* The Rush to Condemn GM Crops: Impractical Regulations and Nuisance Lawsuits
* Let's Restart the Green Revolution
* Technology Protects Cotton from Caterpillar’s Appetite
* The Seeds We Sow, Kindness That Fed A Hungry World
* Genetically Modified Crops are Safe for Uganda
* Turkey Says ‘Yes’ to GM Animal Feed
* Dr. Salt Develops Salt Tolerant Plants
* Economic Benefits of Bt Brinjal
* Patrick Moore’s Environmental Epiphany
* Clever Music Video of Frustrated Grad Students in Biotech
The Rush to Condemn Genetically Modified Crops: Impractical Regulations and Nuisance Lawsuits
- Gregory Conko and Henry I. Miller, Policy Review, no. 165, February 1, 2011
Full text at http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/64231
In spite of more than twenty years of scientific, humanitarian, and financial successes and an admirable record of health and environmental safety, genetic engineering applied to agriculture continues to be beleaguered by activists. Gene-spliced, or so-called genetically modified, crop plants are now grown on nearly 150 million acres in the United States alone, helping farmers to increase yields, reduce pesticide spraying, and save topsoil — and without injury to a single person or damage to an ecosystem.
But this remarkable record hasn’t kept radical environmentalists from condemning and obstructing the technology. When they can’t sway public opinion with outright misrepresentations or induce regulators to reject products, activists have resorted to vandalism of field trials and, finally, to harassment with nuisance lawsuits.
Environmental activists succeeded in alarming the American public about gene-spliced crops and foods for a time during the 1990s and the early part of last decade, but they cried wolf so often in the face of an unbroken string of successes that the public began to tune them out. More recently, the activists have had to dig deeper into their bag of tricks and revive a proven strategy for obstructing progress: litigation that challenges the procedural steps government agencies take when approving individual gene-spliced crops. Since 2007, a coalition of green activist groups and organic farmers has used the courts to overturn two final approvals for gene-spliced crop varieties and the issuance of permits to test several others. At least one additional case is now pending.
The activists’ strategy is reminiscent of the old courtroom dictum: When the facts are on your side, pound the facts; when the facts are against you, pound the table. Because there is no scientific evidence to support allegations about negative effects of genetic engineering they are pounding the table, resorting to scare tactics and wholly unfounded assertions. Nowhere in the peer-reviewed studies or monitoring programs of the past 30 years is there persuasive evidence of health or environmental problems stemming from genetically engineered seeds or crops. Quite the opposite: The technology used to produce these seeds is a paragon of agricultural progress and benefit to the natural environment.
These obstructionist lawsuits have prevented the marketing of products that offer palpable, demonstrated benefits to the environment and to the welfare of farmers and consumers. Nuisance lawsuits intended to slow the advance of socially responsible technologies are abusive, irresponsible, and antisocial. And so are those who file them. It is long past time for nepa’s burdensome paperwork requirements to be lifted from such an important and beneficial technology.
Full text at http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/64231
Let's Restart the Green Revolution
- Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., Wall Street Journal, Feb 2, 2011
‘Food prices are up, and output and productivity is falling behind. Not enough attention is being placed on regulation-induced stagnation.’
The U.N.'s food price index has hit an all-time high. Food price hikes are widely understood to be a trigger of Egyptian upheavals in a country that imports a large share of its grain. Some blame Ben Bernanke. Some blame the Chinese for gobbling up too much of the world's resources. Not enough attention is focused on the forces of stagnation loose in our world. Agricultural output has been falling behind population growth for almost two decades, and so has productivity.
In a small way, consider the Obama Agriculture Department's decision last week to throw up its hands and finally permit the planting of bio-engineered alfalfa.
Alfalfa is the country's fourth biggest crop. Roundup Ready soybeans and corn, modified to resist the weedkiller glyphosate (known by the trade name Roundup), have been in the market for a decade. Roundup Ready alfalfa raised no new issues, and yet in 2007 a court found a wholly new excuse to block planting. The USDA hadn't produced an "environmental impact statement" to consider the economic impact on "organic" alfalfa growers.
