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Date:

March 16, 2000

Subject:

More Answers to Barun's Critical Questions..

 

AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

From: verchot@okstate.edu

Subject: Re: Critical Questions in Agricultural Biotechnology


Q 1. Is genetic engineering the only way of increasing food
production?

======To answer this question we must consider the growth in world
population

over the course of the past century and the impact that has had on

farmlands. I believe that the figures are 1 billion people in 1900, 6


billion people in 2000, and a projected 10 billion people by 2050.
Until

20 years ago the only solution has been to convert forests, jungles,

desserts into farmland. The environmental impact of creating vast

monoculture regions has had devestating ecological affects including
the

loss of biodiversity and the increase in global warming. I have no
doubt

that destruction of important ecosystems will increase as the need for


more food production will increase.


Second, when we ask about food production we must consider the question
in

the context of developed Western countries or third world countries
that

are facing major economic pressures. Increased food production has
been

achieved in Europe and the US and biotechnology has had some impact on


that. However biotechnology is more likely to make a difference in the


third world where low cost solutions are needed. The crop yields have


increased as farming practices in developed countries have improved.
This

has led to increases in exports and lower prices and more food
available

worldwide. BUT this is in the developed world. Developing countries
have

a need to become self sustaining in a manner that eliminates the
concerns

for poverty. Therefore third world countries do not fit these models.
Due

to other economic, political, and ecological difficulties improved crop


production to sustain local populations in the third world will rely on


low cost solutions that will not require local farmers to buy chemicals
or

equipment that are unrealistic. Thus if we are talking about
increasing

food production in the developed world, in addition to biotechnology we


can include IPM practices and precision farming. The latter 2 require


highly educated extension specialists and computers and chemicals, etc.


which do not make sense in a small village.


Biotechnology simply provides seed to farmers that is better adapted to


their cultivation requirements. In some cases, the engineered seeds
are

provided by universities directly to farmers. In this case there can
be a

direct interaction that does not cost the farmers anything but provides


them with the resources to increase yields. In other cases the seeds
are

provided by major companies at a cost. The engineered seeds will have
the

added benefit of pest resistance and tolerance to extreme environmental


conditions such as drought that are needed to sustain village farms.


Q 2. Is it possible to deal with widespread malnutrition with genetic

engineering?=======This really is the goal of biotechnology. But we
must add that biotechnology can solve problems of malnutrition that
relate to local

farming practices and not problems of distribution or wars or

typhoons,etc. Assuming the world is peaceful and the farmer just can't


get enough out of his field then biotechnology can help. If we can use


biotechnology to provide low cost solutions to improve village farms
then

we can affect world poverty. For example if genetically modified seeds


that are pest resistant can be distributed by CGIAR centers around the


world, or by WARDA in west Africa, or the potato center in Lima, to
local

farmers. Planting rice or banana or wheat or potato for example that
is

hardier or resistant to major diseases will eliminate the need for

chemical applications and provide improved yields. For example, the
best

success story I can think of is papaya in Hawaii. A virus called
papaya

ring spot devastated farmers in Hawaii and trees had to be cut down.
The

cost of planting trees is to high and many farmers lost their
livelihood.

Researchers provided virus resistant trees to farmers and crop
production

was restored. Papaya is very important for Hawaii agriculture and

economy. So if we can apply this model to vegetable crops, tubers, and


grains, we can have a major impact on food production without
increasing

costs to the farmers. Therefore malnutrt


Q 3. How can GE ensure environmental sustainability as well as
increase

food production when pressure on environmental resources like land and

water is growing?===========

The goal of genetic engineering is to improve crop productivity so that


more land does not have to be converted to farm land. There are
currently

seed banks established around the world at CIMMYT, CGIAR, ect that were


established to maintain diverse germplasms that may provide useful
traits

for cultivated species. As farm lands expand and few species cultivars


are being planted, cultivated crops are becoming more uniform. Thus
the

seed banks provide germplasm needed for breeding programs that can

introduce genes into populations that may provide traits important for


farmers in specific regions. These seedbanks are also a source for

biotechnologists to identify useful genes that they can move between

related species to improve crops. For example the Mlo gene was
recently

cloned from barley and it provides powdery mildew resistance. Powdery


mildew is a problem world wide in cereals and other crops. GE allows
us

to take that gene and introduce it into other cereals. Then we can
give

that seed to farmers and the resistance should restore productivity in


fields that are typically devastated by the disease.


