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For further information on the Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and
Agriculture see Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]
Sent: 02 December 2002 11:59
Subject: 67: Re: Are we pursuing the wrong research objectives?
Most of my comments in my earlier messages [nrs. 54 and 55, November 27; message 61, November 28...Moderator] were a bit generalised. I don't doubt the ability of technology, including biotechnology, to eventually find solutions for all the current bottlenecks. Given time, we will also manage to make biotechnology safe and more acceptable, but all this only in the long run. But as the Moderator keeps reminding us, it is not the issue we are to discuss here. If I have understood it properly, one of the issues is: Where do the developing countries put their scarce money for research in agriculture. I believe that for them this is essentially a short-term problem. I am optimistic that the world will find ways to remove poverty and hunger at least by the middle of this century. But the sooner the better.
To come back to Prof Blanchfield (message 65, November 29) comments: Drought can, besides climatic factors over which we have no control as yet, also result from man-made deforestation and due to our meddling with the traditional or natural means of water harvesting, as it has in many parts of the world where precipitation is not a constraint. Salinity, likewise, has also resulted from faulty irrigation practices in several parts of the world. There are other man-made situations for which we look to biotechnology for solutions. Extremes of temperature (not man-made though) may be a problem in a fraction of the total arable land area right now. If, right now, biotechnology can find a way out for agriculture in Sahara or Gobi or Antartica, I have no misgivings whatsoever. In India, at least, vast stretches of otherwise fertile land for agriculture has been left unutilized when some intervention at a simpler level would have reclaimed it. Shouldn't we consider if is practical to have a more judicious re-allocation of funds and technical expertise towards achieving this end? How do we devise a robust and workable strategy for tackling poverty, hunger in the really short-term and keep this insulated from the `fashion' and the big `bad' corporations. The rest is fine with me.
Dr. E.M. Muralidharan
Kerala Forest Research Institute
Peechi 680 653 Thrissur,
Kerala State, India
Email: emmurali (at) kfri.org
Sent: 02 December 2002 12:08
Subject: Message from the Moderator
This conference, the 8th one hosted by the FAO Biotechnology Forum, began over 2 weeks ago and finishes on Wednesday 11 December. There is, therefore, only limited time left and the purpose of this message is to emphasise what themes are (and are not) relevant for posting in the remaining 9 days of the conference.
As we mentioned previously (message 37) there has been a tendency in some messages to focus on whether biotechnology (particularily genetic modification) is appropriate for developing countries. This is NOT the theme of this conference, which is entitled "What should be the role and focus of biotechnology in the agricultural research agendas of developing countries?". In the remaining time of the conference, messages and comments will only be posted that deal directly with this theme. The agricultural biotechnology debate is very large, but this conference deals only with one area within the big debate.
Resources for agricultural research are very limited in developing countries and, as a consequence, their policy makers are faced with a series of very difficult choices. How much importance should they give to biotechnology research, how should they allocate the biotechnology research resources with respect to the different agricultural sectors or to the different kinds of biotechnologies available. How should they prioritise the different kinds of problems (and specifically those affecting poor farmers) that might be addressed by the research? How should developing countries carry out this research - by focusing on their NARS or in collaboration with other countries in their region or with the private sector or the universities in the developed world? These are the kinds of issues that we wished to see raised and discussed throughout the conference. A list of specific questions we wished to see tackled was included in Section 4 of the Background Document and this is repeated below. Please consult this before submitting further messages.
In the last couple of days, messages have been received that do not deal directly with the conference theme. Exceptionally, they will be posted now (messages 68 to 71) but similar messages will not be posted during the remainder of the conference. If people wish to comment on the messages, they may contact the authors directly.Sincerely
Moderator, Conference 8
FAO website http://www.fao.org
Forum website http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.asp
FAO Biotechnology website http://www.fao.org/biotech/index.asp
Sent: 02 December 2002 12:09
Subject: 68: Re: Priority setting in agricultural research // aircrafts
I would like to respond to some remarks made by Dr. Bhatia (message 53, November 27) and Jorge Mayer (message 66, November 29) who both seem to think that genetic engineering (GE) is the best available tool and leads to "improved" seeds.
The question is whether this view is correct. Breeding techniques, especially since the second World War have led to crops that needed an increasing amount of fertilisers and chemical inputs in order to survive. They appeared to be more disease and pest prone. GE is now being promoted as the solution for these pests, whereas, of course, it is the question if it is not another step in a fundamentally wrong direction. Many of the transgenic "events" in the United States have already been withdrawn again because they did not work so well as intended.
Concerning stakeholders views, I would like to point the participants to the declaration this week from consumer leaders from 20 African countries who held a conference on biotechnology in Lusaka, Zambia. The Lusaka declaration can be found on http://www.consumersinternational.org
Wytze de Lange
De Wittenstraat 43-45
1052 AL Amsterdam
wdl (at) xminy.nl
Sent: 02 December 2002 12:09
Subject: 69: Re: Are we pursuing the wrong research objectives
Bob Howe, Independent Organic Inspector, Northeast USA
The contributions in message 66 by Jorge Mayer are, like all the contributions promoting biotech crop research, in assumption that the choices to be made are clear. That political, social and corporate special interests will have no impact on how these choices are made, and that the scientific community will know best. The suggestion that the small farmer will benefit is preposterous. The suggestion that unwanted gene flow will not occur, and that indigenous plants and animals necessary for the cycle of life will feel no effect is even more preposterous.
