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May 22, 2011


Barking up the Wrong Tree; Withholding Technology is Injustice; Real Cost and Benefit; Politics of precaution


* GMO bashers barking up the wrong tree
* Withholding GM crops from farmers an 'injustice'
* A Meta Analysis on Farm-Level Costs and Benefits of GM Crops
* Monsanto to test seed that might beat drought
* Impact of GM Crops on Biodiversity
* The Cost Of Precaution
* Some compromise, please, people
* New pocket guide to GM Crops and policies in Europe
* Every 30 Minutes an Indian Farmer Commits Suicide, Biotech Is Not To Blame
* Sustainability of current genetically modified crop cultivation
* The 100 most creative people in business 2011 - Pamela Ronald
* Exploring ethical issues in biology and medicine

GMO bashers barking up the wrong tree

- Nevil C. Speer, PhD, MBA, Western Kentucky University - Drovers Cattle Network, May 23, 2011


College campuses never lack for opinion. Regardless of the subject, if you search hard enough, you’re certain to find a slant. That's by design; academic environments are established to foster free thought. Sometimes, though, such opinion goes out of bounds and you stumble across entrenched perspectives from the least likely sources – individuals weigh in on subjects with noreal knowledge and/or expertise. (That’s especially ironic given that academicians are highly guarded about expertise and specialization when it comes to curriculum.)

That reality struck home several months ago as I casually thumbed through a local community periodical. I ran across an article outlining the attributes of eating soy (or not) - only it was written by a colleague who works in a separate college and possesses no formal training in agriculture or food production. To the point above, why should I be surprised? My curiousity was captured. But the more I read, the more troubling the article became. Most striking were the following observations:

"One of the most disconcerting issues in the current battle over the benefits of soy is genetic modification (usually referred to as GMOs or genetically modified foods and organisms). The 90-minute documentary released in November 2009, “Food, Inc.,” brought soybeans into the limelight as it explored the use of Roundup Ready soy beans… among some of the shocking revelations recorded in this documentary is the exploration of genetically engineered soybeans and the role Monsanto plays in seed creation. While GMOs and the advance of Roundup-resistant seeds superficially seem to be a logical avenue for massproducing food, questions have arisen about the safety of the harvested products for human consumption. Since about 93 percent of soybean seeds planted last year contained Monsanto’s Roundup Ready genetic trait, there is reason to be alarmed."

Clearly, my colleague is a newcomer to this discussion if she believes that “Food, Inc.” is responsible for bringing GMOs “into the limelight”; this is not a new topic. But then again, citing “Food, Inc.” doesn’t set the bar very high in terms of source integrity – the documentary is certainly NOT an objective source of information about food and food production.

The commentary, though, reflects lingering perspectives of privileged ideologues that mandates some objective perspective. Most notably, utilization of science in food production is not a new phenomenon. That was most appropriately outlined by Nina Fedoroff, former Science and Technology Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State, at the 2010 USDA Outlook Forum: "It was George Harrison Shull who actually was asked to demonstrate the newly rediscovered Mendelian principles who inbred some strains of corn that he got from various places, and then he crossed them. And much to his surprise he suddenly got much bigger, sturdier plants with larger ears. He published a little paper that said, hmm, this might have some bearing, some implications fo agriculture. Of course it took many more decades before hybrid corn was adopted, and indeed many of the things that people say about genetically modified crops today were said about hybrid corn then…Of course we’ve done this with wheat. We’ve done it with rice. And we’ve done it with a huge variety of plants, principally increasing the sizes of fruits, making them less toxic, removing the seeds from them, making them healthier...."

Try to imagine your world if science had never gotten traction within agriculture. Our options would be greatly limited compared to the current lifestyle we enjoy today.

