Please join me in congratulating Roger Beachy for this well-deserved prize!
Director of Danforth Plant Center wins agricultural prize, will share
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
January 9, 2001
Roger N. Beachy, director of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, was
awarded on Monday the 2001 Wolf Prize for agriculture.
Beachy, 56, of Clayton, will share the $100,000 prize from the
Israel-based Wolf Foundation with James E. Womack of Texas A&M University.
The foundation cited Beachy for research that established key principles
for genetic engineering of plants.
Beachy could not be reached for comment.
A statement released by the Danforth Center said: "We are very proud of
Dr. Beachy and the fact that he has been chosen as the recipient of this
prestigious award. The Wolf Foundation's mission to promote science for
the benefit of mankind is closely aligned with both Dr. Beachy's personal
vision as well as with the mission he is working to implement at the
Danforth Plant Science Center."
The Danforth Center is a $75 million research center under construction in
Beachy has gained international recognition for finding a way in which
biotechnology could help plants defend themselves against viruses. His
development of a virus-fighting gene built the base for other researchers
to create other forms of biotech plant defenses.
Beachy's role at the Danforth Center is not confined to biotechnology -
it's a broader goal of encouraging independent research to improve crop
yields and food nutrition, especially among developing nations. Another
goal is to teach foreign scientists how to improve crops so they can teach
new generations of scientists and farmers.
Womack, of Texas A&M, was cited by the Wolf Foundation for developing
techniques to clone genes that affect economically important traits in
The prize will be presented May 13 in Israel.
NPR Transcripts now available at AgBioWorld:
-- Read the full transcript of National Public Radio's "Engineering Crops
in a Needy World," which aired December 26th. Includes quotes by Manju
Sharma, Vandan Shiva, myself and others.
-- Full transcript of NPR Talk of the Nation program "Third World
Countries & Genetically Modified Crops." This was a live show where I took
calls along with Anuradha Mittal, Co-Director, Food First.
"Ending World Hunger: The Promise of Biotechnology and the Threat of
Antiscience Zealotry" by Norman Borlaug
Date: 9 Jan 2001 16:21:11 -0000
From: Andura Smetacek
Subject: Where's the outrage? Where's the media?
The list of anti-biotechnology activists with signficant financial
conflicts benefiting from their fear campaigns is growing. When will the
media expose these conflicts and take into consideration the
profits being promoted when covering the false fear campaigns pushed on
the public by these groups?
We now learn that Prince Charles financial coffers are growing by hundreds
of thousands due to false food scare campaigns (he promotes) driving
consumers to his lines of higher-priced organic foods. (See Sunday Times
The fact that these higher-priced foods are in no way safer, more
nutritious or demonstrably better for the environment (some, such as the
Scottish Crop Research Institute convincingly argue they are worse)
escapes the media coverage and public dialogue promoted by the
Prince and his organic retail colleagues profiting from all this.
How is it that virtually every anti-biotech activist leader has fincial
interests that benefit from food scares, yet these interests are rarely
incorporated into the media coverage of their spurious claims?
The good Lord Peter Melchet's (soon to be) organic farm and his lucrative
contract with organic retailer Iceland were recently made public (FW
article below), yet few include his financial ties in covering his attacks
on conventional agriculture. Greenpeace's launch of their own line of
"organic" products also made the news last month (see article below)
adding their name to the growing list of incorrectly-labeled charities and
non-profits who use tax-deductible contributions (many from other organic
retailers) to financially profit from food fear campaigns.
Others include Mark Ritchie's IAPT and their for-profit organic coffee
subsidiary; the Natural Law Party's Genetic-ID and their ties to organic
and biodynamic product companies; and Craig Winters ban
and label GMO campaign on behalf of his long list of organic and natural
Scientists with the slightest hint of research funding from corporate
interests are frequently identified as tainted industry shills by the
media, yet little if any attention is given the deep financial interests
so-call "consumer" and "activist" organizations have
in promoting their causes.
Where is the outrage? It is simply shameful.
Greenpeace to license organic products in Brazil
SAO PAULO, Dec 12 Agence France Presse
The environmental group Greenpeace announced Tuesday that
it will license a line of 12 organic products in Brazil. Greenpeace
charged in a press release that traditional Brazilian agricultural
methods devour energy and money and use chemical fertilizers
that severely degrade the area's natural resources.
"In this context," it reasoned, "organic farming provides a healthy
alternative for food production." The organization's "Ecolinea"
products, certified by Brazil's organic certification institute, will
include sugar, coffee, vinegar, oil, candy, jam, rice and flour.
