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May 10, 2010


EU Commissioner on Scaremongers; Can Biotechnology Save Africa?; Defending Biofortified Crops; Seeds of Discord


* EU Commissioner Dalli Calls GM Opponents 'Scaremongers'
* Special report: Can Biotechnology Save Africa?
* Biotech in Africa: High Hopes and High Stakes
* Biotech in Africa: Europeans Still Say 'No Thanks' to Biotech
* In South Africa, The Welcome Mat Is Out
* Re - NYT: U.S. Farmers are coping with Roundup-resistant weeds
* Defending Biofortified Crops
* Review Article Questions Nutritional Superiority Claims for Organic Food
* Monsanto's Seeds of Discord
* Why Plant Breeding Is Incompatible with Organic Agriculture
* GM Crops, Organic Fertilizers, and Some Environmental and Human Health Issues
* GM Crops: the Societal Context of Technologies

Commissioner Dalli Calls GM Opponents 'Scaremongers'

- Ivan Camilleri, Times of Malta, May 10, 2010 http://www.timesofmalta.com

European Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner John Dalli rushes past a Greenpeace "cook" at the European Parliament building distributing the "GM recipes for disaster" cookbook. European Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner, John Dalli has accused opponents of his decision to allow cultivation of some genetically-modified potatoes of scaremongering.

He also urged the industry to give more details about their products to address "media imbalance". Addressing the Environment Committee of the European Parliament, Mr Dalli said he was not for or against GMOs but in favour of science-based policy making.

"It seems that instinctive fear and suspicion has taken hold among European consumers due to scaremongering and a reluctance by industry to explain the science behind their products." "Lack of action by industry allows scaremongers to monopolise the media, leaving consumers to make decisions based on a one-sided debate," Mr Dalli warned. "We cannot be responsible for reducing Europe to an innovation backwater," he said.

While Mr Dalli was reading his speech, activists of Greenpeace, which has launched a high-profile campaign targeting the Maltese commissioner for his decision, were outside the EP Chamber distributing a "cookbook" called "GM recipe for disaster" criticising the Commission's decision.

On his exit, Mr Dalli rushed past a Greenpeace "cook", avoiding to get into a debate on the issue with Greenpeace officials. "As Mr Dalli approached he was all smiles but didn't stop to talk to me about the concerns scientists have over GMOs. It's obvious he gets the joke but, sadly, not the risks that exist with the technology," Jorgo Riss, Greenpeace EU Unit director said after the meeting.

"Mr Dalli said that those opposed to GM are scaremongerers who ignore science. But the EU's own statisticians are telling him that the more people understand GM, the less they want it, and for good reason. Their poll (the Eurobarometer) shows that Malta is a country where people don't know much about the GM issue and are less aware of the risks. In countries where people know more, like France, opposition is almost total," he said.


Special report: Can Biotechnology Save Africa?


High-tech seeds have transformed agriculture in Iowa, helping ensure a plentiful, cheap supply of corn for food, fuel and other uses. Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred believe biotechnology will change the world, too. The companies, which have major operations in central Iowa, are developing corn seeds to thrive in East African soils with little water or fertilizer.

Critics dismiss the projects as publicity stunts. But supporters say that if the projects are successful, the seeds could grow into a new green revolution. They say biotech crops could boost food production, which the United Nations estimates must increase 70 percent by 2050 as the Earth’s population grows.

The seeds could help drought-stricken farmers like Janet Kaindu. Across her three-acre plot in Kenya’s Rift Valley, the few small corn plants that are visible are barely a few inches high nearly two months after she planted them. It is the second time in a year that she’s lost a crop. “If it doesn’t rain, there’s no crop.”

Register reporter Philip Brasher traveled to Kenya and South Africa in November after winning a World Affairs Journalism Fellowship.


Biotech in Africa: High Hopes and High Stakes

- Philip Brasher, Des Moines Register, May 9, 2010 http://www.desmoinesregister.com

Machakos, Kenya - Fog shrouds the terraced hills, and a stream is swollen from the rain that fell overnight, but the damage of a drought that left 10 million Kenyans dependent on food aid is still evident. On many of the small farms, the ground is bare at a time when corn crops should be several feet tall.

"We had no maize because we planted and there was no rain," said Victor Mutua, who feeds an extended family of 15 from his 20-acre plot.

Poor small-scale farmers like Mutua are at the center of a battle over the future of global agriculture and biotechnology. Scientists are preparing to test in Kenya a genetically modified variety of corn that would be resistant to drought. The seeds are the product of a $47 million project funded largely by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates' foundation and using technology and breeding expertise donated by U.S. seed giant Monsanto Co.

The project could have sweeping ramifications. Experts say genetically modified seeds could help boost food production, which must rise 70 percent by 2050 to feed a growing population, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

According to one study, corn production in five East African nations is expected to grow about 14 percent by 2050, but demand for corn could nearly triple.

Having drought-tolerant seeds available for poor African farmers would be a huge public relations coup not only for Monsanto, but also for rivals such as Johnston-based Pioneer Hi-Bred that have struggled to sell Africa, Europe and other regions on genetically modified food.

Opposition in Europe to biotech food is so pervasive that corn grown in Iowa and elsewhere in the United States, most of which is genetically modified, is virtually shut out of the market there. Some African countries have refused donations of U.S. corn that is genetically modified.

Pioneer, a unit of DuPont, last month announced an African project similar to Monsanto's that is aimed at developing corn varieties that produce more grain on less nitrogen fertilizer. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the projects fit into the Obama administration's strategy for increasing the use of gene-altered seeds.

The projects will help to "knock down some of the concerns that are expressed globally and domestically about biotechnology," he said. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a visit to East Africa last year, said that "with Kenya's leadership in biotechnology and biosafety, we cannot only improve agriculture in Kenya, but Kenya can be a leader for the rest of Africa."

Boosting African food production also could take some political heat off U.S. farmers and biofuel producers, accused of boosting global food prices by diverting corn and soybeans into ethanol and biodiesel. Increased corn prices fall especially hard on the 300 million Africans for whom corn is a staple food.

The seeds are to be distributed free of the royalties that are typically included in the price of a bag of seed. Because of these royalties, biotech seed now sold in South Africa costs about 30 to 40 percent more than conventional varieties. Similar field trials are planned in Uganda; Tanzania, which borders Kenya; and Mozambique in southern Africa.

Some critics, however, call the African project a publicity stunt. They say African farmers' problems are too complex to be solved with high-tech seeds.

Many farmers don't have the cash and can't get credit to buy conventional hybrid seeds, let alone fertilizer or insecticides. They regularly lose some of the grain they harvest to weevils because it isn't stored properly. When rains fail completely, as they did across much of Kenya last year, even Monsanto's super seeds are unlikely to help.

