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Date:

April 23, 2010

Subject:

Self-induced Suffering; $880 Million for Food Security; SC Hearing on Monsanto; Frost-Resistant Eucalyptus; Beware the Frankenfoods; 'Organic-Free' Food

 

* Self-induced Suffering
* What’s Good For Us is Fine for Them
* US, Gates Foundation, Partner Nations Announce $880M to Global Food Security Trust Fund
* BBC Interview with Bill Gates
* Supreme Court to Take First Look at GM Crops in Case With NEPA Implications
* Company Thinks Frost-Resistant Eucalyptus Can Thrive in Southern Alabama
* Breeding Causes More Changes In Plants Than Genetic Engineering
* Beware the Frankenfoods
* The Real Story About Biotech Crops
* Exposure and Nontarget Effects of Transgenic Bt Corn Debris in Streams (Rossi-Marshall, please note!)
* 'Organic-Free' Food
* Erratum: Ron Phillips Retirement Event - Correct Date

------------

Self-induced Suffering

- The Ottawa Citizen, April 23, 2010 http://www.ottawacitizen.com/

A simple boatload of corn in Kenya last week has come to symbolize how, once again, politics and manipulation can disrupt efforts to feed Africans during food shortages.

The ship that docked in Mombasa carried 40,000 tonnes of corn from South Africa, the continent's biggest corn producer. Kenya has suffered food shortages in recent years, after a string of droughts.

Hungry people, and thousands of tonnes of food. It sounds simple, doesn't it? And yet the corn isn't feeding anyone yet. It has stayed aboard the ship through the action of protesters, because it contains three genetically modified (GM) varieties of corn developed by the U.S.-based company Monsanto.

The fear -- a terribly misguided one -- is that this will contaminate the soil and crops of Kenya, further weakening the nation's ability to feed its people. There have even been suggestions that the corn is part of a sinister, presumably imperialist plot on the part of western multinationals to damage Africa. Africa has spent much of modern history being parceled up and colonized, so cries of imperialism resonate powerfully. Unfortunately, in this case it is ordinary Africans who will be hurt by the misplaced hysteria.

The current episode recalls the international effort to feed Somalia between 1992 and 1994. Civilian aid agencies were unable to protect food shipments from armed warlords, so western nations sent in troops. The warlords cynically cried imperialism and as a result the humanitarian intervention ended badly.

Likewise in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has a record of letting his people starve rather than permit foreign aid organizations to operate in his country. In 2001, as he nationalized private farms and the country's food chain fell apart, he denounced food aid as a trick by foreign governments to undermine him.

Most aid to Africa does get through, of course. Médicins Sans Frontieres, which sees the worst living conditions imaginable, still tells of international food aid reaching the people who need it -- as, for instance, in the air drops of corn in rural Sudan. But now, in Kenya, food aid is being blocked without even the excuse that foreign soldiers are escorting it.

It was true that scientific opinion was once divided on the risks of GM corn (and soybeans and the rest.) The British Medical Association opposed it a decade ago, not because there was any known danger but because the medical association felt there had not yet been enough time to establish its safety. In later years the association dropped its objections, citing the fact that hundreds of millions of people ate GM foods regularly with no sign of harm.

Today, however, there are mischievous people who are too ready to let children go hungry in order to make some ideological point. Unfortunately, this mess has roots in the West itself, because it was western environmental groups that years ago fanned fears about GM foods.

Eating South African corn will not affect Kenya's farmland or make people sick, but if Kenyans instead want to wait for shiploads of organic food to magically appear that's their right. Still, this proves the old adage that no one can help those who don't want to help themselves.

====================

What’s Good For Us is Fine for Them

- Gabriel Nahmias, The Emory Wheel, April 22, 2010 http://www.emorywheel.com

Agriculture is the foundation of civilization. Agriculture is what puts food in our bellies, clothes on our backs and tobacco in our hookahs. Yet in our modern popular culture agriculture is largely ignored and forgotten. It used to be that one went to college to learn farming techniques — in fact, that is the reason most state colleges were founded.

