AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
* Golden Rice Goes Against the Grain
* A Global Roadmap for Modern Biotechnology
* Hypocrites and Activists in the EU dictating World Food Supply
* Tragedy in Genoa Strikes Beyond Italy: Global Activists Examined
* Italian Govt Upbeat On Biotech Strategy
* What Is Science Good For?: A Conversation with Richard Dawkins
* Bush Supports Biotech in Speech to World Bank
* USDA Lauches New Site on Food Safety
* 'Make it a Green Peace'
* Brazil Likely to Permit Use of Genetically Modified Crops
* Scientists Call For Better Use Of Bio-Tech In Farmings
* Africa Biotechnology Forum is Launched
* Debate Rooted in Biotech Trees
* Technology Does Help in Fighting the Hunger
* EPA Pushes New Biotech Rules
* Better Safe than Sorry?
Golden Rice Goes Against the Grain
? A Swiss scientist is honored in Providence for creating genetically
engineered rice, but his work is opposed by some environmental groups.
- TIMOTHY C. BARMANN, Providence Journal, July 22, 2001
PROVIDENCE -- A Swiss scientist who spent more than a decade
developing genetically altered rice that may help malnourished
children in poor countries was honored for his achievement last night
by a group of plant scientists.
Ingo Potrykus, 67, modified a rice plant to produce "Golden Rice," a
yellowish-colored grain that contains beta carotene, one of the
building blocks of vitamin A. The American Society of Plant
Biologists, which is holding its annual conference here, presented
Potrykus with its Leadership in Science Public Service award.
His research, according to Brian Hyps, a spokesman for the society,
could help save the lives of millions of children who die every year
in developing nations from a lack of vitamin A. It could also help
avert blindness for another half-million children each year.
Potrykus's work, however, has not escaped the controversy that has
surrounded the science of genetically altering plants. Several groups
oppose such tinkering, arguing that we can't be sure that the
genetically modified organisms won't create more problems than they
solve. Potrykus, a former professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of
Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, spent much of the 1990s trying to
develop a better rice that would help alleviate some of the
malnourishment suffered by those living in countries where rice is the
main source of food. He wanted to give the seeds away to poor farmers.
His personal experience may have motivated him. His father, a doctor,
died in the final days of World War II, and Potrykus, at age 11, fled
eastern Germany. He and his brothers were forced to steal for food. "I
wanted, as a scientist, to contribute to the food security of poor
people," Potrykus said in an interview yesterday.
Using DNA material from daffodils and from bacteria, he and a
collaborator, Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg in Germany,
finally succeeded in 1999. They developed a plant that produced rice
that was pale-yellow in color, thanks to beta carotene. That
orange-yellow pigment is normally found in vegetables such as carrots
and squash, but not in processed rice. The tasteless nutrient is used
by the body to make vitamin A.
"It was of course, very pleasing, very exciting," Potrykus said. The
scientific community didn't believe it was possible, he said. His work
landed him on the cover of Time magazine last summer.
Golden rice is still several years away from being distributed. It
still faces at least four years of breeding experiments and safety
studies. It could take even longer, Potrykus said, if groups opposed
to genetically modified organisms, such as Greenpeace, are able to
derail his plans.
Opponents say that such genetic tampering could produce plants that
create unforeseen problems. There is a fear that some could harm
animals or the environment. They often cite a 1999 experiment
involving "bt" corn -- genetically modified corn plants -- that were
designed to produce a toxin that wards off the European corn borer. In
a laboratory setting, pollen from bt corn was dusted on plants
populated by monarch butterfly caterpillars, and some of the insects
died. Even so, it is not yet clear whether bt corn poses a danger to
these caterpillars outside of the laboratory.
Some opponents have gone to extremes to stop such research. Last
month, "ecoterrorists" destroyed a field of pea plants containing
transplanted genes on the West Coast. Last summer, opponents cut down
$10,000 worth of experimental poplar trees in Maine. Potrykus said his
research greenhouse in Zurich has been built to protect his plants
from an attack.
There is a bitterness in his voice when he talks about those who want
to stop his research. "They are not willing to discuss detailed
questions. They are, by principle, against the use of transgenic plants."
There is already widespread use of genetically altered plants in this
country. This year, more than 51 million acres, or 68 percent, of
soybeans grown in the United States are genetically engineered,
according to a survey by the Department of Agriculture. About one in
four corn plants growing on U.S. farms are genetically altered.
Cosgrove, president of The American Society of Plant Biologists, said
biotechnology research has given us crops that are more resistant to
insects. That means farmers can use less insecticides and get a
greater yield from the plants. "Those who have studied this are
confident there are no hidden monsters that are going to be unleashed
on the world using this technology," Cosgrove said.
Potrykus said he remains focused on moving ahead with getting the rice
in the hands of those who need it the most. "The major task is to make
sure Golden Rice reaches the poor farmers in rice-growing countries,"
he said, "as Greenpeace and other radical opponents [of genetically
modified organisms] are doing everything to try to prevent it."