But scientists and some development experts say that the biotech seeds could boost yields during shorter dry spells, or periods of moderate drought, by as much 25 percent. That would increase the average yield in Africa by eight bushels an acre. Eight bushels doesn't sound like much, but it's enough grain to feed three Kenyans for a year.

"If the climate predictions are correct, Africa's toughest days are still ahead of her. We must prepare," said Daniel Mataruka, executive director of the Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation, a group overseeing the project.

But what if the project doesn't deliver the promised results? Willem Engelbrecht, who manages Pioneer's operations in South Africa, worries about a backlash against his industry. South Africa is the only sub-Saharan country that now allows farmers to use genetically modified, or GM, seeds.
If it really works, it will be excellent publicity for GM," he said. "If it doesn't work, it can be very bad publicity."

Marian Mayet of the South Africa-based anti-biotech African Centre for Biosafety doubts the seeds will work. "Pie in the sky," she calls the project. Mutua doesn't know what GM seeds are but says he'd gladly try them. So would his neighbor, Joshua Maweu. "As long as it doesn't hurt my shamba," or small farm, he said. His farm is bare except for a patch of less than an acre. The field is his most fertile because it lies at the bottom of a slope and catches silt - and any extra fertilizer - that washes from the fields above.

Many farmers and ordinary Africans are suspicious of biotech crops or have little knowledge of them. Some are convinced biotech seeds are already being used - it's actually illegal to plant them - and don't want them. "Most of the small-scale farmers are against genetically modified organisms," said Moses Shaha, a grower who leads the Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum, which claims 5,000 members.

Stephen Klaitugi, a businessman and part-time potato farmer who was shopping at a Nairobi supermarket, thinks biotech seeds are needed but doesn't think they'll be an easy sell. "A few people who are learned will understand, but most Kenyans are not learned. They will think you will destroy them," he said.

Other major hurdles must be overcome before the corn even reaches the market. Researchers and biotech companies face tight constraints on where they can conduct field trials, and that will make it difficult to test the seeds in the variety of soil conditions and climate conditions the crops would face.

Monsanto tested the seeds in four locations in South Africa last year, but so far has one test site potentially available in Kenya, a government research station located in an arid region between Nairobi and the Indian Ocean coast.

Developing gene-altered crops requires multiple field trials in varying sites and several years. The shortage of potential test sites points to another challenge facing the Monsanto project: Rainfall at the wrong time can wreck a field trial, setting the project back. In 2008, both of Monsanto's test sites of drought-resistant maize in South Africa were harmed by rain.

Kenya should be one of the easiest places to test: Last year, Kenya enacted a law for regulating the development and production of gene-altered crops, putting the country ahead of many other African nations in preparing the way for biotech foods.

Many small-scale farmers don't use fertilizer or insecticides, and certainly not weedkillers, because they say they can't afford them, especially after a crop failure leaves them struggling to scrape up cash just to buy seed for the next season. Many farmers fertilize their maize with manure, but last year 40 percent of the local livestock died in the drought, said Francis Kimeus, the veterinary officer at a local farm supply store.

Poor farmers commonly save grain from hybrid crops and use the kernels as seed the next season. That defeats the purpose of a hybrid, because the high-yielding trait doesn't carry over to the next season. Sales of hybrid seed were higher last year around Machakos because farmers didn't have enough grain to plant, salesmen said.

In December, area farmers who couldn't afford the hybrids - a 2-kilogram (4.4 pound) bag of Pioneer or Monsanto seed costs $4.50 to $5 - went to the shops in town that sell bulk maize, rice and beans and bought 90-kilo bags of food maize to substitute as seed.

Some critics worry that introducing biotech seeds will wind up hurting poor farmers by making them dependent on a product they can't afford and controlled by one or two multinational giants. "It's not what Africa needs. Africa can't afford it," said Mayet.

Malawi, one of the poorest nations on the continent, doubled corn production without biotech seeds, primarily by subsidizing the cost of fertilizer, and even provided some grain to Haiti this year after its earthquake.

So how much difference could a high-tech seed really make to small-scale farmers? A lot, according to advocates of the crops, and there is some evidence among new black farmers in South Africa to back that up. They say the seeds save them money, even if they cost more than conventional varieties, because they save on equipment and labor.

Sales of genetically modified seeds have taken off in South Africa mainly because of the damage wreaked on corn crops by moth larvae popularly known as stalk borers. Biotech corn varieties similar to those widely used in the United States contain a bacteria-derived toxin that kills the pest.

Johan Kriel, who mentors new black farmers in South Africa's Free State province, an agricultural region in the country's interior, says he encourages them to buy biotech corn so their crop isn't damaged by insects. The farmers often don't have their own equipment. "If you don't have a sprayer, the damage is done to your crop."

Isaac Khuto has been learning to farm with help from Kriel and a white neighbor. He tried biotech corn and found that he saved on costs even though the seed was more expensive, he said. "I make a little bit more," Khuto, who rents some rolling land in the Free State province.

Buzz Sharp, a rural development specialist based in Nairobi with Oxfam, a British aid group, thinks some small-scale farmers could benefit from biotech seeds even with all their other challenges. The most prosperous farmers will try them first, he said. "If their trials prove to be successful, and they start to get good yields, then it's probably going to naturally extend through the community."

Alastair Wood, a commercial-scale corn and wheat grower who farms in Kenya near the famous Masai Mara game reserve on the Tanzania border, foresees a similar outcome.

Wood grows nonbiotech corn seed for Monsanto as well as corn and wheat for food use. He expressed skepticism that the drought-tolerant product will work. But he says the insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant seeds now legal in South Africa would benefit farms of all scales in eastern Africa. Use of the seeds would spread as farmers try them or learn about them from operations like his where many of them work as laborers, he says.

"GM has got to be the way for the future because it will help the small-scale (farmers) so much," he said. "But it will take a long, long time to convince them. They're not easy to change."


Biotech in Africa: Europeans Still Say 'No Thanks' to Biotech

- Philip Brasher, Des Moines Register, May 10, 2010 http://www.desmoinesregister.com

When it comes to genetically modified crops, most of Africa is off limits. Many Africans and U.S. experts blame Europe. European countries are both a major destination for African agricultural exports, limited as they are, and also a major contributor of aid on the continent.

"Africa is very reluctant to approve and adopt (biotech crops) because they are afraid some of their specialized exports to the European Union would be jeopardized," said GianCarlo Moschini, a trade economist at Iowa State University.

The U.S. government has long been seeking to change European minds about biotech food or else isolate Europe from the rest of the world on the issue. Doing the former has proven all but impossible. But Europe could find itself more isolated if African governments decide they want biotech crops badly enough to drop their own barriers to the technology.