Q 4. How can GE deal with possible environmental threats such as
"super

weeds"?======I am not sure what superweeds are. But we already know
that fields of Bt soybean are weed free. This has made harvesting
conditions better and has

improved plant vigor. I think this question acts, what is the
likelihood

of a gene moving from your crop to surrounding plants. This also goes


along with question 5. Can we control our "monsters" and are we
releasing

something devastating into the environment. This question really
should

be addressed on an individual crop species basis. For example, there
are

crops like corn that are primarily self-polinators. The likelihood of


cross pollination is less than 1%. So you need to take this into
account

when you ask this question. Second, what is the likelihood of a crop

species crossing with surrounding clover or grass. This question is

really out of my realm of expertise but I would venture to say that it
may

be less than 0.1%. So crosses between maize and clover or bluegrass
don't

happen in nature really. SO then we talk about 0.1% of 1%.


Q. 6 What about the health risks from GE, such as antibiotic
resistance?

======This is not a health risk but a distortion of the truth by
activists. When

we engineer plants we introduce 2 genes. One that confers the desired


improved trait, like fusarium resistance, and the other is ampicillin
or

basta resistance. Transgenic plants are then grown in the presence of


ampicillin so that we can identify transgenic plants from
non-transgenic

plants in the laboratory. Then after we have analyzed our plants for
the

desired trait we give the seeds to the breeders. Breeders then conduct


crosses to introduce the desired trait into cultivated varieties that
they

distribute to farmers. Now there are 2 scenarios. Breeders may

incorporate the desired trait but not ampicillin resistance into the

cultivated varieties. So there is no problem. Or they can incorporate


that resistance. Well, say you eat a tomato that is ampicillin
resistant,

that does not make you ampicillin resistant just like it doesn't make
you

turn red, or grow leaves or require fertilizer.


Q 7. Shouldn't it be possible to demand zero risks from GE?

=======Sure. I agree one hundred percent. Now in the US and Europe
GMO crops

have been planted for 20 years and there has been no problem. Toxicity


studies have been done, environmental impacts have been analyzed.

Everything looks fine. Environmental groups complain that GE is not

natural and COULD creat "frankenstein" foods. Well that hasn't
happened

in 20 years. Second, environmental groups have raised important
questions

and these have been and are currently being addressed by the USDA and

major companies. The problem is that these environmental groups have a


natural distrust for industry and government. They don't realize that
the

people they are fighting are in fact scientists who have the same goal


they have--eliminating hunger and poverty.


Now there are people like Prince Charles who think that organic farming
is

the way things should be done. Its natural. Well that is unfortunate
and

uninformed. These are ivory tower people who do not understand the
needs

of farmers. You see the scientists do understand farmers needs because
a

large proportion of them are from rural areas and were raised on farms.


That is why they work on agricultural concerns. The environmentalists
are

usually city people who are idealists. Now if we followed the organic


farming model supported by the Prince, then we convert Western farms
into

third world farms and poverty spreads. I have yet to hear one

environmentalist intelligently discuss the problems of world
population,

world food production, and the spread of monoculture systems that can

devastate the environment.


Importantly, you should know that fields are not typically planted with


100% GMO seed. Its not necessary that all plants in the field contain
the

same, aphid resistance gene for example. Field diseases can be
controlled

in mixed seed populations.

++++++++++++++++++++

From: Cecil Stushnoff <

Q 1. Is genetic engineering the only way of increasing food
production?

======= Certainly the most logical considering irrigation capacity is
limited, chemicals impact human health and

environment and fertilizer costs are impacted by energy costs.Most of

these can be overcome by a genetic approach.

