Today's Topics in AgBioView.
* Discoveries of DNA Exposed "Greenpeace Dishonesty"
* The Greatest Technological Leap in The History of Mankind
* Society Honors Golden Rice Inventor
* Moral Repugnance of Attacks on Science and Technology
* Greenpeace Pair Fined Over GM Food Protest
* AGT Becomes First Indian GMO Testing Company
* Science and Fiction in the Risk Assessment Debate
* Modern Technology Benefits Third World Countries
* Public Views On GMOs: Deconstructing The Myths
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Discoveries of New DNA Fragments In Soy Exposed "Greenpeace Dishonesty"
Press Conference Given By Klaus Ammann, Argentina's Direct Sowing Association Press, Press-Release No. 21 August 2001
As Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) become increasingly prevalent worldwide thanks to the application of genetic engineering discoveries to crops, they become a symbol of fear and ignorance and a target of criticism that has no scientific basis, stated Klaus Ammann, Director of the Bern University Botanical Garden in Switzerland, a specialist in risk assessment and a protagonist of both the birth of bio-technology and the controversy surrounding its introduction.
"After 10 years of experience assessing the risks related to transgenic plants, I understand the concern this issue raises," maintained Ammann at a press conference held during the 9th National Congress of AAPRESID (Argentina's Direct Sowing Association).
As for the organizations that reject this technology, Ammann singled out Greenpeace and stated that "very soon, the Greenpeace campaign - which I consider untenable - will run into serious trouble. But I would like to say a few words about Greenpeace's dishonesty." "In May of 2000, Monsanto was debating its strategy for communicating the results of its evaluations of soy DNA. I participated in that debate. They had discovered a new DNA fraction of the soy genome, and the reason they discovered it - which was unknown until that time - was precisely because they had used more accurate analysis methods," he added.
"I witnessed the entire process and I can assure you that those fragments are inactive," Ammann stressed after adding that "on May 31, following the debate, Monsanto's headquarters (St. Louis, USA) decided to publish the results, but it was not news... because it was Monsanto that published it. But more than one year later, Greenpeace is taking up the story again and distorting the facts. And I cannot blame any journalist for having fallen into the trap of publishing what Greenpeace said."
"This is not an isolated case. There are more than 10 similar cases, and all of them range from half-lies to total lies: Greenpeace is not interested in scientific facts, but rather popular slogans," he added. In fact, he ended by saying that the environmental organization had become a "protest industry."
The Greatest Technological Leap in The History of Mankind
- Transcript of the press conference by Klaus Ammann
With the rapid acceptance of transgenic products, we are preparing to take "The greatest technological leap in the history of mankind"
Klaus Ammann, Director of the Bern University Botanical Garden in Switzerland, is an expert in the growth and impact of bio-technology today. He is an independent researcher working at a public institution, a European university. Ammann lived through the birth of bio-technology, as well as the controversy surrounding its introduction.
After 10 years of experience assessing the risks related to transgenic plants, I understand the concern this issue raises. Humanity is headed toward the greatest technological leap in history, because we are talking about a new technology that affects all of mankind.
But this technology was begun before the emergence of genetic engineering. The most significant changes in grains and advances in knowledge about crop genomes occurred many years ago. What happened with corn and wheat is a monstrosity. When we eat wheat, we consume varieties mutated by nuclear radiation. It is not known what happened with the genomes, but we have been eating this wheat for decades, without any type of problem.
Today, with more extensive knowledge and new applications of the technologies resulting from genetic engineering, we are faced with a new system where control is greater, more precise and less risky than that of the old systems. The limitation or reservation that must be pointed out is that this new technology has only been used for the last 10 years. We still need long-term monitoring and more experience. This new technology, however, undoubtedly ensures higher points when risk assessment is carried out.
Surely, you heard about the poisoning of the monarch butterflies and their ensuing death when force-fed with Bt corn. But these were laboratory experiments where the insects were exposed to extremely high doses of toxins. I can assure you that I am familiar with all the literature, either published or not, about field experiments conducted over many years on hundreds of species, and I guarantee you that there is no difference between the population of insects living in fields of Bt corn and conventional corn.
I have a vision of a fusion between organic farming and high-technology farming. I think that in five years organic producers will have serious problems explaining why they do not use second-generation transgenics. For now, this fusion is impossible because organic farmers are faced with negative marketing and do not accept anything that is related to transgenics, even though they have no scientific evidence to justify the non-use of transgenics.
Very soon, the Greenpeace campaign - which I consider untenable - will run into serious trouble. But I would like to say a few words about Greenpeace's dishonesty In May of 2000, Monsanto was wondering whether or not it should publish the results of its evaluations of soy DNA. I participated in that debate. They had discovered a new DNA fraction, and the reason they discovered new fragments of the soy genome - which were unknown until that time - was precisely because they had used more accurate analysis methods.
