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August 20, 2000


World needs high-tech farming


World needs high-tech farming to feed itself

GERMANY: August 21, 2000
Story by Denes Albert

BERLIN - Governments must embrace high-tech farming and remove trade
barriers so the Earth can feed its growing population, agricultural
economists said at an international conference on Friday.
"Both the land and the individual farmers can greatly profit from the two
great future technologies - biotechnology and information technology,"
Joachim von Braun, the new president of the International Association of
Agricultural Economists (IAAE), said in his concluding remarks at the
IAAE's 24th congress.
"But the politics must be right for that." The congress, attended by over
1,000 participants from more than 80 countries, focused on blueprints for
the future development of global agriculture, with most experts agreeing
that a radical shift from past patterns was needed.
"Traditional breeding has already captured most of the (production)
increase potential," Harald von Witzke, professor at Berlin's Humboldt
University and chairman of the local organizing committee, told Reuters.
He said that with the world's population expected to grow to well over 8.5
billion by the year 2025 from the current six billion, agriculture will
need to find ways of feeding them from the same land base being used today.
"There are no major land reserves left: the best land is already being
farmed," Witzke said. "We need to increase food production...(but) we
don't know how that's going to be possible."
"We hope that gene technology is going to make a difference." Witzke also
predicted an end to what he calls the "agricultural treadmill", the
phonomenon whereby in the past 130 years food supply growth has
continuously exceeded the growth in demand.
"Farmers have run faster and faster (by becoming more productive) but
economically they have not got anywhere because the income effect of
productivity growth has been eroded by declining prices," he said, adding
that population and per capita income growth in the future would reverse
that trend.
"In the decades ahead, agriculture will be a growth industry," he said.
"And it will become a high-tech industry." But governments should also
commit more resources to agricultural research, education and counselling,
he said.
In addition, poor countries need to be supported with technology transfer
to help them keep pace with developments in a more capital-intensive and
training-intensive industry.
Witzke also warned that national food standards introduced in recent years
in response to growing environmental and food safety concerns can easily
be misused for protectionism.
"We need innovations on the social science and political side," he said,
but added that although scientists in Germany were beginning to get their
message across, more immediate political concerns often prevailed in the
European Union.
"When push comes to shove, local farmers still have more lobbying power,"
he said.
The IAAE conference in Berlin coincides with the five-day Crop Science
Congress which started in Hamburg on Thursday. Its organisers aim to draft
a declaration on genetically modified foods by August 22.


Australia said increasingly accepting GM products

AUSTRALIA: August 21, 2000

BRISBANE - Australians had become more accepting of genetically modified
(GM) products which would become an integral part of life within five
years, a cotton industry conference was told here on Friday.
Research presented by Federal government agency Biotechnology Australia
showed increased acceptance by Australian consumers over the past 12
months for GM crops that did not require pesticides and herbicides.
Spokesman Craig Cormick said research showed 81 percent of Australians
accepted GM cotton for use in clothing and 62 percent accepted GM crops
that had strong environmental benefits.
"While GM food concerns attract a lot of media coverage, we have seen
results indicating they are not as high among consumers as has been
portrayed by anti-GM activists," he told the Australian Cotton Conference.
Australian acceptance of GM foods was somewhere between the U.S. and
Britain, he said.
"We already see enormous consumer benefits (with) high levels of
acceptance of GM medicines and pharmaceuticals," he said.
"Trends show over the next five years we will see Australians become
cautious adopters of many GM applications, including GM foods, as benefits
to them or the environment become more apparent," he said.
Chief of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
(CSIRO) Division of Plant Industry Jim Peacock said it was likely that the
entire Australian cotton crop would be transgenic in a few years, compared
with the present proportion of about 30 percent.
The cotton industry could not survive without the benefits of GM
"Unless we make use of this research and knowledge, the future is
extremely limited." Peacock said gene technology would offer cotton
protection against disease and viruses and that plants could be made
tolerant to drought and waterlogging.
"It's highly likely that our entire cotton crop will be transgenic in a
few short years. We have achieved significant reduction in pesticide use,
and it's going to get a lot better," he said.

August 20, 2000

Biotechnology for mankind's future

The Sunday Times

Koshy Philip
IT is said that the 21st century belongs to the era of biotechnology.
Rapid strides in the field are anticipated to meet the needs of an
ever-increasing world population.
There are six billion people in the world today and this is a huge number
to cater to in terms of food and healthcare.
It is projected that by 2050 this should reach nine billion.
The need to address and explore every avenue to help increase food
production and depend less on imports is an important objective for every
It will not be prudent to stifle any technology, including biotechnology,
just because of hypothetical or perceived risks.
Perhaps the issue of genetically - modified foods (GMFs) provokes the
greatest debate today.
There is sufficient research data to show that products from biotechnology
are no less safer than traditionally cross-bred crops. Traditionally,
breeding involves larger scale alterations of genes which are not entirely
carried out under controlled conditions.
Gene manipulation on the other hand involves small, precise alterations
with the introduction of genes whose biology is fully scrutinized and
Genetically enhanced products are also subjected to some very rigorous
testing and biosafety regulations by very competent regulatory agencies in
every country. The environmental impact of these products are also
considered carefully before releasing them for public consumption.
Traditional breeding of crops involves wild crosses with weedy relatives
of crop plants. In the process, many hundreds of unknown genes are also
introduced into food crops. This has resulted in new features such as
disease and pest resistance.
The other great fear of gene manipulation is the threat to biodiversity.
Conserving biodiversity is paramount to the sustained success of
Genetically improved crops are found to be no greater threat to
biodiversity than traditionally bred crops. In fact they are found to
exert even less pressure on biodiversity and expansion on cultivated land
area due to the higher yield derived from gene manipulated crops.
Critics of the technology point out that scientists do not know
sufficiently about the genes and to ensure the safety of any modification.
Their worry is that such alterations could accidentally produce toxic
substances as by-products and trigger allergies.
They also object to the use of antibiotic-resistant marker genes in
transgenic crops used by scientists to pinpoint if their modifications
have been established in the introduced plant.
They further argue that the antibiotic resistant genes can cross over to
microbes which in turn can make us sick. Ultimately there will be no drugs
to combat such antibiotic resistant bugs, they say.
Genetic modification results in the emergence of toxic by- products just
as much as conventional plant breeding. Moreover there are tests devised
to measure the quantity of genetically modified ingredients.
An outstanding contribution in the field of plant breeding to develop
high-yielding wheat varieties came from Dr Norman Borlaug who won the
Nobel Peace Prize 30 years ago.
He estimates that Asia faces a challenge in the next 25 years of
developing and applying technology that can increase cereal yields by 50
to 75 per cent.
One beneficial achievement recently comes from the success of scientists
at the International Rice Research Institute near Manila to transfer genes
to increase Vitamin A, iron and other nutrients in rice.