Prof Ralph Blanchfield (message 65, November 29) refers to biotech as the screw and screwdriver, and traditional breeding and progress in agriculture as the hammer. My impression is that the traditional approach is more likened to knitting needles, and biotech represents a sledge hammer. One does not apply a sledge hammer to a delicate, intricate design. Polarization occurs, often and certainly in this case, because people who try to be open to new technology are dismayed by the promises that the new technologists suggest, when they see the new technologists don the rose colored glasses and deny the factors actually directing their result. The opponents to biotech have been criticized as being too emotional and unrealistic. I suggest that it is the researchers who are thus. The researchers who depend on the flow of money to continue a livelihood, and, who, because of the tremendous excitement a new discovery can bring, are anxious for that next breakthrough, that next high.
Thank goodness for polarization. Polarization suggests that there is no middle ground. Polarization suggests that the research carrying the ball has been unable to show proof that there is any benefit, let alone sufficient even to offset the damage that has occurred and the potential for even more. Polarization suggests that the benefit to the small farmers is not there, and developing countries will not feed their hungry through this research. No public funding should go toward this research. If we give money to this research we are pursuing the wrong objectives.
28 Brodhead Road
West Shokan, NY 12494
earthorganic (at) aol.com
Sent: 02 December 2002 12:10
Subject: 70: GM crops in gene centres
This is from Dr. K. L. Mehra, Former Director, National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, N. Delhi, India and Former Expert FAO/IPGRI (International Plant Genetic Resources Institute), Rome, Italy. I have been assisting the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture for the last ten years. I prepared the initial negotiating draft for a code of conduct on the use of biotechnology as it affects the genetic resources. I modified the draft based on the discussions of different countries. It is still being negotiated.
In the context of the present conference, I have the following comments: Let us start with the assumption that genetically modified (GM) crops are more productive than non-GM crops. Thus, the developing countries would wish to grow the GM crops. There are fears and apprehensions. The exact, critical proofs are lacking in many cases. These fears are multiplied when GM crops and products are for human and animal consumption.
The developing countries can be divided into two groups, viz. one in which the closely related wild taxa of the target-cultivated species also occur. The center of origin of a target crop may lie in the developing country. The GM crops in such a situation would hybridize with the wild species (and also with the local varieties of the target species), if those could cross in nature. This would lead to contamination of local land races/varieties. The GM crop may also cause allergy to the consumers. Thus, if the wild relatives of crops do not occur, like the presence of Old World crops in the New World and vice versa, one could grow the GM crops and if the crop grown is for export purpose, the developing country does not have to worry, except wherein the GM crop could hybridize with the varieties that are grown in the developing countries. There is also a feeling among farmers that the importing countries may not import the GM crop. Like the Zambians fear that European Community may not import the GM maize. They also fear that even the traditional maize varieties coming from GM-growing countries may not be acceptable to Europeans. Mostly the precautionary principle is applied.
There is the fear of the appearance of super weeds. Many developing countries do not have regulatory agencies - even the infra structure to regulate the release and use of GM crops. The writer is preparing a review on the nature and extent of out-crossing that occurs between different crops and their wild relatives. We need to set up proper experiments to answer the question of out-crossing and allergy. In my view what is not permitted in an exporting country should not be exported to another country. The FAO code of conduct when agreed should help this problem, because the Cartagena agreement has many gray areas.
38 Munirka Enclave,
New Delhi-110067, India,
E mail: klmehra (at) hotmail.com
[This theme of GMOs and Gene Flow was covered in the previous Forum conference, entitled "Gene flow from GM to non-GM populations in the crop, forestry, animal and fishery sectors"...Moderator].
Sent: 02 December 2002 12:11
Subject: 71: GM crops and Argentina
My name is Sandra Sharry. I am working at C.E.Pro.Ve, La Plata University, Argentina. I am a biologist, and I am teaching and researching mainly in plant biotechnology. I am a National Coordinator of REDBIO/FAO.
I agree mainly with Swapan Datta [e.g. message 23, November 20...Moderator] on the point that biotechnology research in developing countries should focus on solving technical problems of each country's agriculture, but I would like to talk about Argentina which is a special case.
Argentina is midway between a developing and a developed country. We are a "transgenic country", since 98% of the soybean cultivated in Argentina is transgenic. Most farmers have adopted the new technology, and applied direct sowing, a practice which has several advantages over traditional practices. Direct sowing prevents soil erosion and optimized water utilization, simplified weed and pest control, improving the agronomic practices.
Today, Argentina is in a difficult economic and social situation. Many people are under the line of poverty, even starving. Soybean is playing an important role in nourishing a lot of people in poverty conditions. As an example, the program from AAPRESID, "Solidary soybean" - through it free soybean is been served at several Children School refectories. Many Universities like La Plata, between others, are developing new alimentary products from transgenic soybean.
Jorge Mayer (message 66, November 29) wrote: "It will be very important to accurately identify the special needs of small farmers with respect to germplasm improvement and then to decide which is the best technical path to achieve the desired results. Biotechnology will not always be the answer but it definitely will in some cases." The Argentinian case is a typical example of why transgenic crops could help in some special situation.
On the other hand, I do not believe that transgenic crops contribute to diminish biodiversity. On the contrary, I think that monoculture in general, over native ecosystems, diminishes biodiversity. Today, we blame transgenic crops for everything, but, in fact, bad culture practice is to blame, and the problem is basically economic and social. A lot of factors contribute to this situation: corruption, politics, globalization, population growth, etc.
In the same way, I think, like other participants, that responsible use of new plant biotechnologies could contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally compatible agriculture. Responsible development and use of modified plants are essential to protect the quality of life and the environment for an ever-growing world population.
Lic. Sandra Sharry.
Experimental Center of Vegetative Propagation.
Faculty of Agronomic and Forest Sciences.
La Plata University,
National Coordinator REDBIO/FAO
ssharry (at) netverk.com.ar