* Biotech Firms Seek Speedier Reviews of Seeds
* Senator Lugar: No Mandate for Genetic Modification
* Environmentalism: Religion or Cult?
* India: New Industry Body to Promote GM Crop Tech
* COMESA in Pursuit of Regional Harmonization of Biosafety Policies
* Biotech Crops - Sustainable Farming and to Global Food Affordability
* Benefits of GM crops
* Role of Molecular Markers and Marker Assisted Selection in Breeding for Organic Agriculture
* International Conference on Plant Molecular Breeding
* Potential for Ag Technologies to Combat Global Hunger
* Attention Whole Foods Shoppers - No recipe for saving the world's hungry millions
Biotech Firms Seek Speedier Reviews of Seeds
- Scott Kilman, Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2010 http://online.wsj.com
'Approval time for genetically modified crops doubles under Obama as some fear tougher stance; feds blame logjam'
The crop-biotechnology industry, growing frustrated as it watches the approval time for new seeds almost double under the Obama administration, is pressuring Washington to clear inventions more quickly.
The logjam at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which must clear genetically modified seeds, is slowing the launch of products that could give farmers more alternatives to seeds from crop biotech giant Monsanto Co.
Also, some biotech-industry executives worry the delays signal that the Obama administration, which has painted itself as pro-biotech, is gearing up for a far tougher analysis of the potential environmental impact of these crops, which could make it harder for inventions to reach the marketplace.
On average, a genetically modified seed takes 1,188 days to pass federal scrutiny, almost twice as long as in 2008, the last year of the Bush administration, according to the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a Washington, D.C., trade group.
"There is concern we might see other countries move ahead of the U.S.," said Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, executive vice president of food and agriculture at BIO, who added that the delays "might stifle investment in what has been a very dynamic part of the U.S. economy." BIO's members include hundreds of companies such as DuPont Co., Syngenta AG and Monsanto, as well as academic institutions.
Members of BIO and industry leaders are meeting with Obama officials and supporters in Congress to press their issue, hoping to speed the process.
Officials at the USDA said its biotechnology-regulation office is coping with a soaring number of comments from the public and a flood of new seed inventions, some of which will likely require more-rigorous environmental reviews than past plants because they would grow in new places, such as drought-tolerant corn, or use food crops to make industrial products.
Companies submitted nine genetically modified crops for review last year to the USDA, which has typically received three or four petitions annually. The USDA signed off on three genetically modified crops last year compared with the five-a-year rate it had averaged since the 1990s.
The agency, long a cheerleader for U.S. crop biotechnology, has never turned down a genetically modified crop, although inventors have withdrawn some candidates. Caleb Weaver, USDA press secretary, said the department is "looking into both immediate and long-term solutions to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the review process." Among other things, the USDA is asking Congress to increase its annual biotechnology oversight budget by 46% to $19 million.
The slowdown comes as regulators in rising agricultural powers such as Brazil, Argentina and China are showing more enthusiasm for genetically modified crops. Brazil approved nine genetically modified crops in 2009 compared with five in 2008, while Argentina approved two crops for commercialization.
The crop-biotechnology market has grown rapidly since Monsanto's weed killer-immune soybean was introduced in 1996. Nearly 90% of the corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the U.S. is produced from plants that have been given foreign traits through gene splicing, such as the ability to make a natural insecticide. Farmers world-wide are paying roughly $9 billion annually for genetically modified seed.
The vast majority of genetically modified crops grown in the U.S. are equipped with Monsanto genes, which has put the St. Louis company in the sights of the Justice Department's antitrust enforcers. Monsanto has said its practices are legal and promote competition.
The federal government must review a genetically modified crop before it can be commercialized. The Food and Drug Administration must sign off on food safety, the Environmental Protection Agency looks at any pesticides that crops have been given the genetic blueprints to make and the USDA is charged with making sure that any genetically modified crop couldn't morph into a plant pest.
Despite the regulatory back-up, industry executives are leery of criticizing the USDA, partly because they count Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as a crucial supporter. Mr. Vilsack received BIO's Governor of the Year award in 2001 for his support of the industry while he was Iowa's top elected official.
The USDA has cleared 80 genetically modified crops for commercialization since the 1990s, a process that involves a federally mandated environmental analysis.
So far, only three genetically modified crops have been targeted for an "environmental impact statement," the most thorough form of the environmental review required by law. In two of the cases federal judges concluded the USDA was obligated to conduct the time-consuming studies.
Meantime, a variety of corn genetically modified by Syngenta has been in regulatory limbo since 2005. The seed makes an enzyme used in the production of ethanol fuel. Syngenta, which has invested a few hundred million dollars to develop the corn, figures ethanol producers would pay U.S. farmers a premium to grow it.
The USDA is wading through public comments on Syngenta's petition this spring, which means that the seed has missed another Midwest planting season.
"We see no reason why deregulation of this important product should be delayed any further," said Paul Minehart, a Syngenta spokesman.