To be sure, these growers were about to be inconvenienced. The bio-engineered trait would likely turn up in their crops. The standard of genetic purity they need to meet to satisfy their health-food customers would become that much harder.
But organic alfalfa represents about 1% of the market. Functionally, it is not different from bio-engineered alfalfa. Only the label is different. "Organic" alfalfa is fed to "organic" cows so consumers can splurge on milk that says "organic" on the label.
Shoppers have every right to indulge themselves in this fashion, and farmers to make a buck meeting their need. But should other farmers be stopped from planting a new seed just because it would complicate their niche marketing strategy? When the gauze of environmental correctness is peeled away, the battle here isn't about much more than keeping organic alfalfa (also known as hay) cheap so organic dairy operators will be less tempted to substitute another feed.
A similar lawsuit threatens to halt planting of Roundup Ready sugar beets, which account for nearly half of U.S. sugar production. Perhaps the best answer, brutal as it might seem, was offered by a beet farmer in Oregon. He told NPR that since the engineered beet had been found to be safe, if a neighboring farmer has "organic" customers who prefer to believe otherwise, "it would be in his interest to educate them."
It's too bad when change upsets somebody's livelihood, but these lawsuits seek to award organic farmers a civil right not to have their high-end, advertising-created market segment disturbed by industrial progress. Tom Vilsack, the Obama agriculture secretary, twisted and turned for weeks trying to reconcile the interests of organic and mass-market alfalfa farmers. In the end, he gave up and made the right decision: The organic farmers will have to adjust to a reality that has shifted a little bit against them.
The world needs more such decisions.
When some hear the word "regulation," they imagine government rushing to the defense of consumers. In the real world, government serves up regulation to those who ask for it, which usually means organized interests seeking to block a competitive threat. This insight, by the way, originated with the left, with historians who went back and reconstructed how railroads in the U.S. concocted federal regulation to protect themselves from price competition. We should also notice that an astonishingly large part of the world has experienced an astonishing degree of stagnation for an astonishingly long time for exactly such reasons.
Greece has destabilized the entire European monetary system because its government borrowed more than it could afford. But the flipside is an economy that can't afford its debts because it has been buried under anticompetitive rules, guilds and monopolistic privileges that make enterprise all but illegal.
A few hundred miles to the south, Egyptian protestors clamor for "freedom" when American television reporters are present. But "food" has been the chant across North Africa since before the beginning of the year, in Algeria, where several protestors were killed, and in Tunisia where an autocrat chose to make his exit.
These upheavals got their start in a telling way. A street vendor in central Tunisia set himself afire as a protest after being harassed by police for trying to make a living selling vegetables without a permit. The nature of the modern regulatory state everywhere is to be hard on those trying to do anything new. In this way at least, the quaking North African regimes have been thoroughly modern.
Technology Protects Cotton from Caterpillar’s Appetite
- Clemson Univ. February 1, 2011
Aerial photographs show that while the genetically modified crop survived intact, the unprotected plants were destroyed by the caterpillars. image by: Jeremy Greene
BLACKVILLE — The furry-looking insects start their development smaller than the head of a pin, but the caterpillars soon develop an appetite for cotton as big as the crop.
To demonstrate the insects’ destructive power, Clemson University entomologist Jeremy Greene planted two cotton varieties — one genetically modified to provide protection from caterpillars, one not — in a demonstration field at the Edisto Research and Education Center.
The non-protected cotton was planted in a pattern that spelled the word “Tigers.” Aerial photographs taken near harvest show that while the genetically modified crop survived intact, the unprotected plants provided three square meals a day for the crop-hungry herbivores.
The demonstration crop was planted in late May last year and grew through the summer. “We wanted to show the kind of damage caterpillars can do when they’re allowed to eat unprotected cotton freely,” Greene said.
Cotton is a multimillion dollar crop in the Palmetto State involving hundreds of farms and thousands of jobs.
Nearly all cotton varieties planted in South Carolina contain genes found in the naturally occurring Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, that help the plant make its own insecticide.
Bt cotton is genetically modified with specific genes from Bacillus thuringiensis. Think of it as in-plant insecticide, Greene said. This technology has been commercially available since 1996, but improvements over the years have enhanced the control of major pests.