Monsanto Co. hopes to commercialize a drought-tolerant variety of corn in Africa. Pioneer is on a similar track with a biotech corn that needs less fertilizer because it uses nitrogen more efficiently. Both companies are contributing genetic material and high-tech breeding expertise to African projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"If Africa decides to go their own way, I don't think it's going to make any difference on how Europe looks at it. They are taking their own sweet time doing that," Moschini said. DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman says it's too soon to tell whether Europeans will change their views about biotechnology based on what happens in Africa. "Maybe over time it will be things like drought tolerance and nitrogen efficiency that will have enough interest (to Europeans) to allow them to start to understand it in a different way," she said in an interview.

The European Union actually is a major consumer of biotech crops - but primarily of herbicide-resistant soybeans, much of which are imported from South America and used primarily in animal feed, not human food. European food retailers don't want biotech ingredients because of resistance from consumers and fear of blacklisting by anti-biotech groups, according to U.S. Agriculture Department reports.

EU countries import no U.S. corn, as it may contain unapproved biotech varieties. The EU has approved one biotech crop trait for commercial production there - a version of insect-resistant corn developed by Monsanto Co., but little of the crop is grown.

The European food safety agency concluded that the corn was as safe as conventional grain, but planting bans imposed by individual EU member countries have limited production.

A report issued in January by USDA officials in Rome argued that European consumer resistance to biotechnology isn't really that strong. They recommended targeting education campaigns first to consumers in Italy, one of the countries most positive about agricultural biotechnology, according to surveys. "Most Europeans have heard of biotechnology, but they are not activists and their opinions are not very strong," the report said.

Just six of 27 European Union countries grew any biotech corn at all last year, and most of that was planted in Spain and totaled just 187,000 acres, according to an annual survey by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. Germany banned the crop after 2008.


Biotech in Africa: In South Africa, The Welcome Mat Is Out

- Philip Brasher, Des Moines Register, May 9, 2010 http://www.desmoinesregister.com

Delmas, South Africa - The landscape in this area east of Johannesburg, a slightly rolling plain with fields of tall corn, could almost pass for the American Midwest. Except for one feature - the giant yellowish mounds that are remnants of abandoned gold mines.

There's another similarity that's less visible. Much of the corn, including a field that farmer Tommie Olckers is checking, contains a bacterium gene, known as Bt, that makes the stalks toxic to an insect pest. The type of gene-altered corn that dominates corn production in Iowa is just as popular with growers in South Africa. More than 70 percent of South Africa's latest corn crop, the country's largest in decades, is biotech.

The U.S. government and American biotech seed giants Pioneer Hi-Bred and Monsanto hope the popularity of the biotech corn in South Africa will eventually spread to other countries in eastern and southern Africa where corn is a staple food. The biotech seed "makes your management easier and it increases your yield," said Olckers, production manager for Schoeman Estates, which controls 23,000 acres in the Delmas area.

The Bt gene eliminates the work of monitoring fields for the moths that will lay eggs in the plants and spraying the fields multiple times each growing season to kill them. Without insect damage, the corn is less susceptible to fungal toxins that can damage grain quality. Also, some of the corn lines best adapted to this area, including a fast-growing Pioneer variety Olckers buys, are biotech.

Around here, Olckers said he has increased yields by more than one-third. Yields have been even better, he says, in a region toward the Zimbabwe border where Schoeman Estates also grows corn.

Industry officials say an even larger share of South Africa's corn crop would be biotech except for the bans on biotech food in other African countries that import the grain.

Indeed, most of the corn that Olckers grows is actually of conventional varieties that are not genetically modified organisms, or non-GMO for short. But Olckers said he does that only because his buyer is selling the grain for export and is willing to pay a substantial premium, about 150 rand a ton, or about 50 cents a bushel. "If the premium were not there and we don't have the niche market for non-GMO maize, we will definitely go to GM maize just for the (ease of) management," he said.

Without safety net, farmers go biotech
South African farmers planted 4.7 million acres of biotech corn in 2009, or 73 percent of the total crop, up from 29 percent in 2005. U.S. corn farmers planted about 86 percent biotech.

Some agribusiness executives linked that increase to the lack of government farm programs. After the fall of apartheid in the 1990s, the new black government swept away the system of market controls that had guaranteed the country's white farmers a stable income.

Consumers still enjoy a plentiful, relatively inexpensive, domestically produced food supply, including grains, meats, fruits and vegetables, dairy products and wine and beer. But the number of producers has plummeted as farmers have consolidated, from 58,000 in 1993 to fewer than 40,000 today.

With no federal subsidies, market controls or disaster aid to fall back on, farmers are on their own to manage their risk, through contracting, hedging, buying crop insurance, varying the crops they plant, or through the use of biotech seed.

Corn acreage has shrunk dramatically in recent years as farmers have abandoned marginal lands. Yet both yields and production have risen sharply, in part because of the biotech seeds, say U.S. Agriculture Department experts here. Yields in recent years are up 50 percent from the 1990s. This year's crop is so big - the second largest in the country's history - that 30 percent could be exported.

'Emerging farmers' embrace GM seeds
Some new, black farmers - "emerging farmers" as they are known here - swear by the biotech corn. Samuel Moloi grows 156 acres of corn on land that he rents in the Free State province, a vast region of prairies in South Africa's interior. He uses GM seeds that are both insect-resistant and immune to Roundup herbicide. He says he spends less on diesel by using his tractor less and less on labor because he doesn't have to hire workers to cut the weeds, a common practice in Africa. "The GM seed is a little bit higher (in cost), but it does a fantastic, a wonderful job for me," he said.

The black farmers are being aided by commodity groups that are wary of a repeat of what happened to the north in Zimbabwe, when blacks seized white commercial-scale farms and agricultural production collapsed. Moloi has been mentored by a representative of Grain South Africa.

The South African government, however, has struggled to figure out how to help farmers such as Moloi obtain their own land without taking it away from whites.

No data exist on how many black or small-scale farmers buy the biotech seed. However, Charles Matlou, who grew up on a small farm in northern South Africa and now works with small-scale farmers for Pioneer, says they are uneducated and slow to change. But they like the seeds once they try them and find that they have less insect damage and better yields, he said. "The benefits at the end of the day outweigh the cost of the seed itself," Matlou said.

Biotech acceptance may spread slowly
It's not clear yet whether and how quickly South Africa's rapid acceptance of genetically engineered crops will spread to other countries, particularly those where corn is a staple crop. Nor is it certain how much biotechnology will expand even in South Africa. Biotech versions of cotton and soybeans also are permitted here, but those are minor crops.

The government recently nixed plans for an insect-resistant potato out of trade concerns, according to media reports. South Africa approved the first biotech crops at a time when the relatively new black government was under international pressure to liberalize its markets, said Marian Mayet, director of the African Centre for Biosafety, an anti-biotech group in Johannesburg that wants the government to require labeling of foods with biotech ingredients. The government will accept biotech crops previously approved in the United States but won't risk allowing other products, she said. "South Africa still believes the U.S. is the benchmark for high food safety standards," she said.