Senator Lugar: No Mandate for Genetic Modification
- Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), The Hill, April 28 2010. http://thehill.com
The opinion piece by Drs. Herren and Ishii-Eiteman (“Genetically modified crops are not the answer”, The Hill, April 23, 2010) perpetuates a falsehood about the Lugar-Casey Global Food Security Act. Contrary to their assertion, the legislation does NOT include a mandate that U.S. foreign aid be spent on research into genetic modification technology. It does NOT require the use of GM technology by any farmers or government agencies. Under terms of the bill, the use of any technology is left to individual farmers, based on their particular circumstances. To be clear: There is no mandate for GM crops.
GM technology is only mentioned one time in the bill, and that provision simply says that research on biotechnology, including GM, would be eligible for U.S. assistance.
Also, contrary to another allegation, the provision was NOT inserted as a result of industry lobbying, by Monsanto or any other company. It is there because I, many experts, including the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, and millions of farmers around the world believe that all types of advanced technology, whether traditional, biotech or GM, must be available if we are to double farm output to feed the planet’s projected 9.2 billion people, using roughly the same amount of cultivated land we have today, probably with less water. Raising food production without major gains in output per acre would necessarily lead to substantial forest destruction.
As the authors correctly note, the Lugar-Casey bill helps focus U.S. foreign assistance on hunger and streamlines the aid process with an emphasis on long-term agricultural development. We should not let all those benefits be overshadowed by a canard regarding nonexistent “mandates.”
Environmentalism: Religion or Cult?
- Andrew Apel, AgBioView, htttp://www.agbioworld.org April 29, 2010
Paul Rubin's claims regarding environmentalism as a religion (AgBioView, April 26, 2010 http://www.agbioworld.org/newsletter_wm/index.php?caseid=archive&newsid=2972 ) are accurate only in a superficial way. Calling Earth Day the the 'holy day' for environmentalists is as meaningful as calling National Employee Health and Fitness Day (May 19) the 'holy day' for employee benefit administrators. Food taboos can also be found in FDA regulations. If recycling bins are sacred structures, the same could be said for indoor toilets. In party politics, proselytizing plays a central role in 'mobilizing the voters'.
Yet we quite easily recognize that the National Association for Health and Fitness, the Food and Drug Administration, your local sanitation authority, and the Democratic Party are not religions.
Most religions deal explicitly with the numinous, i.e., the power or presence of one or more transcendent deities. Gaia is often used as a place-holder in discussions of the religious aspects of environmentalism, but the environmentalists themselves tend to invoke Gaia as a mechanism. A mechanism so complicated that it must be personified to be discussed, but a mechanism nonetheless. There are other similar examples, such as people who give names to their automobiles. There is no actual deification involved.
The only instance I'm aware of in which a modern environmentalist referred specifically to the numinous is a suicide note penned by a member of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). In the note, he described his impending death as a 'return to nature'.
What's far more telling is that environmentalism, as Rubin says, "provides its adherents with an identity", and treats non-adherents "as evil". These features are central to the definition of a cult. If worship has anything to do with the environmentalism, it's self-worship and group-worship, but it is far better described as toxic narcissism.
Further bolstering the notion that environmentalism is a cult is its structure. At the bottom are the foot soldiers. They adhere to the 'us vs. them' mentality, and make personal sacrifices on behalf of the group identity. At the top are the leaders, who issue dogmatic proclamations, and mobilize the troops, in accordance with the wishes of the governments, businesses and other donors who fund them. The result: stunning salaries and lavish lifestyles for the leaders of environmentalism, and nearly nothing for the adherents. The income gap between the two is truly astonishing.
Another important distinction: cults do not tolerate dissent in the ranks, and are not even slightly democratic. Modern religions tolerate dissent, and some even vote, on occasion, on doctrinal and other matters. These features vary between religions, of course, but religions are still vastly more tolerant than the environmentalists.
In sum, it's clear that environmentalism is not a religion. It's a cult.
India: New Industry Body to Promote GM Crop Tech
- The Hindu Business Line, April 21, 2010
The Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises — Special Interest Group on Agriculture Biotechnology (ABLE-SIGAB), an association of biotechnology companies, has expressed concern over the current Bt cotton seed price control and what it termed as indirect technology fee control by State Governments.
The newly formed association which is focused on research and development of innovative agriculture biotechnology products for the benefit of farmers and consumers said since 2006, some State Governments have been consistently controlling and reducing MRP of seeds with Bt cotton technologies.
This has in a way led to exercising indirect control on technology fees, resulting in significant loss of farmer-focused research investments and industry value erosion — despite the immense value created and highly competitive environment, it said in a statement.
ABLE-SIGAB seeks a free market competitive environment, commercialisation certainty, regulatory process predictability, and protection of IPR to drive innovation in agriculture, two of its executive members, Mr K.V. Subba Rao of Pioneer Hi-Bred International and Mr P.S. Dravid, President, JK Agri Genetics Ltd told newspersons here today.
ABLE-SIGAB aims to accelerate the pace of agricultural growth in India by enabling strategic alliances between researchers, the Government and the global biotech (CNQ:GBQ) (OOTC:GBIQ) industry to increase crop productivity, help meet domestic food security, and contribute to inclusive growth, they said.
ABLE-SIGAB members include Advanta Seeds, Bayer CropSciences, BASF, Devgen Seeds, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer Hi-Bred Intl. (PHI) Seeds, JK Agri Genetics, Mahyco, Metahelix Life Sciences, Monsanto, Nath Seeds, and Syngenta etc.
