1.Africa in the middle of U.S.-European biotech trade war
2.Green Revolution feeds the world, but not Africa
3.Biotech cotton won't ease hunger but may ease poverty
GM WATCH COMMENT: Here's the latest PR deluge from Monsanto's home town paper.
The most telling line comes in the opening line of the first article - "The story is the stuff of legend."
It certainly is!
For what really happened in Zambia see 'Fake Blood on the Maize'.
Or 'Force-feeding the world'.
1.Africa in the middle of U.S.-European biotech trade war
By Eric Hand ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 12/12/2006 http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/sciencemedicine/story/EE16D98F199FB9108625724200080DF7?OpenDocument
The story is the stuff of legend.
Drought leads to famine across southern Africa. The U.S. ships aid across the Atlantic: millions of tons of corn, some of it genetically modified.
European environmental groups warn about the dire effects of allowing the corn in. The Zambian president calls the corn "poison." Food is locked in warehouses while people go hungry.
Four years ago, these events were a prism through which both sides of the biotech debate saw their worldview refracted. Supporters said: Here is the human cost of European irrationality and the missed opportunities of biotech. Skeptics said: Here is a deliberate provocation by the U.S., which could buy grain in Africa but instead works to secure a foothold to market its own biotech products.
The biotech conflict between Europe and the U.S. is a trade war that's being fought by proxy in Africa in a way that recalls an African proverb: When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled.
"It's not about science, really. It's about trade," says Wisdom Changadaya, a pro-biotech scientist in
Malawi, which today mills donated biotech corn into flour to prevent it from being planted as seed. "These big nations are fighting. We happen to lose."
Scientists at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur say the suspicions aroused by the trade war have hampered their efforts to field-test a biotech cassava, one of the most important food crops in Africa. Seven years ago, they genetically engineered the cassava to resist a virus that is ravaging the crop. The nonprofit biotech center wants to give the plant away.
But Lawrence Kent, the center's director of international programs, has been unable to get field tests approved. While the cassava virus continues to advance on farmers' fields, the biotech debate continues in government offices. Several African nations have banned biotech, several have embraced it, while many remain on the fence. Last summer, Kent went to Kenya, Uganda and Malawi to push yet again for the technology that could double cassava yields in the virus-affected areas.
"You want to do something with your life before you die," he says. "When I don't see (results) coming, I feel sad and lost. I need someone to sometimes say, 'Keep going. Keep going.'"”°
A 'Trojan horse'
Zachary Makanya wishes Kent and other biotech pushers would stop. He is the country coordinator for an anti-biotech nongovernmental organization near Nairobi that coordinates the efforts of groups throughout Africa. Makanya levels a barrage of criticisms against biotech, but they are political and economic criticisms, not scientific.
He says U.S. food aid is a "Trojan horse" that would put African markets in jeopardy. Crops like corn pollinate via the wind. When genetically modified corn arrives in a new location, genes can flow and mix with existing corn crops. In the eyes of European regulators, African corn exports therefore would be tainted.
"By bringing (genetically modified food) into Africa we are actually killing our only market ”” for organics," he says.
But it's a potential market, not an existing one, so Michael Hall, a U.S. Agency for International Development biotechnology adviser, doesn't buy Makanya's argument. The biotech crops that African nations are worrying about ”” corn, rice ”” are staple cereals for which Africa is a net importer.
"Africa is not going to be a (corn) exporter to Europe," he says. "They're dreaming they will be an Iowa."
But even the presence of biotechnology in a country in Africa has caused some European importers to ask for expensive genetic testing or segregation of crops. "It's a big problem," Hall says. "It scares the daylights out of African traders."
In Malawi, for example, tobacco growers worry about biotech tobacco seeds slipping into the country, for fear its organic European export market would be threatened.
The politics of biotech have influenced trade decisions in other parts of the world. China has grown biotech cotton for a decade. But it does not grow biotech soybeans, even though it imports some for feed. That's because it can export homegrown, nonbiotech soybeans at a premium to Japan and Korea.
In the U.S., Monsanto withdrew a planned commercial release of biotech wheat partly because of industry concerns that Canadian growers would resist growing the biotech wheat and would capture export markets to Europe, which was likely to balk at taking U.S.-grown biotech wheat.