Today, farmers are stereotyped as backwards hicks. This is because our generation is reaping the benefits of extremely advanced agricultural techniques. Between our solid infrastructure and the chemicals used by big agriculture, the U.S. has not had a major food shortage in decades. In America, consumers expect to go to sleep full, and farmers expect to reap a good harvest. But in Africa, as well as the rest of the developing world, that is not the case.

Twenty-one of the 36 current food crises in the world are in Africa. One in three Africans are undernourished. Three and a half million children die from malnutrition every year. These grim statistics ultimately run into the tragic irony that as much as 40 to 50 percent of the GDP of many African nations comes from agriculture. Agriculture also employs 60 percent of the African workforce.

This inefficiency is due to a cocktail of debilitating forces: poor land quality, livestock diseases, high risk of drought, poor infrastructure, epidemics, lack of education, lack of land titling, inefficient incentive structures, poor governance, ethnic and political violence, corruption and disproportionately low investment in agriculture, just to name a few.

However, if these obstacles were somehow magically overcome, the ramifications for the African economy would be dramatic. Since agriculture’s role in the economy is enormous, an advance in agricultural technology would significantly increase income and savings for those in the agro-sector.

This growth would allow for reinvestment in agricultural technology, further stimulating growth in the agricultural sector, and would increase investment as well as demand in other sectors of the economy. Moreover, it would decrease the percent of the population needed to work in agriculture, freeing labor for other sectors of the economy.

Increases in domestic production would likely lead to decreased importation of foreign goods and increased exportation further stimulating growth. Finally, it would reduce starvation.

There is a historical precedent for magically stimulating the agricultural sector. In the mid-20th century, new crops and agro-chemicals allowed for a “Green Revolution,” which increased agricultural production throughout much of the developing world.

India was the star of this revolution. After centuries of regular famines, including one which killed 4 million people, India began to utilize the crops, fertilizers and pesticides of the Green Revolution. In large part due to adopting these techniques famine has become a thing of the past in what is now the fourth largest economy in the world.

The techniques of the Green Revolution have had trouble taking root in Africa — the obstacles there have proven harsher than they were elsewhere. However, modern science may have provided us with a silver bullet: genetically modified (GM) crops, pejoratively known as “Frankenfoods.” GM crops have the potential to dramatically increase yields and at the same time can be designed to be more nutritious.

By engineering them to be resistant to insects, be nitrogen-fixing, be hardier and require less water, they can better cope with the needs of Africa. Using these crops, without even a change in farming techniques, would inevitably increase agricultural production, and while this alone will not solve Africa’s problems, it would certainly be a step in the right direction.

GM technology has made American consumers fuller and farmers more productive and wealthier. However, this technology is not entering Africa. African leaders are prohibiting their use, and they are doing so at the behest of Africa’s patron saint, Europe.

In societies where we can afford to forget about agriculture, where instead of worrying about having enough to eat we worry about how “organic” our food is, it makes sense to be cautious when it comes to Frankenfoods. Despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence of a negative impact from GM foods, the European Union has all but banned their use by means of soul-crushing regulation.

Given the lack of starvation in Europe, the strength of their economies and their protectionist policies towards their own farms, this would not be a concern were they not exporting this paranoia. By using their influence through intergovernmental organizations, development assistance, NGOs and as the largest importer of food in the world, Europe has generated enough economic pressure to force countries throughout the world to restrict GM foods.

This pressure from the former imperial powers led to the Zambian government rejection of 40,000 tons of American food aid in 2003 while in the midst of major famine affecting millions. The reason? The American aid was a product of genetic modifications.

But I’m sure that the Zambians who died as a result were comforted by the fact that the food they never received was as organic as it comes.

-----
Gabriel Nahmias is a College sophomore from Atlanta, Ga.

========

United States, Gates Foundation, Partner Nations Announce Proposed Contributions to Global Food Security Trust Fund

- U. S. Dept. of Treasury, April 22, 2010 http://www.treas.gov/press/releases/tg654.htm

Initial Contributions to Leverage Additional Donor Support from Around the World, Public and Private Sectors

WASHINGTON – Today, a core group of finance ministers from the United States, Canada, Spain and South Korea, as well as the leadership of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, met at the U.S. Department of the Treasury to announce an initial contribution of $880 million for a new fund to tackle global hunger and poverty and to discuss ways to foster additional contributions from the public and private sectors around the world.

