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Date:

January 26, 2001

Subject:

Rats and Risk; Ignorance and Fear - Allies!; Pushy GM

 

Earth Quake in India: Plea for Help!

As you know thousands of people in India have died and millions affected
by the tragic earthquake on Friday. The American Red Cross is seeking your
help in providing disaster relief to earthquake victims in India. If you
are interested in making a contribution, you now do It is easily with your
credit card either directly on their website
http://www.redcross.org/donate/donate-now.html
or calling a U.S. toll free number 1-800-435-7669. For those of you in the
U.S, this contribution is tax deductible!.

I thank you for your consideration of help towards this noble effort.

Yours,

Prakash
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From: dgurian-sherman@cspinet.org

The Whitehouse OSTP/CEQ case studies are available again at:
http://www.ostp.gov/html/new.html

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From: "Shane Morris"

RATS AND RISK

January 26, 2001 The Lancet Volume 357, Number 9252 *Shane Morris, Doug
Powell, Canada (From Agnet) http://www.thelancet.com/

Sir--Research has shown that the so-called natural pesticide, rotenone,
might be associated with Parkinson's disease.1,2 As the news began to
slowly circulate, the saying by Victor Cohn (a once senior columnist with
the Washington Post) that "Scientists are to journalists what rats are to
scientists" came to mind. The research in question showed that rotenone
can produce Parkinson's disease in rats when it is administered via
injection in low doses. Most rats, and human beings, however, do not
willingly undertake direct injections of any sort of pesticide, natural or
not. So the results and their applicability to human health remain
controversial. But, rates are one of the, albeit blurry, windows on
long-term human health effects. So the risk question that arises is, are
natural pesticides potentially dangerous?

In the autumn of 1998, Arpad Pusztai from the UK told television
interviewers that a handful of rats fed genetically engineereed compared
with those fed conventional potatoes displayed some
differences--dif-ferences that soon became a mantra for many around the
globe, including journalists, as evidence of hypothetical danger
associated with genetically engineered crops. The Lancet also published
Putztai's experiments3 with the aim of "making constructive progress in
the debate between scientists, the media, and the general public about the
safety of GM foods".4 On the other hand, the experiments flagging the
possible dangers of rotenone, which has been marketed and used in the
public domain for many decades as a so-called natural pesticide (sometimes
used and marketed by the organic movement) and in various commercial
garden care and animal-care products, barely stirred the interest of
journalists.

Why was it that one story received so much more attention than the other?
Was it that opponents of so-called genetically modified food (of who the
loudest are frequently connected to the organic food movement) pushed and
promoted the story for their own cause? After all, if conventional foods
are deemed safe for people and the environment, then in the absence of a
media flurry, why would consumers pay more for hypothetical benefits?

The same media forces that propelled Pusztai's rats to mainstream
conversation have been largely silent when it comes to the rotenone rats.
Since the organic movement uses rotenone itself, maybe they are choosing
to remain quiet on this issue. Surely this action (or lack thereof) brings
to light a severe case of double standards. For example, we have yet to
see the Greenpeace press release condemning organic farmers for using
rotenone and demanding the immediate removal of the roughly 680
rotenone-containing products from the supermarket shelves.

The latest findings about rotenone, which like Pusztai's results draw
attention to the need for "further scientific attention", underscores a
fundamental approach that North American regulators have taken to various
products, including genetically-engineered foods: that is, that nature is
not benign, and irrespective of the process used to create new foods--be
it genetic engineering, conventional breeding, and a whole host of
powerful techniques in between, the end product needs to underto
scientifically valid safety assessments.

The natural does not automatically mean safe. This premise proves the
point made by Richard Horton that "What matters is what people believe
about (these) risks and why the hold those beliefs".5

1 Betarbet R, Sherer TB, MacKenzie G, et al. Chronic systemic pesticide
exposure reproduces features of Parkinson's disease. Nat Neurosci 2000; 3:
1301. 2 Giasson BI, Lee VMY. A new link between pesticides and Parkinson's
disease. Nat Neurosci 2000; 3: 1227. 3 Ewen SW, Pusztai A. Effect of diets
containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis
lectin on rat small intestine. Lancet 1999; 354: 1353-54. [Text] 4 Anon.
Hot potato. Lancet 1999; 354: (talking point). 5 Horton R. Genetically
modified foods: "absurd" concern or welcome dialogue? Lancet 1999; 354:
1314-45.

