all that's left that's fit to print
AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
Henry Miller asserts that EPA has no business regulating genetically engineered herbicide resistant rice. It is unclear what regulatory process he is referring to, but this issue needs some clarification. While EPA did regulate genetically engineered herbicide resistant plants in the first couple of instances, it generally no longer does so, since the plants themselves do not produce a pesticidal trait. The latter property is the regulatory hook used by EPA for genetically engineered plants.
However, EPA still regulates the herbicide applied to those plants, as with any other crop, and has had this jurisdiction under FIFRA for decades. As with any proposed new or increased use of a pesticide, it is clearly EPA's responsibility to determine that this use will not cause the tolerance set for that pesticide to be exceeded (the tolerance is an amount of the pesticide that can be safely consumed, as determined by toxicity testing). There may also be environmental impacts due to a new or increased use of a pesticide that should be considered.
On the other hand, maybe Henry wants us to abandon this aspect of pesticide regulation also!
Broad Training And A Broad Mind Are Needed For The Future
John Vidal The Guardian 22-May-2001
Floods. Foot and mouth. Global warming. BSE. Pollution. GM foods. Soil degradation. If you want to be in at the sharp end of scientific and social debate in the next 10 years then agriculture and environment are bound to be among the hottest subjects.
In a rapidly changing world which will force us all to adapt to new societal and ecological pressures, these are some of the issues that are most going to affect how we live and how we view the world. It seems extraordinary, but just 30 years ago, neither subject was taken very seriously, even at university. The "environment" mostly came under the old broad subject area of physical geography. Man's place in, and impact on it was seen in a new light as the first images of earth were beamed down from space right at the death of the industrial revolution, and as books like Silent Spring were published.
Until then, the forces affecting climate or health, the oceans and landscapes were little understood. They still are, but we now know enough to respect nature more and to appreciate there are limits beyond which we should not go. Equally, agriculture in Britain was taken for granted. Mostly, it just happened as it always had: production was all; income was mostly guaranteed; cheap food was needed and there was an orthodox way of teaching and practising how to produce it. It seemed that beyond scaling up and learning to use chemicals and accountants more efficiently, nothing could, or needed, to change.
Both vast areas are now in flux and neither scientists nor farmers are the guaranteed heroes and harbingers of a better future that they once were. Too many mistakes have been made and trust lost, and, it needs to be said, neither group has responded fully to the new agendas being set by the public. There is widespread disgust at the way some food has been produced.
Equally, scientists have been called to account for going too far, too fast. What used to be two of the most unchanging things in the world - food and life itself - are now seen to be changing fast. In the environmental field, there is great ongoing scientific and political debate as we learn more about the effects of global warming, man-made pollutants and habitat loss.
And as the gene revolution unfolds, we find the whole relationship between mankind and nature changing. Farmers and scientists are having to learn fast, and unless they take the public with them, and learn to address social and political issues, technological advances will be rejected and they will be called to account. The future is ever more uncertain. Agriculture on a small island in a globalised economy may be unrecognisable in just a few years. Quality of life, conservation and former "alternatives" like organic farming are now serious issues for potential new-century farmers.
Food production may play only a small part in the way the land is used. Future farmers may have to learn to farm water to prevent flooding 100 miles away, or to grow crops for energy or aesthetic reasons. They may be paid to conserve landscapes, maintain communities or provide specifically for local produc tion. They may only survive by combining many farming methods - some traditional, some futuristic.
On the other hand, the future farmer may be an even smaller cog in the giant agribusiness or supermarket machine, with economic survival depending only on the scale of production. Genetic farming may yet flower, opening the chance for crops to be grown for health reasons. The debate is open and fierce and the farmer of the future will need to be more adaptable than ever before.
The new challenge for universities is to reflect the multifarious changes taking place outside and to educate broadly. The most successful have learned that the interdisciplinary approach across the sciences is now essential and increasingly that the social factors must be addressed. The best know that changes are coming thick and fast and are adapting. Worryingly, some are linking themselves ever more closely to companies whose agenda may be narrow. The open mind will be as essential a tool in the next 20 years as the Massey Ferguson or test tube were 20 years ago.
-John Vidal studied English, geography and economics at Birmingham University and is now the Guardian's environment editor.
'Golden Rice' : National Public Radio
- Steve Curwood, host: Living on Earth, NPR Transcript May 19, 2001
Golden Rice is the Vitamin A-enriched and bioengineered grain that comes with a claim that could save millions of lives in poor nations. But some worry that it's the Trojan horse of biotech foods.