Digital Extra: Read more on the opposing views in the debate over
genetically modified rice: http://projo.com/extra/rice/
A Global Roadmap for Modern Biotechnology
An issues-based navigational tool with policy options for
decision-makers in the public and private sectors (from International
Chamber of Commerce)
This Global Roadmap for Modern Biotechnology has been formulated in
recognition of biotechnology as a rapidly emerging, intrinsically
complicated, and far-reaching new technology. Developing this
technology into an industry confronts many of the challenges common to
emerging, technology-based industries, including: research &
development; creation of investment capital; technology transfer;
market penetration; protection of property rights; pricing and
regulation. In guiding the evolution of the biotechnology industry it
will be useful to draw upon the many available lessons learned from
modern economics, market development, and government intervention.
Additionally, the emergence of biotechnology is accompanied by a
variety of understandable societal concerns, including: maintenance of
nature's balance; conserving natural diversity; ensuring that foods
derived from modern biotechnology are safe and consumers have the
right to choose. Biotechnology offers a most appealing vision of the
future, one in which we can cure more diseases, feed the world's
population, and protect the environment. But these new hopes bring new
responsibilities that will test whether mankind can meet the
challenges posed. In order to realise the benefits of biotechnology
for the good of humans and the environment, we will need to make wise
decisions, humbly accepting the needs of nature and the limits of our
The purpose of this Roadmap is to present a framework within which
these important decisions can be made. It is proposed as guidance for
business, governments, and other relevant organisations to utilise as
they contribute to the rational development of the rules and
conditions necessary for the stable and predictable development of
this new industry. The Roadmap is the fruit of discussions among an
international, multilateral business forum, and it was developed by
the world's leading international business organisations. Our approach
is to present an inventory of fundamental business views concerning
biotechnology. It is our hope that the sharing of these views will
facilitate necessary, transparent and coordinated discussion between
and among industry, government and civil society.
Business has a strong market incentive to foster and maintain
consumers' trust, and for this reason business must accept its
responsibility to ensure that products derived from biotechnology meet
the highest international standards of quality and safety. Business
has and will continue to support government activities that ensure
that the adoption of any new technology is undertaken in such a way as
to appropriately protect human health and the environment. And
business is prepared to be open and transparent -- providing
meaningful information to consumers about products in any areas of
concern. Moreover, business will seek to promote a safe, secure
environment through self-regulation, information sharing and
Governments will also have a critical role to play, not only in
advancing the benefits of modern biotechnology, but also in protecting
and informing the public. Business is prepared to work with
governments to facilitate transparency -- whether through public
education about existing and possible future regulatory proposals, or
by providing education about the underlying science of the technology.
Together, we can ensure that the biotechnology industry evolves
responsibly in order to deliver the anticipated benefits to society.
Managing the uncertainties of innovation through rigorous risk
assessment and risk management, built on a foundation of sound
science, and including transparent consultation with representatives
of all members of society, ensures that the most beneficial societal
choices will be made with respect to technological innovation.
All parties, but particularly business and policy makers, should work
to enhance societal understanding of the critical nature of an agreed
scientific review process, which allow continued investment to fuel
the process of biotechnological innovation. This is intended to be a
"living document" which evolves as policies develop and the
technologies are implemented. To this end, I invite readers to send me
their comments for improvement.
- Maria Livanos Cattaui, Secretary General
* Table of contents *
I. Introduction; II. Guiding Concepts; III. The Roadmap
1. Promoting innovation in modern biotechnology
? Pillars of innovation ? Promoting innovation and regulatory reform
2. Realising the economic, social and product benefits of modern
3. Building trust for users and consumers; 4. Exploring health and
environment issues associated with modern biotechnology; 5. Developing
the benefits of biotechnology through sound trade, competition, and
intellectual property policies
? Competition, market access, and the WTO ? Intellectual property ?
IV. Specific capacity-building programmes
Download the report at
"Gregory L. Guenther"
Greetings all, I read a Associated Press article in the Belleville
News Democrat today ( 24 July, 2001 ) that cites information that the
EU is considering softening the labeling requirements for GM foods
that contain a maximum of 1% GM from mechanical handling. The German
Environmental Minister attacked the proposal insisting that the
current system of "zero tolerance" was the safest course. This
proposed plan is worse than useless. 1% tolerance is simply not
achievable. I cannot even get 99% pure seed for planting, and the
co-mingling only makes it worse. This is not a food safety issue it is
a political issue.
The EU is importing corn and soybeans from South America by the
boatload. These ships are not tested for GM material. All that they
require of the SA exporters is a certificate that the cargo is GM
free. This hypocrisy is nauseating! Over 47% of the soybeans grown in
SA are roundup ready and a significant portion of the corn grown in
Argentina is BT.