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India signs Cartegena Protocol on Bio-safety

South Nexus - January 25, 2001 http://www.agbios.com/

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 25: India has signed the Cartegena Protocol on
Bio-safety which aims at ensuring an adequate level of protection in
transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms, particularly
during their trans-boundary movement. The protocol was signed by India's
Ambassador to the United Nations Kamalesh Sharma at a brief ceremony.
Sharma hailed the doctrine as an important step forward in the
implementation of the Convention on biological diversity.

The protocol, which is a part of the Convention, was adopted at Montreal
on January 29 last year at a Conference of the signatories to the
Convention. The Protocol incorporates the use of precautionary principle,
the application of the advance informed agreement procedure for import of
the organisms, risk management and management, cooperation in preventive
and emergency measures, capacity building and exchange of scientific,
technical, environmental and legal information regarding the organisms
through a clearing house mechanism.
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From the CNN Message Board on Genetically Modified Food (under section
Food): http://community.cnn.com/

Theresa J. Klein - Thursday, 01/25/01, 9:13:03pm (#1955 of 1964)

(Theresa Klein is a systems engineer at Boeing, and I was impressed with
her understanding of broader issues in agriculture and biotechnology. She
has been active in educating the readers of this CNN message board on
biotechnology issues, as you can see from her latest message below where
she adresses some of the concerns expressed in previous
postings....Prakash)

It seems the forces of ignorance, and their allies, fear and superstition,
are never far away.

Lucille Lemos argues population growth is the problem, and the solution
to feeding the worlds people is not to grow more food but to limit
population growth. Says Ms. Lemos: "There is nothing wrong with nature's
way of doing things, hunger is the result of population greater than
nature can support, and starvation the result." But how do we know how
much population "nature" can support, and is that even a fixed quantity?
If nature can support ten times as many people with the help of
bioengineering, then no starvation will result. Her argument rests on the
fatally weak assumption that improving the food supply through technology
is an unsustainable practice. There is no evidence that this is the case.
Humans have been modifying the food supply through various technological
methods for millennia. Whether those methods involve gene splicing or not
is irrelevant to the fact that modern crop plants are radically different
from their wild ancestors, and that these radical differences have not
resulted in rampant ecological imbalance. Certainly, increasing the
supply of food is not the only answer to the world's problems, but it can
help. The sources of population growth are hardly limited to the
availability of more food. The leading industrialized countries have the
largest available food supply, and yet the lowest population growth. This
is not a coincidence. In poorer countries, your economic standard of
living is partially determined by how large your family is. More children
means more helping hands, and a large family provides greater economic
security, even if each individual is less well off. By contrast, in
Industrialized countries, families have fewer children and focus on
educating them better so that they can obtain a higher paying salary.
Mortality rates are lower, so the risk of investing time and resources in
the education of one child is much lower. The world's poorest countries
need to grow their economies into prosperity before they can reduce
population growth. That strategy entails first establishing a secure food
supply so that resources can be devoted to economic and technological
development, rather than basic survival needs.

Nick Frank makes the familiar argument that a vegetarian diet would
require less land than an animal based diet, but then jumps to the
illogical conclusion that this somehow detracts from the desirability of
biotechnology. Leaving aside for the moment the question whether it is
realistic to demand the elimination of animals from everyone's diet, the
fact is that biotechnology also allows more food to be grown on less land,
so the optimal solution (from the perspective of land use) would be to eat
a purely bioengineered vegetarian diet, not an organic vegetarian diet.
However, Mr. Frank's argument is also heavily laced with implicit and
explicit spiritual and moral assumptions, so it is probably unreasonable
to demand a strictly logical argument from him. As I have often argued in
the past, the opposition to genetically modified foods is based largely on
spiritual or religious beliefs about the immorality of things 'unnatural'.
Aside from that, probably the only way to eliminate animals from the human
diet would be through the use of governmental force against those who wish
to raise and eat animals, and don't think most of us want to live under a
regime that dictates our eating habits.

