The Green Washing of the Green Ideological Agenda: In Defense of Modern Agriculture, Technology and Life
Draft outline that is close to completion - it will be posted on my home page - www.uh.edu/~trdegreg either on Tuesday or Wednesday. I am sufficiently confident in the correctness and my ability to defend what I am going to say that I am putting this out to give critics ample opportunity to do their homework and try to counter my arguments in the discussion period. I would not say it unless I could defend it. There are a few other points that I am working up to be discussed but whar is below should be more than enough for anyone to challenge my presentation should they care to do so. I hope that by giving the information below, any contentious issue will be debated factually in a civilized manner and not with invectives.
LET ME BEGIN AND END WITH THE EXACT SAME WORDS - IN MY 50 YEARS OF RESEARCH, TEACHING, WRITING AND ACTUALLY DOING DEVELOPMENT, I HAVE ALWAYS ARGUED THAT OUR HUMAN ACTIONS ARE CREATING ENVIRONMENTAL AND OTHER PROBLEMS. THIS WAS TRUE WHEN THERE WERE 3 BILLION OF US WHEN I BEGAN, WHEN THERE ARE 6.8 BILLION OF US NOW AND WHEN THERE WILL BE 9 BILLION OF US BY CIRCA 2040. EVERY SOLUTION CREATES ITS OWN PROBLEMS. THESE PROBLEMS ARE MUCH TOO IMPORTANT TO LEAVE TO THE VARIOUS IDEOLOGICAL GROUPS THAT CURRENTLY DOMINATE THE DISCOURSE AND TRY TO CONTROL THE PROBLEM SOLVING AGENDA. I ARGUE FURTHER THAT THEIR PROFFERED SOLUTIONS MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, WORSEN THE PROBLEMS RATHER THAN SOLVING THEM.
The Green Washing of the Green Ideological Agenda: In Defense of Modern Agriculture, Technology and Life
Tuesday, October 27th, 2009
Pacific Room at the UC from 12-2
University of Houston
to: Mai Le
The Green Washing of the Green Ideological Agenda: In defense of Modern Agriculture, Technology and Life
I will begin by identifying whom I am attacking and whom I am not. There are many dedicated NGOs, Environmental groups etc. who have developed expertise on environmental issues and provide useful service both in advocacy and in providing technical support for those who need it. My focus will be on the large, well-funded vocal IDEOLOGICAL NGOs who seek to dominate the environmental discourse and use environmental issues to promote a larger agenda of radical transformation of society. It is not that I am opposed to a radical transformation when it may be necessary but I oppose the romantic, elitist, unworkable ideas that would worsen real problems rather than solve existing and likely future problems. This distinction will be brief and taken only a couple of minutes at most.
By any reasonable standard, modern agriculture should be seen as an extraordinary success. Very, very briefly I will indicate that one could define the beginnings of "modern" agriculture with the Song Dynasty in China (960-1279) or in the late Renaissance in Europe when increases in food production allowed European population to double every century from 1600 to 1900. (This will be stated simply and in seconds with a couple more details.) I will use 1800 to 1830 with the development of organic chemistry in the 1820s and the work of Baron Justus von Liebig begining in the 1830s. There followed almost immediately a romantic reaction to Liebig which has continued to the present and is at the core of the opposition to modern agriculture.
Since 1800, world population has increased 8 1/2 times (from 800 million to 6.8 billion) and close to 7 times (from 1 billion to 6.8 billion) since 1830. From 1900 onward, the 4 1/4 fold increase in population (1.6 billion to 6.8 billion) with very little additional land brought under cultivation. In fact for the U.S., we have more land with forest cover today than we did in 1900 in spite of a roughly 4 fold increase in population and we have less land in cultivation than we did in 1910 (the peak year was about 1930).
From 1960 to 2000, world population doubled (from 3 billion to 6 billion) while (the Green Revolution) food supply increased 270% allowing for a roughly 30 to 35 % increase in global per capita food supply with the largest percentage change increase being in the developing world. This was accomplished with a 4% increase in land under cultivation to grains and a 7% overall increase in agricultural lands. This occurred at a time when the pundits (including many environmental ideologues who are still around today) were predicting famines of unprecedented magnitudes.
Estimates of population in hunger - 1950 - circa 1.5 billion out of 2.5 billion population, 1960 - .51 billion out of 3 billion or circa 50%. circa 2007 before the current economic crisis, circa 800 million out of 6.4 billion or 16 2/3%. Today possibly as high as 1.2 billion or of 6.8 billion or a little less than 20%. Stated differently, there were more than 5 times as many people not in hunger (in 2007 and today) than there were in 1950 and nearly 4 times as many (in 2007) in as in 1960.
(see - http://www.ifpri.org/book-5826/ourwork/programs/2020-vision-food-agriculture-and-environment/millions-fed-intiative )
In virtually every country in Asia and elsewhere in areas that benefited from the Green Revolution increases in wheat and rice and the increased yields from hybrid corn, the % of land under cultivation to primary grains has actually been decreasing while the % of land globally under cultivation to fruits and vegetables has increased substantially (more than tripled since 1980 by my calculations, closer to doubling by others). From 1980 to 2004, fruit production increase 3.6% per year and vegetable production increase 5.5% per year. Only 4% of this increase occurred in developed countries. (World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development, World Bank, page 58, and Horticulture for Poverty Alleviation - The Unfunded Revolution, AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center, 2005, http://www.avrdc.org/pdf/WP15.pdf , page 3 -"The worldwide supply of fruits and vegetables per capita has increased continuously since 1961." page 5, "Between 1970 and 2000, annual growth rates in vegetable yields have been impressive in South Asia (1.8%), Latin America and the Caribbean (1.7%) and East and Southeast Asia (1.6%)." page 9, "25% increase in fresh fruit and vegetable consumption in the USA between 1977 and 1999," see for more along these line - The Anti-Monoculture Mania - http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=28 )
Most every indicated of nutrition, changes in height from generation to generation, loss of life from nutritional deficiencies reflects these changes over the past two centuries while other indicators in which food availability is a component along with immunization, antibiotics etc. such as life expectancy, infant mortality etc. have also experienced dramatic changes. The nutritional downside - obesity (from which this writer/speaker suffers but not diabetes yet), diabetes etc. is not a sign of agricultural failure but of our inability to make correct personal choices in this era of cheap (for most of the world population) food.
I will cherry pick from the above data in my presentation to provide an overview but I include it here in more detail so that those who might disagree know what further data I will offer in response to any question. I will here and later in the talk give an outline of the counter view and how those who offer it are able to convince the media and segments of the public of the validity of their views in the face of such massive evidence against them. I will spell out here and throughout the talk the role that the ideological NGOs and their ideological minions and fellow believers play in perpetuating this misinformation.