If the Europeans really want best-effort non-GM grain then U.S.
producers and grain handling systems are the best in the world to
deliver it to them. Our experience with people and these emotion
driven issues is that they go only as deep as their pocketbooks however.
We cannot allow the hypocrites and activists in the EU to dictate
world food supply and quality to the rest of us. We need to continue
to resist their obnoxious, unrealistic demands and simply let them
wither on the vine while the rest of the world moves forward.
Tragedy in Genoa Strikes Beyond Italy: Global Activists Role in Death
and Suffering Examined
- Michael E. Mbwille, MD
Considering the events of the past week in Genoa, Italy I am struck by
the multiple tragedies coming from the G-8 Summit.
As an African, a physician and a father I find recent events to lack
sense. Passionate protesters, turned violent, lying dead in the
Those protesting this and other similar meetings claim to be fighting
for those struggling with substandard lives in developing nations
protecting them from the evils of technology, free trade and
Yet, for so many of us living these substandard lives, these are the
things we most desire to lift us and our families from the challenges
of our developing economic status. Having been raised in Tanzania, one
of these least developed countries, and being trained as a physician,
I may be speaking for an enlightened minority; however, my proximity
to those to whom I administer and live among perhaps gives me broader
license than the wealthy western activists supposedly fighting on our
My first reaction to the loss of life in Genoa was to mourn for the
parents of the dead protestor. No parent can view such a loss without
considering the possibility that one day this could be their child.
This made me angry with those who caused this young man to feel
compelled to be in Genoa. But for those whose suffering I witness
daily, I was even more saddened and angered by the message brought by
this young man and other protestors clamboring for attention at the
I have spent the better part of fifteen years practicing medicine in
Africa, Asia and the Americas. I have seen first hand how lack of
resources takes so much from people with so little.
In Africa we too tragically lose our children in unexplainable
manners. Hunger, disease and poverty are clear villains over which all
decent people must seek victory.
*11 million people dying each year for easily preventable and
treatable disease. *36 millions live with HIV/AIDS three quarters in
subsaharan Africa. *125 million children are out of school and almost
a billion adults, mainly women, cannot read or write properly. * 800
million suffering from malnutrition due to lack of proper diet.
The protests which led to this tragic death seek to slow or stop that
which so many in developing nations desperately need to help save our
children. This young man's death is not without explanation. It is a
result of manipulation by a growing mob of global activists willing to
place children in front of guns to promote their special interest
causes and views. They do not speak for us in the developing world.
They promote these views by spreading fear and dis-information to
young people easily moved by passionate pleas to save the world.
However, their messages are filled with propaganda and falsehoods. New
technology, more trade and increased investment from companies will
bring life saving solutions to people in need far faster than the
ever-growing protests by the well-intentioned but poorly informed.
The costs of managing western protesters in Genoa have been estimated
in excess of $100 million USD. The monies spent by global protest
groups to promote their views is well in excess of that amount. The
global protest group Greenpeace which helped organize the Genoa
protests is reported to have a budget in excess of $150 million a
year. The tragedy of the death in Genoa cannot be measured by the
unnecessary loss of one life, when a fraction of the money devoted to
these protests could save untold children dying from real and
immediate threats. This is only made worse by the future loss of lives
associated with the success of these protest groups in slowing much
needed technology, trade and investment to people only wishing a
fraction of the lifestyle of these passionate, but misguided western
The passions of young people in the West must be responsibly directed
with information and facts about technology, trade and the appropriate
role of private sector investment. International activist groups with
multi-million dollar budgets who irresponsibly fuel these passions are
equally to blame with the police for the tragic death in Genoa. More
so, they bear a heavier burden for their role in the suffering of
millions in the developing world who's lives could be improved by the
technology, trade and development they have slowed and seek to block.
Dr. Michael E. Mbwille is a physician and editor for the Food Security
Visit http://foodsecurity.net, the web's most complete source of news
and information about global food security concerns and sustainable
Italian Govt Upbeat On Biotech Strategy
Marketletter Publications 23 July 2001
Italy's Health Minister, Girolamo Sirchia, has told a biotechnology
conference in Rome that public institutions must work on
"disorientated public opinion" to underline the benefits of
biotechnology, while Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said, in a
pre-conference letter to delegates, that it was his task to give the
public guarantees that "the rights of all are to be respected and
defended" in relation to biotechnology advances.
Mr Berlusconi told the meeting, which was organized by the
biotechnology industry association Assobiotec, that the government
would ensure R&D was undertaken in a free atmosphere and projected
internationally to generate added value from product licenses.
This undertaking pleased Assobiotec president Sergio Dompe, who said
the industry had been disappointed by the previous administration, and
called on the new regime to overcome the problems that had hindered
biotechnology development and innovation and to promote and support
strong R&D activity in Italy. Mr Dompe stressed that Italy has a lot
of catching-up to do, with only 50 biotechnology companies, compared
with 270 in the UK, 220 in Germany and 140 in France. Mr Sirchia said
that the Berlusconi government would reduce the burden of taxation and
offer fiscal incentives to attract foreign investors. There would also
be greater collaboration between the public and private sectors.
