Monsanto advisor punts GM crops for Africa
2.South Africa: GM Sorghum Test Approved
NOTE: Robert Paarlberg's argument (item 1) does acknowledge that "foods derived from genetically engineered seeds don't look any better or taste any better or store any longer or prepare any better; they're not any more nutritious and they're not noticeably cheaper." But he "repeatedly emphasizes that the chief benefit of GM technology for Africa is the production of more food."
The problem with this is that there isn't any convincing evidence that GM crops do, in general, produce more food, let alone that they would in the particular circumstances of Africa. As the 2500-page IAASTD report, based on peer reviewed publications, noted: yield gains in GM crops were "highly variable" and in some cases, "yields declined". That's why the report concluded GM was not essential to meeting the problems of food security.
Paarlberg also calls on policy makers to stop imposing visions of 'organic food purity' on Africa - "a continent that has never had a green revolution." But Africa had an attempted green revolution - it failed. Meanwhile, as the IAASTD report noted innovative IPM/agroecological approaches have proven highly successful in Africa.
The IAASTD report notes that they can deliver effective crop protection and pesticide reduction and yield advantages. In fact, their yield advantages have been particularly strong in the developing world, increasing productivity for poor farmers while enhancing sustainability. The IAASTD report also notes that the community-wide economic, social, health and environmental benefits of these approaches have been widely documented.
After the publication of one study looking at a large number of projects in the developing world, New Scientist commented, "Low-tech 'sustainable agriculture', shunning chemicals in favour of natural pest control and fertiliser, is pushing up crop yields on poor farms across the world, often by 70 per cent or more... The findings will make sobering reading for people convinced that only genetically modified crops can feed the planet's hungry in the 21st century... A new science-based revolution is gaining strength built on real research into what works best on the small farms where a billion or more of the world's hungry live and work... It is time for the major agricultural research centres and their funding agencies to join the revolution."
Paarlberg, however, is unwilling to acknowledge this science based revolution, preferring instead to promote GM's unproven silver bullets. Curious, incidentally, that the Voice of America fails to mention that Paarlberg is "a member of the Biotechnology Advisory Council to the CEO of the Monsanto Company." Perhaps he forgot to tell them.
Paarlberg's also a member of the Emerging Markets Advisory Committee at the United States Department of Agriculture, and a consultant to USAID, the World Bank and the National Intelligence Council (NIC) - the center for midterm and long-term strategic thinking within the United States Intelligence Community.
According to his Wellesley College profile, "Paarlberg has also recently completed major studies of regional policy harmonization toward biotechnology in eastern and southern Africa, for the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) on the politics of accepting biofortified food crops in developing countries, commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation."
This work by Paarlberg - the Monsanto CEO's Advisor - would seem to tie in very neatly with the recent multi-million dollar award by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the (heavily Monsanto-funded) Danforth Center to help it gain regulatory acceptance for GM biofortified food crops.
It should not be forgotten, of course, that Rob Horsch, a senior Monsanto executive, is now part of the Gates Foundation, as is Lawrence Kent of the Danforth Center, which is heavily funded by Monsanto. Both are working for Gates on the funding of projects aimed at the developing world.
The Danforth Center's president, Roger Beachy said of their appointment that it wouldn't hurt to have two people familiar with St. Louis researchers holding the strings to the Gates Foundation's large purse. (Gates Foundation taps a second St. Louisan)
For more on the Danforth Center
For how the Danforth Center is heavily financially dependent on Monsanto:
"Biotech snake oil: a quack cure for hunger", Bill Freese, Multinational Monitor, Vol. 29 No. 2, Sept-Oct 2008, http://www.multinationalmonitor.org/mm2008/092008/freese.html
"Genetic engineering a crop of hyperbole", Doug Gurian-Sherman, San Diego Union Tribune, 18 June 2008, http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20080618/news_lz1e18gurian.html
"Organic farming 'could feed Africa' report", Daniel Howden, The Independent, 22 October 2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/organic-farming-could
"Is ecological agriculture productive?", Lim Li Ching, Third World Network, November 2008, http://www.twnside.org.sg/title2/susagri/susagri064.htm
1.US Academic makes Fiery Argument for Africa to Embrace Biotechnology
By Darren Taylor
Voice of America, 15 January 2009 [shortened]
American academic and author Robert Paarlberg says activists in rich countries are inadvertently denying improved agricultural techniques to millions of poor farmers in Africa. He draws the conclusion in his book, Starved for Science. Only one country on the continent, South Africa, has legalized the planting of genetically modified (GM) food crops. NGOs in the developed world argue that the GM food poses health risks, but Paarlberg says there’s no “scientific evidence” of this. As a result of what he brands a “misinformed” anti-GM movement, he says crops that could eventually allow Africa to feed itself are being kept out of the continent. The second part of a VOA series on informative books focusing on Africa places the spotlight on the academic's provocative text.