COMESA in Pursuit of Regional Harmonization of Biosafety Policies
- ISAAA's Crop Biotech Update, http://www.isaaa.org/kc
A draft set of regional biosafety policies and guidelines for the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) region has been developed at the request of the COMESA ministers of agriculture, this article reports. The draft policies and guidelines cover commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) crops, trade in GM products, and emergency food aid with GM content.
The policies and guidelines were up for discussion April 19-20 at a regional workshop on biosafety for COMESA member states in Nairobi, Kenya. A communication strategy and a Biosafety Roadmap for the COMESA region were also presented there. At the end of the workshop, a communiqué containing the following recommendations was released for consideration by COMESA: 1) endorse the revised harmonized regional draft policies and guidelines on GM planting, trade in GM products, and emergency food aid with GM content that incorporate stakeholders' comments; 2) institutionalize a Regional Biosafety and Centralized GMO Risk Assessment Desk; 3) endorse the draft Biosafety Roadmap and urge COMESA to sensitize, identify gaps, and support implementation in the COMESA member states; 4) commit resources to support the operations of the Panel of Experts and the GMO Risk Assessment Subcommittees; and 5) develop with partners long-term biotechnology/biosafety programs to implement the harmonization agenda.
Biotech Crops Continue to Make Important Contributions to Sustainable Farming and to Global Food Affordability
- Graham Brookes, PG Economics, UK; April 28, 2010 http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk/
Two new studies show biotech crops continue to deliver significant global economic and environmental benefits and make important contributions to global food production, food security and lower real prices for food and feed crops
“Since 1996, biotech crop adoption has contributed to reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, decreased pesticide spraying, significantly boosted farmers’ incomes and resulted in lower real world prices for corn, canola, soybeans and the main derivatives of these crops,” said Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics, co-author of the reports. “The technology has also made important contributions to increasing crop yields, reducing production risks, improving productivity and raising global production of key crops. The combination of economic and environmental benefit delivery is therefore making a valuable contribution to improving the sustainability of global agriculture and affordability of food, with these benefits and improvements being greatest in developing countries”
Previewing the findings of the two studies, the key findings are:
* Biotech crops have contributed to significantly reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices. This results from less fuel use and additional soil carbon storage from reduced tillage with biotech crops. In 2008, this was equivalent to removing 15.6 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing 6.9 million cars from the road for one year;
* Biotech crops have reduced pesticide spraying (1996-2008) by 352 million kg (-8.4%) and as a result decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to biotech crops by 16.3%;
* Herbicide tolerant biotech crops have facilitated the adoption of no/reduced tillage production systems in many regions, especially South America. This has made important contributions to reducing soil erosion and improving soil moisture levels;
* There have been substantial net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to $9.4 billion in 2008 and $52 billion for the thirteen year period. The farm income gain in 2008 is equivalent to adding 3.65% to the value of global production of the four main biotech crops of soybeans, corn, canola and cotton;
* Of the total farm income benefit, 50.5% ($26.25 billion) has been due to yield gains, with the balance arising from reductions in the cost of production. Two thirds of the yield gain derive from adoption of insect resistant crops and the balance from herbicide tolerant crops;
* The share of the farm income gains, both in 2008 and cumulatively (1996-2008) has been about 50% each for farmers in developing and developed countries;
* The cost farmers paid for accessing GM technology in 2008 was equal to 27% of the total technology gains (a total of $12.8 billion inclusive of farm income gains ($9.4 billion) plus cost of the technology payable to the seed supply chain ($3.4 billion[ mhtml:mid://00000084/#_ftn3 ]));
* For farmers in developing countries the total cost of accessing the technology in 2008 was equal to about 15% of total technology gains, whilst for farmers in developed countries the cost was 36% of the total technology gains. Whilst circumstances vary between countries, the higher share of total technology gains accounted for by farm income gains in developing countries relative to the farm income share in developed countries reflects factors such as weaker provision and enforcement of intellectual property rights in developing countries;
* Since 1996, biotech traits have added 74 million tonnes and 79.7 million tonnes respectively to global production of soybeans and corn. The technology has also contributed an extra 8.6 million tonnes of cotton lint and 4.8 million tonnes of canola;
* If GM technology had not been available to the (13.3 million) farmers using the technology in 2008, maintaining global production levels at the 2008 levels would have required additional plantings of 4.6 million ha of soybeans, 3.5 million ha of corn, 2.2 million ha of cotton and 0.3 million ha of canola. This total area requirement is equivalent to about 6% of the arable land in the US, or 21% of the arable land in Brazil;
* World prices of corn, soybeans and canola would probably be respectively 5.8%, 9.6% and 3.8% higher than 2007 baseline levels if the technology was no longer available to farmers. Prices of key derivatives (eg, soymeal) would also probably be 5% to 9% higher and prices of related cereals and oilseeds (eg, wheat, barley, sunflower) would be 3% to 4% higher;
* The global cost of consuming cereals and oilseeds would probably increase by $20 billion (+3.6%) relative to the 2007 baseline cost of consumption if biotech traits were no longer available to farmers;
* Average global yields would probably fall 1.5%, 4.3% and 0.65% respectively for corn, soybeans and canola if biotech traits were no longer available to farmers.