Columbia University's Pedro Sanchez, who won the 2002 World Food Prize for his innovations in improving agricultural production, believes poor farmers in eastern and southern Africa could benefit significantly from genetically modified drought-tolerant corn varieties being developed for the region.

But he doubts South Africa provides much of a model for improving those farmers' methods, since they are generally poorer and lack the access to highways and other necessities that exists across South Africa.

"Their level of infrastructure development is so much higher, maybe not their level of education, but their level of infrastructure," he said.

Pioneer's Matlou says he is convinced farmers in other countries could benefit from the technology, too. "Actually, that's my dream," he said. "If I had all those powers, I would go to all these countries and show all these farmers the benefits."


Letter Sent to the Editor of NY times

Dear Editor :

Regarding, your story on how U.S. Farmers are coping with Roundup-resistant weeds -

Just like gravity, a natural law of agriculture is that, if you spray weeds with herbicides, they will eventually become resistant - whether or not biotechnology is involved. The true wonder is that existing varieties have held off resistance for so very long. (Glyphosate-resistant or GR soybeans were introduced in the mid-1990s.) Farmers recognize that, in time, new herbicides will need to be introduced to work alongside biotechnology.

Additional biotech varieties with resistance to dicamba and 2,4-D are scheduled for release as regulatory approvals are obtained, and will form the backbone of weed management strategies in U.S. non-organic soybean production, thus helping prolong the effectiveness of the current system that mostly depends on using glyphosate with GR varieties.

The recent Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) report found that, when used properly with other herbicides and resistance mechanisms, glyphosate and GR soybeans will continue to provide a large contribution to the environmental and economic sustainability of U.S. soybean production.

It should be noted that this identification of a potential concern was a relatively brief aside in a much larger report by the National Research Council, which as the New York Times published, has praised biotechnology for its contribution of environmental benefits while producing more food to feed the world.

I want to underscore this last point. We should not become distracted from that crucial goal: we desperately need tools to feed the world, as the UN has called for a 50% increase in food production in order to prevent global catastrophe, with 800 million people currently suffering from chronic food shortage and millions more at risk for going hungry.

As a scientist originally from India, who has witnessed firsthand the life-changing economic, environmental and nutrition boons from biotechnology in the developing world, I know lives can be touched for the better by biotechnology.

Sincerely yours,

C. S. Prakash, Professor, Tuskegee University, Alabama


Defending Biofortified Crops

- Bonnie McClafferty (HarvestPlus), Scidev.net, May 7, 2010

Michiel Korthals makes several incorrect assertions about biofortification as a strategy for tackling malnutrition in his letter to the editor Don't medicalise micronutrient deficiency.

First, biofortification is not "ignoring the food and agricultural aspects" of malnutrition. Rather, it explicitly accounts for the agricultural context of poorer rural communities in the developing world, where small-scale farmers mostly grow, and eat, staple food crops.

By breeding nutrients directly into staple foods, together with other agronomic traits farmers want — such as disease or drought resistance — biofortification is a way to improve the diets of the undernourished. Biofortification simply adds nutrients to other traits being developed for farmers.

Second, farmers participate in trials to select the varieties they prefer that also contain nutritional traits. This participation is a standard practice in developing agricultural technology.

In this way, biofortification is integrated into existing farming practices, and does not "require more water or land". Rather than being "pushed" on farmers, the entire approach is built on farmers' needs. Further, it is incorrect to assume that the seeds of biofortified crops will only be affordable to rich or commercial farmers, especially since most biofortification efforts to date focus on staple crops that the poor grow and eat.

Third, contrary to Korthals' assertion, biofortification does not force farmers to buy seed every year. It is true that if farmers plant hybrids, they cannot save seeds. But most crops planted in the developing world are not hybrids. For staple crops such as wheat, rice, sweet potato, open pollinated maize and cassava, regardless of whether they are biofortified or not, farmers can save their seed or planting material to share or replant.

Finally, while Korthals is correct in saying that malnutrition is a "multi-faceted problem", biofortification advocates have not disparaged other solutions. The enormous challenge of micronutrient malnutrition is best addressed in the long run through poverty alleviation, economic development, education, women's empowerment, access to adequate healthcare and dietary diversification, among other things.

In the interim, biofortification offers another tool to cost-effectively provide crucial micronutrients to millions of poor people in rural areas, through the foods that they already grow and eat every day.


Don't Medicalise Micronutrient Deficiency

Michiel Korthals (Wageningen University), Scidev.net, April 20, 2010

In their article Nutrition key to cutting infection rates, Andrew Thorne-Lyman and Wafaie Fawzi call on donors and developing countries to improve nutrition by providing micronutrients to populations.

But while current ways of doing this — biofortifying food or giving out supplements — may reduce the short-term burden of malnutrition, they are doomed to fail in the long term because they frame micronutrient deficiency as purely a health issue, ignoring the food and agricultural aspects of the problem.

Strategies to introduce biofortified crops, for example, rarely consider issues such as the water and land needed to grow such crops.

Moreover, these strategies do not adequately address the poverty gap. They often rely on farmers continuously buying biofortified seeds, excluding poorer farmers and allowing only rich or commercial farmers to benefit from the farming of biofortified crops. Similarly, interventions based on supplements rely on a regular supply of pills or sachets without considering long-term sustainability.

The underlying problem is that supplementation and biofortification are carried out in much the same way that medical problems are treated: identify the problem — for example, iodine deficiency — find a 'cure', i.e. iodine, and give it to people either via crops or in supplements.

But malnutrition is a multi-faceted problem that depends on individual physiology, for example. Research shows that single solutions, such as supplementing food or fortifying crops with one or two micronutrients, do not solve malnutrition because micronutrients often increase or decrease the extent to which the body can absorb other micronutrients.

A strategy that frames malnutrition not only as a health problem but also a 'food problem' could have more success. Such a strategy must consider the full complexity of social and ethical issues associated with tackling micronutrient deficiency: ensuring sustainable and climate-neutral agriculture, protecting biodiversity, and understanding cultural food preferences and communities' perceptions of risk.

A key ingredient for success will lie in listening to poor communities. Instead of 'pushing' a technology such as biofortified seeds onto farmers, a strategy for tackling micronutrient malnutrition must start by examining indigenous knowledge and local practices, for example.

Farmers' social contexts must be considered, not only because farmers make up 75 per cent of people suffering malnutrition, but also because they provide the rest of the populationwith food.

Research strategies should also aim to create benchmarks for biofortification strategies. A central collection of case studies would allow researchers and governments to identify those strategies that work and those that don't, helping to establish good practice and set realistic targets for reducing micronutrient deficiencies.