Nobel prizewinner Rita Levi Montalcini also noted that, while Italy
does not lack first-class biotechnology laboratories, these are short
of both funds and research scientists, with many of the latter having
emigrated in search of better opportunities. A brake has to be applied
to this brain-drain, she said.
What Is Science Good For?: A Conversation with Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins ; Diane L. Coutu
A nonbusiness discipline can provide a useful framework for thinking
about old problems in new ways. Evolutionary psychology and biology
are especially popular sources of inspiration. But should they be?
Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has spent much of his career
explaining science to the public. More than 20 years ago, his book The
Selfish Gene shattered the popular belief that evolution necessarily
favors altruism and self-sacrifice. In a conversation with HBR senior
editor Diane Coutu, Dawkins discusses the role of science in our lives
and identifies some of the more glaring public misperceptions of
scientific theories. In particular, he disentangles the current notion
that certain behaviors are in some way preprogrammed and explodes some
contemporary myths about the Human Genome Project. Dawkins says much
of the popular fear surrounding genetic manipulation is unfounded.
"Humans have been practicing it for thousands of years, to no obvious
ill effect," he says. He also touches on agriculture giant Monsanto
and the media: "Part of the reason for Monsanto's troubles is that the
company came up against an extraordinary amount of unfortunate, even
malevolent, media hype," he says. A staunch defender of science as a
haven of rational thought, Dawkins counsels business people to
recognize the limitations--as well as the beauty--of science.
Bush Supports Biotech in Speech to World Bank
In a speech delivered to the World Bank, President Bush stated, "The
world also needs to begin realizing the enormous potential of
biotechnology to help end hunger." Bush also referenced the United
Nations Development Report and, "the need to move forward based on
sound science, to bring these benefits to 800 million people,
including 300 million children, who still suffer from hunger and
malnutrition." The complete White House press release is available at:
USDA Lauches New Site on Food Safety
The Society & Economics, Safety & Regulations of North America of the
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched a new
information-based web site on food safety research programs. The web
site provides a database of food safety research projects, and also
provides detailed information on spending and accomplishments by U. S.
federal agencies. The new site can be accessed using the following
'Make it a Green Peace'
The seeds of a worldwide conservation movement were sown 30 years ago
in Vancouver by a bunch of hippies, draft dodgers, Tibetan monks,
radical ecologists, rebel journalists and Quakers
Brazil Likely to Permit Use of Genetically Modified Crops
July 24, 2001 Knight-Ridder Tribune, Kevin G. Hall
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Brazil may, according to this story, be
about to permit genetically modified crops after the government issued
a relatively permissive labeling requirement last week for food that
contains genetically modified ingredients.
The story says that allowing genetically modified crops in Brazil
would mark an important step in the global battle over these foods.
Brazil is the world's second-largest exporter of soybeans, a commodity
used in a huge variety of food products across the globe. President
Fernando Henrique Cardoso was cited as issuing a decree in Brazil's
federal register July 18 announcing that as of Dec. 31, products with
genetically modified content must say so for every ingredient that
surpasses 4 percent of the product's volume.
Mariana Paolli, Greenpeace Brasil's chief of efforts against
genetically modified foods was quoted as saying that Cardoso's decree
"is a political document more than anything, and it is scandalous."
Paolli and others who oppose genetically modified foods were cited as
saying they fear the product-labeling decision is an omen for a
long-awaited decision on whether the government will allow farmers to
grow genetically modified crops. Such crops are prohibited in Brazil
but are under study. The government has allowed some imports of
genetically modified corn.
Edmundo Klotz, president of the Brazilian Food Industry Association,
was quoted as saying, "We didn't have a federal ruling that could
eliminate the multiplicity of rulings. We are very thankful." Brazil's
roughly 35,000 companies that grow or manufacture food products and
their ingredients take last week's decree as a green light to invest
in biotechnology research, said Klotz.
Scientists Call For Better Use Of Bio-Tech In Farming
AsiaPort 24 July 2001
BEIJING, July 24, AsiaPort -- Scientists yesterday urged government
officials to speed up the application of biological technologies in
agriculture to effectively deal with challenges in the sector.
The authorities should place more attention on making regulations and
providing supervision in this endeavour in order to offset negative
impacts brought on by the technologies. "Only cutting-edge
technologies, including genetic-modification methods, are solutions to
both production efficiency and the environment," Chen Zhangliang,
vice-president of Peking University, told yesterday's international
agricultural workshop held in Beijing.
Chen said that in the next 30 years, China is projected to maintain a
40-50 per cent increase in food consumption because of predicted
strong economic growth. However, a decline in arable land, water
shortages, rapid population increases and less efficient irrigation
systems are major obstacles hindering the further development of
China's agriculture sector.
