that help reduce erosion and improve soil quality.
"It's important to realize that there's no infrastructure in place to track the effects of glycophosphate on water quality," Jussaume said. The report recommends that the U.S. Geological Survey, along with other federal and state environmental agencies, should be provided with financial resources to document effects of GE crops on U.S. watersheds.
The report also said the benefits of GE
glycophosphate-resistant crops may be lessened due to the rapid development of weeds that are also resistant to the herbicide. "The report is nuanced," Jussaume said. "It has multiple findings and conclusions, so it's important to read the whole thing rather than zeroing in on one thing.
"And the bottom line is that, due to some significant gaps in the research base, it's just not possible to determine whether this technology is contributing to the improved sustainability of U.S. agriculture. Those gaps are in turn due to a lack of resources going to fund needed research."
One of the gaps that Jussaume identified is in research on farm-level social impacts of GE crop use.
"We heard some farmers talk about their concerns regarding the oligarchic nature of the seed industry, and that that will make it harder to purchase conventional seeds," he said.
With the exception of the issue of seed industry consolidation, the effects of GE crops on other social factors of farming - such as labor dynamics, farm structure, or community viability - have largely been overlooked, the report said. More research is needed on the range of effects GE crops have on all farmers, including those who don't grow GE crops or farmers with less access to credit. Studies also should examine impacts on industries that rely on GE products, such as the livestock industry
The report recommends that research institutions should receive government support to develop GE traits that could deliver valuable public benefits but provide little market incentive for the private sector to develop. Examples include plants that decrease the likelihood of off-farm water pollution or plants that are resilient to changing climate conditions. Intellectual property that has been patented in developing major crops should be made available for these purposes whenever possible. The report is available on the Web at http://bit.ly/a8Vin9.
'Designer' Corn Gene to Help Eyesight
- Rod Smith, Stock and Land (Australia), April 20, 2010 http://sl.farmonline.com.au/
DECREASING or increasing the function of a newly discovered gene in sweet corn appears to change the amount of vitamin A content created in digestion of the corn and has significant implications for reducing blindness and mortality in children in developing nations and macular degeneration in adults in the western world, according to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, USA.
The finding was made through a research collaboration led by Torbert Rocheford, an agronomy professor and holder of the Patterson Chair of Translational Genetics at Purdue, according to the news release. The finding involved the yellow corn that is familiar to consumers in most of the world and a dark orange corn that's popular in Asian and South American countries and in northern Italy, Purdue said.
The orange color comes from higher levels of carotenoids, especially beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A during digestion, Purdue said, explaining that Rocheford is using various selection techniques to create a darker orange color and improved lines of the orange corn.
Between 250,000 and 500,000 children - mostly in Africa and Southeast Asia - become blind each year because of a vitamin A deficiency, and half of those children die within one year, the announcement said, citing data from the World Health Organisation.
Rocheford said increasing beta-carotene levels in cereal grains such as corn is an economical and promising way to address such deficiencies in developing parts of the world. He said the gene beta-carotene hydroxylase 1 (crtR-B1) alters beta-carotene in corn in a way that decreases the creation of vitamin A through digestion.
This occurs through hydroxylation in which beta-carotene is converted into other carotenoids that can cut the amount of vitamin A created in half or even completely.
Accordingly, Rocheford said pulling back the activity of the crtR-B1 gene would decrease hydroxylation significantly and increase vitamin A formation to address blindness and deaths in affected children. He said work already is underway to move a favorable "weak allele" into breeding materials for corn. (An allele is a form of genetic material, i.e., a gene.)
Conversely, Rocheford said "strong alleles" that increase the activity of crtR-B1 and, therefore, the hydroxylation process create more zeaxanthin. Zeaxanthin is a micronutrient that protects against macular degeneration, which is the leading reason for blindness in people over 55 years old in developed nations, according to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation.
Rocheford said these findings are encouraging for addressing sight issues in both developed and developing countries. "It's like a designer gene," he said. "We can select one version for the (western) population to increase zeaxanthin and a different version to increase beta-carotene for the needs of the developing world."
Paper in Nature Genetics - http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v42/n4/full/ng.551.html
- Henry Miller, MD, Wall Street Journal, * Opinion Europe* April 19, 2010
'Treating genetically engineered products as though they pose inherent, unique risks, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is not very smart.'
The theater of the absurd is alive and well in Brussels. The circumstances surrounding the European Union's recent approval of cultivation of a genetically engineered potato-its first approval for any genetically engineered plant in 12 years-are reminiscent of Beckett and Ionesco: abstruse and bewildering.