Melchett prepares for Iceland role
4 December 2000
LORD Melchett, who recently resigned as executive director of Greenpeace,
discusses his move to food retailing in The Times.
After Christmas he will swap his eco-warrior role for that of
environmental advisor to the Iceland frozen food chain.
Iceland, which led the way in removing genetically modified produce from
its own-label range, has a customer base among lower income groups, says
Lord Melchett says research shows that poorer shoppers are most angry
about GM food and feel disenchanchised.
When not working for Iceland, Lord Melchett, who led an attack against a
GM trial site last year, plans to spend more time on his 800-acre Norfolk
He is converting two thirds of cropped land to organic produce and, while
a vegetarian, rears beef cattle which maintain grazing marshes.
Lord Melchett, 52, confesses that as a schoolboy he went fox-hunting and
beagling, but in his twenties decided this behaviour was bizarre.
Date: 10 Jan 2001 01:32:45 -0000
From: "John W. Cross"
The explanation of patents by Professor Kershen overlooks one simple
patent fact that should (but doesn't) calm the hysterical anti-patenting
Most patents expire after a somewhat lengthy, but definite, term. In
the US, this is 20 years in most cases. Since legally regulated products
also require a period of economic inactivity after a patent is filed and
before regulatory approval, the practical monopoly conferred by a patent
can be fairly short. Compare this to the term of a copyright: for a work
that is created on or after January 1, 1978, 70 years after the author's
death or for a company product, 95 years from publication or 120 years
from creation, whichever is shorter.
Genetic Green Light
The Hindustan Times
January 10, 2001
THE GREEN light the 88th Indian Science Congress gave to genetically
modified food represents a voice for reason in a debate all too often
coloured by emotion. The five-day meeting of India’s best and brightest
concluded that public fears about such food “have not been substantiated
through experimental evidence.”
The scientists could have also added that a steady stream of recent
studies — by governments, laboratories, companies and non-governmental
organisations — have all given a clean chit to genetically modified grain,
vegetables and the like. The congress did not fail to highlight that there
is an element of risk and that suitable safety precautions should be
taken. But then, that has never been the argument of even the most ardent
The congress’ okay will hopefully balance the emotional arguments made by
radical environmentalists against genetically modified food. The ultimate
green argument is that biotechnology is unwarranted interference in
pristine natural forms. The reality is that there is no natural thing on
any person’s plate any more. The original potato was bitter and poisonous.
Natural almonds are lethal. Centuries of selective breeding, a crude form
of bio-engineering, made them edible. The hybrid cereals used in the green
revolution were created by merging thousands of genes from various
species. Today’s genetic engineering is, if anything, more precise and
controlled than was the case in the past.
India has a special reason to not only embrace, but even defend
genetically modified food. The green revolution is a spent force. India’s
population growth is not. As scientists at the congress noted, the next
boost to agricultural productivity will have to come from biotechnology.
Western environmentalists can protest against biotechnology in part
because their societies float on farm surpluses. It is noteworthy that
while India dithers, China is aggressively sowing its fields with
bioengineered seeds. Green groups are demanding that such food items be
zero risk — something which is scientifically impossible and would
preclude every invention in human history. The congress resolution is a
useful reminder that the biotechnology debate is still best decided with
the tools and methodology of science rather than propaganda and street
Date: 10 Jan 2001 15:33:56 -0000
From: "Carpenter, Janet" | Block address
Subject: Updated Estimates of Benefits of GM Crops
Benefits of Genetically Modified Crops Continue in 1999
U.S. farmers continued to experience increased yields, decreased
costs and the ease of management offered by genetically modified crops in
1999, according to a new report by the National Center for Food and
Agricultural Policy (NCFAP). The new study is an update of earlier
estimates by NCFAP of benefits accrued by farmers in 1997 and 1998.
The report provides estimates of adoption, increased production, decreased
costs and decreased pesticide use. Explanations of the conventional pest
control practices that growers had been using prior to the introduction of
genetically modified crops are also provided.
Genetically modified crop varieties have been adopted rapidly since
their introduction in the mid-1990s. By 2000, roughly one fifth of
U.S. corn acreage, over half of the soybean acreage, and almost
three-quarters of the cotton acreage was planted to crops genetically
modified to be resistant to insects and/or herbicides.
Each of the genetically modified crops delivers a unique set of
benefits to growers who adopt them. The nature of these benefits depends
largely on pest control issues particular to each crop and whether other
effective and affordable pest control options are available.