"Technology can make a difference," Chen said. China's scientists
have made some "impressive" achievements in biological technology
research, and many experiments have shown that those technologies are
applicable, according to Chen. He also said that the application of
trans-genetic technologies is a priority. "Various tests across the
world have shown that genetically-modified foods are safe; and over
the last six years, more than 300 million people have used them
safely," Chen said.
Huan Jikun, another renowned agricultural expert, shared Chen's views,
explaining that those technologies can not only increase farmers'
income but also improve their health because of a decreased use for
pesticides. Huan cited the gene Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which is
used in cotton planting as an example. Genetic engineering was applied
to plants in order to resist pest damage.
"Farmers who grew Bt cotton reduced their costs of production by 20-23
per cent over non-Bt cotton, but those cottons are priced about the
same," said Huan, director of the Centre for Chinese Agricultural
Policy, which sponsored the three-day workshop. The use of Bt cotton
has substantially reduced pesticide pollution, and the incidence of
farmers and laborers exposed to pesticides has been reduced.
Therefore, pesticide-related poisonings have decreased as well,
according to Huang.
"This technology is revolutionary and we should expand the
applications while changing conventional farming practices," Huang said.
Africa Biotechnology Forum is Launched
1) to educate African educators about the subject
2) to discuss issues of biosaftey, bioethics and related subjects
3) to learn more about the subject specifically understand the claims
and counter claims about the role of biotechnology in erradicating hunger.
This network is composed of students, educators, scientists, political
and community leaders and biotechnology related businesses. Please
consider joining the group and share information about the issues
invlovled in biotechnology. This network can also be used to interact
with biotechnologists in Africa and outside Africa
Sincerely, Abebe Kebede Associate Professor of Physics NC A&T State
University; For more information: http://trigonal.ncat.edu/biotech/
Debate Rooted in Biotech Trees
TOM PAULSON July 23 http://www.msnbc.com/local/PISEA/M71112.asp
Activists who want to stop the release of genetically engineered trees
protested outside the Skamania Lodge yesterday as scientists arrived
in preparation for a meeting on forest biotechnology.
The two organizers of the conference have been the targets of
so-called "eco-terrorism" in the Pacific Northwest by members of the
shadowy Earth Liberation Front. Yesterday, about 50 peaceful
protesters blew whistles and held signs, occasionally confronting
scientists about the wisdom of genetically engineering the forests.
"Genetic engineering is not just an extension of traditional breeding,
as some of these scientists keep saying," said Mark Des Marets, an
organizer of the protest and a member of a Portland-based group called
Northwest Resistance Against Genetic Engineering. "This is going to be
very disruptive to the ecosystem." Toby Bradshaw, a University of
Washington geneticist who studies altered poplar trees, said, "It's
clear that there needs to be an informed public debate on this."
Bradshaw's lab was set on fire May 21 by people claiming to represent
the ELF. "We'd like to bring together all the different perspectives
and see if we can all agree on a set of recommendations," said
Bradshaw, who noted that strong critics of biotech have been invited
to speak at the meeting.
"As scientists, we're na´ve enough to think reason can prevail." Steve
Strauss, an Oregon State University researcher who genetically alters
poplar trees, had his test plots of poplar trees cut down or killed in
similar dark-of-night protests. Strauss and Bradshaw organized the
tree biotech meeting before the attacks. On the same day Bradshaw's
lab was torched, a poplar farm in Clatskanie, Ore., affiliated with
Strauss' work was also set on fire at the same time in the early
morning by means of a similar incendiary device. Federal
law-enforcement officials say they have suspects in the arson cases.
Trees are new to the public debate on genetic engineering, say those
on all sides of the issue. While genetically engineered food crops
have received a significant amount of attention, the use of
biotechnology in the forest has been largely ignored. That changed
with the simultaneous arson attacks on the UW's Center for Urban
Horticulture and at the Clatskanie poplar farm. The ELF actions
brought widespread public attention to tree biotechnology -- a welcome
turn of events for the activists, even if they condemned the violent
means of accomplishing it.
"Scientists need to recognize that their research can have social and
political effects," Des Marets said. Before the well-publicized
attacks by ELF, he said, the scientific community and biotech industry
had demonstrated little interest in a real dialogue. Hal Salwasser, a
keynote speaker for last night's opening ceremony and dean of forestry
at OSU, agreed with Des Marets that the scientific community has not
done enough to encourage a public dialogue on the risks and benefits
of biotechnology. "That's one of the reasons for this conference,"
Salwasser said. "We've got to deal with the safety concerns." This
isn't a debate about whether or not to mess with nature, Salwasser
contended, but about how best to mess with it. "That's not a question
for science," he said. It's a social, political and ethical question
with no easy answer. The pressure on natural resources is intensifying
as the planet's population swells, he said, and doing nothing will
only guarantee more environmental devastation. Both Bradshaw and Des
Marets say they want to protect and preserve the crucial ecological
role of the natural tree. They just couldn't disagree more on how to
do that. There may be no more powerful symbol of nature than a tree.