I witnessed the entire process and I can assure you that those fragments are inactive. On May 31, following the debate, Monsanto's headquarters (St. Louis, USA) decided to publish the results, but it was not news... because it was Monsanto that published it. But one year later, Greenpeace is taking up the story again and distorting the facts. And I cannot blame any journalist for having fallen into the trap of publishing what Greenpeace said.
This is not an isolated case. There are 10 similar cases, and all of them range from half-lies to total lies: Greenpeace is not interested in scientific facts, but rather popular slogans that instill fear in the hearts of its shareholders. They transformed a genetic engineering campaign into a profitable protest industry and they must make recommendations to their shareholders who finance them. I am not happy with Greenpeace's ethics. Either you like Greenpeace - based on the argument that they tell half-truths - or you do not like it because they tell half-lies. I leave this for you to decide.
I would like this organization to be regulated because it is a powerful protest industry. I have nothing against this power - we need this counter-power. But we are not talking about a small David against a big Goliath: if the big Goliaths are regulated and are responsible for their products, I feel that Greenpeace must also make itself responsible for its own industry, which is that of Public Relations. I am not asking for censorship, but rather a code of conduct, just as the press has.
There should be laws in place so that Greenpeace is accountable for its half or total lies. I say this with all due respect to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO). And it is because of the respect I have for them that I am asking for legislation.
What are the main points to keep in mind when assessing the risks of GMOs?
- At the international level, the evaluations were set up in such a way that it can take several years for a product to be regulated and approved. As ecologists, we must be honest about the fact that we do not have much experience or experimentation time, and I would like to have more suitable monitoring during the post-commercial phase once the matter is set up scientifically. The introduction of a new technology does not guarantee its absolute safety.
How valid is the opinion that increased production of soy and lower prices made it possible to even out the effect of Mad Cow disease in Europe by importing soy?
- The first thing that should be made clear is that molecular engineering includes genetic engineering, which allowed the hazards of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) to be known. In Argentina and Texas there are places where cattle are fed naturally, and they should be happy about that. Following the cases of BSE in Europe and the attempt to pave the way for transgenic soybeans, there is the belief that another lie is now being propagated. Nevertheless, I believe that soybeans will make their way into Europe, even though it will take some time. The figures I saw in Argentina regarding the speed at which RR soy is being adopted are astonishing. We must be more pragmatic in our view toward transgenics and put aside the old black and white debate, while still respecting old farming traditions. With molecular methods, we are more knowledgeable of what we are doing, accuracy has increased and the risks have decreased. There is, however, a big but: the potential of every new technology is also a potential
Society Honors Golden Rice Inventor
- Barry A. Palevitz, The Scientist 15:8, Aug. 20, 2001
'Ingo Potrykus talks of social responsibility for scientists'
Scientists who gathered in Providence, R.I. in late July for the annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists paused one evening to honor a pioneer in plant biotechnology. The society gave Swiss researcher Ingo Potrykus its Leadership in Science Public Service Award for his molecular tour de force in creating beta carotene-enriched 'golden' rice. Along with Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg in Germany, and Xudong Ye, now at Agricetus Monsanto in Madison, Wis, Potrykus moved three genes from daffodil and a bacterium into rice plants to construct the provitamin A biosynthetic pathway.1 By coupling the genes to endosperm-specific promoters, the scientists targeted the pathway to grain endosperm cells. "It took altogether 30 years to develop golden rice," including early ground work, Potrykus said.
Golden rice is now being tested and refined. The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines is also transferring the pathway to agronomically important varieties via traditional breeding techniques. If the new strains satisfy culinary preferences, they could help alleviate vitamin A deficiencies responsible for millions of cases of death and blindness worldwide.
Courtesy of ASPB
Potrykus' achievement earned him media star status and polished biotech's tarnished image. The Swiss scientist even made the July 31, 2000 cover of Time Magazine. But Potrykus' experience wasn't altogether rosey.2 Golden rice upset biotech critics such as Greenpeace, who viewed the advance--and the way industry trumpeted it--with suspicion. In accepting the ASPB award, Potrykus reflected on his experience.
On Biotech Research and His Motives
"We are in a very curious situation. We are learning a lot about plant biology, ... but we are not allowed to use this knowledge for practical purposes." Still, Potrykus hoped that the American way of treating genetically modified organisms (GMOs), more accepting of the technology and the way it's regulated, will win out over the years. He worried, though, that "the European way of doing things may spread to the U.S." Potrykus insisted scientists if possible should take social responsibility for their work, given "the privileges they get." He found his mission in global food security, noting that vitamin A and iron deficiencies alone affect 3 billion people globally. Besides boosting iron levels in plants, Potrykus now wants to use transgenic technology to enhance essential amino acids in crops.
Potrykus maintained that "from the beginning," he wanted to make golden rice available free of charge. Still, he couldn't release it after a search revealed that 70 patents belonging to 32 holders covered technology used in the process. He convinced the AstraZeneca company to help tackle the problem, and together they agreed on a definition of humanitarian use that could circumvent patent obstacles: "Everything which leads to a less-than-$10,000 annual income to farmers should be considered a humanitarian use," Potrykus stated. The public/private compact paved the way for patent waivers.