Review Article Questions Nutritional Superiority Claims for Organic Food


Many studies have explored the nutritional value of organic food and conventional food. But the author of a new paper says that research does not support claims that organic food products are nutritionally superior to conventional products.

In a review of numerous articles on organic food, Joseph D. Rosen, PhD, emeritus professor of food toxicology at Rutgers University, says proponents of organic food have pointed to studies that support their assertions that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food. However, many of these studies are not published in peer-reviewed journals and are based on results that are not statistically significant. Given these limitations, a review of the scientific literature by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine was unable to find any scientific evidence for the nutritional superiority of crops grown either organically or conventionally.

Dr. Rosen also points out that many studies have found that the year the crops were grown is an important factor in the concentration of nutrients in those crops. Since the vast majority of the studies cited by organic food proponents were conducted for only one year, he said it raises questions about the results of these studies.

In October 2007, the University of Newcastle reported huge increases in important nutrients for organic food that was grown alongside conventional food. While these findings were promoted widely, Dr. Rosen notes that the research was never published in a peer-reviewed publication.

In the United States, the Organic Center published a report in March 2008 that claimed that organic food was 25 percent more nutritious than conventional food. But that report suffered from several important limitations, including designating nitrate, (found at higher concentrations in conventional food), as unhealthy. Research published recently has shown that nitrate may have health benefits.

The author concluded that organic food may not be worth the extra cost to consumers that purchase these products with the belief it contains more healthful nutrients than conventional food.

A Review of the Nutrition Claims Made by Proponents of Organic Food

- Joseph D. Rosen, Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, v. 9 Issue 3, p 270 - 277

Full paper at http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/123397535/abstract

Health-conscious consumers have an interest in knowing if the extra money they spend on organic food is justified. The organic food industry, therefore, has a large financial interest in convincing the public that the food they sell is healthier, tastier, and better for the environment. One area that the industry has concentrated on is the supposed nutritional superiority of their product. The importance of this area to the organic food industry can be seen by the vehemence in which it has attacked and tried to discredit a recent, widely circulated report submitted to the British government that found no scientific evidence for claims that organic food is nutritionally superior to conventional food. Two nongovernment organizations, the Soil Association in the United Kingdom and the Organic Center in the United States have been heavily involved in the promotion of organic food. Both of these organizations exert a great deal of influence with the media, and hence with consumers, in both countries. An examination of some of their actions will be included in this article.

CONCLUSIONS: Organic food proponents such as the Soil Association and the Organic Center are organizations with missions to promote and sell organic food. But in their zeal to fulfill these missions they many times stretch the truth. Much of the scientific proof advanced by both the Soil Association and the Organic Center are based on research articles that have not been reviewed by independent scientists and data that are not statistically significant. Nonexistent or incomplete data are nevertheless “published” in the media. In some cases, organic food proponents omit data that do not support their views, the most egregious example being the trashing of conventional vegetables because some contain higher levels of nitrate than organic vegetables. Any members of the media who rely on organic food proponents for information without checking the facts are complicit in defrauding their readers. And any consumers who buy organic food because they believe that it contains more healthful nutrients than conventional food are wasting their money.


Monsanto's Seeds of Discord

- Roger Parloff, Fortune, May 10, 2010. Full article and videos at

"It's fascinatin' because we're in uncharted terri-tree," says the genial, Scottish, entertainingly named Hugh Grant, 52. He is the CEO of Monsanto, possibly America's most feared corporation. Monsanto dominates the agricultural biotechnology industry, whose audacious mission is to transform the genetic composition of the world's food supply. More than 80% of the soybeans and cotton harvested in this country now have at least one patented Monsanto gene in them, as does more than 70% of the field corn.

Monsanto (MON, Fortune 500) is the company best known, depending on which documentary film one has seen, for feeding Frankenfoods to our children, courting ecological catastrophe, or bringing ruinous patent suits against struggling family farmers.

On the other hand, those who don't vilify Monsanto tend to rhapsodize about it, or at least about its mission. In a world on pace to spawn 9.1 billion mouths to feed by 2050, the black magic of ag-biotech offers the only apparent prospect of salvation: crops that will be, it is promised, ever more resistant to insects, disease, and climatic stress; that will require ever less water, fertilizer, and pesticide; and that will bring forth ever more abundant, hardy, and nutritious harvests.

Whichever school of thought one subscribes to, there is now a fresh reason to fear Monsanto. It relates to the "uncharted territory" Monsanto's Grant is alluding to through his rolled r's and glottal stops. The most important genetic trait ever engineered -- the Monsanto herbicide-tolerance gene known as Roundup Ready -- is about to come off patent and, in a testament to just how young this entire business sector is, that's never happened before.

Monsanto competitor DuPont (DD, Fortune 500) claims, and federal and state antitrust regulators are probing whether, Monsanto is using abusive patent license provisions and other tricks of the trade to hobble the development of both the generic versions of Roundup Ready and a patented rival DuPont product, known as Optimum GAT. DuPont sells genetically modified seeds through its subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International of Johnston, Iowa. DuPont/Pioneer asserts that Monsanto, if successful in postponing the availability of those competing products, will force farmers to switch to Monsanto's own second-generation offering, Roundup Ready 2 Yield, whose patents won't run out till 2020. Roundup Ready 2 currently costs about 40% more than its predecessor.

"The cost to farmers and consumers if Monsanto succeeds will be in the billions of dollars," asserts David Boies, DuPont's lead outside lawyer and perhaps the most sought-after American trial lawyer of his generation. "But the worst cost," Boies says, "will be the restrictions on innovation and the restraints on yields that prevent American growers from being more competitive around the world and keep us from feeding more people with less resources."

Monsanto protests that DuPont's contentions are nonsense and that its rival is cynically manipulating both public opinion and the antitrust regulators in an effort to gain leverage in a mundane business dispute. DuPont's real problem, Monsanto maintains, is that it suffered a setback in its product pipeline: A key DuPont genetic trait simply didn't work as well as hoped. Now DuPont needs Monsanto's Roundup Ready 1 to fix its problem, and it's refusing to pay Monsanto a fair licensing fee. "I expect payment inside my patent life," says Grant, who claims that the dispute is really that simple. "The story takes longer to tell than it really should."

At the core of this controversy is something lawyers refer to as the "patent bargain." In the Constitution, the Founding Fathers gave Congress the power "to promote the progress of science and useful arts" by rewarding inventors with a lawful monopoly on the sales of their innovations for a limited period -- currently set at 20 years from the day the patent application is filed. In exchange, the inventor must teach the world how to duplicate his invention. At the end of the patent term, this know-how enters the public domain.

As Roundup Ready nears the end of its patent life -- for soybeans, that will happen in 2014 -- the concern is that Monsanto could, by forbidding rivals from even starting the multiyear process of developing, testing, and internationally registering generic versions of Roundup Ready until its patent term has expired, effectively extend its monopoly an extra five to seven years, if not longer.

