ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

27 August 2002

PRAKASH LIES PROLIFERATE

Jeremy Vine - BBC Newsnight presenter - reports from Johannesburg:

I've just been in an American briefing where the question and answer went as follows: Official: 'We want to abolish all farm subsidies everywhere.' Reporter: 'Does that include the ones you've just brought in for American farmers?' Official: 'Er - yes.'
---
Recently we noted the misinformation CS Prakash has been spreading around the globe in his role as the US State Dept's roving GM ambassador.

In Tanzania Prakash claimed, "genes from biotechnology-improved crops have an important role to play, particularly in Tanzania and other developing countries, as it doubles production and is a solution towards poverty alleviation."

In the Philippines, "Mr. Prakash said, in the Philippine context, local farmers can benefit from using biotechnology in three areas - increasing the yield of their harvest, reducing the amount of pesticides used and lastly reducing postharvest losses as most genetically-modified crops have longer shelf life. ... Almost 50% of the produce is lost from the moment they are harvested to the moment they are consumed. Biotechnology reduces that, he said."

After reading this, agricultural expert Mark Griffiths contacted Prakash to ask for supporting evidence for "most genetically-modified crops [having] longer shelf life". Specifically, Mark asked which products with this characteristic had gained approval and had demonstrated efficacy in the market place.  This request, and another that Prakash simply provide a short list of examples, went unanswered. Unsurprisingly, as nobody seems to know of any such products that would be available to farmers in the Philippines!

Last week Mark also drew attention to information in a new USDA report ('The Adoption of Bioengineered Crops'
http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aer810/ ) which notes:

GM crops do not increase yield potential and may reduce yields. (p21 of USDA report)

Contrast this with Prakash's claim that "it doubles production"!

As for "reducing the amount of pesticides used', the report notes that the jury is more than just out on this issue:

*GM herbicide-tolerant crops have produced no reduction in herbicide active ingredient applied. (p28 of USDA report - see graph)

*"Change in pesticide use from the adoption of herbicide-tolerant cotton was not significant." (p28 of USDA report - see note to graph)

*For herbicide-tolerant soya, active ingredient of herbicide applied has increased. (p27 of USDA report)

[for more see 'USDA Report Exposes GM Crop Economics Myth'
http://www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/usdagmeconomics.htm ]

So much for Prakash's benefits from GM crops. But meanwhile in the Philippines, a recently published opinion piece in the Manila Bulletin notes... wait for it!

"The countries that are using GM foods find threefold benefits: Increased yield. Reduction of the use of pesticides and reduction in postharvest losses since the GM products have a longer shelf life."

Prakash couldn't resist also spreading misinformation in the Philippines about his pet-hate, Greenpeace. Greenpeace, he told reporters, was spending more than a hundred million dollars on its anti-biotech campaign, and he didn't deny to the Manila Star that among the possible corporate financiers of this multi-million dollar campaign were the agro-chemical industry!!! How ironic given Prakash's own connections to that industry and its corporate communications.
[http://ngin.tripod.com/deceit7.html
http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,723899,00.html ]

Funnily enough, since Prakash's departure from the Philippines, Prakash-ally Patrick Moore has suddenly started being quoted in the Philippines' press in support of GMOs, as has that other Prakash stalwart Norman Borlaug.

Prakash always likes to present Moore as Greenpeace's "Founder" and to imply that he has only recently broken with the organisation. In reality, Moore ceased to have any active connection with Greenpeace back in the mid-1980s and was never more than a founding member. Yet we read:

"And in a surprise move, the founder and former president of Greenpeace, Dr. Patrick Moore, reversed the Greenpeace position by saying in an interview in Bangkok this month (8/14) that Third World nations should go ahead and use biotechnology in agricultures in order to grow more food per hectare. He added that there are no proven side effects and that "when the public is properly informed about biotech, they will realize that the positive benefits outweigh any potential negative effect." This should come as a blow to the European Greenpeace advocates who have raised millions of dollars to pressure countries, including the Philippines, against using GM foods."

