In Coming Harvests, Farm-aceutical Corn
NEBRASKA, Oct. 8, 2002

It's in the middle of nowhere Nebraska, an island of corn in an ocean of soybeans. It was planted by design in splendid isolation, because the real product being grown on this plot isn't corn, but as CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports, it's a drug called Aprotinin.

Inside ears of corn are the seeds of a brand new growth industry. This year the USDA has issued 32 field permits for the growing of drugs and drug compounds in barley, rice, tobacco and corn.

And the list of what is being grown is revolutionary: plant-based insulin and vaccines for hepatitis B, cholera and diarrhea. There have even been greenhouse attempts to grow spermicide.

Next year, the biotech firm Epicyte will be the first to start human clinical tests on a gel to treat herpes. That drug too, is being grown in corn.

"In our case were looking at preventing the herpes simplex virus infections," says Epicyte founder and president Mich Hein. "Instead of spending several hundred million dollars and waiting five years to build a factory you can actually increase the amount of antibody you make by growing more corn."

Tony Laos, the CEO of Prodigene, a biotech company in business to grow drugs in crops, believes the process will eventually reduce the retail cost of drugs.

So that's the promise. Here's the problem. How will they keep the herpes treatment, or any other drug, out of corn flakes.

The biotech companies say that won't happen.

Laos says there are strict government rules for the isolation of the engineered corn. Drug plots must be a minimum of a quarter mile away from other corn and the harvest must be gathered and stored in virtual quarantine.

Laos says he's sure drugs won't contaminate the non-pharmaceutical corn, "because I'm following procedures that makes it impossible for that to happen."

But that's what the industry also said about StarLink corn, a biotech variety not approved for food, the day before they found StarLink in taco shells. It had been mixed, by mistake, in the field.

Greg Jaffe, who tracks biotech food for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, praises the new planting rules but warns the government has no plans to test conventional corn for another biotech accident.

"They should be checking on those farms to make sure that the non-pharmaceutical corn in fact doesn't have contamination in it," says Jaffe.

Government regulators tell CBS News this time they know what they are doing, and they will have to prove that soon. In the coming harvest, there's a new crop of experimental medicine embedded in the amber waves of grain.

E-mail your questions and comments to Wyatt Andrews.

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The last plantation 

 Tribune staff reporter

 October 5 2002 

For generations, African-American farmers have grown accustomed to disappointment. As far back as Reconstruction, the government's famous pledge of 40 acres and a mule went by the boards. Now a new promise is failing to deliver. In 1997, a group of Black farmers brought a class-action lawsuit charging the U.S. Department of Agriculture with discriminating against their applications for loans and other services over the previous 16 years. The farmers accused USDA officials of denying them aid that was routinely granted to their White neighbors, or deliberately imposing delays that made it impossible to plant a crop on time. During the period covered in the suit--and long before it--Black farmers lost their land at a far greater rate than White farmers. When the department settled the case in 1999, then-Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman pronounced it "a new beginning." Attorneys for the farmers declared victory and started pocketing fees that now total almost $15 million. The farmers, however, got nothing right away. To collect a settlement payment of $50,000, each farmer had to prove a personal claim. That involved documenting the USDA's refusal to lend them money over the years and its willingness to fund white farmers in similar situations. Those issues go to the heart of the discrimination, and it seems reasonable to require such proof. But in practice, few farmers of any race keep records of everyday contact with the federal government. Fewer still know for certain the financial condition of their neighbors. And even those who had evidence of bias at the time weren't exactly encouraged to hang onto it, since the USDA had shut down its civil-rights department during the relevant period. Beyond that, lawyers for the class were so quick to settle that they turned up little of the information that would have helped the farmers make good on their claims. Still, the claims poured in, only to be challenged aggressively by court-appointed adjudicators. Such vigilance is necessary to guard against fraud, but the outcome has been galling. Turns out, the discrimination was far more widespread than almost anyone besides African-American farmers suspected. Almost 13,000 have won their claims, obtaining more than $600 million. Trouble is, more than 8,000 other claims have been denied, in some cases for technicalities such as misspelled names or missed deadlines that the farm families involved say they never knew about. Similarly, tens of thousands of other farmers and their heirs were excluded from the class-action because they tried to join it too late, despite their credible assertions that no one informed them of their eligibility in time. To her credit, Secretary Ann Veneman has met with representatives of these disadvantaged farmers, who staged a series of protests at USDA offices this summer. Earlier this month, she increased funding earmarked for minority farm aid by $100 million. The USDA should be doing more. After all, it's the player in this dispute with the reams of documents and the resources to plow through them. Beyond that, deadlines need to be extended for those who never got word of the settlement. Most important, Veneman needs to attack the bureaucratic culture that created these inequities in the first place. As it stands, hardly anyone is being held accountable, even as some of the nation's few remaining Black farmers continue waiting for a fair shake from an agency they've dubbed, "The Last Plantation." 