Insect resistant Bt corn varieties have allowed farmers to control the
European Corn Borer, an insect pest that is difficult to control using
conventional insecticides because it tunnels into the corn stalk soon
after hatching, and is protected from the insecticides. The primary
benefit of Bt corn varieties has been increased yields. In 1999, it is
estimated that 66 million bushels of corn were saved from the corn borer.
Cotton growers have adopted genetically modified varieties faster
than growers of any other crop. Both insect and herbicide resistant
varieties have been adopted widely. Insect protected varieties of Bt
cotton provide control of three of the most destructive insect pests in
cotton: tobacco budworm, cotton bollworm and pink bollworm. Bt cotton has
allowed growers to reduce insecticide use and attain better control of
these pests, which has resulted in increased yields. It is estimated that
cotton growers reduced insecticide use by 2.7 million lbs and made 15
million fewer insecticide applications per year since the introduction of
Cotton production has also increased, by 260 million lbs per year. Net
revenues are estimated to have increased by $99 million in 1999.
Herbicide resistant cotton varieties provide growers with effective
weed control programs that have simplified weed management. With the
introduction of herbicide resistant cotton, growers can use broad
spectrum herbicides over the growing crop with minimal crop injury. The
introduction of herbicide resistant cotton varieties has led to a
reduction in the number of herbicide applications made by cotton growers,
by 19 million in 2000.
Insect and virus resistant potato varieties have been introduced
that have great potential to decrease insecticide use in that crop.
However, the recent introduction of a highly effective conventional
insecticide and the refusal of processors to accept genetically
modified potatoes have limited the adoption of these new varieties.
Finally, herbicide tolerant soybeans offer growers effective weed
control with a simple, flexible program that has allowed many to reduce
weed control costs. Prior to the introduction of herbicide tolerant
soybeans, growers chose from many herbicides, often applying three or more
active ingredients, some of which would cause damage to the growing
soybean plants, or cause harm to corn crops that commonly follow soybeans.
Herbicide tolerant soybeans allow growers to rely on one herbicide to
control a broad spectrum of weeds without harming the current or rotation
crops. The primary benefit of herbicide tolerant soybean varieties has
been a reduction in weed control
costs, of $216 million per year in 1999. Growers also reduced the
number of herbicide applications, by 19 million in 1999.
Agricultural Biotechnology: Updated Benefit Estimates, by Janet E.
Carpenter and Leonard P. Gianessi, is available at www.ncfap.org.
Preparation of this report was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation.
Biotech Creates Opportunities and Challenges For Rural New York
John W. Lincoln
January 7, 2001
There is an ongoing national debate over the future of agricultural
biotechnology. While the public generally believes that human genome
research and breakthroughs in biomedical technology are a positive for
human health, the same usage of biotechnology in food seems to generate
more public comment and controversy.
In New York, the Assembly has held legislative hearings on a proposal to
enact a five-year moratorium on the planting of any biotechnology-derived
seed. This moratorium would place New York in an anti-competitive position
with neighboring farmers, as well as stymie research into new developments
New York Farm Bureau opposes a moratorium, but realizes that there are
certain challenges, both research related and agronomic, that must be
addressed when growing biotech crop varieties. Biotechnology is here to
stay, in both agricultural and medicinal applications, and New York must
be an active participant in the biotechnology field.
Recognizing this need and opportunity, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L.
Bruno recently proposed creation of a five-year, $500 million program,
entitled Gen*NY*sis, or Generating Employment Through New York Science.
The proposed program would focus on strengthening the link between life
science discoveries at New York- based research institutions and creation
of new businesses and jobs for all New Yorkers.
Bruno's initiative is aimed at rebuilding our competitiveness in
attracting federal and private foundation research grants, which has
declined precipitously in recent years. Gen*NY*sis has a significant
biomedical and infrastructure component, as is appropriate, but includes
agricultural biotechnology research and specifically recognizes Cornell
University's agricultural and veterinarian research centers as potential
New York needs to become a leader in the high-tech and biotech industries
to continue to attract economic development and provide a reason for
future generations to keep living and working in New York, especially
upstate. Bruno's proposal will help New York grow toward the future.
Biotechnology is not a new concept, although there have been extraordinary
developments in recent years. Consumers are the ultimate beneficiaries of
biotechnology, both in medicinal products such as insulin and in
Biotechnology has the potential to provide consumers with foods that
contain more proteins, vitamins and minerals and less fatty acids;
research has already created a new strain of rice that will help combat
childhood blindness in less developed nations.
Some farmers in New York are using biotechnology to help protect natural
resources and lower expenses by reducing pesticide usage with certain
federally approved field crop biotechnology varieties. The future of
agricultural biotechnology research is exciting as farmers strive for new,
globally competitive ways of growing crops.
