Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





January 16, 2001


Objectivity, Jules Pretty???, GM radish,


Same day, same conference, different spins!!!!!
The two stories below are reports on the same conf.

Read them and spot the difference!!! Its 'Pretty' typical! (it nearly


January 16, 2001
The Guardian
John Vidal

Prince Charles was cited as reignited the GM debate yesterday by endorsing
a revolutionary agricultural system that claims to prove that the 800m
facing hunger in developing countries can grow far more food by adopting
simple farming techniques than by going down the hi-tech GM route favoured
by Tony Blair and US corporations.

Addressing a conference at St James`s Palace on the benefits of
"sustainable" agriculture, the prince was quoted as saying, "Arguments for
hi-tech agriculture are increasingly accepted without question, and their
possible long term consequences on the environment and economies are not
being given sufficient attention. One of the most commonly raised
arguments raised by those in favour of GMs is that they are necessary to
'feed the world.' But where people are starving, lack of food is rarely
the underlying
cause. There is a need to create sustainable livelihoods. I would argue
for a more balanced approach. Sustainable agriculture provides a pointer
to what can be achieved."

The story says that research by Essex University, funded by the Department
for International Development, Greenpeace and Bread For the World,
collated data from more than 200 projects growing food on more than 29.8m
hectares (75m acres), and found "astonishing" results.

Jules Pretty, director of the University of Essex centre for environment
and society, was quoted as saying, "We set out to see if farmers can
improve food production with cheap, low-cost, locally available
technologies and inputs, and whether they can do this without causing
further environmental damage. We found that for 4.42m small farmers
practising sustainable agriculture on 3.58m hectares average food
production per household increased 73%. For the 146,000 farmers on 542,000
hectares cultivating crops like potato and cassava the increase was 150%;
and on larger farms total production increased by 46%."

Prof Pretty was cited as saying the research showed that almost all the
projects made better use of local natural resources and involved people
working together as groups, adding, "It seems to work best in the poorest
areas. We can start to see real improvements."


GM rice 'best hope of feeding world'

The Daily Telegraph
By Charles Clover, Environment Editor
16 January 2001

THE best hope of feeding the world lies in genetically modified crops
because organic and other "sustainable" farming methods would not be able
to do the job, a conference at St James's Palace was told yesterday.

Professor Jules Pretty, of Essex University, an expert on organic farming
and "sustainable" agricultural methods, said it would be difficult to
tackle the malnutrition facing 800 million people without using
developments such as genetically modified rice with added vitamin A.

Professor Pretty, organiser of the conference on reducing poverty through
sustainable farming, said it was difficult to see how UN targets of
reducing world malnutrition by 2015 could be achieved without embracing
such technology.

He said: "Vitamin A rice will make a hell of a difference because these
people are suffering today and we can make a difference right away. It's
all very well to call for nice diverse diets but it will take us 20 years
to get there."

Dr Per Pinstrup-Andersen, of the International Food Policy Research
Institute in Washington, said a way of dealing most immediately with the
malnutrition facing the world's poor was to breed vitamin A and iron into
the foods they ate anyway.

Date: Jan 17 2001 10:05:55 EST
From: ngin@icsenglish.com
Subject: re: GM rice 'best hope of feeding world'

Recently AgBioView put out a Daily Telegraph piece (GM rice 'best hope
of feeding world') concerning what Prof Jules Pretty, Director of the
Centre for Environment and Society at the University of Essex, had
reportedly had to say about the ability of sustainable agriculture to
feed the world. As this Telegraph account seemed markedly different to
other media accounts of what had been said at the meeting, I asked Jules
Pretty to comment on its accuracy. Here is his reply together with the
accounts which he suggests provide 'the real story' + a couple of urls to
articles where Pretty spells out his views on the question of GMOs,
sustainable agriculture and feeding the world:

'Feeding the world?'

'Strange fruit'


Read today's Guardian environment page for the real story. (and see next
week's New Scientist...)

Believe which journalist you choose!


PS And the New Scientist on line service...http://www.newscientist.com/

New Scientist
Farming without a plough? The largest ever study of green farming shows
surprising successes


Fighting famine in the Far East

A BOLTON scientist has pioneered a way to stop thousands of people
starving from famine -- with a genetically modified radish.