The new fund, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, will include a U.S. commitment of $475 million, a key element of the Obama Administration's initiative to enhance food security in poor countries. As fellow inaugural fund contributors, Canada pledged $230 million, Spain $95 million, South Korea $50 million and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation $30 million.

"As we work to build a stronger, more stable and balanced global economy, we must renew our commitment to tackle global hunger and poverty," said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. "A global economy where more than one billion people suffer from hunger is not a sustainable one. At a time of limited resources and large global challenges, this fund will leverage support from around the world to achieve lasting progress against hunger and bolster agricultural productivity and growth."

The fund was created in response to a call by G-20 leaders in Pittsburgh last year for the World Bank Group to work with interested donors to set up a multi-donor trust fund to help implement some of the $22 billion in pledges made by G-8 leaders at their meeting in L'Aquila.

The United States has already contributed $67 million to the fund and has requested $408 million in President Obama's FY 2011 budget, which is subject to Congressional appropriation. This investment is a key element of the Administration's initiative to enhance food security, raise rural incomes and promote stability in poor countries and will complement the bilateral food security activities of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"With the global number of chronically hungry reaching 1 billion, working together to put an end to the status quo and improve on past efforts is both a moral and economic imperative," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "The financial commitments to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program announced today will help address this critical issue in a meaningful and comprehensive way."

With the aim of boosting agricultural assistance to poor countries, the fund will have both public and private sector accounts to provide financing to countries that have robust agriculture strategies. The public sector account will provide aid for better irrigation systems, linking farmers to markets and building post-harvest storage infrastructure. The private sector account will provide innovative financing to increase the commercial value of small and medium-sized agri-businesses and farmers.

"Investing in small farmers is an incredibly effective way to combat hunger and extreme poverty – history has proved it many times," said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, which has committed $1.5 billion to date to agricultural development. "The launch of this fund is an important step forward, but only a first step. Other countries meeting at the European, G-8 and G-20 summits in June and at the U.N. Summit in September should join the four founding partners and make good on their pledges. If we all sustain focus until the job is done, hundreds of millions of people will lead better lives."

The fund aims to improve the income and food security of poor people in developing countries. It is estimated that the sudden increase in food prices in 2008 drove 100 million people into poverty. Even before the food price spikes, 850 million people in poor countries were chronically malnourished. Agriculture, seen as vital for development, has also been affected by low levels of investment over the past few decades and issues like climate change.

"At a time when practical and effective solutions are required, Canada is pleased to be among the first to help fund such a valuable program," said Jim Flaherty, Canada's Minister of Finance. "Our $230 million contribution builds on Canada's ongoing efforts to improve sustainable agriculture for the world's poorest. It also ensures international institutions have the resources they need to help countries tackle increasingly difficult challenges. None are as basic, as urgent or as unacceptable as global hunger."

"We have to maintain our degree of commitment with the poor," said Elena Salgado, Second Vice-President and Minister of Economy and Finance of Spain. "We cannot forget the 75 percent of the world's poor that live in rural areas. Sustaining food security requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses increasing agriculture productivity, fostering rural development and guaranteeing access to markets, especially for small farmers. Vulnerable populations would benefit from surpluses thus generated, through food safety nets."

"Korea experienced a severe food shortage and poverty at the initial stages of its economic development in the 1960s," said Korean Finance Minister Yoon Jeung-Hyun. "The experiences made Korea recognize the importance of food security. In this regard, we will spare no effort in supporting developing countries' economic development and helping to strengthen their agriculture sector with empathy rather than sympathy, deep down in the heart."

Hosted by the World Bank Group, a number of agencies, including the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, will implement the projects financed by the fund. The fund will embrace a transparent governance structure by ensuring that recipient countries and civil society organizations, as well as donors, have a voice in the operation of the fund.

"Malnutrition and hunger afflicts millions of vulnerable people in Africa who cannot afford to grow and buy sufficient food," said Jean Ping, the Chairman of the African Union Commission. "Last year, the international community pledged resources to help the world's poorest farmers. The establishment of this fund is an important signal that donors intend to meet their commitments and help African countries implement their comprehensive agriculture strategies. We urge other countries to come forward and make good on their promises."