* US farmers have derived substantial direct economic benefits from biotech crops amounting to $4.1 billion in 2008, and $23.4 billion for the thirteen year period (1996-2008). In addition, they have derived an estimated additional $6 billion over this period from ‘non pecuniary’ (more difficult to measure) benefits like extra crop management convenience;
* Herbicide tolerant soybeans have accounted for the largest share of the direct farm income benefit accounting for just over half $11 billion (47%) of the total benefit (1996-2008), followed by insect resistant corn ($7.11 billion) and insect resistant cotton ($2.44 billion);
* Of the total cumulative farm income benefit, 43% ($10.13 billion) has been due to yield gains, with the majority ($13.27 billion) arising from reductions in the cost of production;
* Since 1996, biotech traits have added 66 million tonnes to US production of corn. In 2008, the extra corn production was +14.9 million tonnes. The technology has also contributed an extra 2 million tonnes of cotton lint to US cotton production (+0.16 million tonnes in 2008);
* If GM technology had not been available to US farmers using the technology in 2008, maintaining US production levels at the 2008 levels would have required additional plantings of 1.59 million ha of corn and 0.19 million ha of cotton;
* Biotech crops have reduced pesticide spraying in the US by 178 million kg (-7.9%) and as a result decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to biotech crops by 15% 1996-2008;
* US biotech crops contributed, in 2008, to the equivalent of removing 4.7 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing nearly 2.01 million cars from the road for one year.
Benefits of GM crops
- Meat Trade News UK, April 28, 2010 http://www.meattradenewsdaily.co.uk
Unlike the argument recently put forward by Daniel Church, three reports published this month have documented the benefits of GM crops around the world. A review of peer-reviewed surveys of farmers worldwide who are using the technology compared to farmers who continue to plant conventional crops, published last week in Nature Biotechnology, found that by and large farmers have benefited.
Another report released last week by the National Research Council in the US concluded that many American farmers have achieved more cost-effective weed control and reduced losses from insect pests. And a survey of farmers in Brazil, which is a leader in global adoption of GM crops, shows benefits for soybean, cotton and corn growers. New technologies, such as Bt aubergine, promise additional gains to farmers if allowed for commercial release, despite the debate inspired by a recent moratorium in India.
Last year, 14 million farmers in 25 countries grew GM crops commercially, over 90% of them small farmers in developing countries, according to ISAAA. I've been studying the impacts of GM crops for the past 12 years. Given the growth in adoption rates around the world and the increasing number of studies that have been done to assess the impact of the technology on farmers, I was interested in looking at how the results of all these studies stacked up. In my review of global farmer surveys, results from 12 countries indicate that most surveyed farmers have increased yields, decreased costs and improved economic performance.
The benefits were found to be greatest for the mostly small farmers in developing countries. The average yield improvements for developing countries range from 16% for insect-resistant corn to 30% for insect-resistant cotton, with an 85% yield increase observed in a single study on herbicide-tolerant corn. On average, developed-country farmers' reported yield increases range from no change for herbicide-tolerant cotton to a 7% increase for insect-resistant cotton.
It is often claimed that biotech crops are more expensive for farmers. However, the evidence shows that while seed costs (including technology fees) were nearly always higher for farmers who planted GM crops, this was usually offset by decreased costs of pesticides. The combination of increased yields and decreased costs has translated to improved economic performance in nearly three-quarters of the cases studied. And the economic advantage may be even greater, as surveys have also found that farmers value additional cost savings that are not included in a traditional accounting of costs, such as management time savings, human and environmental safety and reduced yield risk.
GM crops were also found to help agriculture play a crucial role in preserving the natural environment by reducing the number of insecticide applications on insect-resistant crops and facilitating reduced tillage on herbicide-tolerant crops.
In addition to economic benefits, the NRC study also documented environmental gains. The NRC study was conducted by an expert committee of 10 academic researchers from across the country which reviewed the available evidence on the impacts of GM crops in the US. Environmental benefits included reduced insecticide use on insect-resistant corn and cotton. The panel concluded that the soil and water quality improvements resulting from reduced tillage could be the greatest environmental benefit of GM crops, but is poorly tracked to date.
The Brazilian study was conducted by Céleres Ambiental, a Brazilian consultancy that has been monitoring the impact of GM crops in Brazil for the local seed industry. The survey covered 360 farmers from 10 states, finding that the aggregate benefits of the technology reached $3.6bn. The largest share of the benefits was due to reduced production costs. Yield gains were observed primarily for cotton and corn.
The benefits of already commercialised GM crop technology have been demonstrated, the result of the spillover of technologies originally targeted at farmers in industrialised countries. Field trials in India with Bt aubergine found a 42% reduction in total insecticide use and 100% increase in yields over similar non-Bt varieties. While farmers may not achieve the results of the trials, the potential benefits remain substantial. As technologies like Bt aubergine reach commercialisation, it will be interesting to observe farmer experiences with GM crop technologies that have been developed specifically for the needs of developing-country farmers.
Can Organics Feed the World?