Similarly, Norman Borlaug was asked about genetic advancement in modern agriculture. Specifically, the question surrounded the appropriateness of crossing genetic barriers between species and whether he agreed that such action was inappropriate (Reason, April, 2000): "No. As a matter of fact, Mother Nature has crossed species barriers, and sometimes nature crosses barriers between genera – that is, between unrelated groups of species. Take the case of wheat. It is the result of a natural cross made by Mother Nature long before there was scientific man. Today’s modern red wheat variety is made up of three groups of seven chromosomes, and each of those three groups of seven chromosomes came from a different wild grass.

First, Mother Nature crossed two of the grasses, and this cross became the durum wheats, which were the commercial grains of the first civilizations spanning from Sumeria until well into the Roman period. Then Mother Nature crossed that 14-chromosome durum wheat with another wild wheat grass to create what was
essentially modern wheat at the time of the Roman Empire…So modern bread wheat is the result of crossing three species barriers, a kind of natural genetic engineering.”

So while some individuals tout potential dangers of scientific progress, genetic change has always played a critical role in agriculture. Science provides us with great abundance and security. But we can’t stop here.

There’s further challenges ahead – feeding the world – a matter of nine-billion people by 2050 (a far cry from “thousands”). That reality means we can never let up in terms of advancing agricultural productivity; agriculture has a great responsibility and taking our foot off the gas will only serve to penalize the less fortunate (ironic given that my university colleague oversees a social justice program). So while the anti-GMO crowd might be “alarmed” about science, such ideology is neither realistic nor helpful. After all, the more pressing issue is hungry people, lots of them and more every day – they need food to eat.


Withholding GM crops from farmers an 'injustice'

- Rudy A. Fernandez, The Philippine Star, May 22, 2011

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines — Let farmers decide whether to adopt biotechnology or genetically modified (GM) crops.

“Withholding biotech from among their options would be an injustice to them as food producers and members of the food-consuming society,” stressed Director Gil C. Saguiguit Jr. of the Los Baños-based, government-hosted Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization-Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEAMEO SEARCA).

His forum was the annual seminar on “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops” held recently at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City.

The 2011 science forum was organized by the New York (USA)-based International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) in partnership with SEARCA and the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST).

SEARCA is one of the 20 “centers of excellence” of SEAMEO, an intergovernment treaty organization founded in 1965 to foster cooperation among Southeast Asian nations in the fields of education, science, and culture. NAST is the country’s highest advisory and recognition body on S&T.

Dr. Saguiguit pointed out that already struggling from their poverty further exacerbated by often disastrous natural calamities, farmers in developing Southeast Asian countries “must make a crucial decision — will they believe in the promise of biotechnology as this generation’s agricultural ‘messiah’ or should they listen to the naysayers regarding the supposed dangers and risks it brings?”

He averred that farmers are keen businessmen — they go for technologies that would give them the most returns to their investments. Therefore, denying them science-generated technologies such as GM crops is “an injustice.”

In his presentation, Dr. Saguiguit cited Isidro Acosta, a successful biotech corn farmer in Isabela, who reported at the seminar that many corn farmers in the country continue to benefit from planting Bt corn.

Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a bacterium that naturally occurs in soil. Through genetic engineering technique, a specific gene of Bt has been inserted in a corn variety. The Bt corn produces its natural pesticide against the Asiatic corn borer, the most destructive corn pest in the Philippines and other parts of Asia.

Acosta attested that Bt corn planters have doubled their harvest and income while at the same time considerably reducing production cost as their use of pesticides has been significantly minimized or virtually eliminated.

Dr. Saguiguit also commended ISAAA founder and current chairman Dr. Clive James “for championing the cause of biotechnology and tirelessly tracking its global progress and sharing his findings and insights with us.”


A Meta Analysis on Farm-Level Costs and Benefits of GM Crops

- Robert Finger et al. Sustainability 2011, 3, 743-762; doi:10.3390/su3050743


Abstract: This paper reviews the evidence on the socio-economic impacts of GM crops and analyzes whether there are patterns across space and time. To this end, we investigate the effect of GM crops on farm-level costs and benefits using global data from more than one decade of field trials and surveys. More specifically, we analyze the effects of GM-crops on crop yields, seed costs, pesticide costs, and management and labor costs and finally gross margins. Based on collected data from studies on Bt cotton and Bt maize, statistical analyses are conducted to estimate the effect of GM crop adoption on these parameters.