Most trees are still truly wild creatures. Cows aren't wild. Corn
isn't even close to its natural "wild type," but a genetic mutant
created by thousands of years of selective breeding.
But trees have stubbornly resisted human domestication. Even the
trees constrained by timber companies to grow uniformly in plantation
forests retain most of their wild and unruly characteristics. But this
is also what makes them so inefficient to grow as a harvestable crop.
"If we can increase the productivity of the trees used by industry, we
can take some pressure off the (natural) forests," Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw works with poplars because they are among the more agreeable
to genetic manipulation. He's looking into altering the trees' genes
to see if he can get them to grow faster, repel pests and maybe adopt
some specific characteristics desired by certain industries (fewer
branches and knots for structural wood; better chemical composition to
reduce the use of chemical processing in paper production).
Genetic engineering, Bradshaw said, could help the environment by
making a clear distinction between trees grown for industrial use and
the trees we grow for our natural forests. Baloney, say Des Marets and
other critics of the technology. Academics in this field get most of
their research money from industry, they say, arguing that all of
these attempts to present their science as a tool for protecting the
environment or helping poor farmers is just window dressing. "Trees
are very complex organisms," said Des Marets, noting that some trees
have a genome (entire genetic code) that is eight times bigger than
the human genome. Scientists don't know enough about genetics yet to
predict what will happen when a new gene is introduced into an
organism, Des Marets said. Because of the unpredictable nature of
genetic engineering, Des Marets said, many researchers try to allay
concerns by engineering their experimental trees to be sterile -- so
bad genes don't spread in pollen or seeds. If this works, he said,
these genetically engineered forests will be a "biological desert"
that can no longer provide the seeds, cones and pollen that birds,
insects and others in the ecosystem depend upon.
But it won't work, Des Marets contended, noting a German study of
aspens showed scientists still don't know how to control reproduction.
In the aspen study, he said, the trees were engineered to delay
flowering -- reproducing -- so they would be harvested before they
could spread their genes. The trees actually flowered earlier than
they would have naturally, Des Marets said. Bradshaw said he's not
arguing there's no risk to genetic engineering. He's not claiming
scientists are totally in control of what they are doing. That's not
the way science -- or the world in general -- works. If we simply want
to protect biodiversity, he said, we should abandon all our farms and
go back to our hunter-gathering approach toward food and natural
"Do we think having everyone out there harvesting seeds, nuts and wood
would be good for the environment?" Bradshaw said. The question, he
contended, is what is the best use of biotechnology given the goals of
sustainable forestry, biodiversity and the many other social and
political goals related to forest economics. "As we move forward with
domestication in forestry, we'd like to avoid the mistakes we've made
with our approach to agriculture," he said. Biotechnology is just a
tool, Bradshaw said, that we can use for good or for ill.
Technology Does Help in Fighting the Hunger
- Unpublished Letter to the Editor of The Los Angeles Times
To the Editor:
As an agricultural scientist and a native of India, I found Frances
Moore Lappe's commentary (see below) not just misguided but callous.
She makes the strange argument that "hunger is not caused by scarcity
of food but by a scarcity of democracy." While we should all favor
democracy - one person, one vote etc. - I fail to see how that alone
will now help a single third-world farmer grow more yams or more
nutritious cassava for his family and village.
Other sections of her commentary suggest that her definition of
democracy is not the dictionary definition - but that she is too coy
to say what she really means. For example, she suggests that in the
interests of "democracy" some world governmental entity should order
Americans and Europeans to stop eating meat so that more farmland can
be devoted to growing grain that can then be shipped to Africa for
That's a total fantasy. What's more, it's patronizing to Africans and
others in the developing world who don't want handouts. My African
friends like Florence Wambugu, a scientist from Kenya has repeatedly
said that what Africans would need is help in developing the means to
Biotechnology is no panacea for world hunger and no one has claimed
that it is. But like other scientific methods of agriculture that have
preceded biotechnology, it is a vital tool - especially for people in
developing countries. A recent USDA survey shows that 97% of the poor
people in the developing world obtain their food from locally grown
crops. Biotech crops have the potential to help farmers grow more on
existing land and to do so at lower input costs. Over 60 percent of
African women spend their time hand weeding in fields. By using
biotech varieties of certain crops this task can be reduced to a
minimum, if not eliminated entirely, allowing them to spend their time
on developing new skills. Biotech can help farmers reduce the burden
of chemical inputs and also produce more nutritious and safer food.
As I have once said before, individuals like Ms. Lappe who attempt to
obstruct the development of biotechnology and other scientific
advances needed in the developing world, are doing nothing less than
"playing God, not with genes but with lives of poor and hungry people."
If the arguments of people like Frances Moore Lappe are heeded, real
damage will be done to poor and hungry in the Third World and to those
who are seeking to increase equality in the world by raising their
standards of living - not by lowering the living standards of
Americans and Europeans.
