1. Are GMOs essential for effective sustainable agriculture in a hungry world?
Dismantling the myth of genetics as the principal constraint on responsible global agricultural production
by Mark Griffiths BSc FRICS FAAV
2. Campaigning against GMOs: International Experiences and Prospects by Lorenz Petersen, 07.06.2001
3. GMO-free Zones by Iza Kruszewska, ANPED, The Northern Alliance for Sustainability
4. Sustainable Organic Plant Breeding – An Alternative to Gene Technology by Cornelia Wiethaler, NABU – Bundesverband
5. Local Solutions for Global Problems by Julian Rose June 2001
1. Are GMOs essential for effective sustainable agriculture in a hungry world?
Dismantling the myth of genetics as the principal constraint on responsible global agricultural production
Mark Griffiths BSc FRICS FAAV
( The complete paper, with the references, is available online at www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/geneticsmyth.htm )
Two days before the last Christmas of the second millennium the London Times, as if firing a final parting salvo from the rapidly retreating values of the 20th Century, reported on the indignant retirement of Professor John Beringer as chairman of the government committee overseeing the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment in the UK . Clearly angry at the poor public reception that genetically modified crops have received in the UK Professor Beringer was reported as saying that those who oppose their use in agriculture were consigning billions of people to a future of hunger and starvation.
John Beringer is Professor of Molecular Genetics and Dean of Science in the School of Biological Sciences at Bristol University. Unlike some of his colleagues in the scientific community  he has so far come under little fire from critics of genetic engineering for making false claims about the ‘benefits’ and risks of the technology.
The Times quotes Professor Beringer as saying that organic agriculture and “spreading around a bit of manure” were not going save the planet, feed the hungry or conserve wildlife. According to Professor Beringer: “In a real, hungry world, there are no solutions other than technological ones.”
The implication arising from this bold assertion is that the main or only solution to such problems is ‘improved’ genetics. Beringer was of course making two important assumptions. The first is that the principal problem with global food provision is one of low yields, rather than issues of distribution, poverty, social conflict and waste. The second assumption is that genetic ‘improvement’, primarily the use of genetic modification, is essential if we are to increase usable crop yields and to farm more sustainably.
At a time when 78 percent of all malnourished children under the age five in the developing world live in countries with food surpluses, much has already been written about the weaknesses of the first assumption . Less investigation has been made into the second.
Just how bad are our existing crop genetics and is their further improvement the only way forward? To solve these vital human and environmental problems should we be exclusively focusing on Professor Beringer’s specialism of molecular genetics? Or should we be looking at factors affecting productive output from a wider scientific perspective? Are inadequate genetics really the limiting factor here? Or do they just simply seem so only from the specialised outlook of molecular geneticists dedicated to their own discipline, but not necessarily working as a practising agriculturists?
In an article printed in the UK’s Farming News in the spring of 1999  Yorkshire agronomist Ian Chalmers highlighted the existing gap between the genetic yield potential of many existing non-transgenic wheat varieties – more than 21t/ha in some cases – and the actual UK average wheat yield of around 7t/ha. Highlighting better crop establishment as a key factor, he pointed to one of his own clients in Lincolnshire who had achieved 18t/ha using an early sowing regime.
Under the headline “Agronomist casts doubt on growers’ intelligence” Mr Chalmers expressed his long term belief that the limiting factor for improved production was not the genetic merit of the crops concerned, but rather the average grower’s mental ability to understand the physiological traits of the particular varieties being grown. In other words the source of the problem was not technical but human. It would seem farmers needed to have a better understanding of plant husbandry, not access to better genetics.
Genetically modified crops have been presented by molecular biologists such as Professor Beringer as the way to reduce industrial agriculture’s chemical inputs and produce higher yields. In practice, however, the hoped for reduction in inputs from many such crops are proving temporary at best, and non-existent at worst [7, 8]. Even more disappointing, yields from GM crops are frequently lower than from conventional varieties .