For one thing, the approval took 13 years. A more appropriate period of review would have been closer to 13 hours. What makes me an expert on approval times? In 1982 I directed the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's review of the first genetically engineered biopharmaceuticals-human insulins produced in bacteria that are now used by millions of diabetics. We approved the insulins in record time: five months. Subsequently, I was the founding director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology.
Second, European officials approved the potato, called Amflora by its German creator BASF, only for commercial production of starch for industrial purposes, not for food use. The product is excellent but this "split approval" by regulators is a disaster waiting to happen.
Some background is necessary to understand why this product should be considered anything but a "hot potato." Conventional potato varieties contain starch granules made up of two glucose polymers: amylopectin, a highly branched molecule; and amylose, which has a linear molecular arrangement. The amylose component is responsible for some of the characteristics of, for example, corn flour and wheat flour, which makes them thicken sauces while cooling.
However, although the alignment of the linear amylose chains may be useful in food preparation, it is undesirable and so must be removed for many industrial applications, such as making the coating on glossy printing paper. The availability of Amflora means that potatoes with low-amylose starch appropriate for industrial uses will now be grown in Europe, and offer economic benefits to both local industry and farmers.
But the split approval-which permits a product for animal feed or industrial uses but not human consumption-invites all sorts of mischief. Consider for instance the debacle surrounding a similar decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency more than a decade ago on a genetically engineered corn variety called StarLink, which contains a bacterial protein, Cry9C, toxic to certain insects.
Because of unresolved, dubious concerns about the possible allergenicity of the novel StarLink protein-which takes slightly longer than most proteins to be digested in a laboratory simulation of human digestion, a characteristic it has in common with many known allergens-the EPA approved the variety only for animal, but not human, consumption.
Following StarLink's commercialization, an activist organization paid a laboratory to test a large selection of packaged food products made with corn (including corn chips, tortillas, and taco shells) and found the unintended presence of small amounts of the Cry9C protein in some of them. After sensational newspaper and television news reports announced that the unapproved protein-which the EPA regulated as a pesticide-was found in food products on grocery-store shelves, 28 people reported that they had experienced allergic-like reactions after eating food products that contained corn. (Perhaps these are some of the same people now claiming that their Toyotas experience "spontaneous acceleration.")
However, an intensive investigation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control was not able to confirm a single allergic reaction: "Although the study participants may have experienced allergic reactions, based upon the results of this study alone, we cannot confirm that a reported illness was a food-associated allergic reaction."
Despite the absence of evidence of harm of any kind to a single person, because there was no regulatory approval for StarLink in human food, a class-action lawsuit alleging that consumers ate food unfit for human consumption was successfully concluded with a settlement against Aventis, producer of the StarLink corn variety.
The EPA has since decided that it will never again approve a genetically engineered crop for split use. Any crop intended for feed or industrial uses that could conceivably find its way into the food supply has to meet standards for human food use in order to gain government approval.
The StarLink saga should provide a cautionary tale for BASF and its Amflora potato: Genetically engineered crops not approved for human consumption present the risk of legal liability even if no consumer has suffered any toxic, allergic, or other health-related harm. This should also concern EU regulators but likely will not: For decades, they have been largely brain-dead on issues concerning genetic engineering applied to agriculture.
The bottom line is that the StarLink contretemps resulted from a fault not with the product itself or the legal system that decides liability, but from flawed regulatory policy and an unwise series of decisions by EPA officials. Such problems are the inevitable result of a regulatory approach that treats genetically engineered products as though they pose some inherent, unique risks, although all the evidence is to the contrary. Some regulators, like some children, insist on making their own mistakes rather than learning from others'.
Dr. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
Food Economics and Consumer Choice:
Why agriculture needs technology to help meet a growing demand for safe, nutritious and affordable food
Elanco President Jeff Simmons provides facts, figures and rationale to demonstrate why a growing global population needs to have access to the best technologies in order to be able to feed the world not only today, but in the future.
Is Organic Food Stuffed Full of Marketing Hype?
- National Public Radio, April. 20, 2010
Listen to the debate (or read the transcript at) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126109104
Is paying extra money for organic food really worth it?
Some argue that the label "organic" confers real value -- marking healthier food produced without the use of synthetic pesticides and antibiotics. But others claim it's just marketing hype -- that organic food hasn't been proven healthier and that it comes with its own environmental trade-offs, like requiring more land.
A group of experts recently went head-to-head on the topic in an Oxford-style debate, the latest in the Intelligence Squared U.S. series. Three argued in favor of the motion "Organic Food Is Marketing Hype" and three argued against.