- Brian Gardner, BLOGACTIV, April 28, 2010 http://briangardner.blogactiv.eu/2010/04/28/can-organics-feed-the-world/
Whether or not organic farming can feed the future world is one of the big questions of agricultural and environmental politics. It is of major importance to the future development of European and developed world agriculture and of even greater importance for the food-short less developed countries. The question of how the agriculture industries of both developed and undeveloped countries are able to provide enough food for the extra 2-3 billion people who will live on the planet by 2050 is of paramount importance.
It is difficult to understand therefore, why the devout followers of the organic farming faith spend so much of their intellectual energy on rubbishing the findings of economists and scientists who have sough to define the scale of this problem and suggest possible solutions. Recently, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has been subject to amazingly rabid attacks from most notably Greenpeace and the UK Soil Association. The basis of these assaults has been the FAO's conclusion that the world's food supply needs to increase by between 70 and 100 per cent between now and 2050.
The organic food lobby claim that these estimates have been used by governments and others to press for significant - as they see it, harmful - intensification of agriculture and the stepping up of production. This automatically assumes that peasants breaking their backs with primitive hand tools and planting 'traditional' types of low yielding crops is obviously 'better' than their using tractors and the latest most productive plant varieties. It is an attitude that displays an amazing high-handedness.
What is important is that if the FAO is only half right in its prognosis, the world still needs to increase its food supplies by hundreds of millions of tonnes over the next forty years - something that will definitely not be achieved by adopting the organic gospel as laid down by the disciples of the SA's Lord Peter Melchett.
What is certain is that the combined effect of population growth, rising incomes and intensified urbanisation, will result in almost the doubling of demand for food by 2050. What is most politically - if not morally - important is that demand for food will certainly double in the regions of the world where the need for more food is greatest. FAO continues to forecast that the demand for food will just about double in developing countries by 2050 and by that date some 80% of the world_s population will live in such countries. It is also imperative that the food supply of those millions suffering from malnutrition is increased to at least a minimum standard.
Approximately three quarters of the needed increase in production could come from increased yields, according to FAO, but only by improved farming methods and use of the best technology. Such a target would not be reached by accepting the 20+ per cent drop in yields resulting from 'going organic'. The Soil Associations basic 'belief' is that organic farming could feed the world in 2050m without the use of GM crops or more intensive farming. But it remains just that: a belief with little scientific evidence to support the claim.
Far from assuming "a ghastly starvation and obesity vision of the future" as stigmatised by Melchett announcing the SA's critique of the FAO analysis, it is a stark warning of what will happen if the agriculturally under-developed countries of the world do not rapidly adopt new and improved agricultural techniques. The arrogance of Melchett's statement is breathtaking. The 800,000 undernourished people of the world would no doubt welcome the opportunity to risk obesity.
The Role of Molecular Markers and Marker Assisted Selection in Breeding for Organic Agriculture
E. T. Lammerts van Bueren, G. Backes, H. de Vriend and H. Østergård, Euphytica
Full paper at http://www.springerlink.com/content/h1r32625218lg0q4/fulltext.html
Plant geneticists consider molecular marker assisted selection a useful additional tool in plant breeding programs to make selection more efficient. Standards for organic agriculture do not exclude the use of molecular markers as such, however for the organic sector the appropriateness of molecular markers is not self-evident and is often debated. Organic and low-input farming conditions require breeding for robust and flexible varieties, which may be hampered by too much focus on the molecular level.
Pros and contras for application of molecular markers in breeding for organic agriculture was the topic of a recent European plant breeding workshop. The participants evaluated strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the use of molecular markers and we formalized their inputs into breeder’s perspectives and perspectives seen from the organic sector’s standpoint. Clear strengths were identified, e.g. better knowledge about gene pool of breeding material, more efficient introgression of new resistance genes from wild relatives and testing pyramided genes. There were also common concerns among breeders aiming at breeding for organic and/or conventional agriculture, such as the increasing competition and cost investments to get access to marker technology, and the need for bridging the gap between phenotyping and genotyping especially with complex and quantitative inherited traits such as nutrient-efficiency.
A major conclusion of the authors is that more interaction and mutual understanding between organic and molecular oriented breeders is necessary and can benefit both research communities.
International Conference on Plant Molecular Breeding
- Beijing, P. R. China, September 5-9, 2010 http://icpmb.thegsr.org/
Topics for the plenary sessions (one or two speakers on each subject)
* The role of plant breeding in meeting food security * Applied plant genomics
* Gene/pathway discovery and functions
* Molecular breeding platforms
* New transgene technologies, products and markets * Crop germplasms and genetic diversity
* New technologies in plant molecular breeding * New theories/concepts in plant molecular breeding * Bioinformatic technology and analytic tools for plant molecular breeding
ICPMB2010 Fellowships: The conference will provide full or partial supports to up to 15 researchers/students from the African and Asian developing countries. Applicants should have research results submitted to the conference in the form of oral presentation or poster. Application should be submitted to Dr. Judy Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com before April 30. Acceptance letters with details will be sent to awardees by the end of July.
Potential for Ag Technologies to Combat Global Hunger
BIO Hosts Media Luncheon at 2010 BIO International Convention. "When Politics Impedes Progress to Combat Hunger," a media luncheon on the need for increased food security and the role that technology can play.
