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Date:

December 26, 2000

Subject:

GM Seeds in India; Food Access to Poor; How Long Can Africa

 

The U. S. National Public Radio program on GM Seed controversy in India
entitled "Engineering Crops in a Needy World " that aired on December 26
can now be listened on the Web through audio stream at:

http://www.npr.org/ramfiles/atc/20001226.atc.05.rmm

(you will need 'Real Media Player' that you can download for free at
http://www.real.com )

Today, I will also be on NPR's "Talk of the Nation", a discussion forum
(Wednesday December 27; 3 PM Eastern Time) with listener call-back along
with biotech-critic Anuradha Mittal (who works with Peter Rosset of Food
First/Institute for Food and Development Policy Oakland, Calif; see their
letter below commenting on Wall Street Journal's Borlaug essay (along with
my response ). Check http://www.npr.org/programs/totn/ to see the local
listing of broadcast of this program in US (select 'State' to pull down
under 'My Station')

Prakash
--------
GM Seeds In India --

In a format-breaking report, John Biewen reports on the controversy over
the use of genetically modified seeds in India. Despite the fact that the
failure of a crop can lead to a farmer's suicide, many poor Indian farmers
oppose the use of genetically modified seeds which might improve the
chances of raising a successful crop. There is fear of the multi-national
corporations selling the seeds. Many of the companies have included
Indians in their research, development and marketing of the products.
(22:00)
http://search.npr.org/cf/cmn/cmnpd01fm.cfm?PrgDate=12/26/2000&PrgID=2

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There Is Food for All: Access Is the Problem

Wall Street Journal, December 22. Letter to the Editor

Norman Borlaug's Dec. 6 editorial-page essay "We Need Biotech to Feed the
World" would have us believe that biotechnology provides the only hope of
feeding the burgeoning hungry population in the Third World.

But biotechnology distracts decision-makers from the more pressing
problems of alleviating hunger and poverty. Our research at Food First
shows that there is enough food to feed everyone in this world: 4.5 pounds
of food per person, per day, around the world. The problem is not one of
production but of access and distribution: 78% of countries reporting
child malnourishment export food.

Mr. Borlaug refers to India, the home of one of us, where 800 million
hungry live. While he talks of the success of green revolution successes
and biotech potentials, he fails to mention that the number of the hungry
and malnourished has been steadily rising, though India is faced with an
unmanageable food glut. From a food grain surplus of 10 million tons in
1999, the stocks have multiplied to 42 million tons. Instead of
distributing the surplus among those who desperately need it, the
government either wants to find an export market or release it in the open
market.

How will biotechnology provide food to those who are desperately in need?
Given the high seed cost, and the cost of other inputs that the farmers
will have to use, the cost of cultivation will go up and so will the
market price, ultimately subjecting more people to hunger and starvation.

Anuradha Mittal and Peter Rosset Co-Directors Food First/Institute for
Food and Development Policy Oakland, Calif.
========

From: Prakash
Sub: Reply to Above Letter sent to WSJ (Submitted)

Dear Editor at Wall Street Journal:

I am responding to the letter from Mittal and Rosset commenting on the
statements of Norman Borlaug's column in your newspaper.

It is disingenuous on the part of critics of biotechnology to keep saying
that there is enough food in the world and thus argue against scientific
advances such as biotechnology to improve food production. Sure, there is
plenty of food grains in the world but most of it is in the West and much
of it fed to animals: 70% of corn produced in the US is fed to the
livestock. We can solve all the hunger in the world by asking everyone to
become vegetarians in the West and then just ask Iowa farmers to donate
their grains to developing world! Export of food from developing countries
accounts for only a small percentage of the global food trade, and much of
it is in high value tropical commodities which provide the badly needed
foreign-exchange for these countries.