6.8 billion people growing to circa 9 billion by 2040 present challenging problems for continued expansion of food production to feed the increase in population, reduce or hopefully eliminate hunger and malnutrition and improve the diet of those well fed but having a less than optimal nutritional balance in their consumption. Best estimates are that this requires another doubling of food production from 2000 to 2040.. These increases in population and food production will likely create further environmental problems which have to be addressed. BUT a central and ongoing theme of my talk will be that the ideological agenda does not offer any solutions to these problems and most likely worsens them. Too much time is wasted beating down irrational ideas and not enough time is left to explore rational ways of addressing existing and emerging problems.
Media Misrepresentation & Fantasies
I will argue that the media has systematically misrepresented certain environmental issues - more from media structure than intent - and this has had a cumulative impact in which certain dubious and often totally wrong propositions have become accepted as undisputed truths. Examples will be given such as the causes of the outbreak of bird flu and then of swine flu, the microbial contamination of food illustrated by the E coli 0157:H7 contamination of spinach. (May I add that the media has been doing a magnificent job of seeking to encourage protective actions including flu shots. This is largely because they seek out informed expert opinion for their stories which they fail to do when discussing agricultural issues.) In fact, I would argue that the public is most likely to be wrongly informed by media coverage than they are likely to be correctly informed by it. I will spell out here and throughout the talk the role that the ideological NGOs and their followers and fellow believers play in perpetuating this misinformation.
Media Fantasies - Bird Flu
A fundamental and unchallenged tenet of the Greens is that the so-called "industrial agriculture" that is done such an outstanding job of feed us is wrong and has to be completely transformed. Factory chicken and swine production are particularly evil and create threats to human well being including the creation and nurturing of dangerous micro-organisms. Consequently when ever there is an outbreak of a disease, bird flu or E coli 0157:H7, the ideologues immediately have the answer as to the cause even before any investigation has begun. Thus when there was the initial outbreak of bird fly (H5N1), blame was immediately assigned to the "industrial poultry trade" even though there was no evidence to support this assertion.
"But never fear, Grain claims that there are `commercial poultry farms in the region' that are probably to blame. that the disease spread from Qinghai to southern Siberia `during the summer months when birds do not migrate, and that it moved east to west along railway lines, roads, and international boundaries, not along migratory flyways"
(Orent, Wendy. 2006. Blame Big Chicken Farms for Bird Flu Threat: Lethal virus is a product of the industrial poultry trade. Houston, Texas: Houston Chronicle Viewpoints, Outlook; 19 March. (and elsewhere beginning with "The price of cheap chicken is bird flu" Los Angeles Times, March 12, 2006)
Qinghai lake which was the focus of much of the problem as a large number of birds died there from H5N1 flu. Quinghai lake in on the Tibetan Plateau 10,00 feet above sea level.It has been turned into a large nature preserve. It is China's largest salt water lake with a large island which is a bird sanctuary. The area around the lake is very lightly populated. As various scientific groups came to study the bird die-off, they felt compelled to deny that there were any commercial chicken farms in the area give the widely disseminated myths that there were. (see article at end of this post)
If there were no "factory chicken farms" in the area, it was simple for the distant ideologues to invent them. Joanna Blythman describes the factory poultry farms in some detail - "the hi-tech, intensive poultry farm, where as many as 40,000 birds can be kept in one shed and reared entirely indoors without ever seeing the light of day, is just like an overcrowded nursery of wheezy toddlers when the latest winter bug comes knocking - an ideal environment for spreading the disease and for encouraging the rapid mutation of a mild virus into a more pathogenic and highly transmissible strain, such as H5N1. "What we are saying is that H5N1 is a poultry virus killing wild birds, not the other way around," says Devlin Kuyek, from Grain.
Neeedless to say Blythman finds them around Qinghai Lake. Again citing the Grain (an NGO based in Barcelona) as a source, Joanna Blythman argues that "Intense debate has built up over one particular mass outbreak last year among geese at Qinghai lake in northern China. ... What Qinghai lake does have, however, is many surrounding intensive poultry farms whose "poultry manure", a euphemism for what is scraped off the floor of factory farms - bird faeces, feathers and soiled litter - is used as feed and fertiliser in fish farms and fields around Qinghai. ... Might it be that at Qinghai, H5N1 was passed from intensively reared birds to wild ones via chicken faeces, and not the other way around?" (Blythman, Joanna. 2006. So who's really to blame for bird flu? The Guardian (UK), Wednesday 7 June.)
Then there was a book that claimed that the outbreak originated in factory chicken farms. The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu by Mike Davis, The New Press, 2005
I sent the following over two months ago to an author who made claims about the commercial poultry farms near Quinghai but have yet to receive A REPLY.
"You are often quoted claiming that there is a large commercial poultry farm near Qinghai lake with added reference to a road and rail line there. I searched the internet and one reputable reference after another claimed that there was no commercial poultry operations in the region. The rail line seems to be the high tech line that has recently been completed which I presume would not be freighting much chicken. And all I could find on the road was reference to bicycle races on it. I would be interested in source of your data for the poultry operations, and rail and roads in the Qinghai Lake area used for transporting chickens."
"A clue as to what this [underlying set of attitudes about wild birds] might be emerged in April at the first, hastily arranged World Migratory Bird Day in Nairobi, Kenya, which was described by its conservationist organizers as happening "at a time when migratory birds are being unfairly portrayed solely as the harbingers of death and disease" -- an absurdly exaggerated claim. Another critic said: "The real question is not, are wild birds to blame, but why are wild birds being blamed?" In other words, this isn't about evaluating evidence, it's about building conspiracies."
"The only reason I can think of for all this is that we are dealing with a community acting more on faith and emotion than reason. For them, birds are, by definition, innately pure and transcendent -- too pure to carry anything as mundane or dirty as a virus. Given this attitude, you can understand their denial, but they are doing neither wild birds nor humans any favors" (MacKenzie, Debora. 2006. Bird lovers in denial over bird flu, New Scientist 90(2552):24, 20 May).
For more detail, see:
<http://www.uh.edu/%7Etrdegreg/maddenmedia.htm>Maddening Media Misinformation (<http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.1021/news_detail.asp>http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.1021/news_detail.asp August 13, 2007, Part 1 op 5 four more were posted on following days. - links to all on my webpage - http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg/maddenmedia.htm.
Bird Flu - actual scientific evidence
Qinghai timeline point in 10 days - flutrackers but there are no poultry farms near Qinghai Lake, a protected nature reserve that is a breeding center for migratory birds from Southeast Asia, Siberia, ...www.flutrackers.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4505
"The outbreak raises other questions, including how the virus got to this sparsely populated corner of China. Since H5N1 appeared, researchers have debated whether migratory birds can spread it. Some aquatic birds are known to host strains of the virus with no or minimal symptoms. But the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization says there is no evidence tying outbreaks in poultry to wild birds." AVIAN INFLUENZA:Potentially More Lethal Variant Hits Migratory Birds in China by Dennis Normile, Science 309(5732): 8 July 2005:, p. 231.