Speakers will address: Political and regulatory hurdles that prevent acceptance of agricultural technologies and prevent certain populations from accessing biotechnology's benefits; The role of biotechnology in helping to achieve global food security, a priority of the Obama Administration; The role of science and technology in helping producers around the world to grow food more sustainably; and Products that resist diseases and pests are resilient to drought and freezing temperatures and/or are fortified with more healthful nutrients.
* Dr. Channapatna S. Prakash, Plant Molecular Geneticist, Tuskegee University
* Pam Ronald, Professor of Plant Pathology and Chair of the Plant Genomics Program at the University of California, Davis, and author of the book, Tomorrow's Table
* Michael Specter, Staff writer at The New Yorker, and author of the book, Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives
* Margaret Zeigler, Deputy Director, Congressional Hunger Center
WHEN: Wednesday, May 5, 2010, 12:00 noon - 1:30 p.m. CST
WHERE: Media Center, Room S106B - McCormick Place, Chicago, Ill. BIO International Convention
Seating at this event is limited. The luncheon will be open to registered media on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Attention Whole Foods Shoppers
- Robert Paarlberg, Foreign Policy, May/June 2010
'Stop obsessing about arugula. Your "sustainable" mantra -- organic, local, and slow -- is no recipe for saving the world's hungry millions. '
From Whole Foods recyclable cloth bags to Michelle Obama's organic White House garden, modern eco-foodies are full of good intentions. We want to save the planet. Help local farmers. Fight climate change -- and childhood obesity, too. But though it's certainly a good thing to be thinking about global welfare while chopping our certified organic onions, the hope that we can help others by changing our shopping and eating habits is being wildly oversold to Western consumers. Food has become an elite preoccupation in the West, ironically, just as the most effective ways to address hunger in poor countries have fallen out of fashion.
Helping the world's poor feed themselves is no longer the rallying cry it once was. Food may be today's cause célèbre, but in the pampered West, that means trendy causes like making food "sustainable" -- in other words, organic, local, and slow. Appealing as that might sound, it is the wrong recipe for helping those who need it the most. Even our understanding of the global food problem is wrong these days, driven too much by the single issue of international prices. In April 2008, when the cost of rice for export had tripled in just six months and wheat reached its highest price in 28 years, a New York Times editorial branded this a "World Food Crisis." World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned that high food prices would be particularly damaging in poor countries, where "there is no margin for survival." Now that international rice prices are down 40 percent from their peak and wheat prices have fallen by more than half, we too quickly conclude that the crisis is over. Yet 850 million people in poor countries were chronically undernourished before the 2008 price spike, and the number is even larger now, thanks in part to last year's global recession. This is the real food crisis we face.
It turns out that food prices on the world market tell us very little about global hunger. International markets for food, like most other international markets, are used most heavily by the well-to-do, who are far from hungry. The majority of truly undernourished people -- 62 percent, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization -- live in either Africa or South Asia, and most are small farmers or rural landless laborers living in the countryside of Africa and South Asia. They are significantly shielded from global price fluctuations both by the trade policies of their own governments and by poor roads and infrastructure. In Africa, more than 70 percent of rural households are cut off from the closest urban markets because, for instance, they live more than a 30-minute walk from the nearest all-weather road.
Poverty -- caused by the low income productivity of farmers' labor -- is the primary source of hunger in Africa, and the problem is only getting worse. The number of "food insecure" people in Africa (those consuming less than 2,100 calories a day) will increase 30 percent over the next decade without significant reforms, to 645 million, the U.S. Agriculture Department projects.
What's so tragic about this is that we know from experience how to fix the problem. Wherever the rural poor have gained access to improved roads, modern seeds, less expensive fertilizer, electrical power, and better schools and clinics, their productivity and their income have increased. But recent efforts to deliver such essentials have been undercut by deeply misguided (if sometimes well-meaning) advocacy against agricultural modernization and foreign aid.
In Europe and the United States, a new line of thinking has emerged in elite circles that opposes bringing improved seeds and fertilizers to traditional farmers and opposes linking those farmers more closely to international markets. Influential food writers, advocates, and celebrity restaurant owners are repeating the mantra that "sustainable food" in the future must be organic, local, and slow. But guess what: Rural Africa already has such a system, and it doesn't work. Few smallholder farmers in Africa use any synthetic chemicals, so their food is de facto organic. High transportation costs force them to purchase and sell almost all of their food locally. And food preparation is painfully slow. The result is nothing to celebrate: average income levels of only $1 a day and a one-in-three chance of being malnourished.
If we are going to get serious about solving global hunger, we need to de-romanticize our view of preindustrial food and farming. And that means learning to appreciate the modern, science-intensive, and highly capitalized agricultural system we've developed in the West. Without it, our food would be more expensive and less safe. In other words, a lot like the hunger-plagued rest of the world.
Thirty years ago, had someone asserted in a prominent journal or newspaper that the Green Revolution was a failure, he or she would have been quickly dismissed. Today the charge is surprisingly common. Celebrity author and eco-activist Vandana Shiva claims the Green Revolution has brought nothing to India except "indebted and discontented farmers." A 2002 meeting in Rome of 500 prominent international NGOs, including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, even blamed the Green Revolution for the rise in world hunger. Let's set the record straight.