The plant makes the proteins just like the bacterium does. The particular strain of Bacillus thuringiensis available in cotton, which was planted for the demonstration, works only on immature lepidopterans, or caterpillars. Lepidoptera is the insect order for moths and butterflies. The toxic proteins have no ill effects on other organisms.
“During 2010, we had a very high population of bollworm that infested cotton acres at the Edisto research center,” Greene said. “We planted a non-Bt variety where you see the word 'Tigers' and a two-gene Bt cotton where you see the fluffy white cotton lint.”
The striking difference in appearance is due to bollworms eating all of the green cotton bolls in the non-Bt variety that did not have protection from the insects.
Greene applied no insecticides to control caterpillars in this field, so the difference between the Bt and non-Bt varieties is illustrated clearly.
A color-coded yield map, produced by precision agriculture specialist Will Henderson at the Edisto center, illustrates the crop after harvest using one of the center’s pickers that is equipped with a yield monitor. The map shows “good” yields in green and “bad” yields in red.
The damage potential of important lepidopteran species, such as bollworm, is not new, Greene said. Moths have flown into fields, laid eggs and hatched as injurious caterpillars for decades.
Transgenic Bt technology and its improvement over the years are relatively recent advances that represent effective, economical and environmentally friendly control of these insects in agriculture, he said. “We know what they can do to non-Bt cotton versus Bt cotton — the photographs speak for themselves,” Greene said.
The Seeds We Sow, Kindness That Fed A Hungry World
- A new book by Gary Beene, Sunstone Press; Paperback $17.79, December 15, 2010, pp 404; ISBN-10: 0865347883
"Practice random acts of kindness" is a catchy little phrase. It is also nonsense. There should be nothing random about the decision to be kind. There is no single action more powerful and "The Seeds We Sow" offers proof of the cross-generational power of kindness.
The book tells the story of the intertwined lives of George Washington Carver, Vice President Henry Agard Wallace, and Nobel Laureate Norman E. Borlaug. It tells how their kindness and passion to feed the world was passed on and enhanced across generations. In his quest to help feed the world, George Washington Carver was probably the most influential not because he was the "peanut man," but rather because he was a "gentle man." His protege Henry Agard Wallace grew up to be the Secretary of Agriculture and Vice President of the United States. He was likely one of the most under-appreciated and misunderstood leaders of the twentieth century. In turn, Wallace passed the baton to Norman Borlaug, who worked in quiet obscurity for most of his life.
M.S. Swaminathan of India summed up his friend's life, "Norman Borlaug is the living embodiment of the human quest for a hunger free world. His life is his message." Because Carver, Wallace and Borlaug lived, so do we. After a 30 year career in Vocational Rehabilitation and Special Education, the author retired as the state director of the New Mexico Division of Vocational Rehabilitation in September 2008. He and his wife, Carla, enjoy life at their home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Gary states that for him kindness did not always come naturally. He says, "I was one of those poor saps who had to do a lot of personal work before understanding that only the merest quarter-turn of the heart separates us from life's abundance."
By EllenM - Franz Kafka once said - "Books should be like ice axes, breaking the frozen sea within us". Gary Beene's elegantly written book is just such a book.
It becomes incumbent upon all of us to educate ourselves about what kindness-compassion-humanitarianism is - what it looks like in the world, what it feels like inside. The act of reading is only one way to do that. For those of you who enjoy biography and history, Gary Beene's book might be be like one of Kafka's ice axes. I highly recommend it.
* By C. Boyce - A fascinating piece of unknown history with a very important message about kindness. I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend this book. This book offers an historical proof that every act of kindness ripples through time and impacts the lives of untold millions of people in future generations.
Genetically Modified Crops are Safe for Uganda
- Clet Wandui Masiga, Daily Monitor, February 2, 2011
Genetically modified organisms are adopted globally for specific special attributes that are agronomically, economically, nutritionally, socially and environmentally viable. While this has been proved, it is a right for individuals or groups to continue raising ethical concerns, especially emerging issues about GMOs.
GMO development, adoption and use are being pursued using internationally recognised procedures whose GMOs have been found safe for the environment. The safety issues raised have helped the science community to continue improving their approach to GMO development. In fact, it is these issues that were the basis for the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety, to which the Uganda government is a signatory.