"On 30 April 2005, however, an outbreak was detected in bar-headed geese (Anser indicus) at Qinghai Lake in western China, which is a protected nature reserve with no poultry farms in the vicinity." H. Chen, H, G. J. D. Smith, S. Y. Zhang, K. Qin*†, J. Wang, K. S. Li, R. G. Webster, J. S. M. Peiris, Y. Guan H5N1 virus outbreak in migratory waterfowl, Nature, 436(7048) 14 July 2005, 191, see also Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Influenza Virus Infection in Migratory Birds by J. Liu, H. Xiao, F. Lei, Q. Zhu, K. Qin, X.-w. Zhang, X.-l. Zhang, D. Zhao, G. Wang, Y. Feng, J. Ma, W. Liu, J. Wang, and G. F. Gao Science 309 (5738), 1206, 19 August 2005.
Possible source integrated chicken farms in southern China - the kind that American writers like Michael Pollan tout as being the future of agriculture. At least one popular article begins with a comment about the farms with massive chicken production (apparently the "factory farms") then morphs into the poultry trade. Since these large operations tend to clean and refrigerate their chickens before shipping, the reference to the poultry trade would likely be to the smaller scale trade in live birds. We do know the few cases where Avian flu jumped to humans in Viet Nam and in Indonesia that it took place in the live bird market which has historically been where Avian flues morphed into a flu transmissible by humans.
Other peer-reviewed articles based on actual research (some of which found the bird flu on mixed farms with free range chickens, ducks and ponds where wild birds stopped-over but not in the "factory farms.")
Gilbert, M; P Chaitaweesub, T Parakamawongsa, S Premashthira, T Tiensin, W. Kalpravidh, Hans Wagner and Jan Slingenbergh. 2006 Free grazing ducks and highly pathogenic avian influenza, Thailand. Atlanta, Georgia: Emerging Infectious Disease, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12(2)227-233, February.
Hulse-Post, D.J.; K. M. Sturm-Ramirez, J. Humberd, P. Seiler, E. A. Govorkova, S. Krauss, C. Scholtissek , P. Puthavathana, C. Buranathai, T. D. Nguyen;, H. T. Long, T. S. P. Naipospos, H. Chen, T. M. Ellis, Y. Guan, J. S. M. Peiris, and R. G. Webster. 2005. Role of domestic ducks in the propagation and biological evolution of highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza viruses in Asia. Washington, D.C.: Proceedings of the Natlional Academy of Sciiences (PNAS) USA, 10682-10687, 19 July.
Olsen, Sonja J.; Yongjua Laosiritaworn, Sarika Pattanasin, Prabda Prapasiri, and Scott F. Dowell. 2005. Poultry-handling Practices during Avian Influenza Outbreak, Thailand. Atlanta, Georgia: Emerging Infectious Disease, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,11(10) October.
Tiensin, Thanawat; Prasit Chaitaweesub, Thaweesak Songserm, Arunee Chaisingh, Wirongrong Hoonsuwan, Chantanee Buranathai, Tippawon Parakamawongsa, Sith Premashthira, Alongkorn Amonsin, Marius Gilbert, Mirjam Nielen, and Arjan Stegeman. 2004. Avian Influenza H5N1, Thailand, 2004, Atlanta, Georgia: Emerging Infectious Disease, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11(11), November.
Webster, Robert G.; Malik Peiris, Honglin Chen and Yi Guan. 2006. H5N1 Outbreaks and Enzootic Influenza, Emerging Infectious Disease, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12(1) January.
Establishment of multiple sublineages of H5N1 influenza virus in Asia: Implications for pandemic control by H. Chen, et. al. (28 authors), PNAS 2006 103:2845-2850; February 21)
Currently, scientists in Europe and elsewhere assume based on the evidence thus far accumulated that there are multiple transmissions vehicles for bird flu - wild birds and the live poultry trade. For example:
Ducks as Sentinels for Avian Influenza in Wild Birds by Anja Globig, Anette Baumer, Sandra Revilla-Fernández, Martin Beer, Eveline Wodak, Maria Fink, Norbert Greber, Timm C. Harder, Hendrik Wilking, Iris Brunhart, Doris Matthes, Ulf Kraatz, Peter Strunk, Wolfgang Fiedler, Sasan R. Fereidouni, Christoph Staubach, Franz J. Conraths, Chris Griot, Thomas C. Mettenleiter, and Katharina D.C. Stärk, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 15, Number 10–October 2009,
The Ducks were confined separating them from possible infection from poultry but open to contact with wild birds so that those that became infected definitely received in from wild birds. The purpose of the study was not to "prove" that wildlife carries the Avian Influenza but to create a means by which wildlife into an area can be monitored to see if they are carrying Avian Influenza.
Misrepresentations of agriculture and food supply - E coli 0157:H7, "Swine Flu"
With the E coli 0157:H7, the true believers were immediately able to invent and describe the source to fit their ideology.
"The E. coli came from an industrial cattle ranch nearby. Tightly packed cows were over fed with unhealthy grain and produced E. coli in their feces. The contaminated feces washed downstream into the water supply, infecting the spinach fields." (Corporate Agribusiness Is Behind Our Deadly Food Supply By Sally Kohn, AlterNet, Posted on December 18, 2006, Printed on August 21, 2009. http://www.alternet.org/story/45530
The same was true for the "swine flu" outbreak in Mexico. The Swine Flu Crisis Lays Bare the Meat Industry's Monstrous Power, By Mike Davis, Comment Is Free Posted on April 28, 2009, Printed on August 21, 2009, http://www.alternet.org/story/138798/
Agriculture and food supply - E coli 0157:H7, "Swine Flu" - the evidence
After several months of investigation, scientific investigators determined that the source for the contaminated spinach was plots in the 2nd year of transition to organic agriculture. That means that in the year that the spinach was grown and in the previous year, only organic methods were used to grow it. the source for that plot's contaminations (which was determined by analysis of the particular strain of E coli 0157:H7 was a low density free range cattle ranch across the river.
CFGFI (Center for Global Food Issues) 2007. Deadly Organic Spinach, 9 March. http://www.cgfi.org/cgficommentary/deadly-organic-spinach
"The ranch's website even refers visitors to a website that claims people who eat grass-fed beef have "a much lower risk of becoming infected with the [E. coli bacteria]" and that E. coli O157:H7 from grass-fed cattle are far less likely `to survive the natural acidity of our digestive tract'."(CFGI 2006).
We learn further that Paicines Ranch is "strictly a grass-only, pasture-based operation -- the kind they themselves advocate as the 'safe alternative' to so-called 'factory farms'" (CFGI 2006)
Earthbound Farms advertised that it sold "Food for Life," adding that "It's just plain healthy to include lots of organic vegetables in your diet" (Avery and Avery 2006).