Europe's de facto freeze on biotech imports, though it ended in 2003, has raised African suspicions, Makanya says.
"Europe has more knowledge, education. So why are they refusing (genetically modified foods)? That is the question everybody is asking," he says.
Precaution and risk
The U.S.-European divide on biotech has much to do with competing cultural approaches to food and risk.
Europeans are intimate with their food. They want to know where their wine and cheese hail from. Food safety scandals such as a mad-cow disease outbreak in Britain left consumers shaky. Some risk experts say the scandals spurred European fears of biotech.
The "precautionary principle" now forms the official basis for European Union environmental policy. One definition of the principle is: Lack of knowledge or certainty about a risk means that steps should be taken to limit that risk.
The precautionary principle led Norway to ban Kellogg's Corn Flakes because of the uncertain risk of added vitamins and minerals, while Denmark banned cranberry drinks because of the uncertain risk of extra vitamin C. The bans were later overturned.
In contrast, the U.S. tends to celebrate risk-taking. The burden of regulation is on government agencies to show evidence that a company's product is risky before steps are taken to stop the company.
The U.S. is the No. 1 grower of biotech crops, representing 55 percent of the global biotech area planted last year.
The World Trade Organization ruled this year that the European Union was wrong to ban biotech imports between 1999 and 2003. Since then, a few European nations, including Germany and France, have allowed small test plots to go forward, though it is unclear whether consumers will accept biotech products. Activists last summer continued to burn biotech test fields in France.
Africa is caught in the middle. In the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union pitted African nations against one another and supported like-minded regimes. A similarly checkered map has now emerged with biotech. For example, South Africa grows genetically engineered crops, while Zambia and Benin have banned biotech. Most countries remain undecided.
The debate is occurring in the ministerial hallways of African capitals. In the dry, red fields of southeastern Uganda, biotech still is a mystery.
In Kadimukoli, a loose federation of shade and shacks down a dirt track teeming with pink-frocked schoolchildren, a handful of farmers didn't have an opinion about biotech. They didn't have an opinion because they didn't know what genetically modified crops are. They just knew that their cassava was sick.
One of the farmers, Jane Wattaba, says it has been hard to support her 10 surviving children since her husband, a member of Parliament, was murdered in the early 1980s. Her small cassava grinder is broken, the repair money sacrificed to pay school fees for her children.
Over a lunch of boiled cassava, she says that farmers have weathered the damage caused by the cassava virus by obtaining varieties that show better resistance ”” one is called "Red Cross" after the aid organization that brought it to Kadimukoli. She says she would like to test a cassava called "St. Louis."
Deadlines to meet
When Kent returned from Africa last summer, he was more optimistic that this could happen. In Kenya, field tests of conventional cassava plants have begun. These plants will be compared to biotech cassava in future field tests that Kent said could happen next year. He said Ugandan officials were so enthusiastic that they approached him. Malawi was a bit more skeptical but still interested in the cassava project, he says.
Even if Kent gets permission for field tests, biotech cassava is still years away from farmers' fields.
And deadlines must be met. "Donors put pressure on us. You have to deliver," Kent says.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Monsanto Fund have given the Danforth Center millions of dollars to genetically modify the cassava so that it is virus-resistant, fortified with vitamins and minerals and lacking in cyanide-producing chemicals. The grants are for five years and specify more than 100 mileposts in the coming years, from rounding up intellectual property rights to performing human trials of the zinc and iron fortification.
Kent says a significant milestone will occur early next year, when field tests for the first genetically modified cassava ”” for the reduction of cyanide-producing chemicals ”” begin in Puerto Rico. Danforth Center scientists won't be able to test their virus-resistant cassava in Puerto Rico because the disease doesn't exist there. But Kent hopes that a test of genetically modified cassava on U.S. soil will allay African officials' fears that they are guinea pigs.
Flirtatious governments have disappointed him before, but he doesn't indulge in cynicism. Kent credits his local priest with giving him some newfound perspective.
Before he left for Africa, the priest gave him a poem from Archbishop Oscar Romero, an activist Salvadoran priest assassinated in 1980.
The poem begins: "It helps now and then to step back and take the long view / The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts / It is even beyond our vision
"We plant the seeds that one day will grow / We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise
"It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way."