We write to create awareness to people who think that GMOs when introduced will be more of a liability than a benefit to Uganda. Critics who have raised issues against GMOs have been left to enjoy audience to promote critical thinking on the possible risks as one of the safety measures and to integrate their views into research.
Due to some social and scientific fears, it took three years for the US to approve tomato, the first transgenic crop consumed by man for field trials and more eight years for it to be approved for human consumption. During this time, a number of studies were done that confirmed that this crop was safe for human consumption and the environment. Since then, we have had a number of GMO crops that have been developed, released and now widely cultivated around the world and used as food products which have been sold worldwide.
Farmers in the West have paid hefty fines for not following the regulatory requirements. Indeed these are criminals who must be punished by the law. A critical analysis of all the cases where farmers, Monsanto and other multinational biotechnology companies have lost the cases in courts is that they did not follow the regulatory requirements.
In Uganda, we are following the regulatory requirements and people should not be misguided to believe that since America has failed, Uganda will fail. We cannot therefore justify criminals in the West and use it to deny Ugandans their right of access to food and technology.
GMOs have not been resisted in Europe and USA. Instead, GMO resistance in these countries is because the technology has not been seen to be of any value. In these countries, there is support for GMOs that contain vaccines. It is only a few years away when Europe will approve potatoes that contain vaccines. Crops that contain insulin are being developed for patients that suffer from the sugar disease, diabetes.
In countries where citizens have resisted GMO, they have done so because the people do not go hungry, and drought, pests and diseases are not a problem and because their citizens do not see tangible benefits, GMOs are rejected in the absence of any documented risk. Therefore, GMO is rejected based on likely benefits. In contrast, there are many people in developed countries that are eager to receive GMOs containing vaccines or drugs for saving life.
The varieties of crops grown in Uganda are superior depending on the context of the argument. A crop variety which will yield nothing due to its inability to resist drought, pests and diseases is not superior at all to the development agencies.
Currently, scientists from Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda and Sudan managed by the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa are developing GM maize that is tolerant to drought, GM cassava for resistance to the Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) to list but a few. We are using GM technology because traditional breeding tools have failed over the years to produce the desired varieties.
Again, we insist that Monsanto and other donors are supporting activities to improve agricultural production for humanitarian reasons, not for profits. It’s not only Monsanto that has donated GM crops. In 2001, Syngenta donated golden rice to subsistence farmers of Asia.
The argument that GMOs have the potential in Africa to increase our dependence on Northern companies has no justification. No private seed company was at the core of GMO discovery.
Mr Masiga is a conservation geneticist working in the Agrobio-diversity and biotechnology programme of ASARECA.This article was co-authored with Dr Charles Mugoya
Turkey Says ‘Yes’ to GM Animal Feed
- Hürriyet Daily News, February 3, 2011
The Turkish Biosafety Commission has permitted the use of three types of genetically modified soybeans in animal feed, according to the Turkish Animal Feed Producer’s Union, or Türkiyem-Bir.
“This permission is limited to the use of genetically modified soybeans in animal feed,” Hakkı Erdoğdu, secretary-general of Türkiyem-Bir, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Friday. “GM soybeans do not harm the animal products at all,” he said, noting that the permission was announced in the country’s official newspaper on Wednesday.
Erdoğdu said Turkey currently imports soybeans from the United States, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, adding that Turkey’s animal production is “insufficient” to meet the increasing demand. “Turkey needs nearly 2 million tons of soybeans annually while the country’s production stays at around 50,000 tons.”
Due to the recent issuing of a Biosafety Law, importing GM soy products was banned in Turkey, but the commission has permitted for the first time genetically modified soybeans to be used in animal feed with the decision. According to Erdoğdu, “GM beans will not harm animal products such as meat, milk or eggs.”
“There are various reports stating that genetically modified products do not harm animals if they are used as animal feed,” he said.
Plants Can Adapt Genetically to Survive Harsh Environments
- Purdue Univ., January 31, 2011 http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2011/110131SaltSodium.html
A Purdue University scientist has found genetic evidence of how some plants adapt to live in unfavorable conditions, a finding he believes could one day be used to help food crops survive in new or changing environments.