Avery, Dennis and Alex Avery. 2006. Organic farming more dangerous to consumers, Pantagraph.com (Illinois), 15 October. <http://www.pantagraph.com/articles/2006/10/15/opinion/viewpoint/120023.txt>http://www.pantagraph.com/articles/2006/10/15/opinion/viewpoint/120023.txt
Avery, Alex. 2007. Misinformation Machine Media: An apology to Joe Mendelson for thinking he lied to an audience at the National Academy of Sciences, American Council on Science and Health, Health Facts And Fears.com, 15 March. <http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.937/news_detail.asp>http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.937/news_detail.asp
Avery states "I could not find a single wire service report or mainstream media piece informing readers that the spinach outbreak was traced back to grass-fed cattle. There were no AP stories mentioning this, no Reuters, no L.A. Times, not even the organic-food-centric New York Times. Only my own October 30th blog and a self-posted op-ed (no major outlet accepted it) that almost my whole family read."
Similarly, there have been only a handful of stories reporting the February 27th revelation by California regulators that the fifty-acre spinach field was transitioning to "certified" organic status and that the tainted spinach was, thus, "organically grown." (Avery 2007)
In response to Holdrege, Craig. 2007. Blame factory farming, not organic food, Nature Biotechnology 25:165, 1 February, the editors of Nature Biotechnology stated the following:
"The most comprehensive peer-reviewed study to look at contamination of produce found that organic fruits and vegetables are three times more likely to be contaminated with bacteria than conventional produce; indeed, of all the produce tested, the study found the pathogen Salmonella exclusively in organic lettuce and organic green peppers. Of a total of 15 farms that had E. coli-positive samples, thirteen were organic and only two were conventional."
"There is a simple fix available, however, that could stem the rising tide of cases of food-borne illness in the United States. <http://www.acsh.org/publications/pubID.1562/pub_detail.asp>Irradiation of fruits and vegetables would eliminate 99.999% of pathogens. It would have prevented or drastically reduced all of last year's E. coli outbreaks. And most important of all, it would have saved lives. It's hard to understand why a country that already irradiates its meat should not do the same to its fruits and vegetables " Nature Biotechnolgy. 2007. Blame factory farming, not organic food: a response, Nature Biotechnology 25:165, 1 February.
Misrepresentations of agriculture and the environment illustrated by the scientific controversy over genetically modified food.
One of the worst cases of misrepresentation was the FRONTLINE program -.Seeds of Suicide | PBS, July 2005. I am virtually certain (99.9% but I have been unable to verify this even with an extensive Google search) that this was the program that I saw on KUHT. If not, it was one that was just as bad and in my judgment it was irresponsible of KUHT to present the program that I saw - it was a slick erroneous bit of propaganda that could have been easily refuted if KUHT had taken minimal trouble to contact any one knowledgeable on the subject. I did call KUHT prior to the showing of the program asking whether there was to be any informed discussion of it after the program and the answer was no. Unfortunately, everyone whom I have asked on campus who has heard about Bt cotton, knows only about the alleged Seeds of Suicide which they accept as a proven fact. None were aware if any counter arguments. The literature on the subject was already substantial - for two articles on the suicide (published after the program), see Doubts surround link between Bt cotton failure and farmer suicide by Cormac Sheridan Dublin, Nature Biotechnology, Volume 27 Number 1 January 2009,
<http://fbae.org/2009/FBAE/website/images/pdf/biosafety/DOubts_of_Bt_cotton's_role_in_Indian_farmers_Sucicdes.pdf>http://fbae.org/2009/FBAE/website/images/pdf/biosafety/DOubts_of_Bt_cotton's_role_in_Indian_farmers_Sucicdes.pdf. and Bt Cotton and Farmer Suicides in India: Reviewing the Evidence, The International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI), 2008( www.ifpri.org/publication/bt-cotton-and-farmer-suicides-india )
LET ME MAKE CLEAR, I was not opposed to broadcasting the program. FRONTLINE is often controversial and that is good. But I object to a totally one sided presentation (there was a built-in differing view when the creator of the film did a long interview with a distinguished economist and edited in the least significant points and omitted the most important ones.) A call to Texas A&M or any of our great agricultural institutions would have provided ample opportunity of a contrary perspective.
In fact Bt cotton has been an extraordinary success. For example:
"On average, Bt-adopting farmers realize pesticide reductions of roughly 40%, and yield advantages of 30-40%. Profit gains are at a magnitude of US $60 per acre. These benefits have been sustainable over time. Farmers' satisfaction is reflected in a high willingness to pay for Bt seeds" In addition, "India has been able to improve its position in world cotton trade from the third largest importer in 2002-03 to the second largest exporter after the United States in 2007-08."(Bt Cotton in India by Prakash Sadashivappa, AgBioForum, Volume 12 // Number 2 // Article 3, http://www.agbioforum.org/v12n2/v12n2a03-sadashivappa.htm )and
The Adoption and Economics of Bt Cotton in India http://www.iimahd.ernet.in/publications/data/2006-09-04_vgandhi.pdf and The Adoption and Economics of Bt Cotton in India - conclusions only <http://www.iimahd.ernet.in/publications/data/2006-09-04_vgandhi.pdf>http://www.iimahd.ernet.in/publications/data/2006-09-04_vgandhi.pdf
INDIAN INSTITUTE OF MANAGEMENT AHMEDABAD INDIA Research and Publications The Adoption and Economics of Bt Cotton in India:
Preliminary Results from a Study Vasant P. Gandhi, N.V. Namboodiri, W.P. No.2006-09-04 September 2006.
Unfortunately gross misrepresentation of genetic engineering of food and fiber crops can also be found on network television in the U.S. on very popular programs such as CSI (Crime Scene Investigation): Miami, October 19, 2009. One could spend this entire session discussing the multitude of errors both in law and in science expressed in this program.
A two-minute video clip of the CSI: Miami - Mutant Corn is available at: <http://www.cbs.com/primetime/csi_miami/video/?pid=ub_Y_XdQUmufnibSbPvLOvEQRCXDUbkZ>http://www.cbs.com/primetime/csi_miami/video/?pid=ub_Y_XdQUmufnibSbPvLOvEQRCXDUbkZ
The television network (CBS) seems to be confused over whether the episode is called "Bad Seed" or "Mutant Corn". Either way, the full episode (43 min.) can be found at
Misrepresentations about Maize in Mexico
On Sunday, February. 22, 2004, the Houston Chronicle published a long article beginning on the front page and continuing inside for at least a full page titled Genetically altered corn worries Mexican farmers By DINA CAPPIELLO, Houston Chronicle Environment Writer
I immediately began to draft a letter seeking corrections for an article which as one plant scientist who read it said that it "did not have even the slightest pretense of objectivity." I contact a number of scientists at Texas A&M in different areas with international reputations in maize (corn) and sought their support. All of them had read the article, believed that it was biased and agreed to sign the letter. I attempted to reach Dr, Norman Borlaug but was unable to do so. However, he later contacted me, praised the letter and indicated that he would have signed it if he had received in time as he had also read the article and found it biased.