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Curwood: Just ahead--the bioengineered rice that promises to save millions of lives.
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Curwood: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Genetically modified food crops are controversial. The European Union only recently lifted a ban on genetically modified foods. The ban had come in response to concerns about health and environmental consequences even though makers of these products say they are safe and needed in a world where one out of five people goes to bed hungry each night. The latest genetically modified food is called Golden Rice. It's a form of the grain that contains genetic material taken from plants, including daffodils and peas. The process adds a form of Vitamin A to the rice and gives it its golden color. Bob Carty covers science and the environment for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and he joins me now. Hi, Bob.
Bob Carty (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation): Hi, Steve. Curwood: So why do this to rice? What need could this satisfy?
Carty: Well, the fundamental goal is to deal with the problem--a global problem--of Vitamin A deficiency. All of us, or most of us, get our Vitamin A, of course, in things like carrots or milk or cod liver oil. Did you ever have cod liver oil when you were a kid?
Curwood: Oh, yes.
Carty: OK. Distasteful--but it's very effective in delivering beta carotene, and beta carotene is what the body then converts into Vitamin A, and you need Vitamin A to survive. If not, it can cause blindness; it can cause death. And around the world, there are millions of kids who don't have enough Vitamin A; between one and two million children die a year from lack of sufficient Vitamin A; another five hundred thousand go blind. So the inventors of this thing called Golden Rice wanted to put beta carotene into a rice that didn't have it before to solve this problem of Vitamin A deficiency.
Curwood: Now who's pushing this genetic modification?
Carty: Well, this is interesting. It's not the private sector in this case. The biotech revolution we've had over the last half dozen years or so has been led by companies like Monsanto, but they've been concerned with putting pesticides into things like potatoes and cotton so they resist the pests themselves; things like making soya and corn resistant to herbicides so herbicides can be used more efficiently. Now this is very fine for the pesticide makers, I suppose, and perhaps for farmers; there's a debate about that. But it certainly doesn't deliver anything to the consumer.
Golden Rice, though, was on a totally different research path. It started about ten years ago, cost about a hundred million dollars, and much of the funding came from the Rockefeller Foundation in the United States. Much of the research was done in public research institutions in Germany and Switzerland. And they did it, of course, not to increase the profits for pesticide companies but to fight Vitamin A deficiency. Because, though, there are patents on a lot of this processing, at the end of the day this publicly financed research is actually owned by a private company, AstraZeneca, who has agreed to provide the eventual Golden Rice product free of royalties.
Curwood: Now the critics of Golden Rice say that this technology is a Trojan horse. Why do they say that, Bob?
Carty: I suppose because it looks so good on the outside and may have a few dangers within, and the suspicion of it being a Trojan horse is because of the way it was presented. In the last couple of months across North America there have been a number of television advertisements using Golden Rice as an illustration that genetically modified foods can be good for you, and not just good for you but good for human kind--good for the poor and the starving of the world. Now remember that this is being presented--these ads are being presented in a certain context, and the context is quite a serious market meltdown for genetically modified foods--you know, the images of protesters outside of supermarkets and people tearing up test plots in Britain and the United States and Canada.
So in that context, these ads appear that are promoted by the Council for Biotechnology Information. It's a representative of the biotech industry. The pictures are quite lovely, Steve. They have mothers with rice bowls feeding their children; they have doctors in lab coats and children happily skipping and running. And what you hear in the Golden Rice commercial by the Council for Biotechnology Information is this message:
*Audio Clip from Council for Biotechnology Information Ad*: Around the world, mothers want to protect and nourish their children. The biotechnology researchers have developed Golden Rice. It will contain beta carotene, a source of Vitamin A. Golden Rice could help prevent blindness and infection in millions of children. From medicine to agriculture, biotechnology is providing solutions for improving lives today and could improve our world tomorrow.
Curwood: Oh, my. Well, if that was a feel-good ad, boy, Bob, I feel great. It sounds like everything is wonderful with Golden Rice.
Carty: Absolutely. And I think there's a very convincing argument here. That is, it takes the moral high ground; this is feeding the poor and the hungry. And if you had some qualms, as many people do, or some doubts about genetically modified foods, surely feeding the poor is a greater good, and people could put those qualms and objections aside.
Curwood: But not everybody seems to like this ad, I take it.