"With a sixth of the world's people going hungry every day, the crisis in food remains very real, posing a severe economic burden on developing countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa," said World Bank Group President, Robert B. Zoellick. "Co-operation and coordination are vital to boost agricultural productivity and connect farmers to markets, as agriculture is the main lifeline today for about 75 percent of the world's poor."

==================

BBC Interview with Bill Gates

Video: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/world_news_america/8638780.stm

===================

Supreme Court to Take First Look at Genetically Modified Crops in Case With NEPA Implications

- Gabriel Nelson, New York Times, April 22, 2010

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Tuesday involving a federal judge's temporary ban on a breed of pesticide-resistant alfalfa, setting the stage for the court's first-ever ruling on genetically modified crops.

Legal experts do not expect a blockbuster decision on the merits of regulating modified plants such as Monsanto Co.'s Roundup Ready alfalfa, but the case, Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, has drawn widespread interest because the justices could issue a ruling that would raise or lower the threshold for challenges under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Environmental groups, which frequently use the statute to bring lawsuits against government agencies and industry groups, "don't expect anything good" to come from the Supreme Court's eventual decision, said David Bookbinder, chief climate counsel at the Sierra Club. It seems that some of the justices are "on a kick to gut NEPA remedies," he said earlier this year during a panel discussion on environmental law at Georgetown University.

That sense of foreboding is compounded by the fact that the case comes from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a frequent source of environmental cases struck down by the Supreme Court. Last year, when the Supreme Court overturned five decisions favoring environmentalists, four had come from the 9th Circuit (Greenwire, June 25, 2009).

The Monsanto case stems from a 2006 lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Led by Phillip Geertson, a producer of organic alfalfa seeds from Adrian, Ore., the plaintiffs claimed that Roundup Ready alfalfa could spread its genes to alfalfa in neighboring fields, potentially preventing the other farmers from marketing their produce as organic.

Organic farmers convinced the court that they faced a "likelihood of irreparable harm" from genetic contamination, securing a ban on planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa that would remain in place until the Department of Agriculture concludes an environmental review.

"The court of appeals approved an injunction that is so broad that it prohibits beneficial activities that pose no risk of harm whatsoever," attorneys for Monsanto wrote in their petition for Supreme Court review, which was granted in January. "If not reversed, the Ninth Circuit's holding threatens to make blanket injunctions all but automatic in NEPA cases arising in that circuit."

Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Humane Society of the United States filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the court not to accept Monsanto's argument, saying such a ruling would hinder their ability to rely on the statute "to ensure a meaningful consideration by federal agencies of the impacts of their actions on the environment, and particularly wildlife and plants."

Michael Senatore, vice president of conservation law at Defenders of Wildlife, said his organization has not been involved in the issue of modified crops but wanted to weigh in because of the case's potential impact on environmental litigation. "It is a NEPA case, and NEPA has fared exceedingly poorly in the Supreme Court -- I think it's 0-for-13," Senatore said. If the organic farmers lose, he added, "we could get another adverse NEPA ruling that could have implications for the work that we do."

Industry groups have described the alfalfa lawsuit as a typical abuse of NEPA by advocacy groups, saying the litigation is intended to obstruct and delay action even though there is little or no risk of harm to plaintiffs.

The potential impact of the Supreme Court's ruling on a variety of environmental cases has drawn briefs from business groups beyond agriculture. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute, Croplife America and the National Association of Home Builders joined together last month to file a friend-of-the-court brief, urging the court to set a high bar for plaintiffs who seek injunctions against industry while suing for environmental review. "In this case," the four groups said in their amicus brief, "the Court should make clear once and for all that a court must find likely irreparable harm before issuing an injunction."

Seeds of the case
The development of genetically modified crops has introduced a variety of novel legal questions, but the Supreme Court has never before agreed to consider the issues raised by the technology. Lower courts have largely treated genetically modified crops and nonmodified crops as interchangeable, but the lower courts' decisions in this case broke that mold.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, the brother of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, ruled that the government needed to examine the modified breed's impact even though there was no reason to believe it was harmful. Even a remote possibility of genetic contamination justified environmental review under NEPA, he wrote in his 2007 decision (pdf).