Dr Ian Curtis, whose family lives in Breightmet, has been working on the
radish project at the Pohang University of Science and Technology in Korea
since May 1999 where he was made an Assistant Professor at the young age
of 32.

Scientists in Korea had been trying to genetically engineer the radish
plant for 20 years as it is a staple crop in the country and is as widely
eaten as the potato in this country.

A pest attacked the Korean radish crops in 1997 which caused mass famine
and the need to develop a disease resistant strain of the crop was even

Dr Curtis, aged 34, modified previous attempts to grow the radish and
after a number of attempts successfully inserted genes into the plant
which will allow them to survive attacks from the pest called "erwina."

Extensive trials still need to be completed before the new "super radish"
can be mass produced, but Dr Curtis believes that his work will help to
feed millions of Koreans within the next decade.

The former Sharples School pupil developed a passion for growing
vegetables when he was a youngster and won several agricultural shows all
over the North West before achieving his first degree in Agricultural
Botany at the University College of Wales.

He considers himself a "scientist with a heart" and would love to continue
working with GM crops to help developing countries where there is a
desperate need to mass produce disease resistant crops.

His research paper on the radish will be published in the British journal
"Transgenic Research" in April and The Tribune newspaper in Washington DC
has also expressed an interest in his work.

Dr Curtis said: "I am proud of the fact that my work will make a
difference to people's lives.

"I can understand why people are mistrustful of GM crops, but they are
safe providing the right sort of genes are used.

"But the general public should be made aware of whether the food they are
eating is genetically modified or not."

Summary of Benefits and Risks of Roundup Ready Soybeans and Bt Field
Corn Now Available

National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy

Roundup Ready soybeans and Bt field corn have been rapidly adopted
by U.S. farmers, yet their approval for commercialization remains under
scrutiny. Much of the criticism seems to be based on poor
understanding of the U.S. regulatory process and a lack of knowledge about
the environmental and health risk studies that were conducted prior to
the commercialization of these products. A new study by the National
Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) provides a description of
the regulatory process governing agricultural biotechnology and traces the
approval of Roundup Ready soybeans and Bt corn through the U.S. regulatory
agencies (EPA, USDA, FDA).

Roundup Ready Soybeans and Bt corn are products of genetic engineering.
These cultivars were transformed through insertion of genetic material
from soil bacteria that confers herbicide tolerance (Roundup Ready
soybeans) or kills insects who feed on the plant (Bt corn). Estimates of
the impact that the adoption of these crops has had on U.S. agriculture
are also provided. Potential risks considered by the regulatory agencies
include allergenicity, toxicity, pesticide resistance, out-crossing,
non-target impacts and antibiotic resistance. Benefits include increased
yields, reduced production costs and reduced pesticide use.

The NCFAP report summarizes information that was submitted to the
regulatory agencies, providing an accessible review of mostly
unpublished documents and studies conducted on the potential risks
associated with commercial introduction of genetically engineered

The developer of Roundup Ready soybeans, Monsanto, conducted numerous
studies comparing the composition of Roundup Ready whole and processed
soybeans to that of conventional soybeans. Animal feeding studies were
conducted using rats, broiler chickens, dairy cattle, catfish and bobwhite
quail to assess the feed characteristics of Roundup Ready soybeans.
Potential toxicity was assessed in a mouse study. The safety assessment
of altered herbicide use patterns was based on animal studies conducted
using dogs, mice, rats, and rabbits. Environmental impacts related to
potential increased weediness and outcrossing were considered minimal due
to the self-pollinating nature of soybeans, lack of weediness of
conventional soybeans and lack of related weed species in the U.S. The
results of the studies conducted and submitted by Monsanto to the
regulatory agencies
was judged to demonstrate the safety of Roundup Ready soybeans.
Bt field corn seed and silage composition was compared to conventional
corn in several studies conducted by the developers of two Bt corn lines,
Novartis and Monsanto. Potential toxicity and allergenicity were
assessed based on a mouse study and digestibility studies. Laboratory and
field studies were used in the assessment of environmental fate. Studies
of potential impact on several non-target organisms were performed: honey
bee, parasitic wasp, green lacewing, lady beetles, bobwhite quail,
earthworm, soil organism, catfish and a crustaceous species. Weediness
and outcrossing were judged to not be significant risks, as cultivated
corn does not
exist in uncultivated areas and the Bt trait was not expected to confer
any significant advantage to cultivated corn. One related wild species
grows on the southern tip of Florida, though no cases of gene flow from
corn to this relative have been reported. Insect resistance management
plans, developed by the registrants to address concerns about the
development of resistance of insect populations to the Bt pesticide, were
considered in the approvals of Bt field corn lines.

