Today's Topics in AgBioView.
* Pesticide Poisonings - Correction
* Philippine Government Urged To Hike Budget For R&D on GMO
* India: Unauthorised Cotton Merrily Growing On 10,000 Hectares
* CAMBIA Intellectual Property Resource
* CA Online Survey: Have Your Say on GM Foods
* Assessment of the Food Safety Issues Related to Genetically Modified Foods
* Monarch Butterfly Controversy: Scientific Interpretations of a Phenomenon
* GM Crops: Rationally Irresistible
* Eat It If You Dare
* Shiva's Little Green Book
From: Alex Avery
It was pointed out to me that my breakdown of the 220,000 pesticide poisonings statistic contained an error. I wrote that 3% of 220,000 is 660. It's actually 6,600. The correct analysis of this statistic is that somewhere between 0 and 6,600 deaths annually are due to food contamination by pesticides.
The statistic is from the WHO report "Public Health Impact of Pesticide Use in Agriculture." Richard McGuire, former New York Commissioner of Agriculture wrote to the WHO report's author in Geveva, Switzerland, asking for clarification of the 220,000 number. The author responded: "The figure of 220,000 deaths from pesticide poisoning quoted in the editorial is from a recent WHO publication . . . as we stated on page 85 of the report, reliable data on pesticide poisonings are not available and the figures given are derived from various estimates; unfortunately, however, when quoted, figures are not considered as such. These numbers are very, very soft."
Quotes from WHO report: "Of the more than 220,000 intentional/unintentional deaths from acute poisoning, suicides account for approximately 91 percent, occupational exposure for 6 percent and other causes, including food contamination, for 3 percent."
As McGuire points out, the break down could be .001 percent of the ~6,500 "other" causes could be food contamination (or 6.5 people worldwide per year). It could be less, it could be more but who knows. We don't know because it isn't addressed more finely than 3 percent to all other causes other than suicide and occupational exposure. Clearly the bulk of these "other" deaths are accidental poisonings of small children, not food contamination. I can't find a report of any deaths in the developed world from pesticide contamination of food in the last 10 years. Does anyone, including Greenpeace, have any evidence for even one death from food contamination of pesticides within the past decade? The past 2 decades?
Electricity causes many more unintended deaths each year than pesticides, but there aren't any calls for the banning of electricity.
- Alex Avery, Hudson Institute
Philippine Government Urged To Hike Budget For R&D on GMO
- Asia Pulse. 08 Oct 2001
DAVAO CITY, Oct 8 Asia Pulse - The government should increase its budget on the research and development on the controversial Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) and genetically modified organism (GMO) technology.
Emil Javier, a former University of the Philippines president, said the government must provide funding for universities and research institutions which would conduct researches on Bt and GMO. "Instead of opposing genetic modification, we instead have to increase budget for research of Bt and GMO development," said Javier, now the chair of the United Nations-assisted Technical Advisory Committee Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.
Javier said there are "thousands and thousands" of undeveloped genes which would be used for food development. He said Filipino scientists could discover a lot of genes should there be no financial constraints. He said the development of other genes is the country's best way to increase its food production.
Former Agriculture Secretary Salvador Escudero said the government should allocate at least 10 percent of the annual national budget for research, primarily in the field of agriculture and modern agricultural technology like Bt and GMOs research. The government is only allocating five percent of its budget to all kinds of researches, including those for non-agricultural, said Escudero, now president of the research-oriented Foundation for Upgrading of the Standard of Education.
He said an additional budget for research is needed in overcoming the country's dependence on emerging technology in agricultural production. Javier also encouraged the private sector to extend bigger financial support for research and development of agriculture in the country. In other countries, the private sector is allocating bigger budget for agricultural research than their governments. "The private sector should be more involved in research and development this time," he said.
Amid the strong opposition of some farmers' groups, the two resource speakers in the recent symposium on Emerging BioSystems and Food Supply here said Filipinos should give the development of GMO a chance. "Let Science resolve the scientific risks brought by the GMO and let the consumers and the farmers decide," Escudero said. He said progressive countries such a United States have been using GMO in their food supply, yet there has been no report of any negative effect caused by the product.