Kristof and Stacia Nordin dredge up some of the usual arguments against
"green revolution" technology, some of which may have merit, but then try
to extrapolate from their arguments that "green revolution" technology is
bad, to the conclusion that therefore biotechnology must be bad too. They
also make some assertions about "green revolution" farming practices that
are not backed up by evidence or sound logic. For example, the Nordins
assert "What many countries have found in this short period of time, is
that the Green Revolution has actually done more to foster the problems of
hunger and malnutrition than it has to end it.", without providing an
example of such a country, or the numbers to accompany such an example
(population figures, crop yield figures, malnutrition rates). Secondly,
they make the obviously irrational assertion that "Traditional methods of
agriculture that used to rely on nature to provide everything that people
needed--free of charge--have suddenly become an expensive and labor
intensive endeavor." If traditional methods that rely on Nature used to be
free, why on Earth would they suddenly be expensive and labor-intensive?
If any method of agricultural production is labor intensive, it is, by
far, traditional organic agriculture, and no one is stopping those farmers
from returning to "traditional" agriculture.

Kristof and Stacia Nordin dredge up some of the usual arguments against
"green revolution" technology, some of which may have merit, but then try
to extrapolate from their arguments that "green revolution" technology is
bad, to the conclusion that therefore biotechnology must be bad too. They
also make some assertions about "green revolution" farming practices that
are not backed up by evidence or sound logic. For example, the Nordins
assert "What many countries have found in this short period of time, is
that the Green Revolution has actually done more to foster the problems of
hunger and malnutrition than it has to end it.", without providing an
example of such a country, or the numbers to accompany such an example
(population figures, crop yield figures, malnutrition rates). Secondly,
they make the obviously irrational assertion that "Traditional methods of
agriculture that used to rely on nature to provide everything that people
needed--free of charge--have suddenly become an expensive and labor
intensive endeavor." If traditional methods that rely on Nature used to be
free, why on Earth would they suddenly be expensive and labor-intensive?
If any method of agricultural production is labor intensive, it is, by
far, traditional organic agriculture, and no one is stopping those farmers
from returning to "traditional" agriculture. Also, the argument is made on
the basis of the economic well-being of the farmer, ignoring the economic
well being of the millions of people in the cities who rely on the high
yields supplied by those farmers at a low price to feed them. If there was
less food being produced, prices would be higher and farmers would indeed
be better off, but everyone else would be worse off. The Nordins also
argue that there are local crop plant varieties that could be grown to
provide for the rest of a persons nutritional requirements, rather than
growing a few large cash crops. What this argument leaves out is the fact
that growing those other varieties would require more land area to provide
all the people with food. Land that is simply not available. You could
convert some land to growing these other crops, but it would reduce the
overall food supply. A similar argument has been made in India, that by
growing "green leafy vegetables", Indian farmers could supply the
beta-carotene now being engineered into golden rice, leaving out the fact
that the millions of people living in the midst of Calcutta do not have
the space to grow green leafy vegetables. Why plant two fields, one
producing rice, the other producing greens, when you can plant both with
golden rice, and trade the extra rice for other foods? The second choice
would produce an even better diet than the first choice.

Finally, the Nordins rely on the spiritual assumption that the use of
biotechnology 'isolates' us from nature, and that anything 'isolated' from
nature is inherently unsustainable. From an objective perspective,
however, there is no reason why bioengineered crops cannot be sustainable.
Genetic engineering can be used to produce crop plants that are resistant
to pests and diseases, require fewer chemicals, have higher nutritional
value, or are resistant to droughts and frost, none of which are
incompatible with 'sustainability'. 'Sustainable' and 'Natural' are not
synonymous words. We have been doing 'unnatural' things to our food supply
for millennia, and none of them have proven to be 'unsustainable'.

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From: "Bob Orskov"

Dear Colleagues, I sometimes feel this debate is being dominated by
aggressive GM proponents sometimes blended with arrogance and ignorance!!
I have no problem with GM research some statements made are really
upsetting in case somebody believes it. One gets the feeling that if
enough dollars are thrown at it it will be taken up. The aggressiveness is
clearly shown by insults thrown at Arpad Puztai.." Europeans need more
education so that they can at last understand that GM food is good for
them" The flip side to this of course is that the US consumers are rather
gullible!!

For people with a choice perception or wholesomenes of food is extremely
important. The large reduction in beef consumption in Germany due a very
small risk of CJD is a case in point. Adults do not require meat or milk
so both meat and milk consumption could be decimated overnight if the
consumer suspected GM or hormone contamination for which they had no
confidence.

