Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Benefits of Biotech in Africa


great link on the benefits of biotech in Africa.

In addition to talking about the benefits of biotechnology in Africa, it makes the point that biotech crops are not as extreme as many of the foods that we have been eating for decades- including conventional and organic crops. Most all of the modern rice and wheat hybrids that we consume today have been developed using a process called Gamma Ray Mutation which involves using radiation to create desirable mutations in plants. These foods have never been tested for long-term health or environmental effects and have been accepted for decades by the general public and organic food consumers.

A recent article in the Economist reviews other techniques that use thermal neutrons, X-rays, or ethyl methane sulphonate, ( a harsh carcinogenic chemical) to accomplish the same end.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa is quoted making the statement that he "would rather let his people starve than eat anything 'toxic" referring to biotech food imports.

Friday, June 22, 2007


According to recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences researchers have discovered another possible cause of CCD. This time it’s not mites but microorganisms from the small hive beetle, which has been introduced into the US and Europe from Africa.

"Beetles are scavengers and their job is to clean up. In the case of the small hive beetle, it uses a fungus to digest left-over pollen, from which it gets its nutrients. This fungus causes fermentation, in effect causing a change in the chemistry in the hives. Since bees are very sensitive to such variations, they eventually abandon the hives"- Dr Baldwyn Torto.

What is curious is that the beetle and the fungus it carries has no effect on African bee hives. African bees have some unknown mechanism for dealing with this.

"Knowing what allows African honeybees to survive attacks under the tough tropical conditions, and introducing these components into European honeybees, might be a step towards resolving the CCD," says Dr Torto.

Scientists may be able to identify a marker for these traits and develop a breeding program to incorporate this mechanism into our bees. If the mechanism is very specific, direct molecular genetic modification may be the solution. It might very well turn out that instead of being the cause, biotechnology will be the solution to CCD.

SOURCE: (PNAS, 4th May 2007)


Monday, June 18, 2007



“People like the freedom to choose their lifestyles, what they consume and when they consume it,” observes Attari. “However, the environment is a ‘commons’ that we share with other citizens of the world, and when individual choices start negatively impacting others, we need to understand how to change or alter those behaviors.”

The phrase ‘tragedy of the commons’ was first used by Garret Hardin in a 1968 issue of Science.

To illustrate, in the case of cattle grazing on public land, it is in the interest of the cattle owner to place as many cattle as possible on the land. Of course too many cattle will result in erosion and deterioration in forage quality, but this cost is shared among all grazers. The grazer does not bear the full cost of grazing an additional animal, but receives the full benefit. Each grazer acting in his own interest results in the degradation of the ‘commons’ for everyone.

Whenever the cost of one’s behavior is not factored into a price at which this tradeoff can be valued, a commons problem exists. This tragedy is unnecessary, if we are willing to embrace legal systems that provide for property rights and free markets.

Many of the ‘commons’ problems that Hardin cites in his article such as polluting the commons with insecticides and fertilizer have much been mitigated with modern technology and markets. Many of my articles regarding free market agriculture and biotechnology explain how this has come about.

SOURCES: Science, Vol 162 no 3859 Dec 13, 1968 p. 1243-1248

Friday, June 15, 2007


If you look at tax and program subsidies, defense of oil interests, environmental, and health costs, the real cost of gasoline may be much higher than just the price we pay at the pump. Some estimates of these external costs are between 20 and 70 cents more.

According to the center for technology assessment, about $9-18 billion dollars worth of tax breaks are provided for gasoline production and use. The defense department allots $55-$96 billion per year to protect petroleum resources across the globe.

I’m not necessarily advocating increasing the price at the pump by increasing gas taxes to reflect these costs. However, if these costs were factored into the price of gasoline, it appears that the gap between the real cost of ethanol and the real cost of gasoline would narrow significantly even after the subsidies to ethanol were removed.

Sources: Ethanol Today, August 2005
‘The Real Cost of Gas’ International Center for Technology Assessment 1998

Friday, June 08, 2007


If not biotech crops or industrial agriculture, then what could be causing CCD? There is plenty of research pointing to lots of other factors.

An entomologist at the University of West Virginia contends that the issue is mites. He has developed a product that consists of lemon grass and spearmint that seems to be protecting hives. Many studies suggest that a protozoan parasite called Nosema ceranae may be playing a role. Another team of scientists at Edgewood Chemical Biological Center and University of California San Francisco have identified a virus that may be responsible.

It is just too early to start pointing fingers at just one thing. If it turns our to be transgenic crops, then this will be the first negative impact ever cited! And of course, because transgenic crops are produced by making small precise changes in plants, they can likely be tweaked to alleviate the problem.

SOURCE: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070518144833.htm

Monday, June 04, 2007


Are minimum wages really effective at alleviating poverty? A few weeks ago Walter Williams wrote a fact filled column regarding minimum wages. The facts reveal that minimum wage increases actually prove to be more beneficial to big business and the working middle class as opposed to the working poor.


The following facts seem to shed light on many of the popular myths about why we should raise the minimum wage ( either at the state or federal level).

1) after 3 years 85% have found better paying jobs, or have recieved raises

2) only 5% of minumum wage earners are below the poverty line, while almost half have come from families earning $60,0000 or more per year.

3)80% of the people earning minimum wage have no dependents. They are either single, or a working couple with no kids. A vast number are aged 16-25.

Big business benefits because they are better able to manage the increased costs and disruptions to the labor market that result. Smaller businesses become less competitive. In the 90’s when we raised the minimum wage we saw an age of small towns becoming ghost towns while Wal-Mart dominated.

Friday, June 01, 2007



In a recent Christian Science Monitor article, many good points were made about the effects of ethanol on corn prices. I’m not sure every point was on the mark however.

"..in Mexico, where corn is a staple food, the price of tortillas has skyrocketed because US corn has been diverted to ethanol production. "

It is my understanding that another major issue with tortilla prices (food grade white corn) is the lack of biotech varieties. There have not been enough biotech white corn varieties approved for human consumption, making these crops much more difficult and expensive to grow for our producers, so few are willing to grow it anyway. As a result, white corn accounts for less than 1% of US corn production, and already trades at a premium.

Further, even with NAFTA, there are trade barriers that prevent US corn producers from exporting white corn to Mexico. Even in the case of drought and severe shortage over- quota tariffs are quite steep.

Now I also understand that increased corn prices may be leading producers to destroy agave crops- used for tequila. Would the price of corn in Mexico be so high if they could relieve market pressure by importing ?

If ethanol has anything to do with the current plight of Mexican food prices, it is only adding to the misery created by previously existing anti-free trade policies.