"What happened now is that the first world countries have already been using this technology while we in the third world country, who really need this, is still debating on it," he said. Javier said it would be unfair to the farmers if they would be deprived in using the technology which would developed their capability to produce more products. "We will be flooded with imported yet affordable goods ... local producers will be on the losing ends," Javier said.
India: Unauthorised Cotton Merrily Growing On 10,000 Hectares In Gujarat
NEW DELHI ( PTI): The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) in the ministry of environment has been shaken by the revelation that a genetically modified (GM) variety of cotton is growing in some 10,000 hectares of land in Gujarat without its knowledge.
GEAC whose permission is required for commercial growing of GM crops has so far not approved cultivation of any such crop. So the disclosure has made a total mockery of Indian regulations regarding import and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GEAC Chairman A M Gokale was not available to comment. The environment ministry has learnt that cotton farmers of Gujarat had purchased the hybrid seeds from an Ahmedabad-based seed company that has been marketing its as a variety resistant to "bollworms". The GEAC has sent a notice asking the company to appear before the committee on Tuesday, October 9.
Sources in the environment ministry said the company could be punished under Environmental Protection Act (1986) if the seeds they sold were confirmed to be genetically modified. India has so far not permitted cultivation of GM crops or consumption of GM foods due to uncertainties over their safety to environment and to humans.
The company did not deny allegations that it sold GM seeds to farmers but a top official, when contacted on telephone, declined to make any comments until after his meeting with GEAC. The cultivation of GM cotton in Gujarat was not detected by any regulatory body, as one would have expected. It was detected by scientists of the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Limited (MAHYCO) in Mumbai who reported their findings to GEAC and the department of biotechnology (DBT).
MAHYCO Managing Director Raju Barwale said in a statement that "tests carried out in our laboratories established that they are transgenic seeds". He said the seeds in fact carried the same gene that his company is using in its "boll-guard" cotton variety that is currently undergoing field trials. MAHYCO - in which the US company Monsanto has a 27 per cent stake - has developed its GM cotton variety by incorporating bacillus thuringicnsis (BT) gene it purchased from Monsanto six years ago. This gene protects cotton against bollworms.
Though Bt cotton has undergone three years of field trials GEAC is yet to clear it for commercial cultivation. DBT sources said they were at a loss to know how and from where the Gujarat company obtained the GM seeds with same Bt genes for its breeding programme. Under the existing rules all germplasms coming to the country for research purposes should be cleared by DBT and pass throung the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) in New Delhi under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
EA Siddiq, former deputy chief of ICAR and now chairman of the DBT's monitoring and evaluation committee told PTI that the Gujarat case has exposed loopholes in regulatory system that could lead to emergence of illegal trade in transgenic seeds by unscrupulous breeders.
"This is a very serious issue," Suman Sahai a geneticist and convener of Gene campaign a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation said. Arvind Kapur, vice-chairman of the All India Biotechnologists Association warns that in the absence of GMO testing facilities breeders may end up handling imported GM material without really being aware of that.
Accdording to Kapur, government laboratories are more likely to spread non-permitted GMOs in the country as they often import germplasm directly bypassing NBPGR and supply seeds to private breeders. "Subsequently if GMO is detected in samples of a private company, the company is caught," he said. ( PTI )
CAMBIA Intellectual Property Resource
The CAMBIA Intellectual Property (IP) Resource has been developed by a team with expertise in the areas of biotechnology, intellectual property, business strategy and informatics. It is funded in part by The Rockefeller Foundation.
What is CAMBIA IP's goal? To facilitate a productive and strategic approach to identifying and addressing intellectual property issues relevant to biotechnology in international agriculture. A key objective is to enhance the ability of public sector and small-to-medium enterprises to develop biotechnology for crop improvement worldwide.
What on-line resources does CAMBIA IP provide?
* Patent Databases - gateway to patent data
* Search full-text of European patent and world (PCT) applications
* U.S. patents coming soon
* Download PDF or text files
* White papers - analyses of major patent positions in key areas of agricultural biotechnology
* Agrobacterium-mediated transformation of plants
* Tutorials - approaches for utilizing patent data
* "How to Read a Patent"
Access to the resource is currently being offered at no charge
Consumer Association Online Survey: Have Your Say on GM Foods
We are interested in your views on GM Foods. Let us know what you think by
answering the three questions below.