Our results show that, compared to conventional crops, GM crops can lead to yield increases and can lead to reductions in the costs of pesticide application, whereas seed costs are usually substantially higher. Thus, the results presented here do support the contention that the adoption of GM crops leads on average to a higher economic performance, which is also underlined by the high adoption rates for GM crops in a number of countries. However, the kind and magnitude of benefits from GM crops are very heterogeneous between countries and regions, particularly due to differences in pest pressure and pest management practices. Countries with poor pest management practices benefited most from a reduction in yield losses, whereas other countries benefited from cost reductions.

However, our study also reveals limitations for meta-analyses on farm-level costs and benefits of GM crops. In particular, published data are skewed towards some countries and the employed individual studies rely on different assumptions, purposes and methodologies (e.g., surveys and field trials). Furthermore, a summary of several (often) short-term individual studies may not necessarily capture long-term effects of GM crop adoption


Monsanto to test seed that might beat drought

- PHILIP BRASHER, DesMoines Register, May. 20, 2011


Washington, D.C. - No farmer would ever plant a crop hoping it doesn't rain at the most critical time for the plants to have water, right? Wrong.

That's the position that biotech giant Monsanto Co. is in this year as it tries to get ready to launch a new line of corn seed that's genetically engineered to tolerate drought, a new landmark in agricultural biotechnology.

Monsanto hopes to bring the seed to market in 2013, but a series of rainy summers in the western Plains starting in 2008 has plagued field trials. The company needs the trials to prove to farmers that the seeds will make enough difference to merit buying. The results made public so far have been mixed.

"We had about three good years where we could do field trials in Kansas. It was nice and dry," said Bill Reeves, regulatory affairs manager for Monsanto. "And then it started raining."

Successful drought-tolerant seed varieties could burnish the biotechnology industry's image. The industry has been struggling to gain public acceptance for genetically modified food in Europe, Africa and other regions. Monsanto, DuPont and other companies are eager to show that genetically modified crops can have benefits beyond just saving farmers on pesticide costs or making it easier to control weeds - the main benefits of the products now on the market.

"Obviously, if we can protect farmers in times of drought or in areas where there is less water and still get good yields, that's going to be beneficial," said Greg Jaffe, who follows agricultural biotechnology for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group.

Monsanto provided the genetic material it's now testing, known as MON 87460, to a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to produce drought-tolerant corn varieties. The seed is supposed to be provided royalty-free to poor African farmers.

The corn contains a bacterium gene that allows the plant to survive on less water during the critical period when it's flowering.

The Obama administration, which has been promoting the benefits of biotech crops in Africa, is proposing to clear the crop for commercialization in this country.

But the product's commercial success, Monsanto knows, will depend how well it performs for farmers. That's not clear yet.

The idea is to reduce the yield loss of the crop during drought. In trials that the company conducted to gather data for federal regulators, the biotech crop's performance has varied widely in comparison to conventional hybrids. In some cases, the crop has yielded up to 35 percent more. But in some cases, it's done no better than some existing hybrids, according to a USDA report.