"Two billion people are suffering from Vit A deficiency so the golden rice
must be used ". What statistics! what lies! GM food is necessary to
prevent world hunger. " What lies!. I said in my previous letter that
Vietnam with about the smallest amount of arable land per inhabitant is
now the second largest exporter of rice. They learned from the pressure of
war and sanctions to make better use of biomass even though some poor
villages are still suffering from aftereffect of Agent Orange sprayed on
them in the name of human rights. They are still wasting large amounts of
biomass and the ministry believe they could increase population from 70 to
100 million without depending on imported food. We could double our world
population without help from GM by making much better use of biomass which
would also reduce pollution problems. China feeds 22% of the worlds
population from 7% of the arable land. At the moment maize exporting
countries are trying to convince them that cattle and even buffaloes have
a requirement for grain.! It will reduce methane production per unit of
product. However feeding surplus grain to pigs and poultry produce no
methane at all!!

Organic food also has to be considered with a degree of common sense. It
is no doubt easier to sell to consumers than intensive produced products.
The push of GM and hormones have no doubt boosted sales of organic food .
The consumers perception is what is important if he has a choice. Perhaps
organic farmers ought to pay GM companies to push even more!!!. There
comes a stage at which the push has the opposite effect and almost lead to
sensation of bad taste. But advocates of organic food also need to
remember that if we all turned organic we would have to be much more
careful in sewage disposal and indeed disposal of dead bodies. We cannot
take NPK from soils in the long run without depleting them. Food exporting
countries would have to get all the manure and the urine back to replete
the soils and countries in nutrient balance have to take much more care.
somebody will have to be inorganic so as not to deplete our soils.

"We can feed many more if we all were vegetarians" No doubt, but there are
vast areas of the world which can only be converted to human food with
help of herbivorous. Come with me to Outer Mongolia and proclaim to be a
vegetarian. maybe not for long!!

Let us be honest and sensible. My advice to GM enthusiasts would be if you
want an impact then push less and be more sure of your ground. At the
moment you put people off since they can choose. There are many options
with which to increase food supply some countries have shown the way. We
may have to pay more attention to resource efficiency and less to labour
efficiency as the two are generally negatively correlated. Let us in this
debate forget the need of greedy shareholders and think more about real
poverty alleviation.

Your sincerely
Bob Orskov
Aberdeen

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From: Craig Sams

Gosh! Talk about incest in the biotech support world! Andura Smetacek has
come up with a long list of food poisoning cases from the "NoMoreScares"
website in response to my plea for the abandonment of Dennis Avery's
unsustainable claim that you are more likely to die from eating organic
food because of the E.coli O157:H7 content. So who does she quote to rebut
me? Alex Avery! The same person who has already admitted that his facts
were incorrect.

I have repeatedly said that there is no known case of E.coli O157:H7
arising from certified organic food and nobody seems able to refute this,
because they can't. I'm not saying that there won't ever be such a case,
just that this particular falsehood is a smear that should be abandoned by
anyone who claims that 'science' should prevail in this discussion.

Andura quotes (from Alex Avery):

May 2000: Tesco Markets (UK) organic mushrooms contaminated with E-coli
(product recalled)
FACT: These were not organic mushrooms and the E.coli was not the virulent
O157:H7 variety. The Daily Mail headline was inconsistent with the content
of the article and the story was buried, with embarassment, the next day.

May 1999: Organic Valley vegetable soup (UK) botulism spores found in cans
(product recalled)
FACT: This was bad canning practice and had nothing to do with E.coli.

November 1996: Odwalla organic juices E coli contamination (49 illnesses
reported and one child death, product recalled)
FACT: This was most definitely not organic juice. There is no organic
taboo against pasteurisation, and this company was not an organic
processor.

Thousands of people die every year from food borne pathogens. Records show
that the level of incidence has increased considerably in the past decade.
There is no way that this can be statistically linked to organic food.
However, the meat industry has taken steps to rectify matters and Sweden's
elimination of salmonella shows that good hygienic practices are
effective. It is very counterproductive to continue to try to argue that
somehow organic food is more dangerous than conventional food, especially
as so many organic regulations are specifically structured to ensure good
health in food animals.