The development and introduction of high-yielding wheat and rice seeds into poor countries, led by American scientist Norman Borlaug and others in the 1960s and 70s, paid huge dividends. In Asia these new seeds lifted tens of millions of small farmers out of desperate poverty and finally ended the threat of periodic famine. India, for instance, doubled its wheat production between 1964 and 1970 and was able to terminate all dependence on international food aid by 1975. As for indebted and discontented farmers, India's rural poverty rate fell from 60 percent to just 27 percent today. Dismissing these great achievements as a "myth" (the official view of Food First, a California-based organization that campaigns globally against agricultural modernization) is just silly.
It's true that the story of the Green Revolution is not everywhere a happy one. When powerful new farming technologies are introduced into deeply unjust rural social systems, the poor tend to lose out. In Latin America, where access to good agricultural land and credit has been narrowly controlled by traditional elites, the improved seeds made available by the Green Revolution increased income gaps. Absentee landlords in Central America, who previously allowed peasants to plant subsistence crops on underutilized land, pushed them off to sell or rent the land to commercial growers who could turn a profit using the new seeds. Many of the displaced rural poor became slum dwellers. Yet even in Latin America, the prevalence of hunger declined more than 50 percent between 1980 and 2005.
In Asia, the Green Revolution seeds performed just as well on small nonmechanized farms as on larger farms. Wherever small farmers had sufficient access to credit, they took up the new technology just as quickly as big farmers, which led to dramatic income gains and no increase in inequality or social friction. Even poor landless laborers gained, because more abundant crops meant more work at harvest time, increasing rural wages. In Asia, the Green Revolution was good for both agriculture and social justice.
And Africa? Africa has a relatively equitable and secure distribution of land, making it more like Asia than Latin America and increasing the chances that improvements in farm technology will help the poor. If Africa were to put greater resources into farm technology, irrigation, and rural roads, small farmers would benefit.
There are other common objections to doing what is necessary to solve the real hunger crisis. Most revolve around caveats that purist critics raise regarding food systems in the United States and Western Europe. Yet such concerns, though well-intentioned, are often misinformed and counterproductive -- especially when applied to the developing world.
Take industrial food systems, the current bugaboo of American food writers. Yes, they have many unappealing aspects, but without them food would be not only less abundant but also less safe. Traditional food systems lacking in reliable refrigeration and sanitary packaging are dangerous vectors for diseases. Surveys over the past several decades by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that the U.S. food supply became steadily safer over time, thanks in part to the introduction of industrial-scale technical improvements. Since 2000, the incidence of E. coli contamination in beef has fallen 45 percent. Today in the United States, most hospitalizations and fatalities from unsafe food come not from sales of contaminated products at supermarkets, but from the mishandling or improper preparation of food inside the home. Illness outbreaks from contaminated foods sold in stores still occur, but the fatalities are typically quite limited. A nationwide scare over unsafe spinach in 2006 triggered the virtual suspension of all fresh and bagged spinach sales, but only three known deaths were recorded. Incidents such as these command attention in part because they are now so rare. Food Inc. should be criticized for filling our plates with too many foods that are unhealthy, but not foods that are unsafe.
Where industrial-scale food technologies have not yet reached into the developing world, contaminated food remains a major risk. In Africa, where many foods are still purchased in open-air markets (often uninspected, unpackaged, unlabeled, unrefrigerated, unpasteurized, and unwashed), an estimated 700,000 people die every year from food- and water-borne diseases, compared with an estimated 5,000 in the United States.
Food grown organically -- that is, without any synthetic nitrogen fertilizers or pesticides -- is not an answer to the health and safety issues. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last year published a study of 162 scientific papers from the past 50 years on the health benefits of organically grown foods and found no nutritional advantage over conventionally grown foods. According to the Mayo Clinic, "No conclusive evidence shows that organic food is more nutritious than is conventionally grown food."
Health professionals also reject the claim that organic food is safer to eat due to lower pesticide residues. Food and Drug Administration surveys have revealed that the highest dietary exposures to pesticide residues on foods in the United States are so trivial (less than one one-thousandth of a level that would cause toxicity) that the safety gains from buying organic are insignificant. Pesticide exposures remain a serious problem in the developing world, where farm chemical use is not as well regulated, yet even there they are more an occupational risk for unprotected farmworkers than a residue risk for food consumers.
When it comes to protecting the environment, assessments of organic farming become more complex. Excess nitrogen fertilizer use on conventional farms in the United States has polluted rivers and created a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, but halting synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use entirely (as farmers must do in the United States to get organic certification from the Agriculture Department) would cause environmental problems far worse.
Here's why: Less than 1 percent of American cropland is under certified organic production. If the other 99 percent were to switch to organic and had to fertilize crops without any synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, that would require a lot more composted animal manure. To supply enough organic fertilizer, the U.S. cattle population would have to increase roughly fivefold. And because those animals would have to be raised organically on forage crops, much of the land in the lower 48 states would need to be converted to pasture. Organic field crops also have lower yields per hectare. If Europe tried to feed itself organically, it would need an additional 28 million hectares of cropland, equal to all of the remaining forest cover in France, Germany, Britain, and Denmark combined.