Q 2. Is it possible to deal with widespread malnutrition... ?

======== Defnitely, look at golden rice, only the first example to come
along.

Q 3. How can GE ensure environmental sustainability====== See #1

Q 4. How can GE deal with possible environmental threats ..?

======== On a case by case research investigation to limit risks.

Q 5. How can undesirable "genetic drifts" be controlled?

======With specific genes targeted to control fertility.

Q. 6 What about the health risks from GE, such as antibiotic
resistance?

====== FDA has already instituted some excellent guidleines and
regulations.

Q 7. Shouldn't it be possible to demand zero risks from GE?

====== No, there is no such thing as a risk free technology or science
based discovery. Otherwise we would abandon cars and airplanes and
medical health intervanetion.

Q 8. What is the sound scientific basis for considering GE to be
safe?

=========Common sense and good research..strengthen peer review to
prevent

premature publication of incomplete research that is more

contraversial than conclusive, as we have recently seen.

Q 9. How can modern profit driven ..... basic needs of the poor?

====== =Don't know. Not all biotech needs to be profit driven. There is
an important humanitarian aspect as well.

Q 10. Would not the poor farmers in developing countries become
dependent

on commercial biotech corporations? =======Don't know.

Q 11. How can the interest of developing countries be safeguarded?

========== Strengthen non-corporate and non gov. entities for research
like

Rockefeller.

Q 12. Won't GE crops accelerate the trend towards fewer varieties of
crops?

=========== Will not such a loss of crop diversity make agriculture
more vulnerable? No, greater diversity can result.

Q 13. What are the social and ethical implications of GE?

======== Open to debate, as it should be.

Q 14. Shouldn't the consumers have the right to know whether they are

consuming GE? ============ Yes

Q 15. Shouldn't GE crops be labeled? If not, why not?

= ======== Yes, to quench mistrust created by stupid governments and
greedy

corporations.

Q 16. Shouldn't biotech companies bear total liability for any harm
to

environment and public health? ========== A legal black box, no
opinion.

Q 17. If food security is primarily a question of distribution
insecurity,

then how can increased production using GE address the question of
food

security? ========= It can't.

Q 18. Is it fair to grant patent on GMOs?========== Yes, it is now in
place.

Q 19. Doesn't patenting life forms encourage violence? ======= No

Q 21. Won't herbicide and pesticide resistant GE crop lead to
intensified

use of agro-chemicals? ======= No

Q 22. Won't IPR put restrictions on creativity of nature ======

Way too much speculation here.

Q 23. Doesn't the emergence of GE threaten to change the meaning and
value

of biodiversity from life-support base for poor communities to
raw-material

base for private corporations? ====== Don't know, another what if
scenario which is hard to prove yes or no, but makes great fodder for
eco-terrorist propaganda.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

From: Andrew Apel <
Q 1. Is genetic engineering the only way of increasing food
production?

===== Quite possibly, as increases in production resulting from
conventional breeding are averaging only about one percent per year.


Q 2. Is it possible to deal with widespread malnutrition?

===== Yes, and this can be accomplished in two ways: the first is to
modify plants for increased nutritional quality; the other is to modify
nutritious plants so that they can thrive in different environments.


Q 3. How can GE ensure environmental sustainability?

======= The current output per acre for maize, I understand, is limited
by the plant's ability to convert sunlight to usable energy; and I have
been told by a researcher that the maize plant has nearly reached the
limit of production capacity in that respect. However, if maize were
modified to make use of sunlight as efficiently as algae, it is
theoretically possible to triple the per-acre output of maize.
Theoretically, it should be possible to do the same with other
important crops.


Q 4. How can GE deal with possible environmental threats such as
"super weeds"?

====== "Super weeds" are not a threat to the environment, merely a
threat to the profits of chemical companies which have seen many weed
and insect pest species develop resistance to herbicides and
pesticides; as a result, the company is forced to develop a new
herbicide or pesticide. Chemical tolerance is only an environmental
issue when a particular chemical is in use; otherwise, it is
irrelevant.