2.Green Revolution feeds the world, but not Africa
By Eric Hand ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 12/11/2006 http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/special/africa.nsf/0/553276A9D97069BC8625724100238F1B?OpenDocument
Stanford University scientist Paul Ehrlich thought there was no chance to feed humanity.
"Hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now," wrote Ehrlich in his 1968 book "The Population Bomb."
But Norman Borlaug defused the bomb. Borlaug, a plant scientist born nearly a century ago on an Iowa farm, is obscure in the U.S., despite a Nobel Peace Prize. But he is widely known elsewhere as the father of the Green Revolution, which brought modern agriculture to the developing world.
The tools he still promotes - high-yielding seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, pesticides - have pushed food production in nations such as Mexico, India and China to outpace rapid population growth. But not Africa, which for reasons of infrastructure and geography missed out.
While some scientists credit Borlaug with saving millions of lives, if not a billion, some anti-biotechnology groups say he has done social and environmental harm by pushing a mechanized style of agriculture dominated by corporations.
The debate over the legacy of the Green Revolution cuts to the heart of the hunger issue in Africa. Proponents say hunger can be solved with higher yields ”” whether through the Green Revolution's toolbox of fertilizer, hybrid seeds and irrigation, or through the new techniques of biotechnology. Critics say hunger's root cause is poverty, and that modern agriculture, including biotech, will increase dependence on corporate-held technology.
Toward the end of World War II, Borlaug began a high-yield wheat breeding program in Mexico, which was a net wheat importer. Within a decade, Mexico was exporting wheat.
The techniques spread to Asia. Populations did explode, but the food kept up. In India, for example, the population more than doubled between 1961 and 2001. In that time, India almost tripled its grain production from 87 million tons to 231 million tons, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
But the agricultural transformation also was a social one, with small farmers ceding their livelihoods to rich farmers and big corporations, said Eric Holt-Giminez, director of Oakland, Calif.-based Food First, a nonprofit organization that advocates organic farming. The Green Revolution required money for tractors, high-yielding hybrid seeds and pesticides.
"Yes, they gave high yields under optimal conditions. But only to the farmers who could make use," Holt-Giminez said. "The larger farmers immediately displaced the peasant farmers."
This social transformation never occurred in Africa, which today is characterized by organic, small-scale farming and the lowest crop yields in the world - yields that haven't risen in decades.
The Green Revolution never arrived for several reasons. First, Borlaug sought improved seeds for just a few varieties of wheat and rice; Africans farm hundreds of crop varieties. Second, with its drier terrain, Africa isn't as suited to irrigation. Finally, Asian roads in 1960 were better than African roads today; their terrible condition makes seed and fertilizer distribution difficult. Africans use the least amount of fertilizer in the world and pay the most for it.
What Borlaug couldn't get to happen the first time around, donors are attempting again. In September, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $150 million Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.
Some African leaders said they would welcome the social effects of more efficient agriculture. The meager harvests of small farms, they said, are unsustainable.
"Agriculture is a business," said Romano Kiome, a top
Kenyan agricultural minister. "If you are farming for subsistence, just to live and eat, you are as good as a dead man."
Mountains of food
But for Mariam Mayet, of the African Centre for Biosafety, a South African anti-biotechnology group, Green Revolution-style agriculture is unsustainable. "How long can you throw poison on a small piece of land and grow one crop?" she asked.
Mayet uses the term "poison" because the overuse of pesticides can damage human health, and the overapplication of fertilizer can upset the chemistry of rivers and lakes and cause algae blooms that choke off aquatic life.
Borlaug said organic farming is a luxury.
"It's very confusing and very disgusting in the Third World when people come from the affluent nations and tell the Third World political leaders that they can produce the food that's needed for 6.54 billion people with organic fertilizer alone," he said in a speech earlier this year at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur. Put plainly, Borlaug said, there isn't enough manure to go around.
There also was an environmental benefit to the Green Revolution, Borlaug said. Habitat that would otherwise have been farmed was saved.
Between 1961 and 2005, the worldwide area of land farmed for cereals barely increased. But on that same amount of land, farmers more than doubled cereal production from 800 million tons in 1961 to more than 2 billion tons in 2005. If farmers had to use the inefficient methods of 1961 to achieve today's yields, they would need an additional 4 million square miles of farmland ”” a field bigger than the entire U.S.
