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April 12, 2000


2 messages


- http://www.agbioworld.org

Date: Apr 13 2000 17:53:23 EDT
From: Larry Smith
Subject: [Fwd: APS News Capsule]

FYI appropriate topic on NPR 4/14/00 at 2:00 Eastern.

Date: 14 2000 08:55:41 EDT
From: Bob MacGregor
Subject: Re: Money, Hypocrisy and Ad Hominem Arguments


So, all Monsanto has to do is proclaim the intention to "do well by doing good", instead of just implying it is doing good for goodness' sake? I think most folks would accept this strategic position-- eccepting those who seek to destroy big companies in the belief that they are the devil incarnate (or is that incorporate?). Anyway, the profit motive can be a lot more reliable a force for accomplishing what people want/need than charity is-- the catch is the affordability issue. For-profit companies don't tend to target the needs of those who cannot pay, so their products are developed to satisfy the most remunerative market; any benefits to the impoverished are bi-products (or trickle-down?) from gains in this arena.
Modern biotechnolgy, particularly GE techniques, could ease the movement of new developments into third-world farm setting (via CGIAR institutions, for example), since transferability of traits and characteristics has been greatly simplified relative to conventional breeding methods. However, the issue of patent barriers (and other forms of secrecy and restriction to use of information and genes) will loom large in this debate; Monsanto's recent release of rice genome data is a promising goodwill gesture.

R. Macgregor

Date: Apr 13 2000 19:08:50 EDT
From: "Frances B. Smith"
Subject: Re: Estimation of the Role of Ethics Revised

Dear Colleagues,

Andrew Apel's discussion of ethical principles for organizations involved in
policy deals with an important issue in the public policy debate -- the
issue of whether the interests of those financing the group should "temper"
the weight placed on their work. For example, should we grant greater
credence to the claims of those who claim no financial interest in the
debate (the "public interest" organizations whose involvement is
ideological) vs. those who have a financial interest (business)? The
distinction, as Mr. Apel notes, is often not so clear because public
interest groups may have links to or be funded by organizations that do have
a financial stake in the outcome. In addition, many non-profit
organizations, particularly those operating in Europe and in the U.S.,
receive significant government agency funding for their programs and

The media have tended to ignore government funding of public interest groups
(not seeing such groups as fronts for "government") and have not often
examined the motivations of the foundations and individuals involved in the
support of anti-market groups.

However, market-oriented non-profits -- groups that promote private
solutions to public concerns and limited government intervention in people's
lives -- often get dismissed by the media as "industry front groups." The
media does not often distinguish between our groups' pro-market position and
the often-conflicting pro-business position. Most free market groups accept
no government funding; however, they do usually accept contributions from
individuals, private foundations and corporations. Even though an
organization may have principled, consistent and long-established positions
on issues, and does no contract or special project work, it will still
typically be attacked by environmental and consumerist groups as
representing "special interests."

It is interesting to some of us that National Public Radio -- NPR --
solicits and accepts funding from those same classes of donors --
individuals, private foundations, and numerous corporations (those that pay
for non-advertisement ads), yet is generally not criticized for such
donations affecting its news and feature coverage. When that fact has been
pointed out to critics of market-oriented groups, the response has been,
"But groups like NPR take an anti-business, not a pro-business stance!"
Thus, as one of my colleagues noted, the message seems to be the underlying
problem, not the messenger.

As I'm sure the readers know, numerous environmental and consumerist groups
are active on the international scene as NGOs, where they are exerting
enormous and increasing clout as purported "stakeholders" and self-appointed
representatives of "the people" or "civil society." In relation to some
international agencies, they are demanding a place at the table during
negotiations equal to that of nation states. Yet, unlike countries'
representatives, they have no accountability for their actions.

All this is to say that Mr. Apel is correct to urge that such groups should
reveal information
about their organizations' sources of funding, who they represent, etc.
Indeed, our international coalition posts a document on its website
www.icfcs.org that delineates that same need for NGOs. However, I am not
sanguine that public disclosure will change their approaches or bring the
debate on biotechnology and other issues to re-focus on the real issues.
Many of the groups will continue to say they speak for their large
membership, even when most of those "members" may know little if anything
about the groups' policy positions. Other groups, when questioned, will form
new hydra organizations -- using "mothers," "children," or "church" in their
names -- that they can fund and thus escape scrutiny. And so on.

I am optimistic, however, that in the long run, the debate can be won. Many
of those groups represent the elite of the developed world, with comfortable
lifestyles and full bellies. They do not speak for the poor or the starving
of the world; in fact, their policies would harm them. That, I think, will
be their undoing.

Frances B. Smith
Executive Director
Consumer Alert
Phone: 202-467-5809
Consumer Alert is a market-oriented consumer group that points to the
consumer value of a market economy, in increasing choice and competition,
which leads to lower prices and advances in technology that can improve
health and safety.