Andrew Apel writes to me on subsidies: "Craig, I seldom dabble in vitriol,
but your diatribe has veered sharply from bare sense into deep nonsense (I
here refrain from using the more obvious metaphor)" I presume you mean
bull****, Andrew. Thanks for holding back the vitriol.

I am an amateur scientist, but have a degree in economics, which means
little, except that I do understand about supply and demand. I am
delighted that Alex Avery agrees with me on this issue. Perhaps you should
refer to the Hudson Institute for further guidance, but here's my argument
in a nutshell: Subsidies enable US and EU commodities and animal products
to be sold globally at prices that are well below the true cost of
production. This makes unsubsidised farmers in other countries
uncompetitive, so they either go out of business or are much poorer than
they would otherwise be. The free enterprise way to alleviate their
poverty would be to force inefficient US and EU producers to stand on
their own feet and stop sucking at the taxpayers' teat to the tune of well
over $130 billion per year. Then a global market would reveal who are the
truly efficient producers. We'll never know as long as taxpayers massively
bail out so-called 'production agriculture.' If the subsidies were
dropped, food prices would rise and marginal land would go out of
production.

But in a perfect world, (or theoretically, under a Bush administration)
taxes would fall correspondingly, people would have more money to spend on
food, and the American economy would save money in 2 ways:

1. The administrative costs of running a subsidy system weigh heavily on
government and on farmers 2. Subsidising food for export makes food
cheaper in the countries supplied, but why should American taxpayers make
food cheaper in, say, Egypt for no good reason?

. But the rest of the world could lead a normal existence, without having
to compete with unrealistically priced commodities. That's bad, and Alex
Avery agrees with me.

What's worse is that the inefficient and uncompetitive agricultural system
that prevails in the US and the EU is now dependent on genetic engineering
to overcome its inherent failings, and wants to export GM crops and
technology. Let's have a little capitalism and free market economics.

Clean out the Augean stables at home before attacking countries that don't
want Starlink corn and stop making up fairy stories about E.coli in
organic food.

One further point, (if Prakash will allow): There have been some
criticisms of the cost of segregation. Segregation of GM from non GM crops
should not be resisted as if GM expands as planned, it will become
absolutely essential. If the system can't segregate Starlink corn, what's
going to happen when polypropylene soybeans and penicillin corn and
biofuel cornstalks are coming off the fields in Iowa?

Craig Sams
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Labeling costs concern Canadian farmers

According to a December KPMG Consulting report, mandatory labeling of
biotech foods could increase production costs and food prices by as much
as 10 percent. In a Jan. 18 article published in Western Producer, Bob
Friesen, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), states
that he believes most of the cost increase will be borne by farmers. While
the report assumes the cost increase will affect consumers the most,
Friesen says that the report outlines the, "numerous, onerous and costly,"
procedures involved in the segregation of biotech crops from
conventionally grown crops at the production level.

For the full article, visit:
http://www.producer.com/articles/20010118/news/20010118news23.html

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From: ngin

Dear Prakash

I was interested by your comment in response to Bob MacGregor, "Further,
genomic advances may make much of the current foreign gene transfers
unnecessary in the future." Do you mean marker assisted conventional
breeding informed by genomic advances, or something else?

Jonathan Matthews
----------
Reply from Prakash:

Dear Jonathan:

Thanks for your email. I did not elaborate but this certainly includes
marker-assisted breeding but beyond that genomics would help us to tinker
with endogenous plant genes to make desired changes in many traits such as
enhancing the nutritional content by up-regulating certain enzymes or to
turn off undesirable genes such as toxins. Rice already has pro-vitamin A
genes but are not expressed in the kernel. Perhaps, some time in the
future we can develop a super golden rice without the daffodil genes. As
it is already happening, we can find practically any gene within a plant
if only we had enough knowledge about them to look for it. So, critics who
fear that we would introduce an animal gene (say for cold tolerance from
the arctic trout) into plants may find solace that future research would
identify many such genes easily within plants and perhaps even within the
specific crop (See articles on cold tolerance research by Dr. Thomashow
that I wrote about in ISB News Report http://www.isb.vt.edu). In the
September 1999 issue of this newsreport, I have written about research on
'Fixing Plant's Own Genes' where one could do native gene surgery on
plants using 'chimeraplasty' without introducing foreign Toronto
scientists used the power of genomics to pick a powerful gene for salt
tolerance in plants based on knowledge of yeast genome.

