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Date:

October 13, 2000

Subject:

Risks of Bt Spray; Hazards of Cattle Flatulence; Labeling;

 

Two questions for posting.

This morning's (Saturday, October 14) The New York Times, stated in an
article on the GM corn in Tacos that the use of live Bt in "organic"
agriculture was safe and that there was only one case of a farm worker
being harmed by it.

[Andrew Pollack, Case Illustrates Risks of Altered Food, The New York
Times, Saturday, October 14, 2000 - ..."BT toxins derived directly from
the microbes have been used for decades as pesticidal sprays and are a
favorite of organic farmers because they are natural.

While there is at least one report of farm workers' developing antibodies
to the toxin, these sprays have generally been given a clean bill of
health for farm workers and consumers."]

I have seen reports to the contrary including claims of respiratory
problems for farm workers spraying Bt on crops.

Question 1 - Does anyone on this list have solid, verifiable evidence of
harm to workers who srpay Bt on crops? If so pleae post. I also suggest
that you download the entire New York Times article
(http://www.nytimes.com/2000/10/14/science/14HEAL.html and
http://www.nytimes.com/2000/10/14/science/14FOOD.html for a companion
piece in the same issue) and write a letter of correction to them.
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From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Organic Dangers

Colleagues,

In light of recent discussions here about maize feed vs. forage and
organically-grown animals and E. coli, this bit of news is timely and
precious.

On October 13, 2000 the news agency Agence France Presse reported that
French, New Zealand and Australian scientists are working on a project to
reduce flatulence in sheep and cattle. The methane in their farts
contributes to global warming, and constitute's New Zealand's main
contribution to greenhouse gases - this means they will need to reduce
sheep farts to comply with the Kyoto Protocol. Methane, it is said, is 25
times more potent than carbon dioxide in causing global warming.

In experiments testing animal emissions, the scientists found that cattle
on a forage diet produced 4-1/2 times as much methane -- for every kilo
gained in live weight -- as cattle on a grain-based diet. Oops, I guess
this means that producing cattle with organic methods (emphasis on forage)
contributes to global warming.

Scientists believe it may be possible to genetically engineer gut microbes
so they don't produce methane. Genetic engineering to combat global
warming caused by organic farming - what a concept.
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Subj: Re: Labelling GM foods
From: "Bob MacGregor"

I remain convinced that the labelling issue is the biggest stick in the
anti-biotech arsenal. Gordon suggests that a non-GMO label should do the
trick (and I agree that it SHOULD), but that wouldn't prevent the
opponents from continuing to claim that the food industry has some awful,
dangerous secret to hide about GM crops. Similarly, Dale points out the
need for epidemiological analysis, but this, too, is made much harder by
the fact that GM foods are not labelled.

Also, it is hard to defend Dale's claim that consumers have already spoken
when they buy RR soybeans and Bt corn. Sure, this is true when you view
the consumer as the farmer (where the product IS labelled), but the same
can't be claimed for the ultimate food consumer at all.

Finally, polls in North America have consistently suggested that public
support for GM food remains high (in fact, given all the negative hype, it
remains surprisingly high in the UK). GM opponents are well-positioned to
turn this around and tumble the dominoes of the processing/distribution
chain as they did in Europe, unless labelling is undertaken universally,
voluntarily and suddenly. Familiarity is the key to defusing this powerful
weapon that the antis wield; I don't think the issue will go away, and the
antis will continue to bludgeon GM supporters with this club until they
win or until they get buried by public acceptance (it could go either
way). It looks like they won in Europe; when labelling was finally
imposed, there were hardly any products left to label-- it could happen
here, too. 20

Sadly, I don't expect action from the food processors and retailers; they
are just as conservative and risk-averse as consumers and aren't likely to
stick their necks out and start labelling GM foods unilaterally. If this
is so, the strongest remaining hope is that (1) some really bad press will
come out about fraud and/or adverse health impacts of organic produce, or,
(2) some GM products with undeniable, outstanding and obvious health
advantages over conventional varieties will be approved for release. It
will be interesting to see who wins this race. BOB

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S. African Official Defends Crops Developed With Genetic Biotechnology

October 12, 2000

JOHANNESBURG (Oct. 11) XINHUA via NewsEdge Corporation - South Africa's
Department of Agriculture Wednesday dismissed as groundless the
allegations that the genetically modified plants and foodstuffs have a
negative effect on human or animal life.

On the contrary, the technology relating to genetically modified organisms
has great advantages for South Africa's developing communities, said the
agriculture minister's advisor Shadrack Moephuli in Cape Town, when
briefing the South African National Assembly's environmental affairs
portfolio committee.