Potrykus also had to contend with material transfer agreements that could prevent release. If you do something important you have to deal with powerful interests, Potrykus soberly admitted, and that means dealing with lawyers. His strategy was to take the high ground: "Legally, they had the rights, but morally I had the right." If a company didn't agree on material transfer, he threatened to take the issue to the media. He won.
The next step was to identify reliable national partners. The move was necessary, Potrykus noted sarcastically, because he was working with "the most dangerous organisms ever--GMOs." He avoided solicitations from North Korea and Iran, but he ended up with a consortium of countries from Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere. IRRI, along with Philippine government laboratories, were the first to receive the grain.
Potrykus added that "in the next two to three months we hope to give rice to India. Discussions with China are moving slowly because the Chinese are worried about approving GMO releases. "They don't want to endanger their soybean export market," said Potrykus. Negotiations with South America "are stuck" over concerns about traditional agriculture. Potrykus has been disappointed that "institutions like the World Health Organization and the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, which are supposed to be involved in humanitarian efforts, are very hesitant to get involved.
Opposition to Golden Rice
Potrykus pulled no punches when it came to groups opposing golden rice and other GMOs. "The 'professional' GMO opposition is using every trick to prevent golden rice acceptance," insisted Potrykus, including accusations that the grain is poisonous and people who eat it will lose hair and sexual potency. According to Potrykus, "even the Chinese government is afraid" of them. "There are very few people with backbone to stand up to radicals," he added.
Potrykus believes that, despite "a Robin Hood mask," one of the organizations has "a self-interest in raising money" in opposing GMOs. "We need a Watergate-type journalist" to investigate, he suggested, "because the public will not believe us." Reporters should ask about an organization's budget, where the money comes from, and to whom it's accountable.
If the media got involved, they could also rectify past problems with coverage of GMOs. The media thinks that "a balanced report means they have to have the other side represented," opined Potrykus. In the case of GMOs, that could skew public opinion. When somebody in the audience questioned whether scientists should resort to the same tactics as the opposition, Potrykus reminded the questioner that it would be journalists who would do the asking, not scientists. The Swiss researcher even took industry to task, criticizing companies for overhyping golden rice as an example of what biotech can do. As a result, "people think it's already in the field preventing blindness."
Near the end of his talk, Potrykus waxed philosophical: "My motivation was honest [in helping people]. I could not have stopped" at just the science. "That's why I won't stop now." When asked if he felt in danger at any time, given recent terrorist incidents directed at GMO researchers, Potrykus admitted, "I have felt threatened on several occasions, but I can defend myself." He noted that his institute installed precautions many years ago.
When asked by a student why he should go through the same things other than for humanitarian reasons, Potrykus sympathized. "The value of somebody is rated by their publications," the senior scientist acknowledged. In 10 years of doing work on golden rice, he published just one article. "No young scientist can survive this." That's why "we need granting agencies that are brave enough to invest in these kinds of projects. I was fortunate to be a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute."
Potrykus encouraged his audience to assist the poor in developing countries. He also pushed them to speak out publicly about what they do. "You must find a way to amplify your message," he suggested. Just talking to a few people isn't satisfactory. Instead, he asked scientists to write letters and articles for publication. "Educating just 100 people will work. We have to quickly respond to false information in the media."
Barry A. Palevitz (email@example.com) is a contributing editor for The Scientist.
1. B.A. Palevitz, "With GM crops, who needs vitamin pills?" The Scientist, 14:14, Feb. 7, 2000.
2. B.A. Palevitz, "Bowl of hope, bucket of hype?" The Scientist, 15:15, April 2, 2001.
Moral Repugnance of Attacks on Science and Technology
(Recently, on the AAAS sponsored discussion group "SCOPE- Genetically Modified Food", Jonathan Mathews of the Norfolk Genetic Information Network attacked Julian Morris of Institute of Economic Analysis (both from UK) for his stand on biotechnology and organic agriculture (and included IEA and me in that attack). I asked Julian to respond and it appears below.....CSP)
From: Julian Morris
RE: NGIN Attacks
If NGIN cannot tell the difference between the views of individuals who work for an organisation and the views of that organisation, then that is sad. Presumably people who work for NGIN have meetings to decide what their members do in their spare time (lest those actions might in some way be construed as the activities of NGIN). Actually, I suppose that is what NGIN does: removing choice and freedom by preventing people from making their own mind up about the merits of new foods. Shame.
The IEA is devoted to educating the public about the institutions of the free society. People who work for the IEA inevitably have considerable freedom to express their views, even if those views are at odds with others within the IEA or with the IEA's trustees. As I explained in my earlier email, the point of the press release which was put out on IEA letterhead (because two of the people who designed and carried out the survey were IEA employees, we were allowed this privilege) was to draw the public's attention to the absurdity of many food scares and the risk that over-reacting to such food scares.