C. S. Prakash
People, Not Technology, Are the Key to Ending Hunger; The debate over
biotechnology is a tragic distraction.
Los Angeles Times June 27, 2001 Page B-13 Los Angeles Times
By FRANCES MOORE LAPPE; Frances Moore Lappe is a visiting scholar at MIT
Biotechnology companies and even some scientists argue that we need
genetically modified seeds to feed the world and to protect the Earth
from chemicals. Their arguments feel eerily familiar.
Thirty years ago, I wrote "Diet for a Small Planet" for one reason. As
a researcher buried in the UC Berkeley agricultural library, I was
stunned to learn that the experts--equivalent to the biotech
proponents of today--were wrong. They were telling us we'd reached the
Earth's limits to feed ourselves, but in fact there was more than
enough food for us all. Hunger, I learned, is the result of economic
"givens" we ourselves have created, assumptions and structures that
actively generate scarcity from plenty. Today this is more, not less,
Throughout history, ruminants had served humans by turning grasses and
other "inedibles" into high-grade protein. They were our four-legged
protein factories. But once we began feeding livestock from cropland
that could grow edible food, we began to convert ruminants into our
protein disposals. Only a small fraction of the nutrients fed to
animals return to us in meat; the rest animals use largely for energy
or they excrete. Thirty years ago, one-third of the world's grain was
going to livestock; today it is closer to one-half. And now we're
mastering the same disappearing trick with the world's fish supply. By
feeding fish to fish, again, we're reducing the potential supply.
We're shrinking the world's food supply for one reason: The hundreds
of millions of people who go hungry cannot create a sufficient "market
demand" for the fruits of the Earth. So more and more of it flows into
the mouths of livestock, which convert it into what the better-off can
afford. Corn becomes filet mignon. Sardines become salmon.
Enter biotechnology. While its supporters claim that seed
biotechnology methods are "safe" and "precise," other scientists
strongly refute that, as they do claims that biotech crops have
actually reduced pesticide use.
But this very debate is in some ways part of the problem. It is a
tragic distraction our planet cannot afford. We're still asking the
wrong question. Not only is there already enough food in the world,
but as long as we are only talking about food--how best to produce
it--we'll never end hunger or create the communities and food safety
We must ask instead: How do we build communities in tune with nature's
wisdom in which no one, anywhere, has to worry about putting
food--safe, healthy food--on the table? Asking this question takes us
far beyond food. It takes us to the heart of democracy itself, to
whose voices are heard in matters of land, seeds, credit, employment,
trade and food safety.
The problem is, this question cannot be addressed by scientists or by
any private entity, including even the most high-minded corporation.
Only citizens can answer it, through public debate and the resulting
accountable institutions that come from our engagement.
Where are the channels for public discussion and where are the
Increasingly, public discussion about food and hunger is framed by
advertising by multinational corporations that control not only food
processing and distribution but farm inputs and seed patents.
Two years ago, the seven leading biotech companies, including
Monsanto, teamed up under the neutral-sounding Council for
Biotechnology Information and are spending millions to, for example,
blanket us with full-page newspaper ads about biotech's virtues.
Government institutions are becoming ever more beholden to these
corporations than to their citizens. Nowhere is this more obvious than
in decisions regarding biotechnology--whether it's the approval or
patenting of biotech seeds and foods without public input or the
rejection of mandatory labeling of biotech foods despite broad public
demand for it.
The absence of genuine democratic dialogue and accountable government
is a prime reason most people remain blind to the many breakthroughs
in the last 30 years that demonstrate we can grow abundant, healthy
food and also protect the Earth.
Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but by a scarcity of
democracy. Thus it can never be solved by new technologies, even if
they were to be proved "safe." It can only be solved as citizens build
democracies in which government is accountable to them, not private
corporate entities. Copyright (c) 2001 Times Mirror Company
EPA Pushes New Biotech Rules
7/20/2001, Edited by Willie Vogt, E-Content Director, Farm Progress
Aiming to assure the public that the process for approving biotech
crops is open and transparent, Christine Todd Whitman, administrator
of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, signed three final rules
for the oversight of "plant-incorporated protectants." The move comes
after the final rules had first been withdrawn by the Bush
Administration for a review following a last-minute approval by former
administrator Carol Browner. The rules say that plant-incorporated
protectants (PIPs) derived from biotech will be regulated by EPA under
the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and
under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) to protect human
health. In announcing the rule signing, Whitman notes that this
framework of rules allows the agency's "current system of rigorous
scientific evaluation" to continue.
She adds: "There has been an open and transparent process of
scientific consultation and public comment leading to the finalization
to these rules. They reflect EPA's commitment to sound science and an
even-handed regulatory process."