So given their unfavourable risk-benefit profile [7-11, 30] why are scientists like Beringer advocating the prevalent use of transgenics in agriculture rather than the more holistic approach gradually being discovered by practical mainstream advisers like Butterworth? Probably the reason is that scientists will always inevitably tend to draw from the ‘knowledge’ of their own specialisms when trying to develop solutions to problems, rather than from a wider spectrum derived from parallel branches of knowledge. This is simply because theirs is the area they know and understand best (or as in the case of genetic engineering the one that they claim they do!). Inevitably specialists are often ignorant of potential solutions to problems from other branches of knowledge. Not surprisingly in this context, therefore, genetic engineering in agriculture has sometimes been described by its critics as ‘a solution in search of a problem.’ An equally apt description might also be: ‘a problem in search of a solution’.
Nonetheless could it be that alternatives to the genetic modification ‘panacea’, such as those uncovered by Bill Butterworth, are effective only in favourable growing conditions such as those found in the UK, without a realistic chance of success in more demanding circumstances? Well, not if the work of Professor Jules Pretty, Director of the Centre for Environment and Society at the John Tabor Laboratories at the University of Essex, is anything is to go by.
Pretty has demonstrated that placing soil management at the core of farming techniques using little or no artificial inputs is producing consistent and frequently massive increases in output on millions of hectares in parts of the world as diverse as Africa, Asia and Latin America . These truly transforming results go largely unreported. This is because they are not being achieved through rapid turnover ‘one-size-fits-all’ technology promoted by high profile corporations utilising questionable business methods [13,14]. They are being achieved by individual farmers benefiting from self-reliance based regenerative projects which encourage thoughtful approaches to long term management.
When it comes to counting the social costs can genetic engineering really compete with such a ‘dependency-free’ approach to agriculture? It might still be argued that only the hi-tech approach of genetic engineering can have any hope of offering the necessary agronomic robustness required for crops to function productively in some of the world’s more extreme growing conditions.
A couple of recent research studies raise some interesting questions about the validity of such assumptions. ‘New Scientist’ reported in November 1999  that far from increasing output Monsanto’s genetically modified soya beans were prone to stunted growth and excessive stem splitting in high temperature field conditions. This was apparently due to unintended changes in plant physiology caused by the addition of genes making the beans resistant to glyphosate, the herbicide marketed as ‘Roundup’ by Monsanto. It resulted in up to 40% yield losses compared to traditional soya beans grown in the same conditions.
Research results released at more or less the same time have also demonstrated that organic soya crops grown in high-stress drought conditions in the United States were in fact dramatically more productive than ‘conventional’ high-input crops. Their yield was almost double  thanks to less compacted and more water retentive soil characteristics arising from their higher organic matter content.
As if to make matters worse for the advocates of ‘technology-only’ solutions to world food production problems, additional research [17-25] (the most recent of which was published in December 1999) suggests that certain types of GM plants may in fact have damaging effects on those very soil micro-organisms which Bill Butterworth identifies as being the key to unlocking the genetic potential of existing varieties.
Under conditions of global warming ironically this suite of findings would place organic production at the top of the list in terms of solutions for global hunger, genetic engineering at the bottom, and ‘conventional’ techniques somewhere in the middle. Certainly it is recognised that the addition of organic matter to poor soils can improve many of their properties including reduced susceptibility to erosion . Soil erosion is a critical issue of immense proportions influencing the future of food production in many parts of the world, and one which is often exacerbated by short-termist agricultural policy-making and practice.
Given the large gap that has opened up between what was promised from transgenic crops and what is actually delivered in practice, is more intelligent soil-biology management a better and more reliable alternative to genetic modification when trying to develop a sustainable strategy for unlocking latent productivity in global agriculture? Certainly the results Bill Butterworth’s farmer clients in the UK have been getting seem to overwhelmingly outshine anything that America’s blindly unscientific  adoption of GM crops has been able to deliver. Butterworth claims up to 80% reductions in fertiliser costs, yield increases of 45 -70%, and simultaneous falls in crop disease. This latter factor is especially interesting because with ‘conventional’ high-input agriculture top yields have typically gone hand-in-hand with increased risks of plant disease and higher applications of remedial fungicides, insecticides and growth regulators.