"The government does not cite any case, and the court is aware of none, which holds that an impact is not significant simply because a federal agency determines that the major federal action does not jeopardize the public's health and safety," Breyer wrote. "The paucity of caselaw is unsurprising given that one of Congress' express goals in adopting NEPA was to 'attain the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without degradation, risk to health and safety, or other undesirable and unintended consequences.' A federal action that eliminates a farmer's choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer's choice to eat non-genetically engineered food, is an undesirable consequence."

Monsanto appealed to the Supreme Court last year after the 9th Circuit upheld the ban for the second time in a 2-1 decision (pdf). Because of Charles Breyer's involvement in the case, the Supreme Court will consider the case without left-leaning Justice Breyer.

In its petition for review, Monsanto argued that USDA's proposed measures would have reduced the likelihood of cross-pollination to a fraction of 1 percent. Even if a few plants could conceivably become contaminated, it would hardly have the severe and persistent impact claimed by the plaintiffs, the company said. "The district court's suggestion that continued planting of [Roundup Ready alfalfa] could eliminate the availability of conventional alfalfa is bad science fiction with no support in the record," Monsanto wrote.

Monsanto moved forward without the support of USDA, which had already begun preparing the environmental impact statement ordered by the district court. In a draft statement released in December, the agency found that deregulating the Roundup Ready alfalfa would have "no significant impact on the human environment." A public comment period on the draft statement ended last month.

The ban on alfalfa plantings would end once the agency concludes the environmental review process. Though that would likely render the case moot, a final statement could still be years away.

The Supreme Court's eventual decision could set precedent for other litigation involving the introduction of GM crops, such as an ongoing lawsuit over genetically modified sugar beets. In the case, which originated in the same California district court, Judge Jeffrey White allowed plantings to continue this year but warned that he might not allow farmers to use the modified seeds in future seasons.

White ordered USDA to prepare an environmental impact statement last fall after farmers raised concerns about genetic contamination. He will decide this summer whether to order an injunction against future plantings until the agency finishes its review.

"The parties should not assume that the court's decision to deny a preliminary injunction is indicative of its views on a permanent injunction," White wrote, urging farmers to "take all efforts, going forward, to use conventional seed" (Greenwire, March 17).

Harm?
The Supreme Court case hinges on Monsanto's claim that organic farmers did not demonstrate a "likelihood of irreparable harm."

That standard was also at the center of the Supreme Court's 2008 decision in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, which upheld the Navy's use of sonar for training exercises in Southern California despite potential impacts on animals such as whales, seals and sea lions. Alison Peck, a law professor at West Virginia University, said it is unclear whether the justices will use the Monsanto case to further refine the test for environmental injunctions or delve more deeply into issues distinct to genetically modified crops.

Monsanto has claimed that the district court should not have been able to issue an injunction without holding an evidentiary hearing, but Breyer decided that such a hearing was unnecessary because USDA's review would resolve any disagreements over the facts of the case. The court's ruling could ultimately address this sort of procedural matter, Peck said.

But Monsanto's question on the "likelihood of irreparable harm" standard also opens the door for Monsanto's claim that genetic contamination would have been merely economic harm rather than environmental harm, she said. The organic farmers argue that Monsanto's argument on the environmental harm question is a backdoor effort to relitigate the district court's ruling.

"It's easy to come away after reading all the briefs and the lower court decisions, wondering exactly why this case is here," Senatore said. "It's really not clear that the injunction provided any additional relief beyond what was obtained through vacating the USDA's decision, so it strikes me as odd that this case was granted."

Though the justices usually refrain from reconsidering a lower court's decision on the merits, stranger things have happened, Peck said.

"It is entirely possible that the court will consider the contamination-as-environmental-harm ruling when it determines whether there is a 'likelihood of irreparable harm,'" Peck said. "Every word in that phrase could be a vehicle for revisiting the scope of the district court's holding that biotech contamination is within the scope of NEPA."

