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Date:

September 14, 2000

Subject:

FAO Stresses Biotech; Let Farmers Decide; Course on Public

 

So let me get this straight. NE Biolabs disagrees with UCS on the one
issue that is most important to their business and their core scientific
expertise and beliefs, yet they believe that UCS is still worth funding
and supporting. How odd.

"Their (UCS) apparent irrevocable attitude towards genetically modified
crops represents neither mainstream molecular biologists nor NEB." Dr.
Donald Comb, the President of New England Biolabs

Few would disagree that UCS has made important contributions in such areas
as nuclear arms and global warming; however, how long will UCS mainstream
members allow the scientific fringe to dictate their public positions on
biotechnology? How long before responsible scientific organizations
challenge UCS by withholding their financial support and demanding
responsible scientific representation on their staff to achieve
appropriate stewardship for this important issue?

Of all UCS supporters, NE Biolabs should be demonstrating leadership in
this area, rather than making excuses on behalf of UCS. Quite
disappointing.

Just take a look at the UCS web site section on agriculture to find such
misleading anti-biotech propaganda as:

"Chicken genes in the chips? Find out what else is for dinner." Anyone on
this list aware of any "Chicken genes" currently being used in biotech
food products?

"Field study confirms Bt-corn pollen kills monarch caterpillars... The
loss of monarchs is too high a price to pay for engineered corn." An odd
item to LEAD their list of information on biotech given Dr. Mellon's
statements that she was satisfied that Bt pollen was not a risk to
Monarchs at a recent USDA Biotech Advisory Panel meeting.

This is just a sampling of the massive amounts of anti-biotech rhetoric on
UCS's web site.

Lest we not forget UCS's Jane Rissler's press statements in 1999 claiming
a USDA report confirmed that biotech crops have no better yields, and that
growers use at least as much if not more pesticide... When in fact, data
from that USDA - ERS report said that use of certain crops improved
through biotechnology is associated with "significantly higher yields,"
"significantly reduced herbicide treatments," and "fewer insecticide
treatments for target pests."

USDA's responded that interpretations and statements like Rissler's were
misleading, dangerous and inappropriate. Yet the damage was already done,
Rissler generated misleading and patently false headlines across the U.K.
such as: "Scientist shatter myth of GM food!", "Modified crops do not
yield more", and "GM crops need 53 percent more insecticide."

If UCS is truly committed to a balanced scientific approach to the issue
of ag biotech, why do they engage in such misleading, irresponsible and
opportunistic propaganda on this issue?

Perhaps the director or board members of UCS can share their views with
this group: Howard Ris, executive director can be reached via:
ucs@ucsusa.org.
==========================
Let farmers decide what tools they need
by Chengal Reddy

Newstime, Hyderabad (India) 12 September, 2000

The "Environment" article in Newstime (Sept 1, 2000), headlined "Monsanto
Rice Row" by Mr Darryl D'Monte, brings to mind what the Chief Minister of
Karnataka, S.M. Krishna, said recently. He described those opposed to new
technologies in agriculture as "agricultural quacks." As a farmer myself,
and as one representing farmer interests through the Federation of
Farmers' Associations, Andhra Pradesh, I couldn't agree more.

This is not the first time that D'Monte has opposed providing farmers with
the inputs they need to earn livelihood. I have read other articles in
your esteemed paper by him opposing big dams. He would rather wish that
the water flow down to the sea than be tapped by man-made barriers and put
to good use - not only to farms, but also in industries and for other
purposes of human habitation. One has to visit the water-starved regions
of Andhra or Gujarat to experience the fallacies of such faddish theories
that bears no relevance to the situation in real life.

D'Monte agrees that "the promise of increased productivity on existing
acreage (through scientific advances like biotechnology) is very strong"
given the fact that there is little land to be converted for agriculture.
He also agrees that only a third of the world market for farm seeds is
proprietary seed produced by commercial companies - another third is
produced by the government sector, which is very strong in this country,
while the remaining have and for which we, as an organisation devoted to
the welfare of farmers, will always fight for.