It will certainly come as a surprise to Greenpeace supporters that a man who left the organisation nearly 20 years ago, and who spent much of the intervening period as a paid industry critic, has now managed to reverse Greenpeace's position on anything. [for more on Moore:
http://ngin.tripod.com/moore.htm  ;  http://www.fanweb.org/patrick-moore
; http://ngin.tripod.com/moremoore.htm]

The writer of the opinion piece below is concerned that even the Bishops of the Church have fallen victim to the "demonizing" of biotechnology. But no warning is given against the deifying of biotechnology by self-interested acolytes.

***

Opinion & Editorial: Demonizing biotechnology

Manila Bulletin, August 21, 2002
ASAP Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp.

TWO years ago when Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug, the creator of the "Green Revolution" which added essential food supplied to many hungry families in Africa and Asia, was in Manila, he addressed the unfortunate tendency of well-meaning but illinformed environmentalists to demonize biotechnology.

 Now we are at it again - and with an interesting line up of pros and cons about the use of genetically modified food. While the Bishops have come out against it, Dr. Jess Estanislau (of which there is no one more Catholic!) is for it. It also is not a matter of politics. The GMA administration is for it and leading oppositionist Ed Angara, a former Secretary of Agriculture, is also. While its fine for people with plenty of disposable income to piously buy only "natural" food, which is considerably more expensive than foods that have been genetically engineered to be disease or insect resistant, what about the people who haven't got that kind of money, are undernourished, or even starving? "I think for us to turn our backs on biotechnology would be immoral," wrote Ron Cantrell, director of the International Rice Institute at Los Banos, where testing of disease-resistant rice and corn is taking place. Biotechnology is about making more food available to more people, by eliminating expensive sprays and the loss of products to disease. Dr. Borlaug called his "Green Revolution" a "temporary solution" since the world population would soon exceed the food supply, which it has. The young Greenpeace activists deny there is any food shortage and say it's just a problem of distribution (although they don't offer any solution to the distribution problem). Anti-globalization NGOs fear multi-nationals will get rich selling GM seeds, so they spread will tales of "runaway genes" and "super weeds" and "million of dead bodies" and busily uproot and burn GM crops when they can.   Which hardly puts more food on anyone's table. The countries that are using GM foods find threefold benefits: Increased yield. Reduction of the use of pesticides and reduction in postharvest losses since the GM products have a longer shelf life. In China, which has embraced biotechnology, still another advantage was reported: a sharp drop in farmers deaths from pesticide poisoning. 15 countries, including Vietnam, India and Bangladesh, are reporting improved yields with hybrid rice. China's production has increased by a dramatic 30% (from 140 million tons to 188 million tons) in the 12 years that it has been planting hybrid rice. And in a surprise move, the founder and former president of Greenpeace, Dr. Patrick Moore, reversed the Greenpeace position by saying in an interview in Bangkok this month (8/14) that Third World nations should go ahead and use biotechnology in agricultures in order to grow more food per hectare. He added that there are no proven side effects and that "when the public is properly informed about biotech, they will realize that the positive benefits outweigh any potential negative effect." This should come as a blow to the European Greenpeace advocates who have raised millions of dollars to pressure countries, including the Philippines, against using GM foods. Dr. Moore upset the scare applecart even further by saying biotech was actually good for the environment since it reduces the use of toxic pesticides and averts soil erosion. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as well as the European Commission, have extensively tested GM foods and found them safe for human consumption. Unfortunately however, well-meaning environmentalists are blocking the use of biotechnology in the Philippines - without taking into account who - the voiceless and often hungry poor - these products might help feed. Its ironic that "anti-biotech's" always seem so well-fed and middle class, and have apparently never suffered malnutrition or poverty. They are idealists. But they are not helping society when they attempt to block scientific progress that aims at feeding the worlds malnourished. If the "anti biotech's" don't want food tampered with, they should have shut down IRRI a generation ago. What was the "green revolution," after all, except "tampering" with rice strains to make them more productive? Today's biotechnological tampering with vegetables is to make them disease resistant and insect resistant. Is that against the Will of God? I think no.