=================

Company Thinks Frost-Resistant Eucalyptus Can Thrive in Southern Alabama

- Ben Raines, Alabama Live, April 23, 2010

A field of eucalyptus trees near Loxley may represent the future of agriculture in the coastal South. After several years' worth of genetic tweaking, South Carolina-based ArborGen says it has created the first ever frost-tolerant eucalyptus -- hardy down to about 16 degrees, meaning it will likely survive anywhere south of Interstate 10 in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

The bare skeletons of hundreds of eucalyptus stand out at an experimental plantation just off Ala. 59. ArborGen's Mike Cunningham said the company thinks most of their still-bare trees survived the coldest winter in years, even though most other trees in south Alabama have been fully leafed out for weeks.

ArborGen, created in 2000, is a partnership between what is now MeadWestvaco Corp. and International Paper Co. Since then, the company has joined with the Department of Energy in a biofuels project and has annual tree stock sales approaching $300 million.

The company applied for permission to begin commercial sale of its frost-tolerant eucalyptus in 2008, but has not yet received a ruling.

If the U.S. Department of Agriculture grants approval, ArborGen executives say farmers will begin raising thousands of acres of the genetically modified eucalyptus within three years, providing raw material for paper and energy production. Among the fastest growing hardwoods on earth -- reaching more than 50 feet in two years -- the eucalyptus could take the place of loblolly pine on some of the 9 million acres of farmed trees in the Southeast, the company has said.

========================

Breeding Causes More Changes In Plants Than Genetic Engineering

- GMO Safety (EU)

It is often maintained that genetic interventions may have unintended consequences for the metabolism of modified plants and by implication for human health and the environment as well. A recently completed research project compared gene expression and plant substances in different conventional and transgenic barley lines. GMO Safety discussed the findings with Uwe Sonnewald, one of the project leaders.

GMO Safety: What were the aims of your research project?
Uwe Sonnewald: In our joint project with the University of Giessen and the State University Washington we aimed to test the extent to which different varieties of barley differ from one another, the extent to which transgenic and non-transgenic barley plants differ from one another and the impact of environmental factors. To this end we studied gene expression in the plants and the composition of the metabolites, i.e. the metabolic products. We originally intended to study the leaves and the grains but as it turned out we were unable to complete the grain studies due to repeated crop vandalism in Giessen.

GMO Safety: What are your most important findings?
Uwe Sonnewald: Firstly, we found virtually no differences between the genetically modified barley plants under investigation and their non-transgenic parent lines, either in terms of metabolites or gene expression. We then found that colonisation of the barley plants by mycorrhizal fungi produced virtually no changes in gene expression, but did change the metabolites. This demonstrates the value of combining both approaches. We also discovered that differences between conventional varieties can be considerable. Approximately 1,600 genes in the two conventional varieties that we compared are differentially regulated. We don't even know the function of many of these genes.

Read on http://www.gmo-safety.eu/en/news/741.docu.html

===============

Beware the Frankenfoods

- Andrew Busch, Arizona Daily, April 23, 2010 http://wildcat.arizona.edu

To the incredulity of our Canadian friends, the two party political system really works swimmingly. It just so happens that half the country loves money and hates Mexicans and the other half loves philanthropy and hates everything else. Our haughty liberal heads might burst, however, if we try to reconcile our hatred for “Frankenfoods” and big agri-business with our desire to feed the world, because one might indeed be the answer to the other.

“Frankenfoods” is the favorite invective for genetically modified (GM) crops. As explained by former Science and Technology Advisor Nina Nina Fedoroff in an August 2008 interview by the New York Times, “Genetic modification is the basis of all evolution.” Scientific tools and breeding have been used to select for certain traits in food throughout the 20th century. However, she says “now we’ve invented techniques that introduce just one gene without disturbing the rest, and some people think that’s terrible.”

She is right about that. Everywhere you look, food conspiracy theories abound. The Organic Consumers Association is calling for a moratorium on GM organisms, claiming that “by virtue of their ‘superior’ genes, some genetically engineered plants and animals will inevitably run amok.”

OCA also believes that Monsanto, the premier agricultural biotechnology corporation, has diabolical aspirations to create herbicide resistant plants in order to boost sales of even stronger herbicides. Supposedly, they are also planning to release “Terminator Technology, that will render seeds infertile and force hundreds of millions of farmers to purchase evermore expensive GM seeds.”