But this right can only be exercised in the presence of choice. Farmers in
the former Soviet Union or other centralized economies had no choice but
to buy government seed, regardless of the quality. Similarly, before
hybrids and high-yielding varieties came in, farmers in India had no
choice but to use saved seed or government seed. Absence of choice
condemns the farmer to make do with what is available. Farmers must have
the right to decide which seed to use and create the market forces to
decide the price.

But, as D'Monte argues, " there are obviously huge profits to be made on
this biotechnology" and so the farmers' right to choice must be limited by
denying them the benefits of such technology. He has used an old quote
about General Motors that has long ceased to be relevant to put forward a
twisted argument - "What's good for the world's farmers and consumers is
also good for private companies. Therefore it cannot be good for the
world's farmers and consumers. So, throw the biotech baby out with the
multinational bathwater in which it enjoys splashing about." This kind of
convoluted logic was acceptable in the pre-1991 socialistic period. Not
any more.

For too long those who know little about farming have claimed to know what
is best for "peasants". It is time now to give Indian farmers a choice to
speak up for themselves.

Farmers in rural India already have much wider choices in several areas of
their lives today. A marketing revolution in the rural areas, again
spearheaded by global companies like Hindustan Lever, is making available
to them choice in articles of daily use that would have been inconceivable
a decade ago. Why is no one raising objections to these choice of Colgate,
Coca-Cola, Cadbury's being made available to farmers? After all, there are
huge profits to be made there too. Why is there opposition only to the
tools that will raise farm income and liberate farmers from spraying some
of the harmful pesticides that he must perforce use to save at least a
part of his crop from pests or give him more options in terms of crop
management? Why should the right of choice of farmers be limited by
denying them only the benefits of agriculture technology? What kind of
level playing field is this?

Farmers must have the right to decide which seed to use. It is the duty of
the publicly-funded network of agricultural research institutions in India
to synergise their capabilities and see how they can provide seeds using
the latest technology at competitive prices and keep the multinational
seed suppliers on their toes. The solution is to increase competition, not
indulge in socialistic name calling and strangle competition as D'Monte
suggests.
# # #
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FAO Press release: FAO's ANNUAL REPORT ON THE STATE OF FOOD AND
AGRICULTURE

"Prospects for a continuation of the productivity growth seen in the past
are hindered in many countries by land degradation, strained water
resources and reduced irrigation investment opportunities. However, there
is now evidence that biotechnology can contribute substantially to
overcoming these problems, provided adequate precautions are taken against
negative outcomes," SOFA says.

FAO's ANNUAL REPORT ON THE STATE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURE DRAWS LESSONS
FROM THE PAST 50 YEARS

DESPITE TANGIBLE PROGRESS, 13 PERCENT OF HUMANITY STILL SUFFERS FROM
HUNGER AND RELATED DISEASES


Paris, 15 September 2000.- More than 800 million people still lack access
to the food they need, much less than the 960 million estimated 30 years
ago, but still a massive number accounting for 13 percent of the world's
population, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says in its
annual report "The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA-2000)," released
today at a news conference at the Institut National Agronomique,
Paris-Grignon.

Undernourishment, especially in populous Asian countries, has diminished.
Famine now only occurs in exceptional circumstances, but Africa is still a
major focus of developmental concern, SOFA indicates.

The past 50 years have left a backlog of unresolved problems, new
challenges, risks and uncertainties. "For a long time, the key
contribution made by agriculture to econonomic and social development has
not always been recognized. Moreover, world hunger has failed to attract
the sustained attention it warrants," according to FAO.

SOFA points out that the last years of the twentieth century were
generally unfavourable for world food and agriculture. "Many developing
countries have been facing unusually adverse climatic conditions, together
with the negative economic impact of the financial crisis that erupted in
1997, declining prices of several of their major commodity exports and, in
a number of cases, political instability and conflicts."

"Food supply disruptions, associated with these problems, have led to the
outbreak or persistence of serious food emergency situations in a large
number of countries - currently more than 30 - around the world."

"Prospects for a continuation of the productivity growth seen in the past
are hindered in many countries by land degradation, strained water
resources and reduced irrigation investment opportunities. However, there
is now evidence that biotechnology can contribute substantially to
overcoming these problems, provided adequate precautions are taken against
negative outcomes," SOFA says.