Bill Butterworth concludes his article in ‘Arable Farming’ with the following words: “Those who pay more attention to soil biology get higher yields and lower costs consistently. It does seem clear that not only can we sometimes get close to double the national average yield in a variety of crops, we may be able to do it consistently, across the farm and under a wide range of farming types. The pieces of the jigsaw are beginning to fit into place and it is the balanced management of the soil rumen which is going to deliver.”
The truth here is that for decades the industrialised approach to agriculture has principally focused at most on only half the picture – what goes on above the surface of the soil, rather than beneath it. The key to unlocking the power of this additional realm of nature’s bounty is of course intelligent holistic management, not the genetic modification of plants. By contrast in many parts of the world there has been a relentless mental ‘dumbing-down’ of modern farming for nearly half a century based substantially on the deployment of chemical and related ‘technologies’ which in practice move management intelligence off the farm and into the factory laboratory.
With the attention of advisers like Messrs Chalmers, Butterworth, and Wright, now turning to redress the on-farm biological and human balance have we finally reached a truly progressive and defining point in farmland management as we leave the 20th century and its urbanised reductionist models of agricultural production behind us? Perhaps as some suggest [28-30] the time has come to welcome back the special intelligence of the farmer’s own consciousness to its rightful place at the centre of global agricultural practice. If so, the time would seem ripe to rediscover its unique connection  to the vast organising power of the natural processes which sustain both it and the soil from which our own physical existence is constantly re-created.
Whether or not to chose this farmer-empowering route, or whether to settle for corporate dependency engineered through the industrial intellectual property rights that attach themselves to the Beringer model of farming’s future, is the most critical issue facing global agriculture at the dawn of the third millennium. In the final analysis it may not be such a difficult choice to make.
Mark Griffiths BSc FRICS FAAV
Natural Law Party (UK)
12 January 2000
2. Campaigning against GMOs: International Experiences and Prospects
By Lorenz Petersen
Five years ago, many people said that it was too late for Greenpeace to start campaigning against the release of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) into the environment, and that the GMO-products were here to stay. Today it turns out that the prophets of the “inevitable” were wrong. In the European Union food products from GMOs are pushed out of the market, progress has been achieved regarding animal feed. There is a moratorium in place blocking the approval of new GMOs and their commercial release. But resistance against GMOs has not only been successful in Europe. The anti-GMO movement is gaining substantial momentum in Latin America and in Asia, in countries like Thailand, the Philippines, China and here especially in Hong Kong, and even in India.
Over the five year Greenpeace has pursued many fronts in our fight against GMOs. We have taken action against imports of GE soybeans coming from the United States, we campaigned for the labelling of GMOs giving consumers the choice to reject them. We have supported and encouraged consumers to form networks to fight against GMOs. Less visibly, we have worked to influence decision makers at the national, European, and international level demanding proper regulations and responsible policies concerning GMOs. In addition, we have taken legal action against Gmo releases in France, Brazil and the United States.
This sounds like colourful mix of activities – what about the strategy? Quite a bit of our thinking and efforts has been going into doing the right thing in the right context at the right time. Not that we haven’t sometimes failed in a big way – all the more reason to investing time and effort into strategy. Maybe a few of our experiences will be of interest to you- because in the more than 30 countries
1. Creating awareness and mobilising consumers against GMOs in their food (“We don’t eat it”) is critical for any success on a regulatory and on an economic level. The retail level of the food industry is very sensitive to image problems and the margins are often small.
2. In order to enable consumer to choose (and to reject) mandatory labelling is key. While this was an early key success making consumers claim their “right to choose” in Europe, because of a regulatory “culture” of transparency oriented towards the precautionary principle by the EU Commission (with some exceptions) – in the United States an often bizarrely inadequate regulatory and legal system and much less sceptical consumers have prevented any real progress towards proper labelling. China, where mandatory labelling was announced two weeks go, shows that the introduction of mandatory labelling is possible even in a difficult political environment.
3. Getting consumer attention and change in their attitudes will work, if carefully selected samples will be tested and positive results publicised together with well documented potential food-related diseases and food safety concerns. Campaign launches in Thailand and in the Philippines have shown that sensitivity regarding food quality is not a western, “luxury” issue.