It’s possible. It’s also possible that once developers of photovoltaic technology monopolize the energy grid, they will boost sales by blocking out half of the sun.

The truth is that biotechnology currently gives us almost all of our corn, cotton and soybeans. The insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant crops have increased productivity and sustainability and are found on 300 million acres in 25 counties, according to an article by Fedoroff, published this month in Science. She also points out that thus far, the world has been consuming these foods without incident.

Americans have largely met our food production needs, and we have the body-mass indexes to prove it. Thanks to agricultural science, this is accomplished with only 2 percent of the population living on farms. This is in stark contrast to African countries, where, according to the book “Starved for Science” by Robert Paarlberg, two-thirds of all people are farmers and one-third are not even able to meet their own nutritional needs.

The moral and intellectual dissonance presented by the modern scenario of farming and simultaneously starving is overwhelming.

Paarlberg argues that our wealth, as consumers, affords us the luxury to complain about methods of food production and to take our business elsewhere. Revolting against factory-farmed animals and genetically engineered plants is fine, but, as our interest in agricultural science wanes, so does our interest in helping less fortunate countries.

As Paarlberg points out, “U.S. foreign assistance to agricultural science in Africa has fallen by 75 percent in the past two decades.” To make matters worse, countries all over Asia, Central America and Africa have adopted the American and European “imperialism of rich tastes” and enacted the same stifling legal regulations.

The idea of building super organisms by installing one plant’s promoter into another’s chromosomal DNA is certainly to be taken seriously and handled carefully. But with a crop yield one-tenth as high as America’s, Africa has an entirely different set of problems, and neither excessive chemical use nor the ‘un-coolness’ of mass produced veggies ranks among them.


Andrew Busch is a graduate student in physiology.

===================

The Real Story About Biotech Crops

- Bill Horan, Truth About Trade & Technology, April 23,2010 http://www.truthabouttrade.org

Leave it to the New York Times to accentuate the negative.

A new report from the National Research Council praises the widespread acceptance of biotech crops in the United States. We’re producing more food than ever before, keeping grocery-store prices in check, and doing a better job of protecting the environment. Farmers, consumers, and conservationists should stand up and cheer.

So what’s not to like? Well, rather than celebrating an agricultural achievement, the headline in the Times warned about too much of a good thing: “Study Says Overuse Threatens Gains From Modified Crops.” That’s the media for you: Show a journalist a golden field of wheat and he’ll ask about the chaff.

I’m here to say that the real story about biotech crops is not just good, but actually better than the most positive press releases make it sound.

The National Research Council, an arm of the U.S. federal government, exists to provide elected officials, policy makers, and citizens with scientific advice on everything from breast-cancer detection to water management. Its studies are carefully considered, frequently extensive, and often regarded as authoritative.

The report on genetically modified crops, which was released last week, involved the work of ten scientists over a two-year period. Their 253-page analysis concluded that biotech crops provide “substantial economic and environmental benefits.”

Farmers have known this for years. That’s why we’ve adopted this technology so quickly. Today in the United States, the vast majority of corn, soybeans, and cotton are genetically enhanced. Around the world, farmers have planted more than 2 billion acres of GM crops since their commercial introduction. Everywhere they’re grown, yields go up and costs go down.

We’re also helping the environment. Higher productivity reduces the pressure to convert wilderness into farmland. Better weed control leads to lower fuel consumption, which shrinks our carbon footprint and helps the climate. It also means we don’t have to till the earth as much, so GM crops fight soil erosion, too.

The farmer’s war on weeds won’t ever end--and it’s true that the rapid spread of biotechnology is probably building herbicide resistance in this old foe. This was the aspect of the NRC report that the New York Times chose to highlight.

Yet it’s almost like treating the law of gravity as news. Did you know that if you fling a fish into the air, it will fall to the ground? It might even land on a discarded copy of the New York Times, which could then double as a convenient fishwrap.

Agriculture has its own natural laws. One of them states that if you spray weeds with herbicide, they will become resistant. This is true whether or not biotechnology is involved. The wonder of GM crops is that our existing varieties of herbicide have been so effective for so long. In time, we’ll have to develop new kinds to continue working alongside biotechnology, but then we’ve always known that.