I apologized for the extreme length of letter but felt that he was necessary the document the claim of bias and the need for counter arguments to be presented. I did not expect nor did I ask for the letter to be printed but I had hoped that the Chronicle would send a reporter to Texas A&M to interview the scientists who signed and possibly others. If they could afford to send a reporter to Mexico City than they could certainly afford to send one a few miles north to Texas A&M. This was at the tale end of a period in which newspapers were highly profitable. At the end of an extended exchange of emails, the Chronicle ombudsman, we were told that the subject would need to be revisited. In 5 and 1/2 years since, the Chronicle has not done so. I had thought that an ombudsman function was to correct journalistic errors. I was mistaken.
We later learned that the writer had traveled to Mexico in the company of anti-GM activist's NGOs. Can one imagine the fuss that would have been raised had she traveled there with representatives of Monsanto?
Excerpts from the letter:
Much of what are presented as facts are highly questionable. And there were and are any number of highly qualified sources that could have either rebutted them or at least presented an alternative narrative. Among those in Mexico are Juan Pablo Ricardo Martínez-Soriano at the Centro de Investigación y Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional and Diana Sara Leal-Klevezas at the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social. They co-authored a letter to Science (the year prior to the one of Quist and Chapel) titled “Transgenic Maize in Mexico: No Need for Concern.” ** They could have contacted, Luis Herrera Estrella who is considered one of the leading experts in the field or Ana María Bailey and Joel Lara-Reyna who joined Martínez-Soriano and Leal-Klevezas in letter to Nature Biotechnology titled, “Transgenes in Mexican maize”*** a few months following the Quist and Chapela letter. These are Mexican scientists, living and working there who do not have an ideological agenda to promote and who have the respect of the international scientific community. They not only did not see a problem, they thought that a gene transfer from a transgenic plant might be beneficial. Right or wrong, they deserve to be heard.
(Note October 2009, apparently the NGOs who tireless campaign for the locals to be heard are only capable of hearing those who agree with them.)
Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of those not contacted. In El Batan, Mexico, there is the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT or Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maiz y Trigo) in El Batan, Texcoco, Mexico) that with its predecessor institutions have been doing research in maize and wheat since 1943. It is an international institution that has leading researchers on its staff from all over the world. It was the first of the IARCs (International Agriculture Research Centers) have become a mainstay of global research of agriculture throughout the world. Over the last 60 years, CIMMYT (and its predecessor institutions) have been the home of the finest plant breeders in the world including Dr. Norman Borlaug who won the 1970 Nobel Peace prize for his development of the high Yielding Variety (HYV) of wheat which with its successors and similar developments in rice (by another IARC, the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines or IRRI) has close to tripled grain production and fed a world population that has more than doubled while using only 4% more land under grain cultivation. Anyone engaged in wheat or maize research anywhere in the world is likely to be in regular contact with them and/or attended seminars there and/or had delegations from CIMMYT visit them. The CIMMYT seed collection and storage in for these crops is unrivaled and is regularly drawn upon to support local agriculture when it is a problem such as the need for a disease resistant variety.
If the reporter did not wish to go to CIMMYT, it would have been simple to just check their web page for their postings on the transgenic maize issue and the symposium that they held on the subject as you can now do. (http://www.cimmyt.org/whatiscimmyt/Transgenic/Iwanaga_051202.htm, http://www.cimmyt.org/whatiscimmyt/Transgenic/index.htm
Transgenic Maize in Mexico: Facts and Future Research Needs
PDF version. TRANSGENIC MAIZE IN MEXICO: FACTS AND FUTURE RESEARCH NEEDS. 8 May 2002. El Batan, Texcoco, Mexico-In recent weeks and months, debate over the possible arrival of transgenes in Mexican landraces has received extensive media attention.As an international research institution based in Mexico (the c...
Last Modified: 1/19/2004 11:59:16 PM
(I commented in a posted article that going to Mexico and not knowing of either CIMMYT or Dr. Borlaugh would be like going to Rome to write a piece on the Roman catholic Church and not knowing of either the Pope or the Vatican. May I add that her not interviewing any of the Mexican scientists above would in addition be like not knowing about the College of Cardinals.
The Scientific Controversy over Genetically Modified Food - THERE ISN'T ANY - NONE, NADA, ZIP, ZERO.
I will be prepared to present the evidence for scientific support for transgenics using rDNA in food production and the multitude of scientific societies that have issued reports in support of it. None have opposed it though one, the BMA called for a moratorium but in a later report criticized the hysteria over GM foods and stated categorically that no one was harmed by it. As an aside, I may chastise the anti-GM advocates (along with many others) for their misuse of language in such terms as organic, genetic modification and the significant number of errors in basic science that they or their leaders have espoused.
DNA defined as a complex protein found in every cell in the body
Carbon is the most common element in the human body and in all life
Molecules have memory - implied in the support of homeopathy
Neo-Lamarkism and many more!
"Yogic Flying" raises a person's IQ
There are 500 scientific studies proving that "yogic flying" and transcendental meditation will lower the crime rate in an area.
In praise of the extraordinary effectiveness of the Greens in disseminating their propaganda (obviously tongue-in-cheek with a certain bit of envy in how they get it done.)
I will examine the Green extremists methods and how they are undercutting legitimate inquiry. More important, I will show in detail in my talk how Green activism, particularly anti-GM is harming poor countries and the poor most in need of advanced technology. Will strongly recommend - (Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa by Robert Paarlberg with comments by Norman Borlaug, and Jimmy Carter, Harvard University Press ) and discuss how certain leaders are able to delude their followers into believing that they are helping the poor - taking advantage of idealistic young people.
See on one of their claims to harm from GM - Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16307217
A heretofore undisclosed crux of Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome: compromised histamine degradation by M. J. Smith and R. H. Garrett, 2005, Inflammation Research, 54(11): 435-450, November, 2005
Abstract. In contrast to early epidemiological evidence offering links between eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS) and microimpurities of L-tryptophan-containing dietary supplements (LTCDS), this account shows why reliance on a finite impurity from one manufacturer is both unnecessary and insufficient to explain the etiology of EMS. Excessive histamine activity has induced blood eosinophilia and myalgia (Greek: mys, muscle + algos, pain). Termination of the multiple actions of histamine is dependent on particular amine oxidases and histamine-N-methyltransferase. Histamine metabolism is rapid when these degradative reactions are operative. The latent effects of incurred histamine can be potentiated and aggravating when these mechanisms are impaired. Overloads of tryptophan supplements cause – among other relevant side-effects – an increased formation of formate and indolyl metabolites, several of which inhibit the degradation of histamine. Moreover, (non-EMS) subjects with hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation have also manifested greatly increased sensitivities to incurred tryptophan and histamine. A final common pathway for syndromes characterized by eosinophilia with myalgia is now evident.
Counter to claims that esinophillia myalgia was only associated with L-trytophan from one firm, footnotes 32 in the article above (published by the London Department of Health and Social Security) & 33 (in Ireland) refer to articles in which EMS cases are associated with L-tryptophan from other pharmaceutical companies.