The department does not want to ignore the biotechnology which has the
potential to increase food production and is trying to act responsibly to
ensure the country not to "miss the boat" in terms of this important
technology, the advisor said.

A total of 28 million hectares of agricultural land in the world have been
designated for growing the genetically modified crops, he said.

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From: tom@server.sasw.ncsu.edu

CONTACT: Gene Grabowski
(202) 337-9400 or www.gmabrands.com

GMA SURVEY SHOWS AMERICANS LEARNING MORE ABOUT BIOTECHNOLOGY; FOOD
CONSUMPTION PATTERNS UNCHANGED

WASHINGTON, DC, October 12, 2000 - A new national survey by the Grocery
Manufacturers of America shows U.S. consumers are increasingly aware of
agricultural biotechnology but have not changed their food consumption
behavior, despite publicity over the recall of taco shells allegedly
containing unapproved biotech corn.

In addition, the survey showed biotechnology remains acceptable to the
majority of Americans as a means to improve farming practices and food
quality.

More than half (53%) of all consumers interviewed had personally read or
heard recent news about food products being recalled by their
manufacturer. General awareness of agricultural biotechnology has also
risen, with over three quarters of those interviewed reporting that they
had heard or read about this topic. The survey was designed and analyzed
by Thomas J. Hoban, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology and Food Science, North
Carolina State University, who concluded: "Biotechnology is simply not an
issue for the vast majority of U.S. consumers."

Survey results demonstrate that recognition of the use of biotechnology
has not affected food consumption. One third of all consumers interviewed
reported that they had not avoided or reduced consumption of any foods
over the past few months. No one interviewed mentioned avoiding any foods
with genetically modified ingredients.

In fact, Americans remain positive over the benefits of agricultural
biotechnology. Two-thirds (67%) would be likely to buy produce (such as
potatoes or tomatoes) that had been modified through biotechnology to
require fewer pesticides. Just as many (66%) would buy such produce if it
were modified to contain more vitamins and nutrients. "This is basically
the same response we have seen over the past five years to the same
question on other national polls," said Hoban.

Direct consumer action is not evident as a result of the recent news
stories. Only five percent of respondents reported that they had "actually
done anything or taken any actions because of any concerns about
genetically modified foods."

"These results show consumers continue to have confidence in the
regulatory structure provided by government agencies like the FDA and
EPA," said GMA President and CEO C. Manly Molpus. "In addition, swift
action by responsible food manufacturers and retailers, taken even before
the need for government intervention, has reinforced the strong and
well-founded confidence consumers have in the U.S. food supply."

The survey found that only 10 percent of consumers worry a great deal that
the foods they eat might not be safe. Almost two-thirds had little or no
such concern. Consumers' main concerns remain those related to food that
is not fresh or not handled in an appropriate manner. Their attention is
focused on spoilage or bacterial contamination that can have immediate
health impacts.

Interviews were conducted with 500 American adults between October 6-8 by
KRC Research. Results have a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percent. GMA said
it would continue monitoring consumers to determine whether the most
recent recall of taco shells manufactured for Safeway Supermarkets would
have any impact on food safety concerns. ###

Thomas J. Hoban, Ph.D. Professor of Sociology NCSU Box 8107 Raleigh, NC
27695-8107
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Yielding Positive Results - Gene Revolution as a Farming Aid By P CHENGAL
REDDY
Times of India October 12, 2000

IN recent times, there have been a flurry of arguments against making the
fruits of biotechnology available to India's farmers. Biotechnology which
benefits private companies cannot possibly be good for the farmer or
consumer, goes a popular argument. Indeed, the reasoning goes that
biotechnology be denied to farmers since it is sure to bring about their
ruination.

This kind of convoluted logic was acceptable in the pre-1991 socialistic
period when merit was elitist, big was bad and consumer goods were
considered a sinful luxury from the decadent West. Such arguments are
considered mediaeval today.

In the past, such logic would have gone unchallenged. Not any more. It is
these kinds of arguments by those who are unaware the reality on the
ground that have led to farmers being denied the fruits of development
more than 50 years after independence.

As a recent article on a popular website put it: ``The most spectacular
achievement of post-independence India is the quadrupling of its annual
food grains output from 50 million tonnes in the early fifties to over 205
million tonnes currently. It is not an exaggeration to state that despite
being largely illiterate, India's farmers were able to quickly absorb new
arm technologies and save the nation from starvation... Nevertheless, it
can hardly be said that India's 600 million citizens enjoy an acceptable
standard of living. More than half of them scratch out a living below the
poverty line and very few of India's rural citizens enjoy adequate
nutrition, sanitation, access to quality schools, transport, telecom and
infrastructure facilities."