David Salt, a professor of horticulture, noticed several years ago that a variant of the research plant Arabidopsis thaliana that could tolerate higher levels of sodium had come from coastal areas. To test the observation, Salt grew more than 300 Arabidopsis thaliana plants from seeds gathered across Europe. The plants were grown in non-saline soil and their leaf-sodium content was measured.
Each plant's origination was mapped, and those with the highest sodium contents were found to have come from seeds collected close to a coast or area with high saline soil. All plants were analyzed using genome-wide association mapping, which compares the genomes of a number of plants with a shared physical trait - in this case leaf sodium accumulation - to identify genes that may account for variation in this characteristic. Salt found that the plants that accumulate the highest sodium levels in their leaves had a weak form of the gene HTK1, which regulates sodium intake distribution to leaves.
"The major gene that is controlling variation in leaf sodium accumulation across the whole European population of Arabidopsis thaliana is HTK1," said Salt, whose findings were published in the journalPLoS Genetics. "The Arabidopsis thaliana plants that accumulated high levels of sodium had a reduced level of HTK1 gene expression. The populations that have this altered form of HTK1 are on the coast. There are a few exceptions that prove the rule, such as populations in the Czech Republic, which isn't near the coast, but come from an area containing high saline soils derived from an ancient beach."
It has long been known that plants are adapted to their local soil environments, but the molecular basis of such adaptation has remained elusive. Salt said this is some of the first evidence linking genetic changes with adaptation to specific environmental factors.
"What we're looking at is evolution in action," Salt said. "It looks like natural selection is matching expression of this gene to the local soil conditions."
Salt said crops grown around the world could be affected, possibly negatively, by climate change. It may become important to identify mechanisms to adapt plants to drought conditions, higher temperatures or changes in soil nutrition. Salt believes identifying genetic mechanisms of how plants naturally adapt to their environments will be key to solving those problems.
"Driven by natural selection, plants have been evolving to grow under harsh conditions for millennia," Salt said. "We need to understand genetically what is allowing these plants to survive these conditions."
Salt plans to continue his research to understand at the DNA level how Arabidopsis thaliana adapts to environmental conditions. The National Institutes of Health funded his work.
Economic Benefits of Bt Brinjal
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, firstname.lastname@example.org, January 26, 2011
A recent ex-ante assessment of Bt brinjal highlights its economic benefits. This referenced and peer reviewed article (the authors thanked three other scientists for ‘review and invaluable suggestions’), by three scientists of a public sector institute, the National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research (NCAP), under the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), New Delhi, was published in December 2010, as Brief No. 34 of the NCAP*.
The research, based on field surveys conducted during August-October 2009, was financially supported by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.
As the article is not yet available on the website of NCAP (http://www.ncap.res.in), I am providing here a summary of the main conclusions of this article, which I can send as a PDF file if anyone wants it.
1. The per capita availability of vegetables in India is 190g/day as against the recommended 280g/day. The huge deficit underscores the need for enhanced vegetable production, to raise the levels of their availability and affordability, now hindered by limited arable land and irrigation facilities, all of which make yield increase the principal source of output growth;
2. The study shows that adaption of Bt brinjal significantly reduces insecticide application and losses from the brinjal shoot and fruit borer (SFB), resulting in an increase in marketable yield reducing costs of production;
3. Bt brinjal adoption would add between 30,000 to 119,000 tons to the total production of brinjal, depending upon the extent of cultivation in different areas / States;
4. Absolute annual gain at the country level from Bt brinjal adoption would be about Rs. 577 crore at an adoption level of 15 per cent. It would be about Rs. 1,167 crore at 30 per cent and Rs. 2,387 crore at 60 per cent adoption levels;
5. The farmer is benefitted from lower cultivation costs and increased marketable yield;
6. Sixty per cent of the overall gains would accrue to the consumer on decreased sale price resulting from lower cultivation costs and higher product recovery. The price reduction would also enhance affordability and consumption of this poor man’s vegetable;
7. The major benefits from Bt brinjal would accrue to the States of West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar, where the damage from the brinjal SFB is much severe, compared to the other States. The benefits to other States depend upon the area of cultivation and severity of damage from the pest;
8. The open pollinated varieties of Bt brinjal will improve the access of the new product to the poor farmers, without the burden of technology costs;
9. The States that adopt Bt brinjal should ensure that they develop appropriate measures for technology dissemination, product development, and strengthening local infrastructure; and