The new rules require genetically engineered PIPs - the most widely
used currently being Bacillus thuringiensis - to meet federal safety
standards through a process that's as rigorous as that for herbicides
and insecticides. In addition, protectants added through non-biotech
means will be exempt from the FIFRA and FFDCA requirements, but
manufacturers would still be required to report any potential adverse
affects should they occur. The rules also exempt genetic material -
DNA - that creates the pesticidal substance in the plant from maximum
residue levels, or tolerance, in food. This exemption does not apply
to the actual pesticidal substance, just to the DNA. This is a point
of contention because many groups have claimed that the presence of
the DNA was enough to cause trouble. For example, in the case of
StarLink Bt corn, no food has been found with the plant protein, only
DNA has been found that shows the protein must have been present in
the corn. The agency has also opened public comment on several areas
that have been deliberated for seven years, but still not settled
* IPs derived through genetic engineering from plants that are able
to naturally propogate.
* PIPs that act primarily by affecting the plant (such as causing the
plant to have thicker wax cuticles).
* PIPs based on viral coat proteins (substances that encapsulate and
protect genetic material of certain plant viruses.You can make comment
on these rules and other issues related to biotech-derived PIPs by
Better Safe than Sorry?
by Joe Kaplinsky http://www.spiked-online.com/articles/00000002D1AC.htm
In the second in its series of summer fringe debates, the UK Royal
Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Sciences and Manufactures (RSA)
together with The Economist magazine hosted 'Better Safe Than Sorry?',
an assessment of contemporary attitudes to risk and their relationship
to science, on 12 July 2001.
On the panel were Professor John Adams (University College London) and
Professor Philip Stott (School of Oriental and African Studies) (1).
To illustrate the topicality of the debate the chairman, Peter
Cotgreave of Save British Science, pointed out that the word 'risk'
had come up in parliament 13 times the previous day, in different
John Adams argued that our risk-taking behaviour is governed by a
'thermostat' that regulates risk by balancing gains and losses.
Institutions like government or big business often lose perspective by
only taking into account possible losses. Society today is
particularly risk-averse, he said, because the breakdown of
socialising between neighbours makes us more likely to sue, and the
ever-present spectre of the lawsuit makes everybody more aware of
potential risks and dangers.
Philip Stott was more combatitive, pouring scorn on what he called
'self-indulgent, post-materialist, eco-chondriac, ciabatta-eating'
environmentalists. He claimed that a set of ideas originating
primarily in late nineteenth-century German Romanticism has come to
dominate our attitudes, displacing traditional religion as a way of
understanding the world around us.
Stott sees environmentalism as profoundly dangerous. By trashing GM
crops, for example, environmentalists destroy our best hope for coping
with the inevitable problems of a changing world, such as climate
change and population growth. Turning our backs on new technologies,
said Stott, is 'a risk too far'. Instead, Stott advocates what he
calls 'flexible development'. Different techniques, such as organic
farming and GM farming, all have their places, he suggested, and it is
only if we have a broad range of technologies available that we will
be in a position to thrive.
But while Stott's rhetoric was strong, I would argue that these points
are a bit soft. Even if there is not one best way to farm, surely some
are better than others - and organic farming is worse than industrial
agriculture. Stott's paradigm example was global warming. Here, the
extent of this risk is uncertain, and we can do little about it in any
case. Yet it obsesses the world's leaders, distracting attention from
those risks that we understand well, and against which we could
productively mobilise resources. Stott compared the sophistication of
the computerised models on which predictions of global warming are
based to the computer game Tomb Raider, and claimed that in any case a
coupled non-linear (and, according to Stott, chaotic) system like the
climate was inherently unpredictable.
It is certainly true that eco-worriers make some absurd statements
about the science of global warming, so it is understandable that
Stott should emphasise the uncertainty that surrounds this phenomenon.
But you could have come away with the false impression that this
problem is so hopelessly difficult that science will never have
anything useful to say about it.
The most useful insight was that environmental activists act as a
'catalyst' for broader social anxieties
Stott's appeal for an 'adult debate' was useful. As a self-proclaimed
leftist, he 'despaired of the Guardian' and pronounced himself
'appalled' by the Independent. Scientists, he said, should wise up,
and learn to get their message across more effectively. However, it
seems questionable how far his emphasis on semiotics, drawing on the
ideas of Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jacques Lacan, will help us in
creating this adult debate. How does it account for the fact that one
side is right and the other wrong in its assessment of risk,
irrespective of the process of 'legitimation through the social bond'?
The audience was generally sympathetic to the speakers, and seemed
almost taken aback that such critical sentiments could be openly
expressed in public. There was much nodding in recognition when
somebody joked about the risk of losing your job by spending too much
time filling out risk-assessment forms. But in general, the
contribution from the floor was fairly uncritical. The most useful
insight was the suggestion that environmental activists act as a
'catalyst' for anxieties in society at all levels, from the top down,
rather than as a cause.
The RSA and The Economist have done a good job at finding an
interesting set of speakers. But given the scepticism toward
environmental scares on the panel at this debate, and the belief in
such scares the previous week, the debates could have been more
interesting had the two been mixed up, and the sparks let fly.