Despite these facts, farmers still have concerns regarding biotechnology.
Additional research is needed at our land grant institutions to help make
sound agronomic decisions regarding when to utilize a biotechnology
variety and when to plant a more traditional seed product. Both organic
farmers and conventional growers need assurances that biotechnology
varieties will not impact neighboring fields through pollen transfer.
The national regulatory process through which all biotechnology varieties
are approved needs to be strong enough to reassure public concerns and
protect marketing opportunities for farmers. Biotechnology research can
help answer these important questions, and the Senate's proposed
initiative will help fund the critical research to address some of these
Agricultural biotechnology is the natural next step in the advancement of
an industry that has been constantly changing for thousands of years. New
developments in biotechnology allow us to identify and transfer the
specific gene that creates a desired trait in a plant, and offers a more
precise way to produce plants with certain beneficial characteristics.
Biotechnology is a useful tool that will make improved pharmaceutical,
agricultural and industrial products available. New York Farm Bureau
welcomes the Senate's leadership and foresight in encouraging the
biotechnology industry in New York -- and we look forward to working on
this issue in the coming months of the 2001 legislative session.
JOHN W. LINCOLN is president of New York Farm Bureau.
Date: Jan 09 2001 15:41:12 EST
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Biodiversity in Perspective
So much is said in praise or defense of biodiversity that it’s probably
time to look at what it is. Turns out, it’s little more than the enemy of
agriculture, and has been, for millennia.
In its most natural state, biodiversity comprises a vast collection of
weeds with diverse traits which developed under no pressure whatsoever to
develop edible qualities except by accident—edibility being a severe
drawback to all plants with nourishing seeds. Those diverse traits offer
the crudest protection possible against plant diseases and climate change;
susceptible individuals merely die. Over
time, this type of selective breeding is known as evolution.
If this is the most laudable state of biodiversity, then we humans would
be stuck foraging for edible weeds.
The most primitive agriculturalist easily recognized that there was no
value in biodiversity, and began cultivating the most favored weeds –
after cultivation called “crops”—in special plots. Biodiversity in these
plots, i.e., infestations by weeds, was prevented to the extent possible,
through a substantial investment in
Still, the remaining biodiversity among these seminal crops was too great.
Some plants were taller than others, some had differing maturity dates,
others grew more grain per stalk. Intervening once again, agriculturalists
personally began selective breeding of plants. Taking the place of
“natural” selective pressures on
plant development, they chose and propagated the plants with those traits
of most interest to humans: shorter stalks with more grain per stalk.
Biodiversity was reduced yet again. And the crops became more pampered,
more dependent upon humans.
Plant breeding has continued apace and intensified over the centuries,
leading to countless versions of popular cultivars—versions later
superseded, each improvement representing, naturally, a reduction in the
biodiversity which acts as a barrier to
increased food production.
Why preserve these obsolete cultivars? They’re stored all over the world,
at tremendous expense, in seed banks—better referred to as museums for
outdated breeding efforts. Since biodiversity only contributes to a
reduction in food, why should we bother with them? Should we not open the
doors of the seed banks and scatter their antique contents in the wild
places, where they can compete alongside
their weedy brethren and celebrate their fecund biodiversity or die,
according to the will of Nature?
A horrific notion, no doubt. But why?
It’s not because agriculture wants or needs their biodiversity, that’s for
sure. Nobody in agriculture wants it, has ever wanted it. Biodiversity has
always been the enemy, ever since the first beetle-browed, flea-bitten
agriculturist clad in smelly uncured hides tired of foraging and decided
to make his grain grow in convenient places.
We don’t save the seeds of these outmoded cultivars because we want to
preserve biodiversity, any more than we want to preserve low-production
agriculture, or to scatter weed seeds on our fields or to forage for tasty
weeds. We save those seeds because of their genes. Somewhere in those vast
and motley collections could reside
genes for salt or aluminum or drought tolerance; or genes for improved
yield or disease resistance. Such genes could be introduced into modern
cultivars to generate improved versions and, you guessed it—used to reduce
biodiversity even more. Whatever else resides in these seed banks is dross.
Ultimately, the seed banks themselves are part of the program not to
preserve, but to reduce biodiversity. They don’t preserve the seeds of the
past, there is no point to that. Instead, they promise the genes of the
future. The program to transform weeds into crops is not yet complete.
So, next time you hear someone talk about the wonder and beneficence of
biodiversity, take a moment to consider this fact: if you are trying to
feed people, biodiversity in crops is NOT your friend. Or anyone’s.