Four prominent experts contributed articles to the FAO report. They are
professors Marcel Mazoyer (INA-PG), Michael Lipton (Sussex), Robert
Evenson (Yale) and Pranab K. Bardhan (Berkeley). In a special chapter on
lessons learned from the past 50 years, their studies focus on: - The
socio-economic impact of agricultural modernization; - Food and nutrition
security: why food production matters; - Agricultural production and
productivity in developing countries; - Political economy in the
alleviation of poverty and food insecurity.

In his study, professor Mazoyer explains that "world food security is
first and foremost a matter of grossly inadequate means of production of
the world's poorest peasant farmers who cannot meet their food needs ..."
It is also a matter of insufficient purchasing power." He deplores the
widening gap between small-scale traditional farmers and those involved in
industrial agriculture because a continuation of this process could lead
to explosive situations for both rural and urban societies.

In the second study, professor Lipton states that "for food-insecure
low-income populations, higher yields (per hectare and per litre) for food
staples and therefore extra employment and self-employment income in
growing them, will be the main source of enhanced food security, at least
until 2020." But he also emphasizes the crucial importance of a
nutritionally balanced diet and warns against "second generation"
nutritional problems. Obesity, in particular, is a more serious threat
than is commonly realized.

Professor Evenson, in the third study, underlines that investments are
essential for growth in agricultural productivity. However, "governments
of developing countries and development agencies have not always been able
to distinguish between productive and essential public investments and
unproductive and non-essential public investments where the private sector
is the efficient form of economic organization."

In the fourth study, professor Bardhan writes that "reducing poverty and
food insecurity is not simply a question of enhancing agricultural
productivity and production or of generating more income; it is
fundamental to address institutional, political and economic factors that
tend to exclude individuals and population groups from progress."

Commenting on the food security situation in the world, the FAO report
says that "armed conflict and civil strife remain major sources of food
insecurity and caused agricultural output losses estimated in all the
developing countries at US$121 billion over the 28 years from 1970 to
1997, an average of US$4.3 billion per year,"

According to the report, the economic losses and disruptions to food
supply and access caused by war and civil strife can be disastrous,
especially in low-income countries where there are no effective social
safety nets. Destruction of crops and livestock results, at best, in
reduced food security and, at worst, in famine and death," says the FAO
report.

The last 15 years have seen a larger number of food emergencies arising
from natural or human-induced factors, and the latter have been increasing
steadily. "Whereas human-induced disasters contributed to only about 10
percent of total emergencies in 1984, by late 1999 they were a determining
factor in more than 50 percent of cases, the report says.

"Economic losses from conflict in developing countries exceeded total food
aid to those countries in the 1980s and 1990s. For the full decade, the
former were about US$37 billion and the latter US$29 billion," according
to FAO.

One way to help farmers in poor countries is to offer them credit
facilities. The report notes that borrowing through microcredit schemes is
growing at a "phenomenal" pace in developing countries. "The total number
of borrowers grew by 50 percent between 1998 and 1999 to reach 21 million
globally; 12 million of these borrowers live on less than US$1 per day."

In the developing and transition countries, almost 1.2 billion people, or
about one out of four, live on less than US$1 per day. Most of these
people, including children, work long hours at physically demanding jobs
just to survive. They turn to microcredit because they cannnot access
formal credit sources.

At the SOFA launch, FAO also presented a study on the cost of hunger by
Professor Jean-Louis Arcand (Universities of Montreal-Canada and
Auvergne-France) analysing the impact of undernutrition on the Gross
Domestic Product of developing countries. The report says: "Eliminating,
or at least significantly reducing, poverty in a country will have an
important impact on the growth rate of its GDP. Increasing the daily
energy supply to 2,770 kcal per person per day in a sample of countries
that were below that level could increase the average annual GDP growth
rate by some 0.8 percent. This gives an idea of the magnitude of
cumulative growth losses in countries suffering from malnutrition,"
according to professor Arcand. **
For further information, please consult FAO website ( http://www.fao.org
<http://www.fao.org> ) or call FAO's media relations branch (tel.
0039.06.57052232) or Pierre Antonios (Paris, cellular phone: 0673416001).
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EU Advanced Workshop
Biotechnology Ethics and Public Perceptions of Biotechnology