[image caption: Robert Paarlberg says Africans are being 'starved' of potentially life-saving agricultural technology]
In Starved for Science, Paarlberg argues that while people in the “overfed” developed nations of Europe and North America have the “luxurious” choice of whether or not to plant and eat genetically engineered food, the crops of smallholder African farmers are destroyed by drought and disease, insect infestations and poor farming techniques, with the result that much of Africa continues to be gripped by malnutrition.
Paarlberg is a professor of political science at Wellesley College, a visiting professor at Harvard University and an expert on genetically modified crops. He’s convinced much suffering will be eased, and even prevented, if Africans are given access to improved technologies and permitted to plant drought and insect resistant GM seeds.
Paarlberg says African governments have been forced to ban GM seeds by “excessive” legislation that controls GM foodstuffs in Europe. Because of that legislation, Africans’ produce must be certified GM-free, or they’re barred from exporting to the big markets in Europe.
Experts estimate that nearly two-thirds of Africans are employed in agriculture, with most languishing in extreme poverty and with little access to modern farming strategies and equipment.
Paarlberg says while agricultural science has been credited with boosting food production in Asia, Africa has yet to experience corresponding good fortune, and he sets out to explain why in Starved for Science.
His argument is summarized by reviewer Jenny Wiggins, writing in Britain’s Financial Times: “”¦ in this timely book, (the author) makes a strong argument: Europeans, who have so much food they do not need the help of science to make more, are pushing their prejudices on Africa, which still relies on foreign aid to feed its people. He calls on global policymakers to renew investment in agricultural science and to stop imposing visions of ‘organic food purity’ on a continent that has never had a green revolution.”
Lobbyists unwittingly prevent agricultural improvement in Africa
The author says over the past 30 years, “cultural elites” in both Europe and North America have come to “actively dislike” agricultural science despite that they themselves have used it to make their farmers more productive and prosperous and thereby to feed themselves adequately.
Now, Paarlberg posits, Europeans and Americans feel they don’t need any more agricultural science of which GM foods are the modern result because they’re afraid of what it might do to their farming sectors.
“They associate agricultural science with farms that are too large and too specialized, farms that use too many chemicals, farms that mistreat animals, farms that enrich only large agri-business companies and farms that give us foods that are seldom palatable, or even healthy.”
Paarlberg acknowledges that these criticisms are “fair” in Europe and North America, and so people there are now advocating a return to small, traditional farms that grow organic produce and not GM crops and treat animals better by allowing them to range freely.
[image caption: The academic says people in the developed world gorge themselves on food....]
In the developed world, where there’s a surplus of food, he comments, consumers and activists can afford to demand organic produce and to ignore the benefits offered by GM crops. In contrast, Paarlberg argues, Africans can no longer afford to ignore the potential of genetic engineering to produce much more food for their continent, where thousands die of hunger every year.
He says governments in rich countries, under pressure from anti-GM activists, are reducing domestic spending on agricultural research and development, with a corresponding reduction in funding for the same in Africa.
Paarlberg’s book presents the view that some international environmental NGOs, while they may be well meaning, are forcing their beliefs on Africa and thereby trapping the continent in a cycle of food shortages.
For example, he says, international movements promoting organic food go to Africa to campaign against the use of nitrogen fertilizer on farms.
“Now African farms currently barely use any nitrogen fertilizer at all, which is why soil nutrient deficits are such a problem in Africa, why yields are not going up, why African farms lose one to three billion dollars a year in crops that they could have produced if they’d been able to fertilize.”