There would still be transfer of foreign genes (like Bt) in the future but
so what? We need to keep all our options open and examine every possible
solution.

Yours,

Prakash
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From: Andrew Apel Subject: Robots

Colleagues,

There is something you should know about web surveys... software "robots"
are quite often deployed against these websites to make repeated votes,
some are even cleverly designed to randomly generate varying return email
addresses of the supposed sender/s, so that it falsely appears as the
votes of numerous individuals. And another thing. The anti-biotech
contingent has a critical investment in creating the false appearance of a
"consumer groundswell of opinion," so you can be assured of who's sending
out the robots. Many webmasters/mistresses who conduct such web surveys
work hard to filter out robot voting, but it's a tech war. Meanwhile, such
surveys aren't worth the virtual paper, unless, of course, folks start
giving them credibility.

>From: Susan Smith >Subject: Vote for biotech! >
Attention: CNN.com is running a Quickvote on its Web site
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http://scope.educ.washington.edu/mailman/listinfo/gmf-news

United Kingdom: National Farmers Union (NFU) expressed grave reservations
about the latest moves by some of the major supermarkets to sell meat and
animal products from animals reared on non-GM animal feed.

http://just-food.com/news_detail.asp?art=23108&dm=yes

The move - which the NFU believes is not based on any scientific evidence
- threatens to put a major cost burden on already hard-pressed farmers.
The NFU fears the danger of disruption to British meat supplies is so
great that it has called for Agriculture Minister Nick Brown to
immediately call a food chain meeting to discuss matters and ask retailers
to suspend any proposals. The NFU is conducting a study in conjunction
with Sainsbury's to establish the true costs and sustainability of
securing non-GM animal feed.

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London Meeting on GMOs: Key Issues - Safety, Regulatory and Public
Concerns, Regulatory and Public Concerns
http://www.agchemforum.com March 14 2001, The Barbican, London UK

Chair: Dr Barry Thomas, Head of Public and Governmental Affairs, Aventis,
UK

Human and Environmental health : *Novel traits *Molecular farming Speaker:
Dr Andrew Cockburn, Director, Scientific Affairs, Monsanto Europe, UK
00.00

Regulatory - current status and initiatives Dr Andrew Tommey, Attached
National Expert, DG Environment, European Commission, Brussels Speaker: Dr
Peter Gregory, Director Biotechnology, Novigen Sciences Inc, USA

Global governance - OECD, CODEX, WTO, biosafety protocol Brian Sheridan,
Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly LLP, Brussels

What initiatives are industry taking? Neville Craddock, Group Regulatory
and Env Affairs Manager, Nestle UK (Ltd), UK

Consumer choice Pesticide Action Network (PAN UK) Peter Beaumont,
Development Director, PAN

GMOCARE *An explanation of the European Network on safety assessment of GM
food crops; : Professor Peter Bramley, Head of Biochemistry, School of
Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London and
Representative from GMOCARE

Relevance of biotechnology to the developing world: Agricultural
biotechnology has considerable potential in improving farm productivity in
the developing countries.: Professor Dr C S Prakash, Tuskegee University,
USA

Panel discussion
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Organic Farming vs. The Environment

By Dennis Avery; Wall Street Journal Europe January 24, 2001

Germany has a new minister of agriculture, Green Party stalwart Renate
Kuenast. A former prison social worker and lawyer, Ms. Kuenast is
reportedly "a strident environmentalist with no time for traditional forms
of intensive agriculture." She says she wants to see "farming return to
nature." Italy, too, has a Green heading its agriculture department, while
the British minister of agriculture is listening intently at organic
farming meetings. And with mad-cow disease raising questions about the
merits of "industrialized" farming techniques, the organic moment seems
finally to have arrived.

All of which raises a question. Contrary to widespread belief, organic
farming is not cost free. Organic foods cost more, they are more difficult
to cultivate, they are usually of lower quality and they come with their
own set of environmental problems. So what sort of price are Europeans
willing to pay to "return to nature"?