16 - 25 March 2001
St. Edmund Hall, Oxford University

Organised by

European Federation of Biotechnology Task Group on Public Perceptions of
Biotechnology

This is an intensive and interactive workshop course covering: 1. Moral
theories and philosophy from concept to practice; 2. Importance of ethics
for science and engineering; 3. Regulations, laws, codes and ethics and
their relationships; 4. Public perceptions of biotechnology, linking
attitudes to behaviour; 5. Communication approaches and their
effectiveness; 6. How the media works;
7. Communication strategies used by companies, academia, and NGOs. The
detailed programme is at http://efbweb.org/ppb

Course leaders include: Professor Ray Spier (University of Surrey); Dr.
Julian Kinderlerer (Sheffield Institute of Biotechnology Law and Ethics);
Professor Richard Braun (Chairman, EFB Task Group on Public Perceptions of
Biotechnology); Dr. Bernard Dixon OBE (journalist); Dr. David Bennett
(Secretary, EFB Task Group on Public Perceptions of Biotechnology); Drs.
Patricia Osseweijer (Delft University of Technology); Lise Kingo (Novo
Nordisk) and other experts.

The costs including full board, course materials, etc. are EUR 1000.
Participants from less favoured regions in Europe can apply for a full
grant, while 12 grants of EUR 500 are available for other EU participants.
The course is supported by the European Commission Framework V Quality of
Life Programme.

The course is for PhD students, lecturers, postdoctoral fellows and
industrial researchers in biotechnology. The course is credited as part of
the European Doctorate in Biotechnology (EDBT) study programme. A limited
number of places is available so early application is advisable.

Applicants should send their curriculum vitae and a letter briefly
explaining their interests in the course (and if applicable a request for
a grant) before 1 January 2001 to:

Dr David J Bennett, Oude Delft 60, 2611 CD Delft, The Netherlands. Tel:
+31-15-212 7800; fax: +31-15-212 7111; e-mail: efb.cbc@stm.tudelft.nl

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Monarch Butterflies Lose Much of Their Wintering Grounds
New York Times September 12, 2000
By CAROL KAESUK YOON

Over the past 20 years, biologists have voiced increasing concern about
the monarch butterfly's most threatened and critical habitat, a single
stretch of Mexican forest to which hundreds of millions of these
butterflies migrate from the United States each year to spend the winter.
Yet in spite of intense interest in this region, which is thought to be
the species' Achilles' heel, little had been known about how these forests
were actually faring.

Now an international team of researchers has reported that what was a
broad swath of thousands of acres of intact forest just 30 years ago has
since been reduced to peppered remnants in a sea of farms, homes,
cattle-grazing areas and logged and degraded woods. This has occurred even
in areas designated as protected monarch sanctuaries for more than a
decade. The survey, the first scientific study of the monarchs' habitat in
the mountains of central Mexico, mapped forest changes using aerial
photographs taken over three decades. The findings, which were made
available to The New York Times, showed that only a little more than half
of what was intact forest remained. The rest has suffered some degree of
degradation, from minor logging to having had the forest entirely removed.
The researchers estimate that in 50 years, at the current rate of
deforestation, nearly all the original forest will be similarly degraded.

''From what I've seen there year after year, I predicted it would be bad
and getting worse,'' said Dr. Lincoln P. Brower, a monarch biologist at
Sweet Briar College who was an author of the new study with colleagues at
the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the World Wildlife Fund.
''But I didn't predict it would be this bad. The maps just floored me.''
The study, undertaken to assist in the Mexican government's review of the
monarch's wintering areas, has not yet been submitted for publication but
has been given to the government. In response in part to the findings, the
Mexican government unveiled a proposal last Thursday for the creation of
an expanded preserve -- already ardently contested by some local residents
-- that would be more than three times the size of the current protected
areas.

Dr. Karen Oberhauser, a monarch ecologist at the University of Minnesota
who was not involved in the study, praised the quality of the work,
saying: ''It's the first study and a really important study. We didn't
expect the change to be this great.''