4. The categorisation of consumer products into lists of “good” (gmo free) and “bad” (contains GMOs) helps to make food processors/producers change their practice. We received many complaints from companies feeling unfairly treated, if we hadn’t taken them from the “bad” list the day after they made their announcement to go GMO free. Many food processors do care about their image. For obvious reasons, the most sensitive ones are the producers of babyfood.
5. The opponents in the GMO fight are, to a good extent transnational corporations. This is a bad thing in the sense of their control over big chunks of the market. At the same time it makes them vulnerable to double standard confrontations. The supermarket chain TESCO has a non GMO policy in the United Kingdom but not in the Czech Republic. Nestlé claims to have no GMOs in Babyfood anywhere, but we have fund GMOs in their Babyfood in Thailand. The aim is to put GMO food producers on the defensive, get commitments through public pressure and follow up with checks and tests.
6. The EU regulator framework and political structure hold opportunities and challenges. Both are extremely complex and hard to cut through. At the same time the complexity and number of players can help push issues. For EU accession countries like Poland their status should be a strong comparative advantage. A relatively strict regulatory regime in the EU is the point of reference for the Polish government and administration and should help getting attention for the legal gaps or implementation deficits – where they exist.
7. The more creative, colourful, funny whenever possible, the more serious and factually sound in confrontation with the Biotech companies, the more attention the media will give to the issue. Without media attention a campaign lacks its potentially most powerful tool.
Naturally, winning the battle over consumers does not mean winning the campaign against GMOs. But without this first essential step it is very difficult to make any real progress. Other essential areas are the fight against imports of GMO animal feed (Soybeans in particular), mainly from the US and Argentina because these are the big amounts that drive planting decisions in North America where most of the GMO commodities still come from. Scandalise contaminated seeds, because seed contamination with GMOs is like a large scale GMO release.
With more and more GMO applications being developed in the laboratories of Monsanto, Syngenta, Aventis et al. on the one hand, and widespread consumer rejection in classical markets on the other, the Biotech industry is looking for alternatives. Massive investments are being made to penetrate Central and Eastern European Markets as well as the developing countries. The lesson that the Biotech industry has learned is that this time they are using the moral high ground to justify GMO spread: The claim is that only with GMOs the world can be fed.
While no one with any experience in food security problems would ever make such a claim because hunger is not a problem of technology but of access to food and poverty eradication, public debate is going along those lines. We think that the question whether or not GMOs and their producers will succeed in dominating agriculture and selling their industrial model of farming to the rest of the world is going to be decided in central and Eastern European countries like Poland but also in the developing world.
To take on this challenge we think we need to broaden the campaign and talk about agriculture as a whole not only GMOs. We are discussing currently what we think are the right approaches to farming and will show how these principles are being practised successfully all over the world adapted to the most different environments. This is why I am very excited to be here and would like to encourage any one of you to let us know about the way you farm to help us prove that sustainable agriculture is a dream come true all over the world.
3. GMO-free Zones
by Iza Kruszewska, ANPED, The Northern Alliance for Sustainability
Prepared for the ICPPC Seminar, Krakow, 21 June 2001
What is a GMO-free zone?
The ‘zone’ can be an economic one e.g. GMO-free supermarket chain.
Another type zone is a physical one e.g. community-owned land. GMO-free zones can be created at many levels: village, city, county, country or even continent.
Whilst it is important that each GMO-free zone has a clear and well publicised definition, the precise nature of the definition will depend on what is possible and practical for each zone. One definition of a “GE-free zone”, is one where no releases of GMOs (GE seeds) take place, but where GE food and GE feed could be marketed, provided that the GMOs were not capable of reproduction.
What is the purpose of GMO-free zones?
GE-free zones can be used in at least three ways:
· As a political tool within the regulatory system to expose loopholes or to exploit legal opportunities;
· As a market tool, to provide GE-free food and enable consumer choice;
· As a public awareness-raising tool e.g. the use of the ‘GMO-free zone’ logo on municipal stationary or supermarket bags.
Clearly, we don’t want GMOs anywhere, but practically we can start with where we are. GMO-free zones is consistent with the idea: Think Globally, Act Locally.