1) Do you feel sufficiently informed about GM technology used in food production?
2) Would you buy GM food or food containing GM ingredients?
3) Do you want to know which foods are produced using GM ingredients?
Assessment of the Food Safety Issues Related to Genetically Modified Foods
The Plant Journal (2001) 27(6), 503±528 ã 2001 Blackwell Science Ltd 503
Harry A. Kuiper , Gijs A. Kleter, Hub P. J. M. Noteborn and Esther J. Kok
National Institute for Quality Control of Agricultural Products (RIKILT), Wageningen University and Research Centre, PO Box 230, NL 6700 AE Wageningen, the Netherlands , (Excerpts Below)
Summary: International consensus has been reached on the principles regarding evaluation of the food safety of genetically modified plants. The concept of substantial equivalence has been developed as part of a safety evaluation framework, based on the idea that existing foods can serve as a basis for comparing the properties of genetically modified foods with the appropriate counterpart. Application of the concept is not a safety assessment per se, but helps to identify similarities and differences between the existing food and the new product, which are then subject to further toxicological investigation. Substantial equivalence is a starting point in the safety evaluation, rather than an endpoint of the assessment. Consensus on practical application of the principle should be further elaborated. Experiences with the safety testing of newly inserted proteins and of whole genetically modified foods are reviewed, and limitations of current test methodologies are discussed. The development and validation of
At an early stage in the introduction of recombinant-DNA technology in modern plant breeding and biotechnological food production systems, efforts began to define inter- nationally harmonized evaluation strategies for the safety of foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Two years after the first successful transform- ation experiment in plants (tobacco) in 1988, the International Food Biotechnology Council (IFBC) published the first report on the issue of safety assessment of these new varieties (IFBC, 1990). The comparative approach described in this report has laid the basis for later safety evaluation strategies. Other organizations, such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) have developed further guidelines for safety assessment which have obtained broad international consensus among experts on fo
In 1993 the OECD formulated the concept of substantial equivalence as a guiding tool for the assessment of genetically modified foods, which has been further elab- orated in the following years (OECD, 1993a; OECD, 1996; OECD, 1998; Figure 1). The concept of substantial equiva- lence is part of a safety evaluation framework based on the idea that existing foods can serve as a basis for comparing the properties of a genetically modified food with the appropriate counterpart. The existing food supply is considered to be safe, as experienced by a long history of use, although it is recognized that foods may contain many anti-nutrients and toxicants which, at certain levels of consumption, may induce deleterious effects in humans and animals. Application of the concept is not a safety assessment per se, but helps to identify similarities and potential differences between the existing food and the new product, which is then subject to further toxicological investigation. Three scenarios are envisioned in which th
A compositional analysis of key components, including key nutrients and natural toxicants, is the basis of assessment of substantial equivalence, in addition to phenotypic and agronomic characteristics of the genetically modified plant. In the first scenario, no further specific testing is required as the product has been characterized as sub- stantially equivalent to a traditional counterpart whose consumption is considered to be safe, for example, starch from potato. In the second scenario, substantial equivalence would apply except for the inserted trait, and so the focus of the safety testing is on this trait, for example, an insecticidal protein of genetically modified tomato. Safety tests include specific toxicity testing according to the nature and function of the newly expressed protein; potential occurrence of unintended effects; potential for gene transfer from genetically modified foods to human/ animal gut ¯ora; the potential allergenicity of the newly inserted traits; and the role of the new fo
Conclusions : Safety assessment of genetically modified foods should be carried out on a case-by-case basis, comparing the properties of the new food with those of a conventional counterpart. This approach, the concept of substantial equivalence, identifies potential differences between the genetically modified food and its counterpart, which should then be further assessed with respect to their safety and nutritional implications for the consumer. The concept as developed by OECD has been endorsed by FAO/WHO, and contributes to an adequate safety assessment strategy. No alternative, equally robust strategy is available.
Application of the concept of substantial equivalence needs further elaboration and international harmonization with respect to selection of critical parameters, requirements for field trials, statistical analysis of data, and data interpretation in the context of natural (baseline) variations.