I find it interesting that the same people who are opposed to genetic engineering of food should support organic food. I suppose it says more about the way such people conceptualise the world than anything else. The idea of organic agriculture derives from an assumption that 'natural' is better. Likewise, opposition to genetic engineering derives from an assumption that synthetic or man-made is worse. These two ideas are analogous and they are deeply misanthropic. They are also, from a scientific standpoint, absurd. But they are not scientific -- they are moral. In my view they are morally repugnant.
Science is one of many institutions that humanity has created for its own benefit. Science offers a way of describing the world around us that is outside of culture and language and can therefore cross those cultural and linguistic barriers. Scientists in China, India, Russia, Australia, Japan, Argentina, Spain, Norway, The US and the UK can communicate in the common language of science -- of theorems and equations; of experimental data and statistics. Millions of researchers the world over are constantly discovering new and better ways of explaining the world. Other scientists are using this knowledge and combining it with their own to develop new technologies. In general the new technologies that have been introduced over the past several millennia have benefited mankind. IN the realm of nutrition, these include (but are not limited to):
* Cooking (originally wood fires were used, which, whilst dangerous in themselves helped our ancestors to kill bacteria, which might otherwise have killed them; nowadays we use less dangerous technologies such as gas and electric stoves, but still many people die and are injured in fires caused during cooking)
* Cultivation (which probably reduced biodiversity -- but enabled our ancestors to feed themselves)
* Pesticides (some early ones used highly toxic substances such as arsenic, but with the development of organochlorine, organophosphate and more recently synthetic pyrethroids, which are far less harmful to mammals)
* Fertilisers (which replace nutrients that are lost during cultivation far more efficiently than earlier technologies, such as manure and compost -- and they are less likely to lead to contamination with bacteria, heavy metals and other unknown compounds)
* Genetic modification (early attempts at GM were rather inefficient, often taking years to produce a new hybrid; in the mid-part of the last century, with the introduction of radiation-generated random mutation, the process was improved slightly; now with modern biotechnology and improved understanding of genomics, we are able to produce new varieties that are more nutritious, require fewer pesticides, are less likely to lead to allergic responses, and are higher-yielding so that less land is needed to produce the same amount of food)
Opposition to modern technology is morally repugnant because of the enormous opportunities that such technolgies offer the human race. Of course these technologies will not by themselves solve the problem of malnutrition in poor countries. That requires political solutions -- and in particular it requires that people in those countries be free to own land and manage that land themselves, and to be able to sell their produce to people in other countries. But new technologies can be part of the process by which poor people escape from poverty. Groups that oppose new technologies, even where that opposition is primarily local, often have effects far beyond their borders. Opposition to GM crops in Europe has made the governments of poor countries wary about allowing their people to introduce GM crops. That is not something of which to be proud. NGIN and all its members it should be ashamed of themselves.
Those people who really believe in going back to nature should be more consistent: go to Borneo, Brazil or Papua New Guinea and try living amongst the wild animals without using any tools.
- Julian Morris (whose views do not necessarily represent those of the IEA, its Directors, Advisors or Trustees)
>Re Response on NGIN comments from IEA
>Prakash has forwarded to SCOPE a "Response on NGIN comments from IEA" in
>which Julian Morris of the Institute of Economic Affairs states that,
>"nearly everything he [ie NGIN] says about the IEA is wrong ...".
Greenpeace Pair Fined Over GM Food Protest
- Patrick Poonout, 21 August 2001 S. China Morning Post
A magistrate yesterday criticised Greenpeace as he fined two of its activists $900 each for their role in a protest against genetically modified foods outside a dairy products factory. Magistrate Tam Hop-hon said he was disappointed with the way Greenpeace carried out a protest outside Nestle Dairy Farm Hong Kong's factory in Yuen Long on May 28. Eleven Greenpeace activists took part in an eight-hour stand-off, in which some of the group chained themselves to the plant's front gate and rear exit.
Chinese University students Christopher Fung Ka-keung and Fung Kai-yuen, both 22, chained themselves to a van. They went on trial on Thursday in what Greenpeace claimed was the first criminal prosecution of its activists in Hong Kong.
"I do not believe you were exercising freedom of expression, which you merely used as an excuse to block [Nestle's] delivery of goods," Mr Tam told them. The magistrate said he considered giving the defendants a bond but decided a fine would be more appropriate as he did not want the public to think the court was there only to protect freedom of expression and not other public interests.
"Greenpeace should carry out more positive actions if it wants to inform the public [about the effects of GM food], such as raising the issue in the press so as to let consumers make their own judgment, rather than pressurising the company to respond to their request." He said that their protests could have caused the company financial losses and suggested the environmental group take more positive measures in dealing with Nestle, such as publicising information about GM foods, raising public debate, or conducting more tests on GM foods.