Mass deforestation probably isn't what organic advocates intend. The smart way to protect against nitrogen runoff is to reduce synthetic fertilizer applications with taxes, regulations, and cuts in farm subsidies, but not try to go all the way to zero as required by the official organic standard. Scaling up registered organic farming would be on balance harmful, not helpful, to the natural environment.
Not only is organic farming less friendly to the environment than assumed, but modern conventional farming is becoming significantly more sustainable. High-tech farming in rich countries today is far safer for the environment, per bushel of production, than it was in the 1960s, when Rachel Carson criticized the indiscriminate farm use of DDT in her environmental classic, Silent Spring. Thanks in part to Carson's devastating critique, that era's most damaging insecticides were banned and replaced by chemicals that could be applied in lower volume and were less persistent in the environment. Chemical use in American agriculture peaked soon thereafter, in 1973. This was a major victory for environmental advocacy.
And it was just the beginning of what has continued as a significant greening of modern farming in the United States. Soil erosion on farms dropped sharply in the 1970s with the introduction of "no-till" seed planting, an innovation that also reduced dependence on diesel fuel because fields no longer had to be plowed every spring. Farmers then began conserving water by moving to drip irrigation and by leveling their fields with lasers to minimize wasteful runoff. In the 1990s, GPS equipment was added to tractors, autosteering the machines in straighter paths and telling farmers exactly where they were in the field to within one square meter, allowing precise adjustments in chemical use. Infrared sensors were brought in to detect the greenness of the crop, telling a farmer exactly how much more (or less) nitrogen might be needed as the growing season went forward. To reduce wasteful nitrogen use, equipment was developed that can insert fertilizers into the ground at exactly the depth needed and in perfect rows, only where it will be taken up by the plant roots.
These "precision farming" techniques have significantly reduced the environmental footprint of modern agriculture relative to the quantity of food being produced. In 2008, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published a review of the "environmental performance of agriculture" in the world's 30 most advanced industrial countries -- those with the most highly capitalized and science-intensive farming systems. The results showed that between 1990 and 2004, food production in these countries continued to increase (by 5 percent in volume), yet adverse environmental impacts were reduced in every category. The land area taken up by farming declined 4 percent, soil erosion from both wind and water fell, gross greenhouse gas emissions from farming declined 3 percent, and excessive nitrogen fertilizer use fell 17 percent. Biodiversity also improved, as increased numbers of crop varieties and livestock breeds came into use.
Seeding the Future
Africa faces a food crisis, but it's not because the continent's population is growing faster than its potential to produce food, as vintage Malthusians such as environmental advocate Lester Brown and advocacy organizations such as Population Action International would have it. Food production in Africa is vastly less than the region's known potential, and that is why so many millions are going hungry there. African farmers still use almost no fertilizer; only 4 percent of cropland has been improved with irrigation; and most of the continent's cropped area is not planted with seeds improved through scientific plant breeding, so cereal yields are only a fraction of what they could be. Africa is failing to keep up with population growth not because it has exhausted its potential, but instead because too little has been invested in reaching that potential.
One reason for this failure has been sharply diminished assistance from international donors. When agricultural modernization went out of fashion among elites in the developed world beginning in the 1980s, development assistance to farming in poor countries collapsed. Per capita food production in Africa was declining during the 1980s and 1990s and the number of hungry people on the continent was doubling, but the U.S. response was to withdraw development assistance and simply ship more food aid to Africa. Food aid doesn't help farmers become more productive -- and it can create long-term dependency. But in recent years, the dollar value of U.S. food aid to Africa has reached 20 times the dollar value of agricultural development assistance.
The alternative is right in front of us. Foreign assistance to support agricultural improvements has a strong record of success, when undertaken with purpose. In the 1960s, international assistance from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and donor governments led by the United States made Asia's original Green Revolution possible. U.S. assistance to India provided critical help in improving agricultural education, launching a successful agricultural extension service, and funding advanced degrees for Indian agricultural specialists at universities in the United States. The U.S. Agency for International Development, with the World Bank, helped finance fertilizer plants and infrastructure projects, including rural roads and irrigation. India could not have done this on its own -- the country was on the brink of famine at the time and dangerously dependent on food aid. But instead of suffering a famine in 1975, as some naysayers had predicted, India that year celebrated a final and permanent end to its need for food aid.
Foreign assistance to farming has been a high-payoff investment everywhere, including Africa. The World Bank has documented average rates of return on investments in agricultural research in Africa of 35 percent a year, accompanied by significant reductions in poverty. Some research investments in African agriculture have brought rates of return estimated at 68 percent. Blind to these realities, the United States cut its assistance to agricultural research in Africa 77 percent between 1980 and 2006.
When it comes to Africa's growing hunger, governments in rich countries face a stark choice: They can decide to support a steady new infusion of financial and technical assistance to help local governments and farmers become more productive, or they can take a "worry later" approach and be forced to address hunger problems with increasingly expensive shipments of food aid. Development skeptics and farm modernization critics keep pushing us toward this unappealing second path. It's time for leaders with vision and political courage to push back.
Robert Paarlberg is B.F. Johnson professor of political science at Wellesley College, an associate at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and author of Food Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know.