The controversy springs from a legislative void. While the pharmaceutical industry has the Hatch-Waxman Act of 1984 to tell its players exactly how to transition seamlessly from patent monopolies to generic competition, agricultural biotech has no equivalent.

Far more is at stake here than a simple attempt to finagle a few extra years of patent protection for a successful product -- a common enough drill in the pharmaceutical industry. The stakes are higher because this industry differs from the drug business in one crucial respect. With pharmaceuticals, a patient with two medical needs can purchase one company's patented pill for his first condition and another firm's patented gelcap for the other.

In the world of ag-biotech, in contrast, a consumer lacks that freedom. He is constrained by the fact that a plant can grow from only one seed. If a farmer wants his crop to contain more than one patented genetic trait -- say, soybeans with the Roundup Ready trait and an insect-resistance gene engineered by a competitor like DuPont, Bayer (BAYRY), Syngenta (SYT), Dow AgroSciences (DOW, Fortune 500), or BASF -- the traits must be bred into a single seed, that is, "stacked" on top of each other.

Many farmers regard the Roundup Ready trait as so crucial that they will not buy other genetically engineered traits unless those are stacked in seeds that already contain Roundup Ready, a gene that makes crops immune to the most widely used weed killer. Trait developers and seed breeders, in turn, can't stack a trait on top of Roundup Ready unless Monsanto gives them permission to do so in a patent license.

In the view of DuPont and other alarmed observers, this situation makes Monsanto an industry gatekeeper, capable of deciding which new genetically modified traits can be introduced and which cannot. Put another way, Roundup Ready has become a monopoly platform product, much like what the Microsoft Windows operating system became in the market for personal computer software in the late 1990s.

The parallels are not lost on DuPont's longtime outside counsel Boies, chairman of Boies Schiller & Flexner, who was the Justice Department's lead trial counsel in its antitrust case against Microsoft. He argues that Monsanto's stacking restrictions are actually more objectionable than the conduct that got Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) into trouble 15 years ago. "Microsoft's actions were designed to inhibit the stacking of the Netscape browser on the Microsoft Windows operating system," says Boies. "Here, you have outright prohibition of stacking genetic traits on top of Monsanto's Roundup Ready trait."

Monsanto officials charge that Boies's arguments are part of a DuPont-instigated campaign of "noise" and "fabrication." Monsanto routinely licenses stacking rights to trait developers, they say, pointing to at least nine commercial seed products on the market today in which non-Monsanto traits (including one of DuPont's) are stacked atop a Monsanto trait. The problem, they say, is that while DuPont licensed the right to stack most genes on top of Roundup Ready, it's now stacking a gene that falls outside its license. That's a stacking right "they never paid for," says Grant. "That's the gist of this thing."

Monsanto's dispute with DuPont surfaced in litigation in May 2009, when Monsanto sued DuPont for patent infringement in federal court in St. Louis, near Monsanto's 504-acre corporate campus in Creve Coeur, Mo. (pronounced as if France had never existed). DuPont promptly counterclaimed, alleging antitrust violations. Shortly thereafter, the Justice Department commenced an antitrust inquiry of Monsanto focusing on allegations that closely parallel DuPont's, and soon several state attorneys general, led by Iowa's Tom Miller, were sniffing around too.

The St. Louis litigation is proceeding slowly, though, and Monsanto has won two preliminary victories there that bode ill for DuPont. If there is any merit to DuPont's claims that Monsanto is imminently, irrevocably, and illegally extending its monopoly in this crucial industry, only swift intervention by the Justice Department is likely to make any difference. That department's antitrust division is now led by assistant attorney general Christine Varney, who has criticized her "overly cautious" Bush-era predecessors for insufficient vigilance in policing dominant firms. On top of that, she and her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., have vowed to make antitrust enforcement in the agribusiness sector a priority of their tenure. In this context, it seems all but foreordained that another shoe will drop.

Though Hugh Grant leads today's Monsanto, it is Robert Fraley, 57, who personifies it. Now chief technology officer, Fraley joined Monsanto almost 30 years ago when it was still an industrial chemical company that made plastics like safety glass and sun tints embedded in auto windshields. Fraley was hired to strengthen the company's nascent ag-biotech unit and pioneer an industry that didn't yet exist. He succeeded.

At an interview, Fraley peers levelly into the eyes of a reporter as if bracing for an unpleasant but accustomed task. He is tall, trim, fit, and poker-faced, and his head is shaved and smooth. His utilitarian office is adorned mainly with hunting and fishing trophies. Neither his temperament nor his appearance fits the stereotype of a Ph.D. microbiologist, but that's what he is. At a ceremony at the White House in 1998, President Bill Clinton presented him and three other Monsanto scientists with the National Medal for Technology. (Other recipients: Apple (APPL) CEO Steve Jobs, Polaroid (PRDCQ) founder Edwin Land, and Internet pioneer Vint Cerf.)

Fraley grew up on a farm near Hoopestown, Ill., about 100 miles south of Chicago, where his dad grew soybeans and corn. As a kid, he remembers doing a chore for the local farmers. "You'd walk up and down all the rows of soybean fields," Fraley recalls, "and cut the weeds out by hand. You'd do that from morning till night. That was a tough job."

Because of Monsanto -- and to no small extent Fraley -- American farm boys don't need to do that anymore. In 1974, Monsanto introduced the herbicide Roundup, which was made up mainly of the salt known as glyphosate. Glyphosate has very low toxicity for animals, but for a short duration -- before rainwater dissolves it into harmless residues -- it will kill almost any green plant onto which it is sprayed.

Though a farmer had to be careful about exactly when he applied Roundup to his fields -- lest he kill his crop along with the weeds -- the product achieved cheaper, safer, and more effective weed suppression than anything before it. Roundup revolutionized farming and became Monsanto's most successful product. (In 1981, Monsanto's Leicester, England, outpost hired a young Glaswegian with a graduate degree in rural science, Hugh Grant, to show Scottish farmers how to apply Roundup to fields of malting barley, used to make Scotch whisky.)

Seeking to build on the Roundup juggernaut, Monsanto's nascent biotech unit -- which hired Fraley out of the University of Illinois in 1981 -- decided to look for a gene that could make crops immune to its own blockbuster product. If one could be found and introduced successfully into crop DNA, it would make the farmer's weed-killing task even simpler, spurring still greater sales of Roundup.