Copyright (c) 2002, The Chicago Tribune

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The Futurist: A magazine of forecasts, trends, and ideas about the future

September-October 2002 Vol. 36, No. 5
Contents of the Current Issue

Africa's Hidden Water

Scientists have discovered enormous amounts of pure water below the deserts 
of Africa, which could help avert a future water crisis. Geohydrologists 
meeting recently in Tripoli drew up the first continental survey of aquifers 
hidden underground. Like rivers, aquifers may cross international 
boundaries; the huge Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, for instance, lies below the 
sands of Libya, Egypt, Chad, and Sudan. But unlike water from rivers, there 
are no international rules for the sharing of water from aquifers, points 
out UNESCO, which identified at least 20 transnational aquifers in Africa. 
Increasing population and competition for water resources may lead to 
growing tensions over aquifers among nations scrambling to pump as much 
water as possible for their own use.
Source: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 7 
place de Fontenoy, 75352 Paris 07 SP, France. Web site

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Date: 10/5/2002 10:50:55 AM Pacific Daylight Time

"There will be no solution to the problem of coca cultivation in Colombia as long as the current system of land ownership and
tenancy exists, say Colombian coca farmers

04.02.2002 (Translation by Elizabeth Atherton/Colombia Peace Association) ANNCOL is pleased to provide our readers with an
English translation of the following communique from the Colombian coca- and poppy farmers' union COCCA:

The fumigations in Colombia constitute a war against the Colombian campesino
population and an assault on the delicate environment of the Amazon (the
natural resources on which all humanity depends).

In the department of Putumayo, situated in the Colombian Amazon on the
border with Ecuador, the massive fumigations with glyphosate, financed and
imposed by the United States and carried out by its servant Colombian state,
have been continuing. In recent months they have indiscriminately fumigated
some 10,500 hectares of coca plantations and 33,000 hectares of legitimate
crops in the municipality of La Hormiga. 

The fumigations have affected 43,000 of the 78,000 hectares of fertile land in the municipality, also known as Valle de Guamuez, and
have destroyed not only coca crops but also fields of yucca, plantain, citrus fruits, maize and cocoa, as well as natural woodland
and sources of water in the department of Putumayo. 

This was the condemnation levelled by local officials and campesino leaders. The People's Representative in La Hormiga, Leandro
Romo, confirmed that in the last two months planes had shed vast quantities of glyphosate (produced by the US multinational
Monsanto) over licit and ilicit crops. 

He added that, as a result of the fumigations, some 7,000 campesinos and indigenous people, including women and children, are
suffering with health problems, hunger and dangerously few resources. Some 3,500 of these campesinos had to abandon their plots
of land and head for other parts of Putumayo. This is a clear indication that the indiscriminate fumigations are being used by the
Colombian state to forcibly and systematically displace huge numbers of campesinos.

Washington is providing 17 million dollars annually for the poisonous
spraying programme in Colombia, which is currently endowed with 15
fumigation planes and dozens of combat helicopters. In addition, the US is
providing more than 1,300 million dollars in economic and military aid to
finance Plan Colombia, with which it intends to reposition its geostrategic
interests in Colombia and Latin America under cover of its false claims to
be fighting a war on drugs.

In the year 2001, 84,000 hectares of coca crops were fumigated in Colombia,
58,000 in the year 2000. So far this year, 70,000 hectares have been
fumigated. However, the crops continue to increase (there are currently
200,000 hectares of coca plantations), because as well as being an excuse to
intervene militarily in Colombia, the fumigations are a strategic vicious
cycle to benefit the multinational producers of glyphosate, planes,
helicopters, weapons and private security (mercenary) firms (Dyncorp), all
from the United States.

President Andres Pastrana, who stepped down as president on 7 August 2002,
suspended spraying in Putumayo at the beginning of this year, because his
government and the campesinos signed agreements to manually eradicate the
crops as part of an alternative development programme. It was a programme
that was never entirely accomplished. Spokespersons of the current
government said that these agreements were not producing effective results,
without acknowledging that the state did not fulfil its part of the
agreements, and as a consequence Alvaro Uribe Velez, under pressure from the United States, decided to recommence the aerial

Because of these fumigations, hundreds of campesinos have complained that
they are suffering from respiratory and other health problems, and that they
have been forced to abandon their tiny fields of cocoa, maize, plantain,
yucca and other legal crops. Meanwhile, the North American State Department and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
have cynically stated that the glyphosate being used in Putumayo is not harmful to health, but that they will make adjustments to
the formulation so that its toxicity is
reduced from grade 3, equivalent to "gentle" to grade 4, "light", (grade 1
being the most toxic).

The fumigations and their impact on campesino social organisation, on human
health and on the environment are a crime against humanity committed by the
imperialist United States and their Colombian lackeys.

The solution to the problem of coca cultivation in Colombia needs a
political solution to the political, social and armed conflict. While the
current system of land ownership and tenancy exists, while fertile land is
used extensively for the livestock of the landowning elite, while the
expropriation and displacement of the campesino population continues, and
food go on being imported at an increasing rate (8 million tonnes annually),
and while there is no development model based on the redistribution of
wealth, there will be no solution to the problem.

We call on the international community to stop this barbary. We invite
international organisations to observe the violations of the economic,
social, environmental and cultural rights of the campesino population, so
that we can construct a common cause to defend life, dignity and the
environment of the Colombian Amazon.


Coordinator of the Cultivators of Coca and Poppy COCCA
Colombia, 2 October 2002

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