Carty: Not even some of the supporters of this technology. The Rockefeller Foundation itself has tried to distance itself from these ads. They say they're too much hype. And those are the supporters. The critics say there's a number of problems here. One is that this Golden Rice is not going to be available for five or six years. The ad makes it sound like it's available right now and it's out there doing its job helping the poor. But it takes five or six years in field tests and very rigorous science to look and see if this rice will have possible new allergies in it that people will react to, possible toxins that could be dangerous to health. They have to find out whether it's safe for the environment. And above all, people have questions about whether or not this really solves Vitamin A deficiencies. And one of the people with that question is Pat Mooney. He's the executive director of the Rural Advancement Foundation International. Here's his take on Golden Rice.
Pat Mooney (Executive Director, Rural Advancement Foundation International): The argument that Golden Rice of itself will cure, as the industry has said, a half a million people a year--children a year--of blindness, I think, is nonsense, absolute nonsense. And even the inventors themselves, I think, now say that's the case. For kids to actually consume enough rice to meet their Vitamin A deficiency requirements in Southeast Asia, for example, or in Africa, they'd have to be eating about eight or ten pounds of rice a day.
Carty: And that's Pat Mooney, of the Rural Advancement Foundation International.
Curwood: How do the inventors of Golden Rice respond to his math, that this is not enough to fix the problem?
Carty: Basically they say give it a chance. They point out that yes, the first-invented Golden Rice is very low in levels of beta carotene, but it'll improve over the years. And this rice does not have to meet, they would argue, all of the Vitamin A needs of children a hundred percent; it would only have to meet maybe twenty-five percent or fifty percent that is deficient. So give the technology a chance, they would argue. And one of the inventors is particularly quite forceful in arguing back. He's Ingo Potrykus, and he lives in Switzerland, and apparently he experienced some hunger and malnutrition right after the Second World War, Steve, and so he has a very personal motivation for working on this vitamin and food problem with genetic engineering. Last fall he was in Des Moines, Iowa, won an International World Food prize (sic) , and on that occasion, he took on his critics, and so here's a bit of Ingo Potrykus.
Ingo Potrykus (Inventor of Golden Rice): We are really acting criminal, because we have here a technology which has the potential to help many, many poor people, to prevent deaths and blindness. Every delay of the exportation of this technology leads to unnecessary blindness of millions of children and to unnecessary deaths of mothers.
Carty: And that's Ingo Potrykus, one of the inventors of Golden Rice. Curwood: Boy, he sounds quite sincere.
Carty: Yeah, and people who've met him say he really is. He's quite committed to this technology and to what it can do for poor people. On the other hand, development experts also say he's quite naive. They point out a number of things. One is that the world currently produces enough food for everybody on it. It just is terribly maldistributed, and there's a lot of economic injustice. They also point out another fundamental problem, and that is that people who lack enough Vitamin A in their diet are also likely to lack the fats and the proteins in their bodies that actually are necessary to extract from the beta carotene the Vitamin A.
Curwood: Well, what are the less controversial ways to provide Vitamin A to poor people that these critics suggest?
Carty: Well, there as simple as a half a teaspoon of red palm oil a day, much like the cod liver oil that you and I had when we were young. In the tropics, this could be a very, very easy and simple and accessible solution. Pat Mooney of the Rural Advancement Foundation International also argues that there are simple and traditional alternatives available in many cases. Here's Pat Mooney.
Mooney: In India, for example, there are literally hundreds of food plants throughout India that have an abundance of Vitamin A in them. They historically have been used by people to meet their Vitamin A requirements. They've been pushed out of the marketplace by the Western approach to food and the heavy emphasis on cereal consumption in these regions. Frankly, it would probably be much cheaper, definitely safer and much better for the environment to reintroduce those plants that are already there that are naturally in the environment, to have them back in the marketplace.
Curwood: So where do things stand now?
Carty: Well, Golden Rice samples have been handed over to a third-world research institute, the International Institute for Rice Research in the Philippines, and they're going to do some of the major testing on this. They say it will take five or six years. In the end of the day, I think the questions are about who has the burden of proof here. I think consumers in the North are thinking that the burden of proof still lies with the inventors to show that this is safe. And the perspective in the South that's increasing is that the best solution, as the Philippines Institute says, to Vitamin A deficiency, is really a simple, diverse diet.
Curwood: Bob Carty reports on environmental issues for the CBC. Hey, Bob, thanks for joining us today.
Carty: OK, Steve.