Losing the Organic Debate
- Dennis Avery, Canada Free Press, April 20, 2010 http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/22222
'Debate on whether the organic food movement is a scam'
I lost a debate on organic food last week�to the city of New York
Intelligence Squared, a philanthropic foundation, which brings Oxford-style debating to American issues, invited me to be part of a debate on whether the organic food movement is a scam. The invitation was a big deal, with the audio carried nationwide by National Public Radio and the TV shown repeatedly on Bloomberg TV.
Each of us six debaters got seven minutes to present our best arguments. Lord Krebs was formerly head of Britain�s Food Standards Authority.. He quietly pointed out that the UK bars its organic farmers from making any claims of greater food safety or better nutrition�because in 80 years they�ve never documented any such benefits.
The elite New York audience yawned. Blake Hurst, a farmer from Missouri, noted that most of America�s organic food is produced on giant farms in California, where they avoid using pesticides by having Mexican immigrants pull the weeds by hand. With the subtraction from organic of every �unnatural� additive, the fungi, molds and bugs increase, Hurst said. His biggest environmental sin had been letting too much nitrogen run off his fields and down the Mississippi River�until he adopted no-till, the soil-safest farming system ever. With no-till, there is virtually no runoff from the fields. Organic farmers still commit �bare earth farming,� he warned, because they refuse to use herbicides. Their plowing and mechanical cultivation encourage erosion.
The New Yorkers didn�t care. I pointed out that high-yield farming has saved millions of acres of wildlands from being plowed for low-yield organic crops. We�re farming 37 percent of the land area now, and we�ll need twice as much food when human populations peak about 2050. To prevent mass starvation and wildlands destruction we�ll need to double yields again�with nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides and biotechnology.
The New Yorkers barely restrained themselves from booing.
On the other side were Jeff Steingarten, the Vogue food critic; a cheerful frequent traveler on the organic talk circuit named Chuck Benbrook; and Urvashi Rangan of Consumer Reports.
Benbrook professed to be puzzled why nobody cares about the tiny and intermittent differences in nutrient levels between organic and conventional foods. Ms. Rangan starred, drawing cheers and applause as she complained about �pools of pig poo the size of the Great Lakes� and �chickens that didn�t have room to turn around in their cages.� Apparently animal welfare arguments are resonating louder than pesticide scares in New York this season.
On our side, Hust remembered when the mother pig rolled over and crushed his 4-H piglets; gestation crates prevent that. His neighbor�s free-range turkeys often got their throats slit by weasels. I said the best argument for confinement livestock was human disease risks. I quoted physiologist Jared Diamond, best-selling author of Guns, Germs and Steel, that most of humanity�s epidemic diseases came from microbes shuttling between humans and their domestic critters. They mutated into cholera, yellow fever, and smallpox, among other deadly risks. Today, Asian flu mutates every year in Asia�s outdoor village poultry flocks, and wild birds spread it worldwide.
Urvashi said she�d never heard of such a thing. But then, she didn�t really want to concede another valid, scientifically documented reality.
When the debate opened, 21 percent of the audience had agreed organic was �marketing hype,� 45 percent said no, with 34 percent undecided. At the end, our side still had 21 percent for �marketing hype��but all the �un-decideds� had swung against us.
New York may be hopeless. Will the rest of the country continue to back organic food if it takes 80 percent of the earth�s land area to produce our basic food supplies organically?
Prof. Tom DeGregori on Organic Food
Thomas DeGregori, UH economics professor, is an expert on ag policy, trade policy, international trade, developing countries, global growth and population, development in Asia, Africa and the Carribean, genetically modified foods, disaster relief, and other environmental and agricultural issues.
Danforth�s Beachy wins Peter Raven Lifetime Achievement Award
- St. Louis Business Journal, April 21, 2010
Roger Beachy, founding president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, will receive the Peter Raven Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Science - St. Louis for his career as a scientist.
In October, President Obama tapped Beachy to become director of the new National Institute of Food and Agriculture within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Early in his career, he developed the world�s first genetically modified food crop, a transgenic tomato with built-in resistance to a virus disease.
�As founding president of the Danforth Center, (Beachy) has developed one of the most promising institutions in our community and in our nation,� said William Danforth, chairman of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, in a statement. �He is a great plant scientist with vision and a broad understanding of how to turn science into practical applications both in America and abroad.�
Beachy will be recognized at the 16th Annual Outstanding St. Louis Scientist Awards dinner Thursday at the Chase Park Plaza. His award is named after Peter Raven, who�s stepping down this fall after 40 years of leading the Missouri Botanical Garden.