 "Feeding the multitude" is a Christian concept. Transgenic varieties of cotton, corn, and potatoes developed in the last 20 years contain genes which effectively control insect pests and disease and reduce farmers use of expensive insecticides, which also cause health problems for the farmers who use them. If you want to tackle environmental issues, the reduction of pesticides should be a top priority. Unfortunately for the estimated one billion of the world's poorest people, Dr. Borlaug pointed out recently at the FAO meeting in Rome, science and technology are under attack in affluent societies where misinformed environmentalists are spreading frightening hypotheses that consumers will be poisoned and crops contaminated by introducing genetically modified crops. How, Dr. Borlaug asked, could so many educated people be so illiterate about science? The world today has the technology to feed a population of 10 billion people - provided farmers and ranchers are allowed by the elitist environmentalists to use modern technology that is already available to them.

 For the Philippines, the introduction of biotech crops will also reduce the country's dependence on imported rice and corn.

***

Letter Published in 'Farmers Weekly' 16 August 2002

(Numbers in brackets refer to footnotes provided here only, for further reference; title of letter produced by Farmers Weekly.)

GM crop data was not so rosy

The article "Data shows economic success for GM crops" (Arable, July 12) is misleading.

It quotes claims from a US National Centre for Food and Agricultural Policy study part funded by Monsanto and the Biotechnology Industry Organisation.

With the exception of Bt insecticide cotton, often planted where little integrated pest management is used, examination of USDA governmental data released in June gives a different picture.

First, GM crops do not increase yield potential and may reduce yields. [1]

Second, Bt insecticide GM corn has had a negative economic impact on farms. [2]

Third, GM herbicide-tolerant crops have produced no reduction in herbicide active ingredient applied. [3]

Fourth, the reports says: "Change in pesticide use from the adoption of herbicide-tolerant cotton was not significant." [4]

Fifth, for herbicide-tolerant soya, active ingredient of herbicide applied has increased. [5]

Sixth, it states: "The adoption of herbicide-tolerant soybeans does not have a statistically significant effect on net returns." [6]

It adds: "Using herbicide-tolerant seed did not significantly affect no-till adoption". [7]

The report comments that "the soybean results appear to be inconsistent with the rapid adoption of this technology" and that "An analysis using broader financial performance measures... did not show GE crops to have a significant impact." [8]

It concludes that: "Perhaps the biggest issue raised by these results is how to explain the rapid adoption of GE crops when farm financial impacts appear to be mixed or even negative." [9] The report does not refer to unreliable promotional advice fed to farmers.

The Prime Minister claims to seek a scientific debate on GM crops. Unless there is a willingness to look at all the scientific data and to avoid hype from vested interests, we are unlikely to get one.

Mark Griffiths

Footnotes:

[1] p21 of USDA report

[2] p30 of USDA report

[3] p28 of USDA report - see graph. Note Farmers Weekly edited out from the letter the word 'overall' from what should have read 'no overall reduction'. The USDA graph in fact shows a very small reduction in herbicide active ingredient applied in the case of herbicide-tolerant corn. However, other analysis of USDA data published in a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry does not indicate any such reduction, but rather a substantial increase. In addition, a report by BBC Newsnight June 2002 has revealed that American farmers are now changing the way they grow herbicide-tolerant corn by tank mixing a wider range of chemicals than originally intended. It is therefore unlikely that the small reduction reported by the USDA in this report will survive in future statistics.

[4] p28 of USDA report - see note to graph.

[5] p27 of USDA report. Note that the report says "The estimated active ingredients applied to corn, soybean, and cotton fields also declined by about 2.5 million pounds...". However, all but a small fraction of this is accounted for by Bt cotton. The only positive contribution from a herbicide-tolerant crop is in the case of corn (and even this is questionable; see note [3] ).

[6] p23 of USDA report

[7] p29 of USDA report. This relates to soya beans, the largest GM crop. Data is not provided for other crop types.

[8] p23 of USDA report

[9] p24 of USDA report
 


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