Q 5. How can undesirable "genetic drifts" be controlled?

====== There exist many technologies for, i.e., the induction of male
sterility which can accomplish this. One, of course, is the
"terminator."


Q. 6 What about the health risks from GE, such as antibiotic
resistance?

==== No credible health risk has to date been identified.


Q 7. Shouldn't it be possible to demand zero risks from GE?

===== It is impossible to demand zero risks from anything; even water
is dangerous.


Q 8. What is the sound scientific basis for considering GE to be safe?
====

A comparison of the modified crop to its unmodified counterpart; if the
differences have no significance for human or environmental health, it
is safe.


Q 9. How can modern profit driven agro-biotechnology meet the basic
needs of the poor? ======== By making it possible for them to feed
themselves.


Q 10. Would not the poor farmers in developing countries become
dependent on commercial biotech corporations? ======= The poor farmers
in North America are dependent on commercial biotech corporations, but
that's where the best seed and other agricultural inputs come from.
They have, of course, the choice of using the same methods employed in
developing countries, but then they would be starving as well.


Q 11. How can the interest of developing countries be safeguarded?
======

The same way developed countries do: credible leadership and sound
regulation.


Q 12. Won't GE crops accelerate the trend towards fewer varieties of
crops? ==

The genetic modification of crops actually increases the diversity of
crop species by the addition of new genes. In addition, the genetic
diversity of crops is preserved in germplasm banks all around the
globe.


Q 13. What are the social and ethical implications of GE? ========

As social and ethical implications are human creations, these
implications are only limited by human imagination.


Q 14. Shouldn't the consumers have the right to know? ====== If a
right to information exists, it is probably qualified by the relevance
of the information to whoever wants it. For instance, if I need a blood
transfusion, do I have a right to know whether the blood was donated by
a black person, or a Jew? I think not. It is far more likely that I
would have the right to know whether it matches my blood type or has
been screened for HIV virus.


Q 15. Shouldn't GE crops be labeled? If not, why not? ===== See 14
above.


Q 16. Shouldn't biotech companies bear total liability for any harm to
environment and public health? === They already do, at least in the US
legal system.


Q 17. If food security is primarily a question of distribution
insecurity, then how can increased production using GE address the
question of food security?

====== By making it possible for developing nations to feed
themselves.


Q 18. Is it fair to grant patent on GMOs? ======= If the human race
puts a priority on progress, then it is fair to reward inventors
somehow for the fruits of their labors. Currently we use a patent
system for this, but other methods could probably be devised. Bear also
in mind that patents expire rather quickly.


Q 19. Doesn't patenting life forms encourage violence? =====

All studies on the encouragement of violence have shown a connection
with the glorification of violence in the media and in video games,
along with one's home environment during the formative years. Does
copyrighting books encourage violence, by treating ideas as
commodities?


Q 20. When patent is granted on GMO........ unnecessary? ===== The
question makes false assumptions. Those who release GMOs for commercial
production are responsible for the results of their use. Accordingly,
biosafety is a prime concern of theirs. Being realistic, they see no
requirement to worry about vacuous concerns, which makes them perhaps
appear unconcerned about biosafety to those who tend to be fearful.


Q 21. Won't herbicide and pesticide resistant GE crop lead to
intensified use of agro-chemicals? ====== According to a recent report,
chemical companies are looking to diversify into other areas because
long-term projections indicate that biotechnology will decrease the
demand for herbicides and pesticides to the point where they will not
be profitable businesses. Therefore, I am inclined to think that
modified crops tend to reduce chemical use.


Q 22. Won't IPR put restrictions on creativity of nature .? ===

Common knowledge is not patentable. Innovations are, however; and if
some do not patent their innovations while others do, the former can
only complain of their lack of initiative.


Q 23. Doesn't the emergence of GE threaten to change the meaning and
value of biodiversity .....? The idea of starving one's children in the
noble cause of preserving a subsistence mode of life is not appealing.
If there is a better way of creating prosperity than moving raw
materials in a mercantile society, I would like to hear of it.