Practical examples of GMO-free zones
· Italy: Four regions, Tuscany, Molise, Lazio and Marche and around 25 provinces, cities and municipalities have banned GE crops, including Rome, Milan, Turin, Brescia and Genoa; In 2000, Italy banned four varieties of GE maize.
· Austria: Bans on three GE maize varieties; no field trials, Austrian supermarkets carry hardly any GMOs, Austria is often called “GMO-free”, the Federal Institute for Less-favoured and Mountainous Areas is pressing for GE-free legislation and published a study on GE-free zones (see below);
· Norway: Ban on the import of 6 GE crops and products which contain antibiotic resistance genes – two GE vaccines, GE maize, tobacco, chicory, and oil swede rape, some of which have been approved in EU. 31 GE applications have been rejected to date;
· Greece: moratorium on GE crop trials
· Spain: The Basque Government has a 5-year complete ban on GMOs
· Algeria: Banned the import, distribution, commercialisation and use of GE plants, except for research purposes.
· Brazil: Planting of GE seeds is banned by federal law; the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Mato Grosso have declared their intentions to remain GE-free; 18 states have called on the Government to block commercial GE crop plantings.
· UK: The Church of England has refused permission for GE crop trials on 60,000 ha of its land; dozens of local authorities supply GE-free school meals, the House of Common banned GE foods for its catering. The island of Jersey banned GE crops
· Sri Lanka banned all imports of raw and processed GE food from 1 May 2001
· Yugoslavia introduced an Order banning the import of GMOs and products derived from GMOs.
· Tesco UK: In April 1999, Tesco bans GE ingredients in its own-brand products; in December 1999, Tesco announces that it is to phase out the use of GE ingredients in animal feed; in January 2001, Tesco announced that their own-brand meat products will be produced only from farm animals fed with non-GE feed; they are also committed to non-GE dairy products.
· McDonald’s UK: In June 1999, McDonald’s goes GE-free, joining Pizza Express and Domino Pizza; in early 2001, McDonald’s Europe announced their intention to sell or use chickens fed with non-GE feed;
· Gerber (owned by the biotech company Novartis, now Syngenta) and Heinz remove GE ingredients from their baby food products in the USA;
· McCain Foods, Canada, one of the world’s largest producers of frozen chips, decides to stop using GE potatoes;
Austrian Study on GMO-free zones
A 1998 study commissioned by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Consumer Protection outlines the basic arguments and frameworks concerning GMO-free zones, from a scientific and legal perspective. To preserve “natural” biodiversity resulting from natural evolution, the study argues that as a minimum, a GMO-free demarcation of the following areas is required:
· Protected areas for the preservation of biodiversity (e.g. Natura 2000 network) and adjoining areas;
· Areas for organic farming, to secure at least partially GMO-free agricultural production (as far as possible) and to guarantee GMO-free organic seed breeding and the propagation of such seeds, as well as to provide an alternative technological option;
· Areas for the enhanced in-situ (on-farm) preservation of plant genetic resources under GMO-free conditions;
· Development or “transition” areas for sustainable agricultural development – similarly defined as in UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere programme (especially in the Statutory Framework of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves) to contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation and to foster economic and human development which is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable;
· Mountain areas, whose ecological sensitivity merit special consideration – following Agenda 21, Chapter 13 (Managing Fragile Ecosystems: Sustainable Mountain Development)
Such GMO-free areas would have to cover relatively large biogeographical regions to be effective in the long-term in avoiding future gene transfer to a large extent.
Poland – a GMO-free zone
Poland needs to declare itself a GMO-free zone. The small size of Polish farms and the high degree of fragmentation of arable land means that cross-pollination of conventional maize with GE maize is inevitable.
As a start, all field trials taking place in Poland must be stopped. The locations of the 2001 trials, as well as all those that took place earlier must be published. Next, a GMO monitoring programme, embracing all maize, rape, potato, sugarbeet and soy seeds on the Polish market, must be introduced. The results of the GMO analysis must be actively disseminated.
To enable Polish communities and interest groups to declare GE-free zones, the national law on GMOs should contain a provision saying: “Nothing in this Act shall be understood to prevent communities, regions or other public bodies from prohibiting the cultivation of genetically engineered crops on their land”.