Impact of GM Crops on Biodiversity

- Janet Carpenter, GM Crops 2:1, 1-17; January/February/March 2011; © 2011 Landes Bioscience

Full paper at http://ddata.over-blog.com/xxxyyy/1/39/38/37/Carpenter-2011.pdf

The potential impact of GM crops on biodiversity has been a topic of interest both in general as well as specifically in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Agricultural biodiversity has been defined at levels from genes to ecosystems that are involved or impacted by agricultural production (www.cbd.int/agro/whatis.shtml). After fifteen years of commercial cultivation, a substantial body of literature now exists addressing the potential impacts of GM crops on the environment. This review takes a biodiversity lens to this literature, considering the impacts


The Cost Of Precaution

- Steve Savage, BioF ortified, 21 May 2011

The graph above shows the relative production of these major US row crops comparing the years 1993-1995 (just prior to the introduction of biotechnology enhanced crops) and 2008-10 (the most recent available data which covers a a span which comes 12-15 years after biotech. Soybean production has expanded 47% in this time-frame while corn is up 58% (far more than the quantity now being diverted for biofuel). Both of those crops are predominantly planted to “GMO” varieties, while the various segments of the wheat crop remain non-GMO. Until 2004 it looked as if North American growers would also get to plant biotech wheat, but a vigorous campaign led by Greenpeace succeeded in blocking the technology. Many major European and Japanese grain buyers were concerned about potential consumer push-back (based on Greenpeace efforts), so they made a coordinated threat to boycott all North American wheat exports if any commercial GMO wheat was planted in the US or Canada. This was based on the “precautionary principle.”

The wheat industry, particularly the Canadian Wheat Board, asked Monsanto and Syngenta not to go ahead with their plans to sell the improved wheats, and so those often vilified companies put their programs on the shelf at the request of their customer base. GreenPeace then declared Victory.

The Traits That Didn’t Happen
Monsanto had been developing a “Roundup Ready” version of wheat which would have helped the wheat growers who have grass weed issues. It was also shown to increase yields and it would have aided in conversion to no-till, and increased genetic purity for specialty uses. Syngenta was developing wheat with resistance to a disease called Fusarium Head Scab. That particular fungus is difficult to control with fungicide sprays, but it can severely hurt yields, and it can diminish the value of what grain is harvested by contaminating it with the mycotoxin, DON or “vomitoxin.” A major reason that farmers include less wheat in their crop rotations than would be optimal is because of the risks associated with this disease. The fact that these traits would have increased grower income and reduced a dangerous toxin in the food supply were listed in the Greenpeace internal literature of the day, not as “pros,” but as “campaigning challenges.”
We probably won’t ever be able to make up for what has been lost for one of the world’s most important human food crops. The catch-up on biotechnology will not be in time to help many poor people survive or to prevent the political instability implications of food shortages. These are the true “Costs of Precaution,” but they will not be borne by the Greenpeace activists in rich nations. These very real costs will be borne by poor families in places where wheat can’t be successfully grown. Greenpeace was happy to take credit for stopping this technology. I wonder if they are willing to take credit for these consequences.

Norm Borlaug said: ”If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.”

I’d go with Norm’s “Peace” agenda, not that of Greenpeace.


Some compromise, please, people

- Stock and Land, Australia,

THE GLOVES are off in the GM debate once again, and this time its property rights at stake.
Unsurprisingly, both sides are claiming the moral high ground, and suggesting the other’s unreasonableness is hindering their right to farm.
Although you’d be pessimistic of the chances of it happening, a little compromise and co-existence could take place.

Firstly, the organic lobby needs to realise we live in an imperfect world, and zero tolerance is not possible.

Australia’s peak body for organic farming, the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) has imposed draconian restrictions on its members, with zero tolerance to genetically modified material, unlike many other similar bodies internationally, which have provisions for adventitious presence (AP).
Farming does not take place in a vacuum and placing absolutes as guidelines is impractical.

If these rules continue to stand, co-existence between organic farmers and those growing GM canola will be impossible.

Ideally, the Grain Trade Australia industry standard for AP of 0.9pc would be adopted, but even a comprised figure of 0.5pc would give organic growers some room to manoeuvre.

But it is not just the organic industry being inflexible.
The attitude from key GM players, such as Monsanto, to contamination events has simply been that the GM volunteers are easily cleaned up and that farmers are ridiculous to even complain.