He found the defendants guilty of causing obstruction in a public place and obstructing police Superintendent Lam Chark-sang in the execution of his duty. Both defendants had earlier pleaded not guilty to the charges. The students, who said they would appeal against the decision, were each fined $900 and given until September 20 to pay up.
Outside court, the pair said they were disappointed with the verdict, which they feared would place further restrictions on freedom of expression and protest in Hong Kong, and that they intended to appeal. Greenpeace China executive director Ho Wai-chi said the court failed to give the group credit for its efforts in informing the public of its concerns over GM food in the past two years. "We did what we had to do and what we did was legitimate and should not have been met with such opposition from the police," Mr Ho said. "We just wanted to protect consumer rights."
AGT Becomes First Indian GMO Testing Company
- Asia Pulse, 21 Aug 2001
KOLKATA, Aug 21 Asia Pulse - Life sciences platform Avestha Gengraine Technologies (AGT) today became the first Indian company to offer globally approved testing and certification for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) after clinching a strategic alliance with US-based firm Genetic ID Inc. Marking India's presence in the global biotechnology arena, AGT would provide agriculture and food processing industry in the country internationally accepted certification, according to a company statement. By providing GMO testing services to the Indian food and feed companies, export opportunities would be greatly enhanced throughout the world where GMO labelling laws are currently being enforced.
Science and Fiction in the Risk Assessment Debate and the Future of Agriculture
- Klaus Ammann, Botanical Garden, University of Bern, University of Bern, Botanical Garden, Altenbergrain 21, CH - 3013, Bern, Switzerland
Science and fiction in Risk Assessment Research
The new knowledge in molecular genetics will have a much more profound impact on food production than the "Green Revolution" of several decades ago, it could enable us at long last to achieve rapid progress in the breeding of the most common crop plants such as rice, corn and wheat. The growth of genetic knowledge will have consequences one never could have imagined before. The most promising genes of crop plants will be an open book within only a few years from now. Significant progress has already been made with the genetic material of the rice plant, and major private agricultural corporations have made some of the fruits of their rapidly intensified research available - free of charge - on a world-wide scale.
The optimistic and visionary outlook is one side of the medal, the other side is the bitter debate about the risks we are taking with field releases of transgenic crops. Opponents of the new technology range from fundamentalists denying the new technology all benefits and fervent defenders who do not see the slightest problems. There is unfortunately a lot of partisan thinking on both sides and - as often, the truth lies in-between.
Lets take the well known example of the Bt-crops. Ever since the Nature paper of Losey appeared, people had to learn that the colourful larvae the beautiful and popular Monarch butterfly in the US can be killed by Bt Pollen within 4 days by 40%. Shockwaves of newspaper articles went around the globe and Monsanto lost some 5% of its shares within a few days. But even Losey himself warned about the interpretation of his lab results. Today we know that the Monarch larvae and the adults will nicely survive in vast fields of Bt crops. We know it from field tests, there are today lots of data available. Beneficial insects even have a better life in Bt corn fields, since they are not showered by pesticides. Roundup Ready crops can be grown with the new conservation tillage methods, in favourable conditions the soil microflora thrives under no tillage conditions much better than with crops treated with classic herbicides. It becomes now visible that transgenic crops, wisely designed and used, will add to the sustai
Also it has become clear in the last years, that gene flow happens wherever possible, as it has done in the former days of agriculture. But today the transgenes act as marker genes and we can, for the first time in history, follow up with extreme precision what is going on in the fields. The present day transgenes do not pose any significant problems once they have escaped to their wild relatives through outcrossing. And outcrossing is only possible there where wild relatives are in the reach of viable pollen grains of crops, which produce after pollination viable hybrids. The latest long term experiment of Crawley shows that after ten years the 4 transgenic crops tested just vanish and have a considerably lower survival chance than their non-transgenic counterparts. But one has also to realize that the early risk assessment data have been scanty and not at all convincing, and in the early days of the US approvals things looked a bit shaky in the hindsight. And also we should remain cautious about long term
It would also be wrong to dismiss the general anxiety of a large portion of the population about biotechnology, since it becomes clear now that biology as a science has lost its innocence and people have a very finely tuned sensitivity on what's going on. After all, the new molecular technologies will change the course of Evolution. But it is also true that we have started to strongly influence evolution a long time ago - with crops even several thousand years ago. In modern times we have without hesitation sped up mutational breeding with gamma radiation - with modern wheat we do still not know, what we have done to the genomes with those rather inconsiderate methods. But we all eat bread from wheat which has undergone such mutations. So the whole difference is that today we eat mutant food and in future we will eat gene food, where we know much better what we have done.