The review of information submitted to the agencies to address
potential environmental and human health risks associated with
commercial introduction of Roundup Ready soybeans and Bt corn shows
careful consideration of a wide range of potential impacts. Roundup Ready
soybeans were granted unconditional approval for commercialization. Bt
corn lines were granted conditional registrations pending the submission
of additional studies on non-target impacts and further development of
insect resistance management programs. These registrations are currently
under review by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In addition to providing a summary of the approval of Roundup Ready
soybeans and Bt corn, the NCFAP study also includes a description of the
regulatory process, its history and current structure. This account of
the development of the U.S. regulatory system reveals a system that has
evolved over the past 25 years, as the technology allowing for genetic
modification of plants developed.

The benefits of the introduction of Roundup Ready soybeans include
savings of $216 million annually in weed control costs and 19 million
fewer soybean herbicide applications per year. The primary benefit of the
introduction of Bt corn has been increased yields, by 66 million bushels
in 1999. Growers have also achieved modest reductions in insecticide use,
as only a small proportion of U.S. field corn acreage was sprayed for the
target pest prior to the introduction of Bt varieties.

Case Studies in Benefits and Risks of Agricultural Biotechnology:
Roundup Ready Soybeans and Bt Field Corn, by Janet E. Carpenter, is
available at www.ncfap.org. Preparation of this report was supported by
the Rockefeller Foundation.

Miracle Workers Make Good Hollywood Shows

The Birmingham News
Prof. Gregory Pence
January 14, 2001

"Have you ever read Paul Ehrlich's book (The Population Bomb)? It was
written in 1968. Ehrlich said that it was a fantasy that India would ever
feed itself. Then Norman Borlaug comes along…The dwarf wheat. Guys, it as
an agricultural revolution that was credited with saving one billion
lives." -- President of the United States Josiah Bartlet, speaking to
some of his staff on NBC-TV's "The West Wing."

Last summer I wrote an article in which I said that Norman Borlaug, father
of the Green Revolution and Nobel Peace Prize winner of 1970, was not the
type of hero that interests Hollywood. I guess I was wrong. Recently, "The
West Wing" used Dr. Borlaug's achievements to illustrate an episode about
the need for developed nations to provide technology to the developing

In the TV show, the fictional leader of an African nation makes a brief
speech about Dr. Borlaug: "The people who make miracles in the world, one
of them lives right here in the United States. In his hands, India, which
at the time had been ravaged by drought and overpopulation…in his hands
the wheat crop increased from 11 million tons to 60 million tons annually."

Borlaug has devoted his life to improving food production around the
world. Thirty years ago, as director of the Rockefeller Foundation's
Mexican wheat program, he developed dwarf wheat, which diverted energy
from the stalk into the grain, thus increasing yields. He went on to carry
the Green Revolution to Asian nations, such as India and Pakistan,
improving wheat and other grains, fighting constant criticism from
doomsayers such as Ehrlich. Today, at age 84, he remains an active warrior
in the battle to feed and improve the lives of starving millions,
especially in sub-Saharan Africa. And he is a staunch supporter of

"The new tools of genetic engineering will allow us - if scientists are
permitted to use them - to accelerate development of food crop varieties
with greater tolerance to drought, heat, cold, and soil mineral
toxicities; greater resistance to menacing insects and diseases; and much
higher levels of nutritional quality," he said in a recent speech
delivered to African leaders.

Others, however, must take on the cause that Borlaug has championed for so
many years if we are to meet global food demands that could double or even
triple in the next 30 years or so. Recently seven academies of science
from around the world urged companies, governments and especially private
foundations to extend the technology to the developing world.

There is progress in that regard, but it has been slow, because just as
Norman Borlaug had to fight nay-sayers, those working to bring
biotechnology to developing nations face even tougher obstacles.

The New York Times recently documented the difficulties that Dr. Ingo
Potrykus and the Rockefeller Foundation are facing in offering his strain
of vitamin A-enhanced rice free of charge to millions of poor people
around the world. Each year millions of children whose diets are highly
dependent on rice, do not get enough vitamin A and become blind.