10. Bt brinjal adoption contributes to improved environmental and human health.
If we take lessons from the maladies associated with marketing Bt cotton, the States and the legitimate dealers of Bt brinjal seed should also put in place mechanisms to protect the farmer from being cheated by black market forces and dealers of illegal / spurious seed. There should be effective agricultural extension programmes to educate the farmer on the Bt brinjal varieties suitable to his land and on appropriate cultivation practices.
The authors cited important publications on the socio-economic benefits of adoption of Bt brinjal but did not highlight in this paper the societal benefits, such as better living standards, health and education, and reduced tension, among the farming community and a healthier product to the consumer, that further accrue from the adoption of Bt brinjal.
• Kumar, S., Lakshmi Prasanna, P.A. and Wonkhade, S. 2010. Economic benefits of Bt brinjal—an ex-ante assessment. Policy brief No. 34. Published by the Director, National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, Indian Council for Agricultural Research, New Delhi, December 2010. 4pp.
Patrick Moore’s Environmental Epiphany
- Center for Consumer Freedom, February 3, 2011
‘Greenpeace became increasingly senseless’
For years, radical environmental groups like Greenpeace have tried to restrict consumer choice, especially on the issue of genetically modified (GM) crops. Patrick Moore is a former long-haired environmentalist and was an early member of Greenpeace. But Moore, an ecology Ph.D., has since had a resounding change of heart, as he explains in the Vancouver Sun:
You could call me a Greenpeace dropout, but that is not an entirely accurate description of how or why I left the organization 15 years after I helped create it. I’d like to think Greenpeace left me, rather than the other way around, but that too is not entirely correct.
The truth is Greenpeace and I had divergent evolutions. I became a sensible environmentalist; Greenpeace became increasingly senseless as it adopted an agenda that is anti-science, anti-business, and downright anti-human. This is the story of our transformations.
The last half of the 20th century was marked by a revulsion for war and a new awareness of the environment. Beatniks, hippies, eco-freaks and greens in their turn fashioned a new philosophy that embraced peace and ecology as the overarching principles of a civilized world. Spurred by more than 30 years of ever-present fear that global nuclear holocaust would wipe out humanity and much of the living world, we led a new war—a war to save the earth. I’ve had the good fortune to be a general in that war.
Click here to read the rest of the fascinating article. Moore explains the conflict that developed within Greenpeace over environmentalism in undeveloped countries, and chronicles the group’s radicalization. This isn’t the first time Moore has spoken out against Greenpeace. In the past he described the group as "a band of scientific illiterates who use Gestapo tactics." We captured that memorable quote in a print advertisement.
Perhaps the environmental movement’s biggest failure has been its opposition to genetically modified crops—even though GM food has the potential to lift the Third World out of poverty. A study from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government found that developing Africa’s agriculture industry with GM crops could wipe out hunger on the continent in a generation. Norman Borlaug, one of the fathers of the GM field, is credited with having saved a billion lives from starvation. And yet Moore described Greenpeace as having "a policy of ‘zero-tolerance’ for GM crops."
As for Moore’s current beliefs, he now says "genetic science, including genetic engineering, will improve nutrition and end malnutrition, improve crop yields, reduce the environmental impact of farming, and make people and the environment healthier." Amen.
Clever Music Video of Frustrated Grad Students in Biotech
• Zheng Lab - Bad Project (Lady Gaga parody), January 20, 2011 | 1,513,452 views
We are the Hui Zheng lab at BCM and study Alzheimer's Disease. Thanks everyone for your comments and words of encouragement! We had no idea this would spread like it has, but I guess some of these feelings are universal (and international!). This was all in good fun and took us only a few days to do the filming and editing. If you are caught in a bad project, best of luck and hope you can turn it around soon!
(Thanks to Alan McHughen for the link)