>Date Posted: 01/21/1999
>Posted by: firstname.lastname@example.org
> from THE EDMONDS INSTITUTE
>Recently many of us read a newspaper article about how
>Sierra Club Executive Director "Carl Pope Loves Ag-Biotech".
>The Edmonds Institute sought a clarification of Carl Pope's
>position. This is what we received. Please note that Carl
>acknowledges that part of what he is sending is a DRAFT
>article that he has not yet edited; it is NOT for quoting.
>>From Carl Pope:
> Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute has been circulating a press release
>claiming that I have endorsed his views of the role of biotechnology in
>agriculture. His press release contains a correct quote from me, one I
>a letter to Philanthropy magazine pointing out that an article by Avery
>undercut another article in Philanthropy suggesting that there was not
>with meeting world food needs and hence no need to worry about population.
> In that letter I agreed with Avery that there needed to be a larger role
>for PUBLICLY and PHILANTHROPICALLY funded agricultural research to improve
>yields, including on bioengineered crops. My point was that leaving such
>research solely to the private sector ensures that the technologies which
>will not meet the needs of either most farmers or the environment.
> Avery's presentation of my views has created some consternation, which I
>fully understand. He evidently has a rather extensive reputation of which
>unaware, since the thrust of my letter to the editor was not even directed to
> To give a fuller picture of my personal feelings on this topic, I am
>enclosing a very preliminary draft of my next column in SIERRA; it may
>a number of factual errors so I would appreciate it if folks could refrain
>providing it with the extensive editorial assistance it clearly needs.
> I am also sending as a separate message the full text of my letter to
> I know that a number of you have received copy's of Avery's press
>in a variety of e mail formats. I would appreciate it if you could
>this response to the same lists. This is the only means I have available
>to set the record straight.
>DRAFT COLUMN FOR SIERRA PRELIMINARY DRAFT DO NOT QUOTE
>For millenia a family of bacteria, bacillus thuringiensis, have made their
>livelihood in the soil by emitting a toxin which killed insects;organic
>have leveraged this capacity by spraying crops with high concentrations of
>non-toxic to other organisms, at times of peak
>caterpillar or insect infestation.
>Now, like the farmer in the fable, biotechnologists employed by the Monsanto
>Corporation have decided to privatize the golden eggs that BT has provided
>crops and farmers alike. Monsanto has created a bioengineered potato each
>cell of which contains the BT toxin, so that each and every potato beetle
>munches a leaf or stem will succumb.
>Whether a potato which is hybridized with a bacteria is still a good staple
>for a diet remains an unanswered question, one which a recent article in the
>New York Times magazine suggested would remain unanswered, since the Food and
>Drug Administration, which regulates food, thinks this potato is actually a
>pesticide, and EPA, which regulates pesticides, persists in viewing it as a
>food -- so neither requires much safety screening.
>Monsanto is content with this situation, and argues that in any event the
>company is not responsible for the safety of its food: "Monsanto," Phil
>Director of corporate communications, told the TIMEs, "should not have to
>vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much
>as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job."
>But the consequences for plants and farmers are quite clear. Monstanto
>acknowledged that if every Colorado potato beetle or other insect that
>its Frankenstein crop must survive the BT toxic to reproduce, BT resistance
>insects will finally emerge, and the millenial service that the humble
>has provided will come to an end. Monsanto concedes
>that even if every farmer follows its suggestion to plant a "refuge" of
>non-bioengineered potatoes close by to minimize the chances of resistance
>emerging, in thirty years BT will be finished as an organic
>pesticide. Monsanto wil harvest lots of golden eggs in the intervening
>and the rest of us will lose an otherwise immortal goose in the process.
>Monsanto is not content to stop with BT and potatoes. It has eagerly
>purchased a company whose main asset was ownership of a bioengineering
>technology Monsanta dubs the "terminator gene." The function of the
>Terminator gene is to prevent farm saved seeds from reproducing.
>Self-replication is the essence of a seed, for everyone but a seed
>selling Terminator modified rice, corn and soybeans, Monsanto can prevent the
>habit of saving seed for the next season, leaving farmers completely
>on the chemical company, and avoiding the need to continue to field a crop of
>investigators whose function is to apprehend and prosecute farmers who,
>Monsanto's permission, save the seeds from the company's present
>awkwardly fruitful biologically engineered crops.
>Monsanto has an unlikely partner in this scheme to use
>biotechnology to enrich seed companies at the expense of farmers -- the
>States Department of Agriculture, which developed the Terminator
>the first place.
>Terminator and the BT potato are, sadly, characteristic of biotechnology in
>agriculture not only in the hands of Monsanto, but in general. Varieties
>are resistant to herbicides so that even more can be used, or that lend
>themselves to mechanical harvesting so that farm labor can be displaced in
>overpopulated third world nations are other examples. W.R. Grace made a
>attempt to patent all the commercial uses of the neem tree, an Indian species
>whose various uses for medicinal and anti-bacterial purposes have been
>for thousands of years by peasant families in the sub-continent.
>For the most part, agricultural biotechnology consists of a scientifically
>sophisticated strategy for enclosing the commons
>-- taking the naturally evolved, common genetic inheritancfe of the
>and loading it into a new, and patented bottle, often one with very nasty
>effects. The TIMES described the Terminator's imapact: "It will allow
>like Monsanto to privatize one of the last great commons in nature -- the
>genetics of the crop plants that civilization has developed over the past
>The problem is not biotechnology itself, although like any powerful
>it requires care and caution. The problem is the context within which
>biotechnology is being deployed in agriculture -- a context of profit making
>companies employing patent laws to privatize the world's gene pool. Just as
>speculators realized during the settling of the American west that seizing
>was more profitable than using it well, Monsanto has realized that using
>biotechnology to seize nature makes more bucks than using it to meet
>It doesn't have to be this way, of course. This is not how Luther Burbank
>his work, nor how the publicly accountable international research centers
>developed the strains that led to the Green Revolution operated. Theirs was
>agricultural science for public benefit, and the idea of a Terminator
gene, or a
>potato that in thirty years would wipe out BT as a valuable organic pestice,
>would have struck them as monstrous.
>Because it is monstrous.
>Biotechnology can offer powerful solutions to profound problems in
>but in the hards of profit-driven, privatizing and patent protected
>corporations, its agricultural application has turned into an ecological
>catastrophe, with the human price waiting in the wings.
>Director of Publications
>Philanthropy Round Table
> Before I take issue with one of the articles in your November/December
>issue, let me first express agreement with another. While the data I have
>seen on the relative productivity per acre of low input agriculture does not
>support Dennis Avery's argument that it will require more acreage to feed the
>world than using chemically intensive agriculture, I strongly endorse his
>for a renewed commitment to governmental and philanthropic funding of
>agricultural research including research into conventionally bred or
>bio-engineered new varieties of crops.
> In addition to the arguments that Avery offers for why we should not
>back into reliance on private agribusiness to do all of our research,
>another and fundamental reason. Approximately one billion poor farmers
>produce 25% of the world's food, and also produce livelihoods for themselves
>and their families. These farmers do not represent an attractive commercial
>market for agricultural researchers in private industry. New varieties
>suitable for their needs, even if productive, would not be as profitable as
>equally useful new varieties meeting the needs of large or commercial growers
>or those with higher incomes.
> Worse, the exigencies of the marketplace are leading many bioengineering
>companies down a road that will make life dramatically worse for these poor
>farmers and for the global environment. The inflammatory conflict over
>Monsanto's "terminator" technology is only the latest example. The
>"terminator" gene, jointly developed by USDA and a research firm subsequently
>aquired by Monsanto, enables seed companies to produce high-yielding
>of crops such as rice and wheat which will be sterile. This will solve the
>"problem" for seed companies that farmers currently save their seeds for such
>crops, because they cannot afford to buy fresh seed every year.
> What is a "problem" for seed companies is, of course, an important
>element of economic security for poor farmers around the world. But from the
>viewpoint of commercial bioengineers, there is relatively little incentive to
>develop a fantastic new variety of wheat or rice since, unlike hybridized
>crops like corn, the market is relatively small. This is particularly
>a variety that may require low levels of chemical inputs and produce
>particular benefits when used in labor intensive agriculture with poor soils
>or weather -- precisely where poor farmers are most in need.
> And from an environmental perspective, the terminator gene is a serious
>threat, since it will, inevitably, migrate at least to close relatives of the
>engineered crop, eliminating the natural fertility of wild strains and
>endemic species and accelerating the alarming trend of global loss of germ
>plasm. (This same propensity of this gene to cross-breed, of course, means
>that even farmers who never buy the terminator seed may lose the fertility of
>some or all of their saved seed, because it will have been cross pollinated
>with the gene.)
> Only philanthropic or public sector research institutions can be
>to pursue promising breeding strategies without regard to such commercial
>exigencies, and a massive increase in such research is, as Avery argues,
>absolutely critical -- only then can the promise of high-tech breeding be
>combined with the social and environmental needs of the world.
> But ironically, Avery simultaneously provides a compelling rebuttal to
>another article in the same issue of PHILANTHROPY, our cover story on
>population. Nicholas Eberstadt argues that there is insufficient evidence
>that population growth creates major problems to justify the investment in
>population programs by American foundations and philanthropists. Let me
>Dennis Avery in rebuttal:
> "If the world's future food production were left to slash-and-burn
>farming, we could expect to lose half of the remaining tropical forests in
>next several decades. That would be an irreparable loss for the world's
> "To save the wildlands with dietary changes, we might need 50% of the
>world's populatin to become vegans .... there is not likelihood of such a
>global dietary shift occurring voluntarily. Quite the contrary: Chinese meat
>demand has more than doubled over the last seven years as that country's
>citizens have begun to experience some level of economic prosperity. India's
>milk consumption has more than doubled since 1980."
> In spite of the argument earlier in his article that "human
>rapidly stabilizing", Avery's data shows that human population at present
>levels poses a serious threat to biological diversity, and certainly combined
>with rising living standards this threat will increase.
> We have, unfortunately, passed the point in human history where we can
>adopt any single fix for our problems; we will need to combine social changes
>such as women's education with family planning to bring down fertility;
>publicly accountable and oriented research into better plant varieties with a
>reduction of excessive reliance on chemical inputs to increase food
>in an environmentall sustainable way and creative strategies to change
>practices in ways that will accomodate biological diversity alongside food
> American philanthropy has historically suffered from a tendency to
>magic bullet -- the tension between Avery and Eberstadt data should remind us
>that debunking magic bullets is not, in itself, a magic bullet.
>The Sierra Club
>Here is the article Carl Pope was responding to:
>Philanthropy, Nov./Dec. 1998
>Feeding Our Faces
>Can private philanthropy save the planet -- again?
>By Dennis T. Avery
>Believe it or not, the principal danger to biodiversity and
>wildlife habitat in the new millenium will be neither
>population growth nor pesticide use, but the plows of
>low-yield farmers. Surprised? Well, prepare to be surprised
>It's commonly asserted that the planet is "running out of
>food," and that population growth will soon lead to
>widespread starvation. The truth is that we can feed the
>world's population. We can feed them all as the planet's
>population peaks at around 8.5 billion in the year 2035. We
>can even feed them a vastly improved diet, and we should be
>able to do it all without destroying a single acre of
>wildlands. But we can't do it without increased support for
>basic research on high- yield farming techniques. Only
>through intensive farming techniques can we feed the world's
>population without requiring the conversion to farmland of
>vast new areas of wilderness.
>Such techniques got their start in the years after World War
>II, in a story that marks one of private philanthropy's most
>remarkable-but little known-accomplishments. Between the late
>1940s and the early 1960s the Rockefeller and Ford
>Foundations founded agricultural research institutions in
>Mexico and the Philippines. It is no exaggeration to say that
>in the next several decades, the new crop varieties developed
>by these institutions probably saved over a billion people
>from starvation (and spawned, in the process, a worldwide
>agricultural research network for the Third World).
>The high water mark of private philanthropy's involvement
>came in 1970, when Norman E. Borlaug, an Iowa plant breeder
>hired by the Rockefeller Foundation, won the Nobel Peace
>Prize for his contributions to the Green Revolution.
>If At First You Succeed
>But then events took an unexpected turn. No sooner had the
>world gained a degree of food security than fears of
>"overpopulation" replaced the fear of famine. Popular concern
>about saving the environment replaced the goal of conquering
>human hunger, so long sought after and so nearly achieved.
>Funding streams were quick to reflect this shift, as
>foundations and governments quickly turned their backs on the
>research and technology that had produced food abundance for
>the first time in human history. Not surprisingly,
>developments in agricultural research slowed considerably.
>Today, agricultural research and high-tech farming are so
>unpopular with First World voters that the historic pioneers
>in high-yield farming-the U.S. land-grant universities-have
>seen their research budgets cut by one-third in real terms
>since 1960. European countries have arbitrarily banned some
>farm chemicals, despite a complete lack of evidence that they
>cause harm to people or the ecosystem. The environmentalist
>group Greenpeace has waged a highly effective campaign
>against the use of biotechnology in food, vaguely citing
>Private philanthropy has been excruciatingly slow to recommit
>to agricultural research, and some foundations with rich
>histories of supporting cutting-edge research have actually
>turned against modern farming. The Wallace Genetic
>Foundation, run by descendants of Henry Wallace-the man
>credited with giving the world hybrid corn-is one such
>institution. The Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative
>Agriculture, a Wallace Foundation grantee, is now openly
>trying to turn the world back to low-input farming methods.
>Similarly, the Michigan-based W. K. Kellogg Foundation, in
>the decades after World War II, provided grants to help the
>U.S. agricultural extension service teach high-yield
>agriculture to farmers and enroll millions of farm kids in
>yield-oriented 4-H Clubs. In recent years, Kellogg has
>focused instead on low-yield "sustainable" farming projects
>and social change in rural communities.
>Pulling the Plug on Research
>As high-yield agriculture became politically unpopular among
>First World voters, its government-sponsored aid priorities
>shifted away from high-yield farming toward "population
>control." Formerly the world leader in high-yield farming
>research, U.S. government farm research funding has dropped
>by 30 percent in real terms since 1960, leaving most
>significant farm investments to be made by private firms and
>a few Third World governments, such as Brazil and China. Much
>of the shift in emphasis was caused by the anti-natalist
>ethic of Paul Ehrlich, whose ravings won public support and
>the approval of editorial writers throughout the 1970s and
>In 1994, even as the Cairo Population conference was pledging
>$17 billion per year to suppress birthrates, the Third World
>agricultural research network (known as the Consultative
>Group on International Agricultural Research) was quietly
>going bankrupt, with donor nations unwilling to pledge the
>$300 million needed to keep the lights on. The World Bank
>stepped in on an emergency basis to keep the research
>alive-but ultimately, the World Bank's own funding is hostage
>to First World public opinion, and that public opinion shows
>no sign of changing in the near term.
>Yet the world's human population is rapidly stabilizing [see
>article page 18, by Nicholas Eberstadt]. Births per woman in
>the Third World have plummeted from 6.5 in 1960 to 3.1 today,
>which translates to a drop of more than 75 percent in the
>rate of population growth in essentially one generation. The
>First World is already at 1.7 births per woman, far below the
>replacement level of 2.1. Italy and Germany are at 1.2.
>Current population projections by the UN project a peak
>population of about 8.5 billion people, achieved in about
>2035 and followed by declines.
>The reasons for declining fertility include affluence
>(through trade); urbanization (because of additional off-farm
>jobs); contraceptive technology (which people don't use until
>they want smaller families)-and the food security fostered by
>the Green Revolution. What is more-and you wouldn't know this
>by listening to the population scaremongers-but in general,
>countries that have raised their crop yields the most are the
>ones which have reduced fertility rates the quickest, in part
>because food abundance gives parents an increased assurance
>that their first few children will make it to adulthood.
>Saving Wildlands with High Farm Yields
>In the turmoil over population control and pesticides, few
>people have noticed the single indisputable environmental
>benefit that high-yield farming has delivered to the
>world-extra room for wildlife. According to my own (peer
>reviewed and published) estimates, in the years since 1960,
>higher crop yields have saved 15 million square miles of land
>from being cleared for low-yield farming-equal to the
>combined land area of the United States, Europe, and South
>Additional wildlands have been protected by the increased
>productivity of today's highly bred and confinement-raised
>livestock and poultry, and by food processing that lets
>farmers plant crops where yields are highest, and then
>transports them to wherever the consumers happen to live.
>Tripling farm yields-again-on current farmland would save
>virtually all of the world's wildlands from the plow.
>Similarly, putting 5 percent of the wild forest area into
>high-yield trees would save the other 95 percent of the
>forests from logging. All told, such high- yield conservation
>techniques represent the only proven way to permanently
>preserve the world's wildlands.
>But are there higher yields to discover? Recent discoveries
>show enormous potential. The original Rockefeller wheat and
>maize research station in Mexico is completing a major new
> re-breeding of the wheat plant that it says will raise
>potential world wheat yields by at least 50 percent. The new
>plants have yielded up to seven tons per acre; any yield over
>three tons is considered very high, and the world average is
>less than two tons per acre.
>In another major breakthrough with potentially enormous
>consequences, two researchers from a small Mexican institute
>have recently discovered a biotech solution to the problem of
>aluminum toxicity, which cuts yields by up to 80 percent on
>much of the tropical world's arable land. The researchers
>took a naturally occurring gene for citric acid production
>from a bacterium, and inserted it in crop plants. The gene
>causes plant roots to secrete citric acid, blocking the
>uptake of aluminum ions and allowing the crops to grow
>In addition, last year, Cornell University researchers, using
>biotechnology, have identified key productivity genes from
>wild relatives of crop species. These "wild relative genes"
>are too distant for normal cross-breeding, but researchers
>have spliced them into modern crop varieties and have already
>produced a 50 percent yield increase in tomatoes, and a
>one-third gain in rice yields.
>Consider The Alternatives...
>The alternatives to high-yield farming would be deadly for
>the environment. In fact, you can ruin a Yuppie's whole day
>by pointing out that organic farming yields only about half
>as much per acre as mainstream farms, after factoring in land
>needed to produce organic fertilizer, the need to allow
>fields to lay fallow, and high losses to pests. More organic
>farming equals more land taken from nature for crops.
>Traditional peasant farmers manage only one-tenth to
>one-hundredth the yield per acre of a modern farmer. If the
>world's future food production were left to slash-and-burn
>farming, we could expect to lose half of the remaining
>tropical forests in the next several decades. That would be
>an irreparable loss for the world's biodiversity (25 million
>of the world's estimated 30 million wildlife species live in
>tropical forests. In fact, researchers have found about as
>many different wild species in five square miles of
>rainforest as we've found in the whole of North America.)
>And finally, there is no vegetarian/vegan trend that would
>reduce the per-capita demand for farm output. Fewer than 5
>percent of First World consumers are vegetarian, and most of
>them eat lots of dairy products and eggs. To save the
>wildlands with dietary change, we might need 50 percent of
>the world population to become vegans-giving up livestock
>products altogether- within the next 30 years. There is no
>likelihood of such a global dietary shift occurring
>voluntarily. Quite the contrary: Chinese meat demand has more
>than doubled over the last seven years, as that country's
>citizens have begun to experience some measure of economic
>prosperity. India's milk consumption has more than doubled
>since 1980. Both developments mean far more demand for
>Needed: More High-Yield Farm Research
>Agriculture currently takes 37 percent of the earth's total
>land area. Simple math tells us that if 8.5 billion
>relatively affluent people in 2035 demand three times today's
>farm output there literally will be no room for
>wildlife-unless we raise the farm yields still higher.
>Without another surge of First World investment in
>higher-yield farming, we could still lose 10 to 20 million
>square miles of wildlands (and millions of wild species) to
>Yet public antipathy to modern farming is also driving a
>regulatory climate that seems to glory in depriving
>high-yield farmers of urgently needed supplies like nitrogen
>fertilizer and genetically engineered seeds.
>Dr. Borlaug-the Nobel laureate mentioned earlier (and the
>first to publish on high-yield farming's implications for
>conservation), is now trying to create a Green Revolution for
>Africa. He says Africa could rapidly double its food output
>with available fertilizers, pesticides and high-yield seeds.
>Unfortunately, foundation-funded activists, including
>Greenpeace, are opposing the modest use of such "inputs" that
>Africa must have to save room for its unique wildlife
>Better Farming Through Grants
>Private companies have taken over some new high-yield
>research, especially in seed breeding and biotechnology, but
>the historic division of labor has been for government
>researchers to perform most basic research, with private
>companies focused on the applied research. With government
>funding off the table, there is serious uncertainty as to
>whether private companies can or will invest in enough basic
>That question is so serious that the Rockefeller Foundation
>has re- entered the field, albeit in a relatively small way.
>The foundation has spent about $6 million per year for the
>last decade (a small fraction of its total grantmaking) for
>biotechnology programs including one for mapping the rice
>genome. Otherwise, Rockefeller feared, Third World food needs
>would be left out of the biotechnology revolution.
>The Rockefeller project is tightly focused, but it is helping
>fund more than 300 researchers in agricultural biotechnology
>scattered all over the world. Mapping the rice genome will
>provide a basis for a range of future biotech research
>projects in support of increased Third World food production.
>The McKnight Foundation, established by the founder of 3M, is
>also funding agricultural biotechnology through co-projects
>that involve both U.S. and Third World research institutions.
>McKnight is offering about $2 million per year, or 3 percent
>of its grant money. Not to be left out, the W. K. Kellogg
>Foundation recently recommitted itself to agricultural
>development projects in the Southern Cone of Africa.
>To date, however, private philanthropic efforts have been
>nowhere near large enough to offset the flight of public
>funding from intensive farming. The Third World research
>centers have gone through a massive downsizing-even as
>research costs have dramatically increased.
>What Should Philanthropy Do?
>Basic research may be the single most neglected area of farm
>science. Foundations could assemble panels of agricultural
>experts to identify critical areas of basic research need,
>and offer competitive multi- year grants to agricultural
>research institutions. (The McKnight Foundation recently
>received more than 450 applications for nine available
>grants, indicating the intensity of the interest.)
>A foundation not accustomed to funding research could try to
>help improve the public-opinion climate for high-yield
>farming. The David Brinkley "infomercials" for ADM offer good
>examples. These spots use a respected public figure to point
>out the human and environmental benefits of high yields.
>They're positive and non-confrontational. There is also a
>critical need for a foundation to fund a documentary- length
>debate on the merits of intensive farming.
>After decades of foundation support, high-yield farming has
>become a kind of philanthropic ghost town. Yet there's a
>broad opportunity and an urgent need. Private philanthropy
>started the first Green Revolution. Now it's needed to help
>carry forward the second one.
>Dennis T. Avery is Director of the Center for Global Food
>Issues (CGFI) for the Hudson Institute of Indianapolis. He
>was formerly the senior agricultural analyst for the U.S.
>Department of State. He is the author of Saving the Planet
>with Pesticides and Plastic (Hudson Institute). CGFI has
>received two small donations from the Albert N. Andreas
>Foundation and ADM, and Dr. Avery has served as an unpaid
>advisor to ADM.
>This material has been forwarded by:
>THE EDMONDS INSTITUTE
>20319-92nd Avnue West
>Edmonds, Washington 98020 USA
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National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture
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