Some companies, such as Syngenta (formerly Zeneca) and Monsanto, are
cooperating with Potrykus by freeing up rice patents and making their rice
research available. Monsanto recently announced that it is sharing
technology with the leading Indian research institute to increase vitamin
A in mustard oil, which is widely used in cooking in India. The U.S.
Agency for International Development is also actively supporting and
funding the project, and Michigan State University will oversee the
adoption and transfer of the technology.

Other projects further contradict the myth that all biotech research is
profit-motivated. A Chinese research institution is developing a variety
of rice that protects yields against insects without the use of chemical
insecticides. The International Rice Research Institute and Texas A&M
University are working on similar research. And Indian scientists are
exploring drought-resistant seeds, which could have enormous impact on
regions where climate inhibits food production. And in addition to the
Rockefeller Foundation, the McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis has
dedicatedmillions of dollars for biotech research to help the world's
hungriest people feed themselves.

The seeds of a second Green Revolution are being planted. If these
Borlaug-like pioneers are successful in bringing hope to the most
unfortunate people on earth, it will be a story worth telling by Hollywood
and everyone else.

Prof. Gregory Pence teaches philosophy and bioethics in the School of
Medicine at the University of Alabama - Birmingham.

FDA Issues New Biotech Foods Rules

Associated Press
By Philip Brasher
January 17, 2001

Biotech companies would be required to consult with the government before
selling new genetically engineered foods or ingredients, under
industry-backed rules proposed Wednesday by the Food and Drug

Companies now are not required to have the FDA review new biotech crops,
although most do so voluntarily. The FDA also proposed voluntary
guidelines Wednesday for food companies to follow if they label foods as
biotech-free or promote biotech ingredients.

Companies would have to notify FDA of new biotech products at least four
months before they are to be put on the market. Scientific descriptions of
the new products, including information about genetic modification and the
potential to cause allergic reactions, would be posted on the Internet
during the agency's review. Some of the data could be kept confidential if
companies show FDA the information involves trade secrets.

The rules address ''what is of most concern to consumers, that is making
our process more open and transparent and making it mandatory,'' said FDA
Administrator Jane Henney.

The new rules are in line with a series of proposals that the Clinton
administration made this spring to respond to criticism of its regulation
of the biotechnology industry. Consumer advocates and environmentalists
say federal regulation of the industry is lax and have called for
mandatory labeling of all biotech foods.

''It remains clear that the FDA doesn't have a taste for regulating
genetically modified foods,'' said Rebecca Goldburg, a scientist with
Environmental Defense, which favors a more rigorous approval process for
new biotech products. ''FDA is making the assumption that most genetically
engineered foods will be safe and will not ask hard questions.''

Under a policy developed during the previous Bush administration, the FDA
considers gene-altered crops to be essentially the same as those produced
by conventional breeding methods and thus not subject to the same
regulatory controls as food additives. A federal judge upheld the policy
last fall.

Genetic engineering in agriculture involves splicing a gene from one
organism, such as a bacterium, into a plant or animal to confer certain
traits, such as drought tolerance or insect resistance in the case of

Genetically engineered varieties of soybeans and corn became popular with
farmers in the late 1990s and are found in products throughout
supermarkets. Monsanto Co. has created a herbicide-resistant wheat that is
expected to come on the market as early as 2003. Biotech varieties of
fruit, vegetables, fish and livestock are in various stages of

Biotech and food companies, hoping to head off more stringent regulation,
had asked for the new review policy and labeling guidelines. The companies
say further regulation is unnecessary and are concerned that mandatory
labeling of gene-altered products could raise unnecessary public fears
about the foods and strangle the industry.

''The increased openness and accountability that will flow from the
changes FDA announced today provide renewed grounds for the confidence
American consumers have in our food supply and the regulatory system to
ensure its safety,'' said Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology
Industry Organization.

The industry has been on the defensive in recent months because of
nationwide recalls of taco shells that were found to contain a variety of
gene-altered corn that hasn't been approved for human consumption.

There are unresolved questions about whether the StarLink corn could cause
allergic reactions. It is the only biotech crop not allowed in food.
Federal officials say they shouldn't have allowed the corn to be grown
without approving its use in food.