It would be a grave error to concentrate on the negative side of transgenic crops, since they offer important opportunities for modern farming. And it is modern farming we will have to install all over the world, since it is a fiction to believe that a trend back to traditional methods would solve the most urgent problems in feeding the world. But it would also be naïve to think that genetic engineering alone would save us all. We learned extraordinarily quickly from the early years of genetic engineering through experiments involving the introduction of individual genes from other organisms into genetic material. Some of these first-generation transgenic plants have since been introduced in many different countries and are now producing good yields. Although the ecological and economic benefits vary from region to region, and have been only modest in some areas, farmers who have been able to use these varieties effectively are thoroughly convinced of the advantages they offer.
The rapid expansion of genomic knowledge will soon make it possible to create resistances against parasitic fungi that are still causing disastrous crop damage today. We should be wary, however, of simply replacing the chemical "club" with the genetic club in the field of pest control. We would be far better off applying the elegance of breeding methodology to more meaningful goals, such as enhanced tolerance against drought, high salt concentration in soils and a better crop performance in cold climates.
Efforts to realise romantic notions about nature in the fields with the aid of genetic technology surely make little sense today. It should be possible, however, to increase species diversity in the agricultural context and thus put an end to the dismal reign of monocultures. Our endless war against wave after wave of new pests on these vast, monotonous fields should prompt us to rethink our approach. We must win such battles in the future if we are to increase our food supply while alleviating ecological consequences at the same time. It should also be stated very clearly that farming with transgenic crops is not scale dependent: this is shown in China, where thousands of small cotton growers are very happy with the transgenic traits.
An excellent way to solve these complex problems in an open debate offers New Zealand. In a rigorously open, balanced and transparent debate, all accessible on the internet under http://www.gmcommission.govt.nz/ , thousands of submissions, testimonies and rebuttals have been published, and soon the Royal Commission of New Zealand will come out with a balanced report. This tedious and lenghty debate process leaves no room for cheap populist slogans and will eventually lead to balanced solutions, well adapted to the needs of New Zealand. Another good source of information is http://www.bio-scope.org, a new website with a content database accessible over hundreads of keywords, daily news about biotechnology, and a daily clipping service for newspaper articles. Also you have access to a range of experts willing to answer individual questions.
Many different roads to success in plant breeding and farming
Roads to success in these areas are many, and we must pursue them all. In the first stage of fascination with the new technologies, a number of other pest-control strategies lost much - too much, in my view - of their appeal. We should have a closer look at mixed cropping and test critically its sustainability. Also we will have to enforce research in biocontrol, which should also include a good package of risk assessment. Modern agriculture could benefit enormously from the knowledge and experience of organic farmers, whom I regard as visionaries of no less importance than the genome researchers who bring us this progress. We should apply our new knowledge about individual genes constructively to methods of cultivation that preserve or enhance soil fertility while preventing the growth of even small weed populations and offering refuge and food for beneficial insect species. On the basis of our new, sophisticated genomic knowledge it should be possible to develop transgenic plants capable of defending them
We should take the unique opportunity to pursue this ecological approach to plant breeding. This will require active co-operation with those organic farmers who are at least willing to entertain the possibility of incorporating other genes in their crop plants. At present, the market has nothing to offer organic farmers as an encouragement to join this still modest faction. Although lower pesticide and herbicide consumption is often cited as an argument in favour of these first transgenic varieties, most organic farmers are hardly impressed, as they have long since cut back the use of chemical agents substantially (albeit in favour of organic pesticides, which are not without significant problems of their own). Yet organic farmers frequently fail to think far enough ahead. They should not be indifferent to the fact that the transgenic, herbicide-tolerant soy bean permits a form of crop cultivation in which ploughing is virtually unnecessary - a giant leap forward in the battle against soil erosion. Like con
On the other hand, we now know that soil organisms flourish considerably better in organically farmed fields, a fact that should give the defenders of conventional farming methods pause for thought. I have learned from my own personal contacts that dialogue is possible, although it is clear where at least one of the problems lies. With their heavily ideological point of view, many organic farmers tend to isolate themselves excessively from modern developments. All official advocates of organic farming categorically reject the introduction of other genes into crop plants, for example. They are quick to support the superficial fear-mongering arguments of non-government organisations that do not even hesitate to fuel resistance to transgenic livestock feed in the face of firmly established scientific knowledge. My own personal experience has shown me that dialogue is possible and that even the most dedicated organic farmers are capable of learning as well. My own surname can be traced back in a straight line t
Those who see these Amish farmers as stubborn learn in their first personal encounter with them that such is not the case. One is amazed at how deeply curious the Amish are. I can confirm, at any rate, that the friends I have been privileged to meet do not fit the stereotype of narrow-minded fanatics. As organic farmers, they do not reject technology out of hand but instead examine every innovation closely in an effort to determine whether it might pose a danger to their religion or way of life. If they are convinced of the potential benefit, they have no reservations about introducing milk cooling systems and other modern technologies. I had a number of surprisingly amiable, objective discussions with Amish organic farmers about genetic technology, and to my amazement, they decided to test samples of genetically modified seeds soon afterwards. Transgenic potatoes are currently being grown on a trial basis on their farms. And there is no reason whatsoever to suspect that these genetically altered potatoes m
I have gained a very similar impression in conversations with practising Buddhists. Their natural curiosity and their willingness to consider even genetic technology without prejudice has fascinated and impressed me time and time again. The most striking example of such a seminal conversation I have ever experienced took place in the Botanical Gardens at the University of Bern, where I had the good fortune to spend a half-hour discussing genetically engineered crop plants with a dignified yet quite cheerful teacher of the Dalai Lama. He, too, exhibited neither prejudice nor fear with regard to this visionary technology that is unfortunately much too often condemned without a hearing in this country.