Looking in Monsanto's waste pools, its scientists found a bacterium that thrived in Roundup-laden sludge, and then isolated the gene that enabled it to do so. The team then had to introduce that bacterial gene into embryonic soybean cells. Fraley was part of the Monsanto team that pioneered a way to accomplish the feat. They used a parasitic microorganism known as Agrobacterium tumefaciens, whose natural life cycle involves injecting some of its own DNA into the nucleus of a host plant's cells. Though the bacterium in nature injects harmful genes into cells, Monsanto plucked those out beforehand and replaced them with the Roundup-resistance genes they sought to introduce. In a petri dish they then let the Agrobacterium do its thing with embryonic soybean cells. The embryonic cells were then allowed to divide naturally until they developed into a seedling. The seedling grew into a mature plant, and when it bore its own seeds, they incorporated the "transgenic" DNA -- the gene transplanted from the waste-pool bacterium into the soybean genome. Monsanto had created Roundup Ready, and saw that it was good.

"I can still remember those little green blobs of soybean tissue culture cells that became eventually Roundup Ready soybeans," Fraley says. "That was the first glimmer that this would be possible."

After more than a decade of additional research and development, Monsanto introduced its first two commercial transgenic crop traits in 1996: Roundup Ready for soybeans and Bollgard cotton, which provided resistance to three loathed insect pests.

Farmer acceptance was astonishingly rapid. Last year 91% of the soybeans planted in the U.S. were genetically modified, and at least 92% of them contained Monsanto's Roundup Ready trait. Similarly, about 88% of the country's cotton is now genetically modified, and 95% of those plants contain at least one patented Monsanto trait.

Yes, genetically engineered seed costs more -- easily 30% to 80% more than conventional seed -- but not nearly what farmers judge they can earn in increased yield or save in reduced pesticide, herbicide, tilling, and airplane-spraying costs.

"Farmers pencil out every purchase decision," stresses Fraley. "My dad would spend more time trying to figure out which seed he was going to grow than anything else. The fact that farmers have adopted this technology so rapidly and so extensively is due to one simple thing: It really works."

A moment later, though, Fraley adds a second factor. "What facilitated that broad adoption," he continues, "was the company's absolutely pivotal decision to broadly license" its traits rather than, for example, making them available only through the company's own proprietary seed companies. In other words, Monsanto followed the business model of Microsoft, which licensed Windows to all comers, rather than, say, the closed model of the early Apple, which kept its operating system to itself. "Somewhere between 200 and 300 seed companies have access to our Roundup Ready or to our bug-control traits," says Fraley, including major competitors like Pioneer, Syngenta, and Dow. "It's benefited the industry," he says. "Then I hear these shrill voices saying, "This technology is so broadly adopted that can't be good.' But to me it's a sign of the benefits it's provided."

Nevertheless, having had the foresight to license your product broadly is no defense to an antitrust suit, as Microsoft itself found out in the late 1990s. Similarly, having come by a monopoly honestly (and ingeniously and daringly) is no defense to a Sherman Act charge, in which the government alleges that a company is artificially trying to maintain or extend a monopoly.

While Monsanto officials still see their company as the scrappy underdog it was a decade ago, the rest of the world seems to see it as an arrogant, big-footed bully.

Today, Monsanto's Roundup Ready is the only glyphosate-tolerance trait commercially available in a world where glyphosate is the overwhelmingly prevalent herbicide. (Monsanto's patent on Roundup weed killer expired in 2000. Monsanto's gross profits from Roundup Ready and other traits eclipsed those from Roundup in 2003.)

Farmers and seed companies, having paid dearly for Roundup Ready's benefits throughout its patent life, are now eager to begin enjoying their half of the patent bargain -- the point when Monsanto's legal monopoly expires and Roundup Ready enters the public domain.

Rarely before has the conflict between the patent laws and the antitrust laws been so squarely joined, and never, certainly, with so much at stake. The next move, if there is to be one, will be the Justice Department's. To top of page


Why Plant Breeding Is Incompatible with Organic Agriculture

- Karl Haro von Mogel, BioFortified, May 8, 2010

Full blog at http://www.biofortified.org/2010/05/why-plant-breeding-is-incompatible-with-organic-agriculture/

This is part I of a three-part series on Orgenic Backlash. How is the organic sector handling the argument in favor of integrating of genetically engineered crops into organic agricultural systems?

When I read the news a few weeks ago I was at first puzzled, and then inspired. Jim Riddle, Organic Outreach Coordinator for the University of Minnesota, wrote an article for the Rodale Institute outlining 10 reasons why genetic engineering is incompatible with organic agriculture. This is one of the issues that we tackle quite often here at Biofortified.

Convinced? I considered that maybe he is right. Furthermore, as I continued to think about it, I could only conclude that plant breeding itself is incompatible with Organics as well. You know, rubbing two flowers together. I will now outline 10 good reasons why plant breeding is incompatible with Organic Agriculture. You might notice some similarities.

1. Basic science. Humans have a complex digestive system, populated with flora, fauna, and enzymes that have evolved over millennia to recognize and break down foods found in nature to make nutrients available to feed the human body. Bred crops and foods are comprised of novel mutations and combinations of genes which have never before been part of the human diet and may not be recognized by the intestinal system as digestible food.

2. Ecological impact. Organic agriculture is based on the fundamental principle of building and maintaining healthy soil, aquatic, and terrestrial ecosystems. Since the introduction of genetics-based plant breeding, there has been a dramatic decline in the populations of Monarch butterflies, black swallowtails, lacewings, and caddisflies, and there may be a relationship between monocultures and colony collapse in honeybees. Crop residues have been shown to persist in soils and negatively impact soil ecosystems.

3. Control vs harmony. Organic agriculture is based on the establishment of a harmonious relationship with the agricultural ecosystem by farming in harmony with nature. Plant breeding is based on the exact opposite — an attempt to control nature at its most intimate level – the genetic code, creating organisms that have never previously existed in nature. Every time a breeder makes a cross between two plants he or she is creating an organism that has never before existed.

4. Unpredictable consequences. Organic ag is based on a precautionary approach – know the ecological and human health consequences, as best possible, before allowing the use of a practice or input in organic production. Since introduction, breeding of agricultural crops has been shown to have numerous unpredicted consequences, at the macro level, and at the genetic level. Potatoes and celery touched by the hands of plant breeders have caused documented skin and health problems in consumers and farm workers.

5. Transparency. Organic is based on full disclosure, traceability, information sharing, seed saving and public engagement. Commercial breeding is based on secrecy, absence of labeling, and proprietary breeders rights for corporate profits. The almost complete absence of a regulatory framework has allowed the breeding industry to move forward without the benefit of rigorous, transparent scientific inquiry. The absence of “artificial selection” labels has allowed genetically modified products into the U.S. food supply without the public’s knowledge or engagement., and without the ability to track public health benefits.

6. Accountability. Organic farmers must comply with NOP requirements and establish buffer zones to protect organic crops from contamination and from contact with prohibited substances. When a plant breeder creates an organism that has not existed before and releases it into the environment, its genes know no boundaries and can contaminate organic crops. Novel or untested (and unknown) genes in wild relatives can infiltrate organic fields by “genetic trespass” and no one – absolutely no one is accountable for this genetic drift.