Paarlberg says the activists’ approach of convincing Africans not to fertilize or to plant GM crops is “damaging to the prospects of the poor in Africa,” who, instead of producing a lot of food for the masses, end up growing a little organic food to satisfy the appetites of the elites of the developed world.
He acknowledges also that foods derived from genetically engineered seeds “don’t look any better or taste any better or store any longer or prepare any better; they’re not any more nutritious and they’re not noticeably cheaper.” But Starved for Science repeatedly emphasizes that the chief benefit of GM technology for Africa is the production of more food.
Paarlberg maintains the opposition to GM food in the developed world lies not in potential risks to people who eat it, but rather in the fact that only a tiny minority of people there such as seed companies, farmers and patent holders in the biotech companies who develop the seeds “reap huge direct benefits” from food that isn’t any better than that from naturally-grown crops.
New technologies ‘ideally tailored’ to Africa
But he says “serious problems” arise when European and American perspectives against agricultural biotechnology are exported to Africa “where circumstances are so different, where farmers aren’t four per cent of the population but 70 per cent of the population, and where the direct benefits of agricultural biotechnology wouldn’t go to just a sliver of people who are already prosperous and well fed, but to a majority of the population, desperate to have an improved technology capable of making their labor and farming more productive.”
Paarlberg hits out at anti-GM activists, saying they’ve spread “utterly irresponsible scare stories” about GM organisms to Africans.
“They talk about how this technology might form an anti-retrovirus similar to HIV/AIDS; they talk about cancer risks never ever telling Africans that every single scientific academy in Europe has in writing said that a review of the literature reveals no documented evidence of any new risks to human health or the environment from any of the (GM) products on the market so far.”
He also explains that European governments are especially eager to help African governments adopt “regulatory systems” that “stifle” the planting and production of GM food.
“Following this as a consequence, not a single country in Africa, other than one, the Republic of South Africa, has yet made it legal for African farmers to plant any GM crops. So you ask: Why aren’t African farmers planting GM (organisms)? Because outside of the Republic of South Africa, it’s a criminal activity.”
Paarlberg says it’s of critical importance for Africa to embrace agricultural science and GM technology as soon as possible, to allow it access to new applications of crop biotechnology that are “ideally tailored to the needs of smallholder farmers in Africa crops engineered not to lose as much yield under drought conditions.”
He adds, “Funding lags are now only the first hurdle for getting drought tolerant maize to Africa. Next we have to hope that the research is successful. But then and this is where my worries start to grow we have to hope that when the new drought tolerant maize varieties are ready for use in Africa, in eight or ten years from now, the current regulatory blockage has been lifted. We have to hope that it will be legal for African farmers to actually plant these new seeds.”
In the end, Paarlberg says, his book is best described as a “plea.”
“It’s a plea mostly to the donor community not to continue imposing on Africa’s rural poor the new”¦ hostility to agricultural science that is becoming so prevalent in prosperous countries. This perspective is completely inappropriate to the circumstances of smallholder farmers in Africa. It represents an imposition of the richest of tastes on the poorest of people.”
The professor says GM food isn’t more or less nutritious than any other food; it’s just easier for farmers to grow more of it. And he says this is what Africa needs more than anything else.
GM Sorghum Test Approved
IPS, October 3 2009 http://ipsnews.net/africa/nota.asp?idnews=44112
*Environmentalists fear GM varieties will contaminate Africa's prized sorghum heritage.
JOHANNESBURG - As Africa grapples with the question of food insecurity, biotechnology buffs seem to have an answer: genetically modified crops that could feed a continent vulnerable to famine and food deficits. But environmentalists warn of new dangers.
An appeal board recently overturned opposition from the South African GMO Executive Council to allow testing of a nutritionally enhanced, genetically modified sorghum, known as 'Super Sorghum' in greenhouses in Pretoria.
The application by the Council for Scientific Industrial Research (CSIR) -- and endorsed by South Africa's Minister of Land Affairs and Agriculture -- was successful at the second attempt when the applicant supplied additional information that it would meet biosafety requirements for the laboratory trials.
Genetic modification involves identifying the genetic codes for specific traits in plants or animals and removing or exchanging them to create varieties with desired characteristics. Biosafety refers to the safe transfer, handling, and use of any living modified organism resulting from biotechnology.