It is this divide of desperation between urban and rural India that led to
1,000 farmers in Andhra, Karnataka and Maharashtra committing suicide in
the last three years.

One of the points often made by M S Swaminathan, who spearheaded the green
revolution in this country in the mid '60s and through the '70s, is that
India had 16 per cent of world's population and 15 per cent of its farm
animals, but occupied only two per cent of the geographical area and
received only one per cent of its rainfall.

These are daunting constraints. But these have not deterred the Indian
farmer from making use of the technology that Norman Borlaug and
Swaminathan made available to them more than three decades ago through
dwarf and other high yielding and hybrid varieties. Over the past three
decades, Indian farmers have proved that if you give them the tools, they
can deliver the food India needs. India cannot be an industrial
superpower, but our farmers have proved that India can be an agricultural
superpower, if the constraints of technology, price and markets under
which they function are removed.

But, for various reasons, the technologies introduced in the '60s and '70s
have lost their cutting edge. There is little new land to be converted for
agriculture, existing arable land is shrinking and so are natural
resources like water. To meet the needs of our increasing population, food
production has to be accelerated. The National Agriculture Policy points
out that India needs to double food production in the next ten years to
ensure our food security. This means increasing the production not just of
food grains, but also of milk, eggs, vegetables, edible oils, fruits and
meat.

It is being argued that the green revolution was spearheaded by public
sector institutions whereas the gene revolution is being led by global
companies out to make a profit. The truth is that only a third of the
world market for farm seeds is proprietary seed produced by commercial
companies -- another third is produced by government which is very strong
in this country thanks to national and state seeds corporations and the
network of public research institutions, while the remaining third comes
from seed saved by farmers.

Farmers in the former Soviet Union and other centralised economies had no
choice but to buy government seed, regardless of the quality. Similarly,
before hybrids and high-yielding varieties came in, farmers had little
choice but to use saved seed or whatever government corporations sold
them. The absence of choice condemns the farmer to make do with what seed
he gets. Lack of competition results in there being no incentive for seed
suppliers, be they from the government or private sector, to improve the
quality of seed or continually upgrade it.

It is the duty of the publicly-funded network of agricultural research
institutions in India to synergise its strengths and work towards
providing seeds with the latest technology at competitive prices. The
solution is to increase competition, not strangle it, introduce policies
that provide credit to farmers and foster an environment that enables
farmers to try out new technologies of their choice, as happened in the
'60s and '70s. The beneficiaries will be not just the farmers of India but
the rural population of 600 million which depends on them for a living.

Farmers already enjoy a degree of choice today in several areas of life. A
marketing revolution in rural areas, again spearheaded by global companies
like Hindustan Lever, is making available to our rural population choices
in consumer goods that would have been inconceivable a decade ago, so also
pharmaceutical MNCs in the medical field. Why is no one raising objections
to these choices being made available to farmers? After all, there are
huge profits to be made there too. Why is there opposition only to
technologies that have already revolutionised crop management practices in
12 countries, including China?

New technologies and critics go together. Often these critics know nothing
of the reality of farm life. As Karnataka Chief Minister S M Krishna says,
those opposing new technology in farming are ``agricultural quacks''. For
too long have they claimed to know what is best for the farmer.
Communications technology like satellite TV and the Internet have already
opened up the world for farmers. They see the rest of India enjoying the
benefits of new technology. It is time for farmers to begin the reverse
process, speak up for themselves and tell the rest of India to give them
the tools they need to produce the foods they need.

(The author is president, Federation of Farmers Associations, AP)

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From: Emily Ann Spengler Subject: STI Program
at Harvard
To: X-Priority: 3
Original-recipient: rfc822;prakash@tusk.edu

I would like to introduce you to the Program in Science, Technology and
Innovation at Harvard University. This program addresses the role of
science, technology and innovation in international development. It
examines recent trends in globalization and their implications for the use
of science and technology in the developing world. It focuses on how to
mobilize the world's pool of scientific and technological knowledge to
contribute to sustainable development. Emphasis is placed on science and
technology policy issues related to biotechnology and globalization,
pharmaceutical research and environmentally sound technologies.

If you are interested to read about the research and other activities of
this program, please visit our website, at
<http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cidtech/>http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cidtech/.
And don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about the site
or our work.

Best wishes,

Emily Spengler
Student Assistant, STI Program
spengler@fas.harvard.edu 617-495-1923
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