7. Unnecessary. It is well established that healthy soils produce healthy crops, healthy animals, and healthy people. Research and development should focus on agricultural methods, including organic, which recycle nutrients to build soil health, producing abundant yields of nutrient dense foods, while protecting environmental resources. To date, plant breeding has contributed to the development of herbicide-resistant weeds and an increase in the application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, with associated increases in soil erosion and water contamination, while producing foods with lower nutritional content. Technologies, such as breeding, which foster moncropping are not compatible with organic systems, where soil-building crop rotations are required.

8. Genetic diversity. Organic farmers are required to maintain or improve the biological and genetic diversity of their operations. Plant breeding has the exact opposite effect by narrowing the gene pool and is focused on mono-cropping varieties. Although plant breeders may start with more diverse stock, the breeder purposefully selects only the genetics that they “want” to see in the field. By selecting beneficial traits they are reducing genetic diversity and thus plant breeding should not be allowed to happen in organic agriculture.

9. Not profitable. According to the 2008 Organic Production Survey conducted by the USDA National Ag Statistics Service, organic farmers netted more than $20,000 per farm over expenses, compared to conventional farmers. Use of conventionally bred varieties has lowered the net profit per acre for conventional producers, forcing them to farm more land in order to stay in business.

10. No consumer demand. Consumers are not calling for organic foods to be subjected to breeding. In fact, there is a growing demand for “wild” foods that have not had their genetics altered by fallible human beings. By incorporating conventionally bred crops into organic agriculture, we would be further eliminating the consumer’s ability to choose these more “natural” foods. There is no public poll which indicates that consumers of organic (or conventional for that matter) foods desire to have the genetics of their crops altered by plant breeding.

It is entirely clear that “conventional breeding” is just that – breeding for conventional agriculture and not for Organic systems. There can be no compromise on this issue, and this is not a drill.

Okay this is a drill.


Genetically Modified Crops, Organic Fertilizers, and Some Environmental and Human Health Issues

- Benjamin S. Bey, Modern Ghana, May 10, 2010. Full commentary at http://www.modernghana.com/news/274721/1/genetically-modified-crops-organic-fertilizers-and.html

About a year ago, I wrote a rejoinder to an article entitled “Ghana to Undertake Field Trial on Genetically Modified Crops (GMCs)”. Please see http://www.modernghana.com/news/205727/50/re-ghana-to-undertake-field-trial-on-gm-crops-gmcs.html for the article. I made my stand clear in support of GMCs and for that matter genetic engineering/biotechnology. By and large this revolutionary technology will provide solutions to our 21st century problems in various fields including agriculture, energy, medicine, as well as the textile and automobile industries. Unfortunately, some of the responses to my article were very disappointing, to say the least. They ranged from downright mean through intellectual dishonesty to misapplied theological concepts/principles.

I was accused of being an agent of Monsanto and/or sought to use the article as a dry-run for my dissertation. Others declared that being in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences made me completely clueless on issues pertaining to agriculture and so had no business debating these issues. Admittedly, my first article was more of a reactionary piece so I probably failed to communicate some of the important points effectively.

Before delving into the substance of today's article, I will start by clearing the air on some of the unfortunate labels. First of all, I have nothing to do with Monsanto; neither do I have any affiliation with them. Secondly, apart from the terms genes and bacteria, my dissertation and the subject of genetically modified crops do not share anything in common. For those who care to know, my research focuses on how bacteria “talk” (communicate): a cell density-dependent phenomenon that controls the social/communal behaviors of bacteria through the expression of target genes. Thirdly, I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture. I am just like any other patriotic Ghanaian/African who believes in using technology to advance the course of humanity. Hopefully, I have set the records straight on the misconceptions about me and my motives for writing my articles.

Today's article discusses an aspect of organic farming, which may become detrimental to the environment, microorganisms, drinking water, and ultimately to human health. However, most of us are oblivious to the effects of this practice. Opponents of GMCs are of the view that Organic Farming/Organic Foods (OFs) hold the answer to our supply of healthy foods and general food security. This assertion is highly debatable and will be tackled in another article. I do not have anything against OFs; in fact, I will advise that they should be patronized if one can afford them. The production of OFs is however not as environmentally friendly and risk-free as the opponents of GMCs would like us to believe.

I am sorry, if I sound a bit too technical here but it is important to present the scientific basis of my views instead of blindly quoting anti-corporate activists or religious fanatics to scare my fellow human beings- the modus operandi of some anti-GMCs folks.

I hope OF proponents in their quest to say anything to “demonize” Genetically Modified Foods will also keep in mind that organic Food/farming is definitely not risk-free. Whether we like it or not GMCs are here to stay with us and it behooves on those who understand this revolutionary concept to aggressively lead the charge and enlighten the public with scientifically sound arguments in a lay man's language. By so doing the public will be educated on the great potentials of GMCs instead of the dangerous misinformation that are currently making the rounds.

The forth coming National Food and Agric Show (FAGRO) in October 2010 should present a good platform for those in the helm of affairs to interact and educate the public in a more proactive manner about the importance of Genetically Modified Foods/Organisms.

(Ph.D Candidate; University of South Carolina; Formerly of Tuskegee University Biotechnology Lab in Alabama)


GM Crops: the Societal Context of Technologies

Satyajit Rath,National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi, Prabir Purkayastha,Delhi Science Forum/ May 8, 2010

Full commentary at http://newsclick.in/international/gm-crops-societal-context-technologies

The Bt Brinjal debate has featured technological worries relating to genetically modified crops which appear relatively minor in comparison to the critical issue of who controls Indian agriculture and therefore food security in India. While there cannot be a mere technological fix to the problems of Indian agriculture, technology – and therefore GM will be part of the solutions. The article is an extract from a larger manuscript to be published in the EPW.

The Bt brinjal debate has been largely simplified as an ideological disagreement between camps either anti- or pro-Genetically Modified (GM) crops, at least in the public eye. There is no denying that the vitriol of the debate is in part due to ideological differences. However, what is missing is the public awareness that the disagreements fall into two distinct categories, and that conflating those is a grievous error in determining public policy.

From Prakash: While the author here seems to be sympathetic to both sides of the argument, he is simply misguided on many of the issues while rehashing the same old tired arguments against GM technology without substantiation and goes on with the usual rant against corporate interests. For example, he says that "that GM crop usage has led to a reduction in the diversity of crop varieties being planted.". This is simply not true! In India, for instance, one can get 625 varieties of Bt cotton while only a few dozen cotton varieties would have been available without biotechnology. By adding new genes, breeders can bring back older varieties into life and also increase the choice of cultivars for farmers. Similarly, in US the farmers have a greater choice of soybean varieties since the advent of biotech. )