-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew Apel
To: AgBioView
Date: Wednesday, April 12, 2000 11:34 PM
Subject: Estimation of the Role of Ethics Revised

> - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com
>Dear Colleagues:
>I would like to withdraw an earlier statement of mine, which
>relegated the likelihood that ethicists could contribute to
>the biotech 'debate' to the epistemological status of a
>'possible risk.' An ethicist willing to roll up his or her
>sleeves and take a bit of heat could likely swerve this
>debate in a more thoughtful, considered direction, but first
>a bit of recent history.
>The petition drafted by C.S. Prakash has met with stupendous
>success; and with the signatures of Chinese scientists, the
>total number of scientists worldwide who have endorsed the
>document have now exceeded 2,000. Such credibility is
>difficult to match. Today, a group known as Foundation
>E.A.R.T.H. unveiled a similar program, to get American
>farmers to similarly endorse biotechnology as a responsible
>way to increase food production while reducing the burdens
>of chemical pesticides and herbicides on the environment.
>If ethicists could take a page from recent history, they
>could do everyone a favor, from a much different angle.
>Most players in the 'biotech debate' have a financial stake
>in prolonging and worsening the controversy. This includes
>activist groups which rely financially on contributions from
>the fearful, and organic farmers and retailers who
>contribute heavily to groups connected not only with
>grandstanding on streets in amusing garb, but who also
>advocate the invasion of research facilities and the
>destruction of experimental crops and related equipment. The
>activists and the organic movement both stand to profit
>considerably by cultivating the controversy. And it is these
>groups who have raised the ethical issues which ethicists
>have said they are able to address.
>Naturally, such activist groups will not cooperate in any
>sort of effort to clarify issues, when the murkiness of
>these issues contribute so nicely to their profit margins.
>Furthermore, I am not sure either they, or the public in
>general, are equipped or prepared to engage in the degree of
>critical thinking that a debate on the ethics of
>biotechnology would demand.
>Finally, much of the uproar is the result of plain old
>misinformation and lies. As long as activists rely on such
>tactics, it will take a scientist, not an ethicist, to
>counter them.
>There may be, nonetheless, a contribution ethicists can
>make: An ethicist willing to take a stand could draft, and
>encourage colleagues to endorse, a document which delineates
>ethics of activism. Ideally, it would be clearly and simply
>worded, and written to appeal primarily to the liberals who
>eat well and can easily afford to contribute to enlightened
>and appealing causes such as preserving the remarkable
>subsistence farming methods of those who by an excess of
>noble purpose starve themselves and their children in order
>to resist such things as 'corporate control of biodiversity'
>and the "Newtonian rape of nature" which plentiful food
>would represent.
>What is more, such a document should give people in general
>a cogent set of tools with which to evaluate the ethics of
>the activist groups which purport to represent their
>Applying even the most minimal set of ethical guidelines to
>activist groups would demonstrate innumerable breaches of
>the most commonly-applied and agreed-upon norms of behavior,
>and conflicts of interest beyond counting. Their movements
>can easily suffer many setbacks, but few things would be
>more damaging than the embarrassment which would ensue from
>being exposed as hypocrites and charlatans.
>Ethical constraints would also hamstring them in debate, and
>curb their excesses. In addition, and this would be a
>tremendous benefit, it would make it unnecessary to confront
>the activists using their own methods and become engaged in
>an internecine conflict which, due to the adoption of their
>crude methods, would necessarily spiral downward towards the
>lowest common denominator.
>Such a document would likely impose something like the
>following ethical constraints and duties upon activists:
>1. Full disclosure of all financial or other interests the
>activists, or the people they purport to represent, have in
>the debate which might amount to a conflict of interest.
>2. If the activist group purports to represent the interests
>of the public, the group must disclose the size of their
>membership or use other reasonable means to quantify the
>size and interests of the group they purport to represent,
>along with whether or not those whom the activists purport
>to represent have knowingly assented to such representation.
>3. If the activist group relies on scientific or other facts
>to justify its position, the group must immediately and
>publicly retract any errors or misrepresentations of fact it
>has made when such errors or misrepresentations become
>4. An activist group purporting to represent the public at
>large must necessarily eschew, and refuse to take part in,
>any acts of which violate laws enacted by a democratic
>5. An activist group purporting to represent the public at
>large must eschew, and refuse to take part in, any campaign
>which disrupts the activities of domestic, democratically
>elected public bodies or international public bodies
>appointed by groups of governments.
>Doubtless the ethicists out there could come up with far
>more ethical duties than these which, reasonably, ought to
>apply to any activist group which purports to represent
>human interests generally. It is entirely possible that
>different constraints would apply to groups who purport to
>represent the interests of the environment when such matters
>are divorced from human concerns.
>I would caution that any such document/petition must
>necessarily be one which any member of the
>agricultural/biotechnology/food/retail community would be
>glad to endorse and adhere to, whatever their stance may be.
>Furthermore, it should be a document which Greenpeace,
>Friends of the Earth and others would be glad to embrace,
>the option being an embarrassing refusal to agree to what is
>patently reasonable.
>I offer this as a challenge to the ethicists in this mailing
>list, and if they are as bold and thoughtful as I would wish
>them to be, they may rise to this occasion and help ensure
>that reason prevails.
>Kindest regards,
>Andrew Apel
>B.A. (Phil.), M.A. (Phil.), J.D.
>Editor, AgBiotech Reporter