A posted request by me, telephone calls and emails to noted toxicologists and other scientists on sources of information on EMS that would correct the misinformation circulated on it by the anti-GM activists brought be more sources than I could reasonable post. I tried to read most of them, many of which I had previously read. It is clear that there is a sizeable body of peer-reviewed scientific literature and government reports that viewed individually and collectively massively refute the activists' claims. Scientific literature to which I was referred was written to emaine the evidence and use ti to reach a possible conclusion and to refute the claims. The evidence itself refutes the claims.
A small sample of the articles is as follows:
Shapiro S (1996). "Epidemiologic studies of the association of L-tryptophan with the eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome: a critique". The Journal of Rheumatology. Supplement 46: 44–58; discussion 58–9.
Horwitz RI, Daniels SR (1996). "Bias or biology: evaluating the epidemiologic studies of L-tryptophan and the eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome". The Journal of Rheumatology. Supplement 46: 60–72.
See also: <file://c:\trdegregdata\eudora%205.2\attach\FDA%202001%20tryptophan.pdf>
FDA 2001 tryptophan.pdf
<file://c:\trdegregdata\eudora%205.2\attach\FDA%202001%20tryptophan.pdf> FDA 2001 tryptophan.pdf , <file://c:\trdegregdata\eudora%205.2\attach\FDA%201993%20tryptophan%20advice.pdf>
FDA 1993 tryptophan advice.pdf
<file://c:\trdegregdata\eudora%205.2\attach\FDA%201993%20tryptophan%20advice.pdf> FDA 1993 tryptophan advice.pdf ,
On one extraordinary benefit from safer GM food, see the potential protection from Neural Tube Defects. It has been found that Bt corn reduces Fusarium ear rot (and therefore the fumonison toxin that it produces) from 95 to 98%.
Exposure to fumonisins and the occurrence of neural tube defects along the Texas-Mexico border by Stacey A. Missmer, Lucina Suarez, Marilyn Felkner, Elaine Wang, Alfred H. Merrill, Jr, Kenneth J. Rothman, and Katherine A. Hendricks, Environmental Health Perspectives, <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/issues/127361/>114(2);237–241, February.
Bt corn reduces serious birth defects by Bruce Chassy and Drew Kershen, Western Farm Press, October 27, 2004
Fumonisins Disrupt Sphingolipid Metabolism, Folate Transport, and Neural Tube Development in Embryo Culture and In Vivo: A Potential Risk Factor for Human Neural Tube Defects among Populations Consuming Fumonisin-Contaminated Maize by Walter F. O. Marasas, Ronald T. Riley
, Katherine A. Hendricks, Victoria L. Stevens
, Thomas W. Sadler
, Janee Gelineau-van Waes
, Stacey A. Missmer, Julio Cabrera, Olga Torres, Wentzel C. A. Gelderblom*, Jeremy Allegood
, Carolina Martínez, Joyce Maddox, J. David Miller, Lois Starr
, M. Cameron Sullards
, Ana Victoria Roman, Kenneth A. Voss
, Elaine Wang and Alfred H. Merrill, Jr. 2004. Journal of Nutrition ·The American Society for Nutritional Sciences, 134:711-716, April.
Corn toxin examined in border birth defects - Diet may have put Hispanics at risk By LAURA BEIL / The Dallas Morning News Saturday, February 4, 2006 (This story first appeared in The Dallas Morning News on March 4, 2001) <http://www.dallasnews.com/s/dws/news/longterm/stories/020506dnprocorntoxin.6ec7933c.html>http://www.dallasnews.com/s/dws/news/longterm/stories/020506dnprocorntoxin.6ec7933c.html
"State and national investigators would eventually find that Brownsville had an astonishingly high rate of anencephaly, as the condition is called. From 1989 through 1991, 32 women in this town of 130,000 carried anencephalic babies. Many of the children died within hours, and all within days, of birth. ... From the beginning, many residents suspected the pesticides that armor nearby fields of cotton and sorghum. Others blamed the chemicals that waft from industries along the Rio Grande. Some parents of affected infants even shared a $17 million settlement from more than 80 maquiladoras - U.S. factories hugging the Mexican side of the river - in 1995. ... But now, state health officials wonder whether the culprit was not man-made, but a natural fungus that can cling to corn. The fungus makes a toxin , called fumonisin, unknown to science until 1988. ... Fumonisin (pronounced few-MAHN-i-sin) is spit out by the mold Fusarium as part of its chemical defense system. For decades, farmers and ranchers have known that animals can fall seriously ill if they eat corn that has been coated with Fusarium, even if the kernels later seem clean. People in parts of the world with high Fusarium growth, most notably the Transkei region of South Africa, have high rates of esophageal cancer. But it wasn't until 1988, when South African scientists first described fumonisin, that anyone knew exactly why the mold was dangerous. ... "
Green Extremist harm to food production for the poor - WHO IS GOING TO HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE???
Once of the worst cases on extremist opposition to transgenic food production is the opposition to Vitamin A enhanced rice. According to WHO, "Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. ...
A few salient facts:
* An estimated 250 million preschool children are vitamin A deficient and it is likely that in vitamin A deficient areas a substantial proportion of pregnant women is vitamin A deficient.
* An estimated 250 000 to 500 000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight."
( http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/vad/en/index.html )
In spite of this massive literature on the horrors on Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) which is agreed to by every one including the Green Extremists, they have opposed Vitamin A enhanced Rice (known as Golden Rice) and have delayed its introduction by a variety of legal and illegal maneuvers had a significant cost in children's lives lost.
See for example (the literature in prestigious peer reviewed scientific journals on the benefits is substantial):
Stein A.J., Sachdev H.P.S., Qaim M. (2006). "Potential impact and cost-effectiveness of Golden Rice." Nature Biotechnology 24(10): 1200-1201. doi:10.1038/nbt1006-1200b. Supplementary discussion paper -
"Using a refined disability-adjusted life year (DALY) framework and detailed health data, this study shows for India that under optimistic assumptions this country’s annual burden of VAD of 2.3 million DALYs lost can be reduced by 59.4% hence 1.4 million healthy life years could be saved each year if Golden Rice would be consumed widely. In a low impact scenario, where Golden Rice is consumed less frequently and produces less provitamin A, the burden of VAD could be reduced by 8.8%. However, in both scenarios the cost per DALY saved through Golden Rice (US$3.06-19.40) is lower than the cost of current supplementation efforts, and it outperforms international cost-effectiveness thresholds. Golden Rice should therefore be considered seriously as a complementary intervention to fight VAD in rice-eating populations in the medium term. (Genetic engineering, beta-carotene biofortification, vitamin A deficiency, Golden Rice, health benefits, DALYs, cost-effectiveness, cost-benefit analysis, India.)"
Genetic Engineering for the Poor: Golden Rice and Public Health in India by Alexander J. Stei, H.P.S. Sachdev and Matin Qaim 2008. <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/0305750X>World Development <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=PublicationURL&_tockey=%23TOC%235946%232008%23999639998%23676343%23FLA%23&_cdi=5946&_pubType=J&view=c&_auth=y&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=e2fe8a599f80048421202930ba7ec149>36(1): 144-158, January.
Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) affects millions of people, causing serious health problems. Golden Rice (GR), which has been genetically engineered to produce -carotene, is being propose
For brinjal (eggplant or aubergine)"trial results have shown more than 80 per cent reduction in the use of pesticides and almost 25 per cent increase in yield." (BT brinjal safe for consumption, Thursday, Checkbiotech | for emerging fields of science, October 15, 2009,
Another egregious example of gross media irresponsibility on Vitamin A enhanced rice and other food and agricultural issues is The New York Times - for example -
Michael Pollan, The Way We Live Now: The Great Yellow Hype, The New York Times Magazine, March 4, 2001.
In my presentation, I will spell out in some detail my objections to this article which are substantial.
LET ME BEGIN AND END WITH THE EXACT SAME WORDS - IN MY 50 YEARS OF RESEARCH, TEACHING, WRITING AND ACTUALLY DOING DEVELOPMENT, I HAVE ALWAYS ARGUED THAT OUR HUMAN ACTIONS ARE CREATING ENVIRONMENTAL AND OTHER PROBLEMS. THIS WAS TRUE WHEN THERE WERE 3 BILLION OF US WHEN I BEGAN, WHEN THERE ARE 6.8 BILLION OF US NOW AND WHEN THERE WILL BE 9 BILLION OF US BY CIRCA 2040. EVERY SOLUTION CREATES ITS OWN PROBLEMS. THESE PROBLEMS ARE MUCH TOO IMPORTANT TO LEAVE TO THE VARIOUS IDEOLOGICAL GROUPS THAT CURRENTLY DOMINATE THE DISCOURSE AND TRY TO CONTROL THE PROBLEM SOLVING AGENDA. I ARGUE FURTHER THAT THEIR [RPFFERED SOLUTIONS MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, WORSEN THE PROBLEMS RATHER THAN SOLVING THEM.
Avian flu casts shadow over beauty of China's bird lake: Migrating species may cause global pandemic, scientists warn, Jonathan Watts on Bird Island, Qinghai Lake
The Guardian, Monday 1 August 2005
The scenery could not be more different, but the craggy western shore of Qinghai Lake is the Piccadilly Circus of the bird world. Set in a plateau 3,000 metres high and ringed by checkered yellow and green slopes, this area is an intersection for 189 avian species which either breed, nest or rest here.
So many gulls, geese, larks, egrets, swans and cormorants fly in and out of Bird Island - actually a small peninsula jutting out from the western end of the 60-mile saltwater lake - that locals claim the skies are sometimes darkened by feathered traffic.
In autumn and spring, the migration of hundreds of thousands of birds is such a glorious sight that Qinghai Lake draws tourists from all over the world. But after the first mass outbreak of avian flu among wild birds this summer, the resort is attracting attention from a different group of bird watchers: international scientists, health officials and agricultural experts.
Virologists writing in the journals Science and Nature warned last month that Bird Island could become a nexus for the H5N1 virus to mutate and spread across the globe, possibly becoming more virulent and developing into a deadly pandemic.
Until now, the disease has been concentrated largely in poultry-related communities in Asia, where it has led to the culling of 120 million fowl and the deaths of at least 63 people.
But in Qinghai, the pathogen has struck a different population, killing more than 5,000 wild birds, mostly bar-headed geese, but also great black-headed gulls, brown-headed gulls, ruddy shelducks and common cormorants.
Other species may be carriers, having been infected without developing symptoms, as is often the case with ducks. But the Chinese authorities have yet to release the results of research into the outbreak, which has left the international community guessing about the prevalence and virulence of the Qinghai strain of H5N1.
The lack of information has prompted increasingly anxious calls for more transparency. With the next big migration season due to start at the end of the month, the World Health Organisation says there is an urgent need for more information about the outbreak before the birds head south and west for the winter.
"Time is running out," said Julie Hall, the WHO official in charge of communicable diseases in China. "This is an international issue. We need to give an early warning to countries on the birds' routes."
Rangers at Qinghai Lake and local guidebooks say the birds will head to southern China, but international organisations suggest they will migrate across a far wider area, stretching from breeding grounds in Russia during the summer, down to wintering areas in south-east Asia and India. If so, their paths will crisscross the routes of birds that fly to Europe and America.
But there are so many different species that nobody knows for sure. "There are almost no studies of the migration patterns of these birds," said an official at the Institute of Zoology in the Chinese Academy of Science. "This is an area where Chinese research is lacking."
In some places, the warnings may come too late. Last week, Russia reported its first case of bird flu. About 300 poultry were infected in Siberia, which is thought to be one of the summer breeding areas for wild birds from Qinghai.
In June, two outbreaks were reported in Xinjiang province, next door to Qinghai. The government refused to allow international health and agriculture officials to visit the area, but officials said migratory birds appeared to have spread the disease to local poultry stocks.
Since the first dead goose was found in Qinghai, the priority of the authorities has been to minimise the economic damage through containment of the disease and scientific research into its origins.
Workers on Bird Island say there is video footage of the first infected birds, which died on May 3. "We watched everything by remote camera," said an official who declined to be named. "There were three birds which were obviously suffering. They were fluttering around in a circle that had been formed by the other healthy birds. When I reported this to my boss, he told me not to touch them. The hygiene department came in soon after with masks and gloves."
Police and troops were sent in to cordon off a 30-mile radius in the sparsely populated Gancha district. The entire local stock of 20,000 poultry was culled without compensation. "Our family had five chickens and we were told we had to kill them all or we would be fined. It was a real blow," said Zhang Gi-hua, whose household income is less than £140 per year. "I used to buy my children's pens and schoolbooks with the money from the eggs."
No visitors were allowed inside a second 10-mile radius inner cordon without surgical masks and gloves. Those living inside were given disinfectant and hygiene lectures by local officials.
Anti-government websites spread rumours that more than 100 people had been killed by the disease, but nobody in the area had heard about any human deaths.
Chinese authorities have clamped down heavily on scientists whose research has differed from the official version of events, which is that the disease spread from outside China's borders.
The Joint Influenza Research Centre, a laboratory run by universities in Hong Kong and China, published studies suggesting the strain of H5N1 virus found in the Qinghai birds might have been picked up from poultry farms in southern China. Punishment was swift: the centre closed last week after the ministry of agriculture said it lacked biological safety standards. The government has also issued new regulations restricting research into H5N1 to three government laboratories.
In Qinghai, the authorities claim the outbreak is over. Last week, the cordons were lifted and tourists were allowed back on to Bird Island.
But without research into the seemingly healthy birds, the virus may simply be dormant, waiting to wing its way across the globe. That risk does not appear to worry the locals, most of whom are just relieved that they can resume their normal lives.
Among them were the monks at the Tibetan lamasery in Shatou, a mile from Bird Island.