Across the country now, monarchs are just beginning their fall migration,
an annual trek that takes the butterflies from across the central and
eastern United States and Canada down to the mountains of central Mexico.
There they roost as they have for millenniums, clustered in wintering
areas sprinkled throughout what were once dense, remote mountain forests.
They remain there until spring, when they fly north once again to breed.
In each area, the butterflies gather in huge roosting groups that thickly
paper the fir trees in the orange and black of their wings.
In order to study changes to the forests since the roosts were discovered
25 years ago, the researchers examined a series of aerial photographs
taken in the 1970's, 1983 and 1999 of a 100,000-acre area that includes
three of the most important wintering sites, each of which was designated
as a preserve in 1986.

What researchers found was that not only was forest disappearing both
inside and outside the preserves, but it was being removed in such a way
that what forest remained was highly fragmented. Much of the forest had
been significantly thinned, a process leading not to regeneration but
instead to further degradation. Over the 28-year period of the study, the
average size of the conserved patches of forest decreased nearly 90
percent, from 5,000 acres to 500.

''It's not as if we're talking about the clearcuts of the Western states
in the U.S.,'' said Dr. Guillermo Castilleja, an author of the study who
is the World Wildlife Fund representative in Mexico. ''Here people go in
and selectively log. They take certain trees. They take saplings for fence
posts or beams in their homes. Then as forests become more degraded they
are used for grazing by sheep or cows.''
As a result, even in remaining forest stands, trees are more exposed to
wind, drying, greater temperature extremes and are more at risk of fire,
all of which make the forests less suitable as resting grounds for the
butterflies.

Despite the degradation, rough estimates of the area occupied by monarchs
in the wintering grounds do not show any significant decreases in the
butterflies so far, though anecdotal evidence suggests that monarchs have
begun to feel the effects.

For example, Dr. Brower said that in one region where there has always
been a large monarch colony, development has encroached to the point that
the once remote roosts of monarchs are now dangling in trees right next to
farm fields. This winter, the butterflies startled biologists by
abandoning the site, moving over the mountains to a more intact forest
area -- an increasingly rare commodity -- that they had never used before.
Scientists on the study collaborated with Mexico's Ministry of the
Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries in the design of the new
reserve, which, they say, takes the biological needs of the monarch into
much better account than previous reserves. Previous protected areas were
40,000 acres in total and dispersed over five sites. The proposed new
reserve spans 140,000 contiguous acres, more adequately covers known
wintering sites and is intended to protect not only the individual
roosting areas but the watersheds of which the forests are an integral
part. But it remains to be seen whether the expanded preserve will suit
the needs of local people well enough to prevent the illegal logging that
has devastated current reserves.
Part of the problem, reserve proponents say, is that in 1986, when the
Mexican government set aside the first sanctuaries, land was appropriated
without compensation for the residents, who owned the land communally. As
a result, researchers say, many residents are angry and have shown a
blatant disregard for the prohibition of logging inside the sanctuaries.
In the hopes of curbing illegal logging in the new sanctuary, Mario
Huacuja, director of communications for the ministry, said in a telephone
interview last week that in collaboration with private foundations, the
ministry was negotiating a novel system to pay local people for their lost
logging rights in the preserve. In addition, there will be payments to
people who help protect or restore the forest.
Dr. Castilleja said payments, which are to be administered by the World
Wildlife Fund and another private conservation group, the Mexican Fund for
the Conservation of Nature, will come from $5 million that is to be
provided by an anonymous source once final action is taken to create the
new preserve.

Despite the monetary incentives, there is already opposition to an
expanded preserve. Some have argued, for example, that the money being
offered for logging rights, about $16 per cubic meter of wood, is below
the market value and that residents will lose money. Last Thursday, when
the new sanctuary was announced, several hundred angry residents staged a
protest at the ministry, the local press reported. The ministry is
accepting public comments on the new preserve until Sept. 28. Others note
that whatever the monetary incentives, it will always be difficult to
prevent illegal cutting in an area as desperately impoverished as that
around the wintering grounds.

Dr. Dennis Frey, behavioral ecologist studying monarchs at California
Polytechnic State University, said that on a recent visit to a monarch
sanctuary with a group of scientists, the sound of their approach silenced
the work of a nearby, but hidden, woodsman. ''For the next two hours, as
we headed up toward the butterflies, there was no cutting,'' he said.
''But as soon we got back into our vehicles to go, the chop, chop, chop
started up again immediately.''
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