How does one improve access and distribution of food to the rural poor
dependent on farming? By improving farm productivity, by enhancing the
infrastructure and policies that promote free trade. In South Asia and
Africa - where much of the poor in the world live - the large majority of
the people are involved in farming. Technologies such as genetically
modified crops will help these people not only to produce more food but
also in increasing their income. Increased prosperity of the rural sector
would clearly help in reducing the hunger and reduce the inequity between
urban and rural people. It is the local production of food and greater
income from farm products that can help the rural poor, and biotechnology
will help them to reduce the use of chemical inputs on the farm, help them
save on labor and fuel costs, cut down farming costs, produce more
nutritious food and improve the overall productivity. Do Mittal and
Rossett offer any alternative sustainable solutions to global hunger and
poverty, and to improve access and distribution of food other than
"distributing the surplus among those who desperately need it" ?

India was also home to me and it has increased the food grain production
four fold since our Independence, and a higher percentage of Indians are
better fed today than ever before thanks to 'Green Revolution'. The
population has also increased three fold too since 50 years due to medical
advances and again, it is not right to talk just the number of hungry and
malnourished. Part of the problem with food distribution and access in
many developing countries is because of misguided government policies
through the control of the food sector, increased dependency of farmers on
the state for farm inputs such as fertilizer and energy, along with
general neglect of conditions such as infrastructure and free trade needed
to advance agriculture and the income of the rural people. Ignoring these
issues is not a reason to deny access to improved technologies for farmers
in developing countries.

Yours,

C. S. Prakash

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From: "Ben B. Norman"
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Biotechnology and the Poor

Sorry fellows. The only solution is the education of the women of the
world. The only thing that correlates with reduced family size
(populationcontrol) is the number of years of education of the mother. GM
will helpkeep the lid on the food problem, but education of the future
mothers ofthe world is the only long term solution.

Everything else is stop-gap...

Ben B. Norman, DVM, PhD

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From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: Request for Response to two querys

Query # 1. I thought I had read that the Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) issued a report in June 2000 entitled: "Safety aspects of
genetically modified foods of plant origin."

I have not been able to locate this report on the FAO website. Does anyone
have information on this report or access to this report? I may have
improperly identified the sponsoring organization. Hence, the name of the
report is likely to be the most accurate information that I have set forth
above. I would like to find this report or obtain a copy of this report
promptly.

Query # 2. Today I read a report, "Transgeneic Crops: An Environmental
Assessment" (Winrock, Nov. 2000)
< http://www.winrock.org/Transgenic.pdf >.

In the report at p. 32 in the FINDINGS subheading of Chapter One: The
Environmental Effects of Transgenic Crops: What We Know Now, the authors
write as follows:

"Future research on insect-resistant crops of all types could investigate
the development of traits that make resistance development less likely.
Such traits could include manifestation of tolerance to pest damage rather
than pesticidal property (Hubbell & Welsh 1998), or the ability to delay
symptoms and damage from pathogens until after the plant has produced its
valuable seeds or fruits. Delayed damage would remove the need for
treatment with chemicals or other environmentally disruptive agents. This
type of trait would not interfere with the pathogens' ability to
reproduce, and thus should not foster more aggressive pathogens, yet would
allow farmers to realize the full economic benefits of their crop
plantings (Krimsky and Wruble, 1996). In this vein, the NRC (National
Research Council) recently cited the need for environmental research to
develp pest-protected plants, including transgenic crops, which can be
used in environmentally and evolutionarily sustainable approaches to
agriculture (NRC, 2000). ..."

I would appreciate hearing comments on this paragraph, especially from
those involved in pest-resistant crop studies and biotechnology. Thank you
in advance for any comments and information concerning the above two
queries. Sincerely yours,

Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law University of Oklahoma College of
Law

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For how long will Africa continue begging for food?

Editorial Comment, Biosafety News No13, Kenya, Oct 2000 (From Biolines
)

When the late Guyanese historian, Dr Walter Rodney, wondered aloud why
Africa's food production was dwindling progressively since independence in
the Sixties, few of us realized the situation would become the continent's
shame and major disaster. Many of us thought he was wallowing in
intellectual luxury. Little did we know that millions of Africans would
need to be saved from starving through the humbling charity of the
international community. Rodney, a resident scholar at the University of
Dar es Salaam in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, was alarmed by what he
called the "prevalence of protein famine" on the continent. He had carried
out detailed and extensive research into food consumption patterns
worldwide, showing how Africa was poor when it comes to the consumption of
calories. In his study, Rodney said the amount of calories required by an
individual is 3,000. Most Africans consumed about half this figure at the
time he wrote his book, How Europe Under-developed Africa, in 1972.

Had Rodney lived to see this century, he would be appalled by the fact
that the ‘60s and ‘70s he was writing about were comparatively better
years for the average person in Africa in terms of food security. He never
imagined a situation in 1984 when millions of Ethiopians were decimated by
famine and drought before the media brought this tragedy to the living
rooms of millions around the world, who rushed in with food aid. Like us,
Rodney would not believe reports like the one published in 1996 by the UN
FAO that Africa would be forced to import 25 million metric tonnes of
cereals by the year 2010 if the current food production patterns do not
change. This FAO study painted a grim picture indeed - that malnutrition
is now worse in sub-Saharan Africa that it was 30 years ago. It predicted
that food would be so expensive this century that the majority of Africans
would not afford it. During the same year, the FAO Director-General, Dr.
Jacques Diouf, released statistics showing that some 800 million Third
World people, 200 million of them children, were chronically
under-nourished. His figures showed that millions more were suffering from
debilitating diseases related to micronutrient deficiencies and
contaminated food and water.

Dr. Diouf warned that unless the international community and national
governments addressed the underlying causes of under-nutrition, there
would be around 750 million hungry people worldwide ten years from now.
Ironically, Dr. Diouf released these figures during a World Food Summit in
Rome. The summit, the first of its kind since the 1974, sought a new
commitment to a plan of action to eradicate global hunger, especially in
the Third World. But apart from the pomp and circumstance, there was
nothing to indicate a radical departure from official pronouncements of
sympathy and a general willingness to assist the afflicted countries.
Since the Rome summit four years ago, the food situation has deteriorated
drastically, especially in the Horn of Africa. Millions of people in
Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea face death as a result of
drought and conflict, which have led to severe food shortages. Dr Diouf
was in Kenya recently to assess the food situation in the Horn of Africa
and spoke of catastrophe ahead if emergency assistance is not stepped up
immediately.

Unicef's Executive Director, Dr Carol Bellamy, toured the drought-ravaged
region and said that her organization needed about US$ 30 million to help
fight the scourge, while the World Food Programme needed some US$ 131
million to save the lives of millions of children facing prolonged
displacement, hunger, illness and trauma. While drought is to blame for
the current sad state of affairs, it is also an indication that African
agriculture is on the verge of total collapse unless radical measures are
taken to revitalize this key sector. The sector can longer be left to the
mercy of weather, more so because agriculture is the mainstay of African
economies. It is instructive that developed countries depend heavily on
careful handling of relations between agriculture and industry for
sustainable economic growth. In the US, rapid industrial progress was
preceded and aided by agriculture, which has given birth to large
agro-industries. The president of the Sasakawa African Association (SAA),
Dr Norman Borlaug, said countries like Kenya needed an "agricultural
intensification Bill of Rights." Dr Borlaug, the father of the "green
revolution", said that by the year 2010, all farmers should have access to
technologies that can not only increase their incomes and feed the
population at low cost, but also integrate their rural dwellers into the
national market economies. The 86-year-old American scientist said
biotechnology offered Africa the next chance to catch up with the rest of
the world in achieving food self-sufficiency. Through biotechnology,
higher yields can be achieved due to seed improvement with qualities such
as drought and disease resistance. "There is no evidence to show that
biotechnology is dangerous”, the 1970 Nobel Prize for Peace winner said.
"Do not, I say to African leaders, close your doors to the future benefits
that biotechnology can bring to your nations," he said, citing examples of
China and Brazil, where cereal production has gone up more than two-fold,
making the former the current leading producer of grain in the world.