The battle between supporters and critics of genetically modified (GM) crops that promise higher yields, better resistance to pests or adaptability to a changing climate is expected to increase in intensity should this trial move from the greenhouse to the fields.
Biotechnologists and scientists are celebrating the decision to license the CSIR to develop 'Super Sorghum' under the "African Biofortified Sorghum" (ABS) project which received a 16.9 million dollar grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The aim of the ABS Project is to "develop sorghum with improved food quality by enriching it for essential amino acids (part of the protein component of the diet), and later by increasing its content in essential vitamins (vitamin A and E)."
"This process proves that South Africa has robust regulation," the CSIR Biosciences Executive Director, Dr. Gatsha Mazithulela, said in a media statement. "We respect the fact that decision-makers have an obligation towards safety and that rigorous investigations are part of the process. Work on the project will now continue in our level 3 biosafety greenhouse."
The pro-GM lobby argues that while sorghum is one of the few crops that grows well in arid parts of Africa, it lacks many essential nutrients and has poor protein digestibility -- qualities that biotechnology will improve. The anti-GM lobby strongly dismisses this, saying African farmers have traditionally been fermenting sorghum to make essential nutrients available to the human digestive system. In addition, farmers have developed their own sorghum varieties, high in lysine, which they grow when needed. They fear that these varieties would be threatened by contamination by GM sorghum.
Mazithulela says the CSIR and its consortium partners support biosafety. They are undertaking additional measures to satisfy regulators and the public that the work conducted is ethical, conforms to the highest safety levels, and is in the interests of the public.
"The consortium has already started investigating some fundamental questions in genetics of sorghum as an additional contribution to knowledge in this area," said Mazithulela. "Scientific progress will be documented for scientific review and the organisation will keep the Minister's advisory panel abreast of developments."
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), which objected to the CSIR's 2006 application, condemns the decision, stating that experimentation with GM sorghum will inevitably result in the contamination of Africa's prized sorghum heritage.
"The risks posed by GM sorghum to wild and weedy relatives cannot be tolerated at all and the granting of this permit is tantamount to a licence to taint Africa's heritage," says researcher and outreach officer of the ACB, Haidee Swanby, adding that, "We objected to the original permit, and the permit was denied by our government. The Industrial Research Council appealed the decision and they won the appeal. So this is the end of the road."
Sorghum is the main food source for more than 100 million farmers in Sub-Saharan African according to the Pantancheru, India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, a research organisation focused on the needs of the poor.
The ACB says the ABS project is being developed for commercial release and the CSIR will be seeking permission for field trials soon.
"It is a done deal," Swanby told IPS, "However this permit is for experimentation in a contained environment. The next permit application will be for open field trials and we will fight that application hard."
Research released this year -- carried out under the auspices of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and accepted by 58 countries, including South Africa -- found that supporting local ecological forms of agriculture and transforming unfair trade policies would be a better strategy towards food security than GMOs.
More than 400 contributors were involved in producing International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology (IAASTD) draft report, drawing on the evidence and assessments of thousands of experts worldwide. The IAASTD was launched as an intergovernmental process, with a multi-stakeholder Bureau, under the co-sponsorship of the FAO, GEF, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, the World Bank and WHO.
Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss, programme officer for GRAIN Africa, an organisation that promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity, says, "It is not for the South African government to decide, on behalf of the rest of Africa, that they may approve an industrial project which will result in the inevitable contamination of Africa's astounding genetic diversity in sorghum. This crop has been developed and cared for by farmers for over 5,000 years."
But according to biotechnologist Wynand van der Walt, modern biotechnology application, especially used in agriculture, food science, bio-processing, and medicine, offers opportunities to ensure food security in Africa. He says the anti-GM activists have failed to bring evidence to bear that GM crops posed a threat to health and the productivity of other crops.
Foods from GM crops, Dr. van de Walt, says have been consumed by over 3 billion people on all continents and there are no substantiated cases of negative impact on human health or the environment. On the contrary, GM crops have ensured substantial reduction in pesticide use (some 290,000 tons) to the benefit of humans and the environment.
"We have high food prices and high food insecurity," van der Walt says. "We cannot wait for long term policy discussions. The urgency is now and all of us have an obligation to go out and communicate and counter the misinformation we face every day about GM crops."