Biology as a science has evolved into a powerful instrument, giving birth to Biotechnology with all its rapidly developing fields of specialisation. A growing part of the population starts to realize that Biotechnology will affect many sectors of their own life. No wonder that the debate is of growing public interest.
Mankind has already started thousands of years ago to change the course of evolution. In particular, genetic engineering will speed up this process. Wisely used, it will enhance food production and medicine. We need to be well informed about the risks and benefits of the new technologies and we should refrain from rejecting prematurely promising developments – but at the same time we must be able to take informed decisions about risk management related to all kinds of agricultural strategies. This all melts down to a better information management, so that in the end we will make better use of the new technologies and ultimately integrate them into traditional farming. Agriculture must contribute to the conservation of biodiversity in multiple ways – last but not least it must intensify production by keeping up the important goals of sustainability and equitability.>
This is why we think that Bio-Scope will fulfil an important mission: We want to give the internet community the chance to have easy access to scientific information on all levels, from the lay people to the highly educated experts. In order to achieve this we offer in Bio-Scope.a variety of electronic instruments, such as an infobase which can be accessed by people with various degrees of education on biotechnology and agriculture. The infobase can answer questions on various levels of scientific understanding with carefully selected keywords and with simple or sophisticated query logistics. It will also offer material for science writers and teachers, who want to give science based information on modern agriculture to their students and readers. Abstracts of many scientific and important newspaper articles will be available in English, but also in German and French, in order to facilitate access of lay people, who are not familiar with scientific English.
We also offer with Bio-Scope the possibility for experts and others to e.g. exchange views and plan concerted actions. It will also be a place where everybody can learn about important meetings on biotechnology and – last but not least, get an unbiased and daily updated account on important publications from newspapers to scientific publications.
Bio-Scope will also be a place where experts are ready to answer questions addressed to them, you can look for an expert all over the globe in a specific knowledge sector, address your question to him and get an answer from somebody who really knows whats going on in his own field of specialisation. These experts have also a genuine interest in being involved in the scientific and public debate on biotechnology and Agriculture. An easily accessible infobase and an expert group on biotechnology are both ready to answer your questions about environmental impact and food safety in modern agriculture from genetic engineering to integrated and organic farming.
For the time coming we hope to enhance with Bio-Scope as a whole and on all levels risk and knowledge management on the subject of green gene technology. Bio-Scope will be linked to the new journal ‘Environmental Biosafety Research’, which will be launched in May from Elsevier and the new Association of Environmental Biosafety Research. It is also intended to exchange forum contributions between the two institutions, see http://www.elsevier.fr/html/detrevue.cfm?code=EV0
Modern Technology Benefits Third World Countries
-Oliver Rautenberg, BioLinX , Bio-Scope, July 27, 2001 http://www.bio-scope.org/disp_doc.cfm?id=B03AFD1F584B4579B32ABA3DAE669881
Abstract: A comprehension on the most important statements of the recently published United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) "Human Development Report 2001" is presented. The Human Development Report has been published annually since 1990 and assesses the standard of living of more than 160 countries in accordance with systematically acquired data. It also reveals ways in which the poor economic, social and technological growth in the most deprived countries of the world could be developed. This year's UNDP report portrays a realistic and differential appraisal of the potential of new technologies including biotechnology in the fight against poverty and famine in many Third World Countries.