11 Dan Leskien, lawyer and adviser on Genetic Engineering to The Greens/ EFA in the European Parliament, Brussels in e-communication to Marjana Dermelj, Umanotera, 14 February 2001
4. Sustainable Organic Plant Breeding – An Alternative to Gene Technology
by Cornelia Wiethaler
Sustainable protection of bio-diversity is the main task of NABU, the German Society for Nature Conservation, founded in 1899. NABU mostly worked on the protection of wildlife.
When we started our Campaign on Sustainable Agriculture in the beginning of 1998 Organic farmers asked us to support the organic seed issue.
There are two problems: first, within the process of industrialisation of agriculture we have lost 75% of the genetic diversity of our cultivated plants world wide. But for organic farming with its specific conditions diversity is a very important principle for the healthy farm organism. Anyway this loss of diversity of our varieties is supposed to be a danger for the world food security.
The second point is that organic farming wants to stay GMO-free. Hence the supply of GMO-free seeds has to be ensured. Up to now organic agriculture mostly depends on conventional bred varieties. In conventional breeding more and more biotechnological and genetechnological methods are used. Hence people within the organic movement started to think about organic breeding. This is a very important step, because organic farming is not allowed by law to use genetic modified organisms. As there are many trials on GMO in Europe it is really a big task to keep this law.
The conditions of conventional farming are quite different from those of organic farming. Thus also the breeding aims are partly different. Aims are for example: more efficient usage of the soil, rentability by high yields, good performance under high nitrogen level, tolerances to chemical plant protection, special resistances and reduction or increase of special plant ingredients.
Within the last 10.000 years the domestication of wild plants was done by people using mainly methods of singularisation and selection, since the middle of the 18th century also crossing. Since 1950 about 1,500 plant varieties were produced by influencing the genetic make-up using chemicals and radioactivity. For example 70 % of the durum wheat varieties in Italy for the production of noodles and also the nectarine develop from these methods.
Genetechnological methods are supposed to be more goal orientated. For the transfer of Genes bacterias (for example agribakterium tumefaciens) or small bullets made from gold or wolfram are used. These methods are practised in laboratories, plants are reduced to the tissue and gene level. These methods allow the crossing of species borders. Anyhow genetechnological variation cannot totally subsitute conventional practices.
Looking for Alternatives
Up to now, organic farming in the EU very much depends on conventional breeding. Since somewhen around 1980 some people in Europe didn’t agree any longer to the development of conventional breeding. Some of them felt that the used methods don’t suit to organic principles, other recognized that the organic farming system demands varieties with special criteria. For example: as organic systems don’t allow to use herbizides the weed competitiveness of crop plants is important. Hence in cereals varieties with longer straw perform better.
Today, after 10 to 20 years breeding under organic conditions, we have the first registered varieties on the European Market. There are remarkable results: good yields and quality and tasty vegetables.
Actually on the level of IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements) international standards for organic plant breeding are discussed.
Organic Seeds should be Organized in 3 Steps
Up to 2004:
Organic Seeds according to EU-Regulation on Organic Agriculture #2092/91 = only propagation of conventional bred varieties under organic conditions for one generation
Goal for medium term:
Maintenance Breeding and Propagation of conventionally bred varieties under organic conditions for at least 3 years
Goal for long term:
Organic Breeding, the whole process under organic conditions, excluding certain methods
The following summary from Lois Bolk Institute in the Netherland is quite an important basis for the discussion on standards.
“Sustainable Organic Plant Breeding” – Summary of a Concept
This document was compiled by Edith T. Lammerts van Bueren in September 1999 and is the summary of the final report “Sustainable organic plant breeding. Final report: a vision, choices, consequences and steps. (Eds.) E. T. Lammerts van Bueren, M. Hulscher, J. Jongerden, G.T.P. Ruivenkamp, M. Haring, J.D. van Mansvelt, A.M.P. den Nijs. Louis Bolk Institute, 1999, 60 pp. This document serves as a basis for the discussion on standards for organic plant breeding.