"You see that agriculture and high-yield technology are not necessarily an enemy of the environment. It can be a blessing," Borlaug said.
Still, producing more food doesn't solve hunger on its own, Holt-Gimenez said. Poverty causes hunger, he said, which is unrelated to how packed a nation's food stores are. He points to nations such as India, which has a third of the world's hungry people even as it exports food.
United Nations studies have shown that the hungry fall into two basic categories: farmers who can't grow enough food, and urban dwellers too poor to buy it.
Robert Horsch, a former Monsanto vice president who now heads the Gates Foundation's agricultural efforts, said Green Revolution-style agriculture can help both groups. Poor farmers can produce more on small plots of land. As yields rise and a "mountain of food" is produced countrywide, prices fall, helping the urban poor.
This seems to be happening in the long term: Food prices, along with hunger and poverty, have declined in the developing world.
That is, everywhere in the developing world except for Africa - the one place where the Green Revolution has not taken root.
3.Biotech cotton won't ease hunger but may ease poverty
By Eric Hand ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 12/12/2006
Mwea, Kenya - The fenced-in field is a checkerboard of cotton.
Healthy and scraggly patches alternate in the red volcanic soil of the field-test site here, 50 miles northeast of Nairobi near the base of Mount Kenya. This pleases Monsanto Africa spokesman Kinyua Mbijjewe very much. That's because the scraggly patches, infested with bollworms, grew from conventional seeds; the tall, healthy plants were genetically modified.
Mbijjewe says farmers, a shrewd bunch, will be concerned less with the biotech controversy and more with the bottom line.
"They don't see any horns or tails on the crops. They see normal plants like they're used to - except they don't have damage," he said. "These trials are the best advertisement there is."
While the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur is trying to give biotech cassava away, Monsanto wants to make as much money as it can from biotech cotton. Kenya is likely to become the third African nation to commercialize a biotech crop.
Biotech cotton won't solve hunger. But Mbijjewe contends that it will raise millions of African farmers out of poverty - especially if U.S. and European cotton subsidies decline and world prices rise.
Mbijjewe, a tall, confident man, has driven to Mwea in his sleek, leather-seated Toyota Land Cruiser, whizzing past carts led by donkeys. For seven years, he has been Monsanto's point person in Africa ”” a lobbyist to a handful of governments and a lightning rod for anti-biotech criticism.
On the way to the field-test site, Mbijjewe picks up Charles Waturu, an entomologist with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, which is applying for regulatory approval on behalf of Monsanto.
The field test, which began at the end of 2005, is surrounded by a 6-foot fence topped with barbed wire. A full-time guard stands at the gate - a deterrent more for monkeys than saboteurs, said Waturu.
Waturu steps on a sponge, soaked in disinfectant to destroy pollen, and crosses a buffer zone to reach the cotton patches. The conventional, untreated cotton plants are covered with bollworms, cotton's primary pest. These plants average fewer than 10 bolls, the nuggets of cotton harvested and sent to gins. The genetically modified cotton plants average three times as many bolls, Waturu said.
Biotech cotton relies on a gene that triggers the plant to make a protein that kills insects when they eat any part of the plant. The protein is nontoxic to humans and is the same as one produced by a soil microbe, Bacillus thuringiensis ”” a natural pesticide used for decades. The cotton is thus called Bt cotton, after the microbe. Farmers recoup the extra costs of the Bt seeds by using less pesticide.
Opposition to Bt cotton is still high among many activist groups. But worldwide, biotech cotton accounts for almost a third of all cotton planted.
Some of the fastest growth in adoption of Bt cotton has come in the developing world, where 97 percent of the world's 20 million cotton growers live.
For example, several years ago, biotech was planted on just a few test sites in India but has since exploded. Last year, it covered more than 3 million acres, or one-seventh of the cotton planted by India, the world's third-biggest producer (after China and the U.S.).
Mbijjewe has high hopes for Africa, where more than 10 million farmers rely on cotton for their livelihoods. Bt cotton is bought and grown commercially only in South Africa. After three years of field trials, Burkina Faso, in the heart of the West African cotton belt, is probably next.
Waturu says more widespread field tests in Kenya probably will be approved this month.