All of these biotech benefits are quantifiable: We measure input and output, just like any business with a balance sheet. The best thing about biotechnology, however, can’t be translated into numbers. It’s about quality of life. Biotechnology is a huge time saver that allows farmers to escape the rigorous schedules of the past.

Call it the “agro-sociology” of biotech. When I was a farm boy, I would spend my summers in the fields with a hoe, from dawn to dusk. That was weed control before biotechnology came along and wiped out this boring, back-breaking form of labor. Nowadays, my kids don’t have to perform this same chore. They can work elsewhere on the farm or do any number of other things: play a sport, read a book, and so on.

I’m liberated as well. My parents used to work around the clock, especially during harvest. Biotechnology made it possible for me to take time off work and watch my children play basketball.

Don’t get me wrong: Farming hasn’t gone from hard to easy. In a world of increasing demand and global competition, plenty of challenges remain. Yet life on the farm has gotten better.

Scientists at the National Research Council are smart enough not to put a price tag on this advantage--and not even the most determined journalist can deny that biotech improves lives everywhere.

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Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans and grains in Northwest Iowa. This fourth generation family farm has been involved in specialty crop production and identity preservation for over 20 years.

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Exposure and Nontarget Effects of Transgenic Bt Corn Debris in Streams

- Jensen, PD, Dively, GP , Swan, CM, Lamp, WO, Environmental Entomology, April 2010 Vol. 39, Issue: 2, p 707-714

Abstract: Corn (Zea mays L.) transformed with a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) comprises 49% of all corn in the United States. The input of senesced corn tissue expressing the Bt gene may impact stream-inhabiting invertebrates that process plant debris, especially trichopteran species related to the target group of lepidopteran pests. Our goal was to assess risk associated with transgenic corn debris entering streams. First, we show the input of corn tissue after harvest was extended over months in a stream. Second, using laboratory bioassays based on European corn borer [Ostrinia nubilalis (Hubner)], we found no bioactivity of Cry1Ab protein in senesced corn tissue after 2 wk of exposure to terrestrial or aquatic environments. Third, we show that Bt near-isolines modify growth and survivorship of some species of invertebrates.

Of the four nontarget invertebrate species fed Bt near-isolines, growth of two closely related trichopterans was not negatively affected, whereas a tipulid crane fly exhibited reduced growth rates, and an isopod exhibited reduced growth and survivorship on the Cry1Ab near-isoline but not on the stacked Cry1Ab + Cry3Bb1 near-isoline. Because of lack of evidence of bioactivity of Bt after 2 wk and because of lack of nontarget effects on the stacked near-isoline, we suggest that tissue-mediated differences, and not the presence of the Cry1Ab protein, caused the different responses among the species.

Overall, our results provide evidence that adverse effects to aquatic nontarget shredders involve complex interactions arising from plant genetics and environment that cannot be ascribed to the presence of Cry1Ab proteins.

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'Organic-Free' Food

http://organicfreefood.blog.com/

Did you know? In addition to being disgusting, organic food is also dangerous, wasteful, and harmful for humans and animals. Here is where you can educate yourself about organic food, and order organic-free food for home delivery!

Make yourself heard! Okay, you’ve read the earlier post below, and learned a lot about the horrors of organic food. You realize the government does not give you the right to know if your food is organic or not. You are disgusted at food grown in rotted animal sewerage sludge. You’re morally outraged at a food production system that exploits women, children and migrant workers.

You realize you want to make a difference. You can! Have your say! They won’t know what you think until you tell them!

Press the "yellow complaint" button and have your say! Your opinion can make a difference! http://organicfreefood.blog.com/

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Erratum: Ron Phillips Retirement Event - Correct Date

I greatly appreciate you announcing my retirement on AgBioView. However, there was an incorrect date. The symposium and retirement dinner are on May 24, not April 24. Everything else is terrific. Our website would have the correct date anyway so it may not be necessary to make the correction especially since April 24 will be here in a couple of days.

Dr. Ronald L. Phillips, Regents' Professor and McKnight Presidential Chair in Genomics
Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics Microbial and Plant Genomics Institute, University of Minnesota