The prevailing opinion on farming systems today is that there should be respect for values such as sustainability, biodiversity, regional development and multi-functionality. This explains the growing popularity of organic agriculture. Plant breeding concerns, however, are a bottleneck in the further development of organic agriculture. Currently, organic farmers largely depend on varieties supplied by conventional plant breeders, even though organic farming conditions demand varieties with different characteristics than conventional varieties. Another problem is that conventional breeders are increasingly using gene technology to produce new, genetically modified varieties which are not allowed in organic farming. Continued dependence on conventional breeding systems is therefore undesirable. This project was launched in 1997 to develop a vision on organic plant breeding. One of the main objectives was to draw up criteria to assess the suitability of breeding and propagation techniques for use in organic breeding systems. In this final report, we present a list of acceptable techniques and propose a step-by-step plan to initiate and direct the development of an organic breeding system.
Organic farming means obtaining economically feasible yields without exhausting natural resources at and around the production site. Organic farmers aim to optimise yield while satisfying the conditions for organic production. Instead of chemical fertilisers, veterinary pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides and growth hormones, more natural principles and methods are applied. The three criteria of organic production are closed production cycles, natural self-regulation and agro-biodiversity.
These criteria apply to functioning at farm level so that, in order to draw up a framework for an organic breeding system, we had to extrapolate them to the level of the plant. The three criteria of organic plant breeding are: natural reproductive ability, ability to adapt independently to the environment, and genetic diversity with respect for natural species authenticity and species characteristics.
A plant breeding system for organic production should be based on the organic concept of plant health and on the organic position on chain relationships. As the total land area under organic production is still relatively small, it is unlikely that commercial breeders will make large investments to develop organic breeding programmes without financial support from other parties, i.e. the government. In this early stage, it is vital that the government provides generous funding and plays an active enabling role.
Over the course of 10,000 years created by the hands of generations of farmers in numerous places a huge diversity of varieties emerged. Organic plant breeding, the more natural way of breeding, makes an unreplacable contribution to genetic diversity on the one hand and to nutritional quality on the other hand. Organic plant breeding is necessary to keep alternatives to genetic manipulated seeds and to produce more suitable varieties for organic farming.
NABU (Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V.)
Office: Rauensteinstr. 69
5. Local Solutions for Global Problems
By Julian Rose
Prepared for the ICPPC Seminar, Krakow, 21 June 2001
One of the starkest changes to have hit western society over the past 50 years has been the steady shift away from local supply and demand of primary agricultural produce, towards global import/export drives. The development of the C.A.P. and the World Trade Organisation and of large and well organised commodity buyers and of supermarkets as the main retailers of globalised food have been key factors in hastening the decline of local and regional food retailing. We know that the average U.K. supermarket trolley of purchased food has travelled over 3000 kms. In the U.K. shifting food, accounts for the largest amount of freight, above any other single commodity, and the largest increase in road freight over the last two decades. 34% of the increase in goods travelled is made up of food, particularly heavily processed and packaged foods – leading to serious environmental pollution and infrastructural burden. 8 1/2 million tons of waste food packaging was dumped in 1997 alone.
In gearing up to meet the new demands for large volumes of visually and physically conformist ‘safe’ foods, farmers have had to greatly intensify production methods while simultaneously shedding labour. The true environmental and welfare costs surrounding the maintenance of this high input/high output industrial farming are only now starting to be addressed. However it becomes startlingly apparent that calling the resulting food ‘cheap’ is deeply misleading. This is clearly not a pattern of events that Poland should be adopting.
The subsequent economic crisis and huge job losses affecting nearly all areas of mainstream farming and the rural economy across the length and breadth of the U.K., reflect the result of adopting a common policy: “maximum output utilising minimum labour for the sake of improved economic returns”. It has proved to be a recipe for ruin for those along the chain who cannot sustain the economies of scale and low wages of emerging global market leaders. In the U.K. it has led to the exodus from the land of over 10,000 farm workers per year for the past ten years, and last year, a massive 25,000 agricultural job losses. It has meant the closure of hundreds of Post Offices, village stores, rural shops, clinics, schools, pubs and bus services, as well as more than 1,000 local abattoirs in the last ten years. It has left many rural parishes today bearing the same socio-economic status as deprived inner city zones. It is also the ecological graveyard of natural biodiversity, soil fertility, and animal welfare. It is a thoroughly discredited model and we have no choice other than to develop a new and sustainable vision if we want to put the heart and soul back into our countryside communities. After all, their survival and revival is an essential prerequisite for the sustainable management of our countryside. It makes no difference whether you are in Poland, England or Indonesia.