Today's bleak situation in developing countries ultimately results, above all, from a global imbalance of wealth, education and infrastructure. In addition, the political framework within developing countries is very much more unstable than that in western democratic nations, whose development and growth took place, on the whole, more gradually. The present situation, which is considered to be extremely grave, has many causes, and that is why there are no one dimensional solutions to the most important problems of poverty and food shortages. One consequence of this situation is that, even with the assistance of development aid organisations and political bodies in the developing countries, there is general disagreement regarding which methods could be successfully used to benefit these countries in the future. Continuous technological and scientific advancement was one of the most important factors in laying the groundwork for the growth and development of today's industrial nations. One of the main reasons
Technological advancement is today, quite rightly, being even more critically questioned in the Western World than it was less than a decade ago. Our judgement of the situation has changed since the most urgent of our problems have been solved, and we can afford, both financially and health-wise, to again slowly turn our backs on the affluent society with its increased moral and ethical sense of duty. At the same time, it is becoming more and more difficult for us - probably even impossible for the younger generation - to imagine famine and disease with such intensity as they still exist in large parts of the world today. In the Western World, one does therefore tend to be of the rational opinion that the developing countries should be protected from the mistakes we once made, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, resulting from an irresponsible attitude towards technological development and progress. Nevertheless, developing countries do have a very keen interest in modern and sometimes controversia
The recently published United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) "Human Development Report 2001" divides this disparity of opinion further, by judging technological and scientific progress as being one of the things which will pioneer the way to economic and social development of Third World Countries. The Human Development Report has been published annually since 1990 and assesses the standard of living of more than 160 countries in accordance with systematically acquired data. It also reveals ways in which the poor economic, social and technological growth in the most deprived countries of the world could be developed. This year's report draws particular attention to the utilisation of promising innovations, especially from the sectors of information and communication technology, as well as agricultural biotechnology. The report emphasises the understanding that technological further development, on the other hand, also represents the requirement for economic growth. Additionally, however, it is also a
Particularly because of the vast amount of innovations in the information and communication technology sector, the populations of third World Countries are increasingly being forced into a role secondary to that of their western counterparts. Therefore, developing countries are once again threatened with incalculable disappointment on the redistribution of the most valuable resource - knowledge. On the one hand, the evident focus on agricultural biotechnology results from the new opportunities, which can today be provided and in future be pledged to the agricultural industry by the utilisation of biotechnology and genetic technology - on the other hand, however, history has shown that technical innovations were substantially responsible for increasing the yield of wheat per area three-fold over the last 40 years. Were, for example, India to exclusively make use of the agricultural and cultivation methods of the 1960s, it would have to approximately double its arable land in order to produce a yield equiv
The focus of UNDP on the transfer of science and technology to the Third World Countries for the improvement of health programmes, agriculture and education is therefore logical and consistent. However, attention must undoubtedly be drawn to the fact that many developing countries do not have the necessary institutes required to be able to assess and avoid the risks of new technology, as well as being able to monitor the observation of legislation. Likewise, the report considers potential social implications resulting from the introduction of technological innovations. However, in particular, the positive evaluation of the utilisation of agricultural biotechnology - considered controversial, above all in Europe - in Third World Countries led to a wave of indignation amongst representatives of environmental organisations. This caused the positive attitude towards agricultural biotechnology expressed in the Report, once it became available to the general public, to be lessened. For example, Greenpeace would r
However, agricultural biotechnology suffers more from its image than its actual perspectives. Marc Malloch Brown, Head of the UNDP, wards off the Greenpeace attack with a simple but intelligible argument: "While up to now no risks (with the use of genetic technology, ed.) could be identified, one peril has been identified: 850 million people in the world go to bed hungry every night".
It is a fact that biotechnology offers solutions to some of the most urgent problems. The chance to improve indigenous grain types in respect of their nutritional physiological quality or to provide grain with in-built resistance to pests with the help of genetic technology would be of benefit to the ultimate consumer. With their statement, Greenpeace give the impression that the UNDP is of the opinion that the nutritional problems of the word can be solved with the help of genetic technology. However, a more differential view of the report does not lead to such a conclusion. But, on the other hand, whoever demands that we disregard the entire potential of "green genetic technology" on the basis of ideological beliefs risks the opportunities it offers being left on the wayside without having ever been used. The UNDP Report portrays a realistic and differential appraisal of the potential of new technologies in the fight against poverty and famine in many Third World Countries.
Public Views On GMOs: Deconstructing The Myths
- Marris Claire, Sociologist of Science, French National Institute for Agronomy Research.
'Stakeholders In The GMO Debate Often Describe Public Opinion As Irrational. But Do They Really Understand The Public?'
Abstract: Claire Marris identified arguments that are not supported by many years of social science research, called "myths" in both sides pro- and anti- GMO camps. A number of 'typical myths' about the public's perception of GMOs, which were promulgated by stakeholders but not supported by the focus group findings, are listed in this paper. The author explains why there are myths and identifies key questions concerning the GMO use. Her study demonstrates that these 'myths' are unsubstantiated and suggest that the problem of 'public acceptability' of GMOs cannot be resolved without deconstructing these myths and the influence they have on institutional behaviour.
There is no doubt that genetically modified organisms have a notoriously bad reputation in Europe. The anti-GMO lobby accuses proponents of this technology of pushing the introduction of GMOs into agriculture without adequately considering health and environmental risks. The pro-GMO camp charges its opponents with blowing potential risks out of proportion in order to manipulate public opinion against this new technology. During this mutual finger pointing, both sides have taken to blaming the public for a lack of understanding. Indeed, one often hears claims that: 'The media is to blame for the "hysterical" coverage of the issue', or: 'The problem is that the public does not understand the science behind biotechnology', or: 'Public acceptability will improve as soon as consumers see direct benefits'.
Full text at http://www.bio-scope.org/disp_doc.cfm?id=E20359C4F7C1434D98731D8C26CAC46B