Currently, Europeans are merely playing at being organic. Between 2% and
3% of Western Europe's cropland is being farmed organically, mostly to
supply upscale young urbanites. But that may change. The environmental
movement claims organic farming is the only way to feed the world
sustainably. Organic food sales are expanding more rapidly than any other
segment of the European food market. Regulators, sensitive to public
opinion, are now looking for excuses to ban politically incorrect
pesticides, chemical fertilizers, confinement livestock feeding and
antibiotics from the farms.

Yields per Acre

But is this wise? Study after study has found that organic farmers get
lower yields per acre. Alistair Leake, research director for one of the
largest organic-farming operations in Europe, says the yields from organic
farms are "generally much lower." His Cooperative Wholesale Association,
which farms 32,000 hectares of land in Britain, gets 44% less wheat per
acre from its organically farmed fields than from its conventionally
farmed ones.

The lower yields are partly a result of the fact that organically
permitted pesticides, such as sulfur and copper sulfate, are less
effective in warding off weeds, insects, diseases and fungi. Mr. Leake
says weeds are a particular problem, sometimes forcing whole fields of
organic grain to be plowed down to keep them from contaminating the next
year's crop with an intolerable number of weed seeds. Yet the plowdown
does not incur financial penalties since the European Union's Common
Agricultural Policy compensates farmers for "failed crops."

The biggest yield problem for organic farmers, however, is that they
refuse to replenish the nitrogen in their soils with chemical nitrogen
(which is taken from the air). Instead, they produce their nitrogen by
using extra land for green manure crops or fallow. That's why the average
European organic farm may be "wasting" about one-third of its cropland at
any given time. That land is producing organic nitrogen instead of food.
Yet, as far as plants are concerned, there is absolutely no difference
whatever between chemical and "organic" nitrogen.

Yield problems lead to other complications. Some 90 million hectares of
land are currently farmed in the EU today. If all its fields produced 44%
less foood, it would take another 40 million hectares to produce the EU's
current farm output. True, the EU currently runs a (heavily subsidized)
farm surplus, reportedly equal to about 20% of its farm production. But a
move to all-organic cropland would do more than erase the surplus: It
would create a food deficit that could only be rectified by putting an
additional 22 million hectares under plow.

Where would that land come from? Europe's good-quality land has been
farmed for centuries. What's left is unfarmed for a reason: too steep, too
wet, too dry, too acid, or too cold. Much of it is actually mountain,
swamp, tundra, or semi-desert. At best, big chunks of "new" farmland in
Western Europe could produce 75% as much as the land already in
production, requiring an additional 6 million hectares to compensate for
the lower yields.

Then there are the forests. EU countries have about 105 million hectares
of forest, but nearly half is in northern Sweden and Finland, with too
short a growing season. Much of Spain's forest land is too dry for crops.
Ireland's may be too wet. Farming the 10 million hectares of mountainous
forests in Greece and Italy would mean massive soil erosion and not much
added food production.

The most likely forests for clearing would seem to be in France (10
million hectares), Germany, (10 million hectares), Denmark (2.5 million
hectares) and Great Britain (2.3 million hectares). Yet even in those
temperate, well-watered countries, however, much of the forestland is too
rough to farm under any conceivable circumstances. A mandate for low-yield
organic farming would put enormous pressure on all of Europe's wildlands.

An Organic Mandate

Of course, Europe could always import its food from other countries. But
while Europe can import food, the planet can't. The world is in the midst
of its biggest-ever surge in demand for resource-costly meat and milk,
primarily due to rising incomes in the Third World. China alone doubled
its meat consumption in the last 10 years. If the world had to operate
under an organic mandate such as the one Ms. Kuenast seems to want we'd
have to put another 15 to 26 million square kilometers of additional land
under cultivation. By 2050, when world population is expected to reach
nine billion, the world will need three times its current food harvest.
Under an all-organic regime, farmers would have to plow virtually every
bit of available land to get it.

So what's the solution? Biotech. To take just one example, a new
genetically engineered rice variety from Washington State University
contains a corn gene for higher photosynthesis and thus produces 35% more
rice per hectare. Were Europe to embrace biotech, it would mean
substantial amounts of additional habitat for Europe's wildlife. (CAP,
with its artificial incentives to put additional land under cultivation,
would have to be scrapped.) Genetically modified crops and livestock might
allow us to feed everybody in 2050 from the land we already farm.
Environmentalists and Greens ought to consider these points carefully
before they put agriculture in an organic straightjacket.

-- From The Wall Street Journal Europe