New models must emerge that breathe life back into our traditional villages, market towns and country communities, but we must also recognise that there will be strong constraints on economic development which ignores environmental and social implications. The trick is to find the dynamic formula which fully integrates these concerns at the local level, and gains the support of the local authority planning committees.
I have coined the phrase ‘the proximity principle’ to encapsulate this sort of model: an ‘integrated sustainable development’ programme that incorporates social, economic and environmental criteria – at the local / regional level. A fully integrated approach demands closer ties between consumers and what they consume – and to be sustainable, it has to exploit the renewable resource base, not the finite non-renewable one. Here, European targets to reduce CO2 emissions and to increase green energy output are already providing some stimulus for action. But it has been estimated that in order to effectively counteract global warming, we must reduce world consumption of fossil fuels by 70% by the year 2020. The U.K. would have to manage on 1/8 of the finite energy used today, the U.S.A. on 1/20! A tall order, you may say, but we may have to do this anyway, as world oil supplies are not infinite and are set to start a process of steadily increasing contraction over the next decades. A contraction that could throw unprepared nations into a state of chaos within a short period of time.
This should stimulate some serious new thinking about local food, fuel and forestry production – as against the global market – and whether the method of production is environmentally benign or ultimately depleting of our precious natural resource base.
There is a further reason to take such a question seriously. Virtually all European market towns were architecturally designed to achieve the most efficient geographical contact with the immediate countryside. Country roads converge on town market places. There is something sad in seeing these once vibrant centres of local trade now occupied by businesses having no connection with the surrounding hinterland.
The most efficient and ecologically benign way of supplying a 12,000 population market town would be to engage the closest 5,000 acres of productive agricultural land in meeting this demand. Repeated over and over again across Poland or any other nation, this exercise would effectively utilise much of our agricultural acreage to fulfil the local requirements of the home market with the very minimum of food miles and long shelf life processing and packaging, and significantly reduce the need to be dependent on an export market largely controlled by predatory multinationals such as Coca Cola, MacDonalds, and Tesco.
But why should the principle stop at food? We know we need to move away from our current dependency on finite fossil fuels. In much of the countryside, the potential for renewable resource exploitation is ignored. A typical 12,000 citizen market town has the capacity to draw virtually all its energy requirement from sustainable local resources. These will comprise biomass from neglected woodlands and new plantations, hydro power, methane, solar and wind power, supplemented initially by fossil fuel input. All these sustainable ventures also stimulate alternative land use and employment opportunities, and have the potential to support small farmers on their land.
Most European countries still rely heavily on mined, finite resources for industrial agricultural and domestic energy needs. In Poland, it is brown coal. Much is piped or hauled in, at very high cost, from sources hundreds of miles away. This encourages an irresponsible and ‘detached’ consumer view about energy availability, and does nothing to counteract the climatic changes associated with global warming. In the U.K. twenty million tons of rubbish (30% paper based) are added to landfill sites every year – much of it comes from completely unnecessary over-zealous food packaging. The situation in Poland is rapidly moving in the same direction. It should be stopped now.
Applying the proximity principle reverses this wasteful debacle. It can be applied to all county towns and villages surrounded by productive farmland. A modified system would have to be worked out for large cities such as Warsaw, but still based on the principle of local supply as far as possible. Overall surpluses to local and regional demand would be available for other undersupplied areas, and only then for export. Exotics would still be traded in the world market. Of course we will also have to develop new structures that encourage fresh blood into the farming culture.
But this will only be possible if there is an air of excitement and optimism about the future. The same spirit which will be needed to overcome the insidious threat of Genetic modification, which is, after all, simply an extension of the agrichemical, monocultural mentality which is destroying communities and impoverishing the land, from one end of the globe to the other.