Responsibility needs to be taken for the contamination of other peoples’ livelihoods.
If a farmer’s chemical drifted over the fence and caused crop loss, there’d be no question that compensation would be required.

Same goes for inadvertent GM contamination. Farmers who have done nothing wrong shouldn’t be out of pocket to clean up their paddocks, while the same applies to growers producing the GM crops to best industry standards who through no fault of their own have caused contamination.

I nominate Monsanto to be responsible for the stewardship of their Roundup Ready gene. If it is as easy to control as they say, then cleaning up the odd patch of volunteers in neighbouring roadsides or paddocks will be the merest fraction of the fat patent fees it is collecting.

Lastly, we urgently need to develop a better arbitration process. Currently, situations such as the Kojonup contamination can only be resolved through the courts. Not a great way of forging relationships with your neighbours.
Perhaps Grain Trade Australia could set up a division of its successful dispute negotiation program to deal with GM contamination cases and find a sensible resolution without lining the pockets of legal eagles.

Theoretically, there’s no doubt successful co-existence between all grain producers, organic, conventional and GM, could work, but its going to require compromise, and given the hard heads involved on both sides of the argument, you’d have to be a bit pessimistic about workable protocols being thrashed out.


Date: Newest first | Oldest firstWell, how unusual. A journalist with absolutely nothing at stake wants everyone else to compromise. And over what?

No-one actually loses their livelihood from cross pollenation. At worst they get a 4.1% price downgrade. And even that is only because of the totally unacceptable zero tollerance standard.

And this continued use of the spray drift analogy only highlights the ignorance of the people using it. The spraying and drifting is part of a single action at a single point in time. Pollen drift is an essential natural ecosystem service that takes place a few months after the act of planting. It is also something that can take place in reverse, with the non-GM pollen being blown the other way.

And if it is appropriate for the non-GM people to describe cross pollenation of their crops as "contamination" then the GM farmer has every right to describe the non-GM pollen that ends up in his crop as "contamination" as well.

And it would follow that if all legal principles are to be applied equally to all people, as they must, then the GM marketing people would also be free to apply a zero tollerance standard to their product too.

"Do unto others ..."

Posted by Ian Mott, 23/05/2011 2:39:51 PM


New pocket guide to GM Crops and policies in Europe

-http://bit.ly/iZb3Fe -

Europe can help the world face these challenges. How? By using less water, increasing our land’s productivity to help fight global food insecurity, exploiting less land in other countries
for our food needs, and addressing the effects of climate change



Every 30 Minutes an Indian Farmer Commits Suicide, Biotech Is Not To Blame

Every 30 minutes a farmer in India commits suicide, according to a new report by researchers at New York University. The report says agricultural biotech companies are partially to blame for this epidemic. I disagree.


Sustainability of current genetically modified crop cultivation

- Rijksoverheid.nl



The 100 most creative people in business 2011

PAMELA RONALD / University of California, Davis

PAMELA RONALD has always felt at home around plants -- nurturing them, modifying them, propagating them -- so it seems natural that she is developing new crop varieties. One of her breakthroughs: a strain of flood-resistant rice created through precision breeding, not genetic engineering. The new rice has increased yields three- to fivefold under flood conditions in countries including Bangladesh, India, and Indonesia. The question to ask about a new crop, she says, "is not 'Is it GM?' but 'Can it help f ood security in less developed nation


Exploring ethical issues in biology and medicine


The Council is seeking views on the ethical issues posed by emerging biotechnologies. Your views will be valuable in shaping and informing the deliberations of a Working Party that was recently set up to consider this topic.

The Working Party is interested in the way society and policy makers respond to new biotechnologies and how benefits from these technologies can be secured in an ethically appropriate manner. This issue will be considered in light of both current examples of emerging biotechnologies, such as synthetic biology and nanotechnology, and older cases, such as genetically modified crops and assisted reproduction technologies. The deadline for responses is 15 June 2011. Tom Finnegan Email: tfinnegan@nuffieldbioethics.org