Geri Caidan, a 20-year-old acolyte, said: "We believed Buddha would keep us safe so we chanted scriptures every day and prayed for the disease to leave the area."
The question is, where will it go next?
**Science 25 February 2000:
Vol. 287. no. 5457, p. 1399
Transgenic Maize in Mexico: No Need for Concern
According to pre-Hispanic traditions, gods gave native Mexicans the first maize seeds and from then on, and for thousands of years, maize has been a vital element to the Latin American cultures. Biologically, maize is an orphan plant and has only one relative, the annual teosinte (1). Morphologically the two are similar, but they differ strikingly in the pistillate inflorescence (what becomes the cob). For our discussion, the most notable difference is that the maize cob is solid, whereas the teosinte cob is brittle and comes apart at maturity. Molecular analysis has shown that maize was domesticated in the Balsas River drainage (Mexico) 6000 years ago (2). Primitive cobs found in caves and other archaeological sites share the same characteristics: they are of small size and are, invariably, solid. This is of major importance--viable seeds can only be released by mechanical means (basically by humans). Maize does not disperse itself and therefore does not exist as a free species in nature.
Recently, some biotechnology companies have requested authorization to plant and market transgenic maize in Mexico. Several ecological groups have raised concerns about the potential risks of introducing such plants to Mexico, where maize originated. The main concern regarding the possible effects on the native maizes and relatives has little if any scientific basis; it is more related to cultural factors rather than biological ones. Arguments stating that maize is genetically fragile are weak. It seems paradoxical to argue that it is necessary to protect the genetic background of corn when, for 6000 years of traditional breeding, we have protected only alleles important for humankind. Even if we decide to protect the actual genotypes, there should be no need for concern. Any transgene transferred inadvertently to native maizes can be removed from the progeny by selecting against the incorporated trait. Maize is always under strong artificial selection, and therefore natural selection has no practical meaning for the species.
On the other hand, transgenes cannot be established in a natural population of teosintes. Any teosinte recipient of maize pollen is at risk of transmitting to its progeny the trait of not being able to release its seeds, just as in maize (see the figure at left). The transference of an allele from teosinte to maize is a natural process. The opposite can only happen if the hybrid seeds are mechanically released. Still, fixation of a (trans)gene or allele in a teosinte population would be impossible if it did not confer an evolutionary advantage to the species. The bt gene, for example, would most likely not confer any advantage to teosinte because pests are not a natural selection factor in the wild. The transgene would be lost like the thousands that never conferred adaptative advantages to the recipient plants.
Juan Pablo Ricardo Martínez-Soriano
Unidad de Biotecnología e Ingeniería Genética de Plantas,
Centro de Investigación y Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional,
Apartado Postal 629,
36500 Irapuato, Gto, México.
Diana Sara Leal-Klevezas
Centro de Investigación Biomédica de Occidente,
Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social,
Sierra Mojada 800,
Guadalajara, Jal, México
* W. C. Galinat, Maydica 30, 137 (1985).
* R.-L. Wang et al., Nature 398, 236 (1999).
***Nature Biotechnology 20, 19 (2002)
Transgenes in Mexican maize
Juan Pablo Ricardo Martínez-Soriano1, Ana María Bailey1, Joel Lara-Reyna2 & Diana Sara Leal-Klevezas3
* Unidad de Biotecnología e Ingeniería Genética de Plantas, Centro de Investigación y Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Apartado Postal 629, 36500 Irapuato, Gto, México
* e-mail: <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>email@example.com
* Instituto de Fitosanidad,Colegio de Postgraduados,Montecillo, Edo de México, México
* Secretaría de Salud de Guanajuato, Tamazuca 4 Centro, Guanajuato, Gto., México
To the editor
Genetic flow between transgenic and native maize has apparently occurred in Mexico1, resulting in wild strains containing one or more transgenic sequences (most likely encoding Bt toxin). These "transgenic" native maizes not only have every single trait that has been selected and preserved for thousands of years (making them perfectly adapted to specific geographic regions), but now also possess an additional and desirable characteristicinsect resistance, a trait likely to be consciously preferred by Mexican peasant farmers. Diversity will not be affected. On the contrary, we can predict that this useful transgene will be found in increasing numbers and types of native maizes.
We believe it is important to stress this is not genetic contamination! Contamination means unexpected, undesirable, and uncontrollable spread; that is not happening. The spread will be induced because of the advantage of having a native corn with resistance to insects.
Maize is so dependent on human intervention that it cannot survive in the wild. Maize seeds are attached to a cob and cannot free themselves: it absolutely requires human intervention. As maize was first domesticated more than 6,000 years ago, only genes and alleles that are important for humans have been selected and preserved.
Still, if someone wants to remove the transgene from these plants, the procedure would be simple: select and multiply those susceptible maizes and do not harvest and multiply the insect-resistant ones. That is something no Mexican farmer will do.
Teosintes, ancestors and close relatives of corn, do not seem to be affected by genetic flow from (any) maize. Teosintes growing naturally in cornfields yield a very poor hybrid progeny. They do not release their seeds, and therefore the probability is very low for natural genetic introgression (incorporation of a gene or allele in a population) into teosintes. We also have found that teosintes are highly susceptible to insects and pathogens when growing under more intensive experimental field conditions, but they appear to be resistant to them when growing naturally in the wild.
Thus we conclude that even if the Bt transgene could be introgressed into teosintes, it will provide no biological advantage and thus would be lost by natural evolution. To reiterate2, there is no need for concern.
* Dalton, R. Nature 413, 337 (2001). | <http://www.nature.com.ezproxy.lib.uh.edu/doifinder/10.1038/35096714>Article | <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.ezproxy.lib.uh.edu/entrez/query.fcgi?holding=npg&cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=11574839&dopt=Abstract>PubMed | <http://links.isiglobalnet2.com/gateway/Gateway.cgi?&GWVersion=2&SrcAuth=Nature&SrcApp=Nature&DestLinkType=FullRecord&KeyUT=000171188700007&DestApp=WOS_CPL>ISI | <http://chemport.cas.org.ezproxy.lib.uh.edu/cgi-bin/sdcgi?APP=ftslink&action=reflink&origin=npg&version=1.0&coi=1:CAS:528:DC%2BD3MXntl2hs7Y%3D&pissn=1087-0156&pyear=2002&md5=571ce25aad3378dc2522f4c38a8153c4>ChemPort |
* Martínez-Soriano J.P. & Leal-Klevezas, D.S. Science 287, 1399 (2000). | <http://links.isiglobalnet2.com/gateway/Gateway.cgi?&GWVersion=2&SrcAuth=Nature&SrcApp=Nature&DestLinkType=FullRecord&KeyUT=ERROR&DestApp=WOS_CPL>ISI
Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics
University of Houston
Department of Economics
204 McElhinney Hall
Houston, Texas 77204-5019
Ph. 001 - 1 - 713 743-3838
Fax 001 - 1 - 713 743-3798
Web homepage http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg