Column: Biotechnology from different perspectives

Things are changing in the ag biotech world and some things never change.

Ag biotech continues to grow — maybe faster outside the U.S. — Iran and China are becoming the most advanced countries in the commercialization of biotech rice, the world’s most important food crop. The sad part of this is that the anti-biotech movement has stymied development of biotech rice in the U.S. China and Iran, where anti-biotech malcontents would find themselves in jail for doing what they do in the U.S. and other democracies, are leaving the U.S. behind the advancing biotechnology curve.

What never seems to change is the distorted view the American public is getting about biotech from the so-called unbiased mass media.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) recently released its annual report on worldwide ag biotech. Here are some of the highlights:

-- Last year, global biotech crops passed the billionth acre mark by one of 8.5 million farmers who planted a biotech crop in one of 21 countries.

-- Farmers have increased biotech crop plantings by double-digit growth every year since biotech was commercialized in 1996. Global biotech crops increased more than fifty-fold in the first decade of commercialization.

-- Global area of approved biotech crops last year was 222 million, up 22 million from 2004.

-- Four additional countries grew biotech crops last year, including three EU nations. The EU is the poster child for the anti-biotech crowd. Now Spain, Germany, Portugal, France and the Czech Republic allow biotech crops.

-- Bt rice was grown commercially for the first time in 2005 in Iran on 4,000 hectares. Rice is grown by 250 million farmers and is the principal food for the world’s 1.3 billion poorest people. Commercialization of biotech rice has enormous implications for the alleviation of poverty, hunger and malnutrition. China is expected to approve biotech rice in the near future.

-- In a different report, the Vietnam News Agency reports that scientists from the Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute (CLRRI) have been able to create a nutritious rice variety through genetic modification. The rice is insect resistant and it also is rich in Vitamins A and E, iron, zinc, and oryzanol. Some evidence suggests that gamma oryzanol increases testosterone levels, stimulates the release of endorphins (pain-relieving substances made in the body), and promotes the growth of lean muscle tissue. This biotech rice will be planted in remote and disadvantaged areas of the country to raise the quality of nutrition in local communities.

-- The ISAAA also reports the U.S., followed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada and China, remains the leader in total acreage with 55 percent of the total biotech area.

-- Ninety percent of the biotech-beneficiary farmers were resource-poor farmers from developing countries.

Admittedly, the industry-supported ISAAA issued a pure PR piece touting its own growth. AP biotechnology writer Paul Elias dutifully reported many of the ISAAA facts in a widely distributed article. However, there were obvious biases in the article under the guise of objective reporting.

For example, in the second paragraph of the report, the writer cites “anti-biotech activists and other observers” as complaining that the biotech industry “isn’t helping alleviate world hunger as it has long promised.” The reporter offered his criticism of genetically engineered crops by saying none were “nutritionally enhanced” and biotech crops grown last were for “animal feed.”

I sure would like to know who those anti-biotech activists were because I would like to remind them that they are the ones on the front row with their scare tactics to stop development and commercialization of nutritionally enhanced biotech crops. Herbicide-resistant wheat, vitamin A rich Golden Rice, herbicide resistant vegetables, biotech sugar beets and countless other crops are on the shelf because companies and food suppliers are fearful of marketplace backlashes generated by the radical, lying biotech movement. The reporter neglected to mention these facts.

What do these biotech activists (and Mr. Elias) believe is done with biotech corn and soybeans if not at least some of it is consumed by hungry people.

The reporter says biotech crops are used for “animal feed.” Obviously, Mr. Elias has not been around many farms or ranches. The reporter must think farmers and ranchers keep animals as pets and not for meat and milk and other insignificant products like leather.

Apparently one of his sources for the non-attributed facts in the article was the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He quotes Greg Jaffe, biotech director of the non-profit public interest group who complained that the biotech movement is driven by 10-year old technology and he would like to see “others in the food chain aside from farmers benefit.”

Of course the article contains the potshots at Monsanto and other biotech corporations and points out that the ISAAA group is partially funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

What he fails to point out is that guess who else is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation ($280,000) as well as the Rockefeller Family Fund ($250,000). You guessed it, the “non-profit” group called the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The Rockefellers must have enough money to burn on both sides of an issue.

These facts were not in the article nor was there an explanation of who is this group whose name implies it is looking out for your best interest and my best interest.

There is a group called the network, “committed to providing detailed and up-to-date information about the funding source of radical anti-consumer organizations and activists.” This is done by analyzing IRS documents to create a database about the so-called activists groups.

According to this group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest spends about $16 million a year protecting you and me. How? Here is what Consumer Freedom says it does.

“The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is the undisputed leader among America’s ‘food police.’ CSPI was founded in 1971 by current executive director Michael Jacobson, and two of his co-workers at Ralph Nader’s Center for the Study of Responsive Law. Since then, CSPI’s joyless eating club has issued hundreds of high-profile — and highly questionable — reports condemning soft drinks, fat substitutes, irradiated meat, biotech food crops, french fries, and just about anything that tastes good.

“CSPI fancies itself a ‘watchdog’ group but behaves more like an attack dog, savaging restaurants, disparaging adults’ food choices, and discouraging even moderate alcohol consumption. It famously dubbed fettuccine Alfredo a ‘heart attack on a plate.’ Its nutrition nags encourage the public to ‘just say no’ to fried mozzarella as though it were an illegal drug.

“The Center for Science in the Public Interest repeatedly attacks groups for accepting industry funding to conduct research. But CSPI itself took $50,000 from the Helena Rubenstein Foundation to fund an attack campaign against the fat substitute Olestra.

“CSPI’s ‘Integrity in Science’ project is ostensibly concerned with the potential conflict of interest that researchers might have when their funding comes from industry. But many of CSPI’s own campaigns — including those heavily reliant on junk science — are equally susceptible to conflict of interest charges. In addition to its $65,000 incentive to bash the fat substitute Olestra, in 2001, the reliably anti-alcohol Robert Wood Johnson Foundation gave CSPI’s campaign against social drinkers $749,999.”

American consumers often do not get the full picture about this biotech issue from the mass media. Hopefully this is a little clearer picture.

e-mail:[email protected]*

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.