Testing of whole (genetically modified) foods in laborotory animals has its problems. The specificity and sensitivity of the normally applied methods is usually poor. There is a need for improvement of the test methodology using in vivo and in vitro models. Moreover, there is a need for standardization and harmonization of methods to test the long-term safety of whole foods. Present approaches to detecting expected and unexpected changes in the composition of genetically modified food crops are primarily based on measurements of single compounds (targeted approach). In order to increase the possibility of detecting secondary effects due to the genetic modification in plants that have been extensively modified, new profiling methods are of interest and should be further developed and validated (non-targeted approach). Application of these techniques is of particular interest for genetically modified foods with extensive genetic modifications (gene stacking) meant to improve agronomical and/or nutritional cha
Pre-market safety assessment of genetically modified foods must provide sufficient safety assurance. The use of post-marketing surveillance as an instrument to gain additional information on long-term effects of foods or food ingredients, either GMO-derived or traditional, should be further explored, but the requirement of routine application will entail large costs for limited amounts of information, and does therefore not seem desirable. Only in specific cases where, for example, allergenicity of newly introduced proteins cannot be excluded, or when exposure assessment is hampered by insufficient insight into the diets of specific consumer groups, post-marketing surveillance strategies may be employed.
The assessment of genetically modified plants/foods with enhanced nutritional properties should focus on the simultaneous characterization of inherent toxicological risks and nutritional benefits. This requires an integrated multidisciplinary approach, incorporating molecular biology, toxicology, nutrition and genetics. New innovative techniques, such as the DNA microarray technology and proteomics, should be applied in order to characterize the complex interactions of bioactive food components at the molecular cellular level.
Current food safety regulations for traditionally bred food crops are, in practice, less stringent compared to those applied to genetically modified foods. A long history of traditional breeding has given relevant insight into the presence of nutritionally beneficial and adverse co pounds, and which levels have been increased or diminished, respectively, through extensive breeding. This (targeted) approach has great value and has resulted in a healthy and relative safe food package, and should still be the leading principle when assessing traditionally bred food crops. In the case of new plant varieties with no appropriate comparator or history of (safe) use, application of the new profiling techniques is of great value for characterization of conventionally bred food crops.
Read the Full Paper and an extensive list of food safety testing references at http://www.blackwell-science.com/~cgilib/jnlpage.asp?Journal=tpj&File=tpj&Page=plantGM
The Monarch Butterfly Controversy: Scientific Interpretations of a Phenomenon
Anthony M. Shelton and Mark K. Sears
The Plant Journal, (2001), 27, 483±488 (Department of Entomology, Cornell University/NYSAES, Geneva, NY 14456, USA, and Department of Environmental Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON NIG 2WI, Canada) (Excerpts Below)
Summary The future development and use of agricultural biotechnology has been challenged by two preliminary studies indicating potential risk to monarch butterfly populations by pollen from corn engineered to express proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis. Likewise, these studies have also challenged the way in which science should be performed, published in scientific journals and communicated to the public at large. Herein, we provide a history of the monarch controversy to date. We believe a retrospective view may be useful for providing insights into the proper roles and responsibilities of scientists, the media and public agencies and the consequences when they go awry.
The monarch butterfly controversy has polarized, rather than contributed to, discussion about the potential environmental impacts of using or not using genetically engineered plants in commercial agriculture. It has also raised issues about the quantity and quality of information included in scientific publications; the role of scientific journals in communicating information within the scien- tific community and to the public; and the nature of information required by public agencies to make decisions about using new technologies.
Discussion of these import- ant issues is warranted to ensure the integrity of the scientific process and enable it to be used as a basis for public policy decisions. In this paper we review the history of scientific communications regarding the monarch butterfly controversy. We are not aware of any single document in which this has been done, and we believe a retrospective view may be useful to the scientific and public communities. Our main objective is to reinforce an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of scientists, media, public agencies and those who oppose or advocate a specific technology, and to document the consequences when they go awry.
Our roles in this phenomenon have been twofold. We have raised concerns about the quality of two published reports suggesting Bt corn pollen will cause significant harm to monarch butterfly populations under commercial field situations, and we have participated in more comprehensive studies to examine this issue. We have also served on a scientific advisory panel conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the scientific information for registration renewal of plants expressing insecticidal proteins of Bacillus thuringiensis. These studies have included the effects of Bt plants on non-target organisms, insecticide-resistance management issues, and human health concerns.
As Bt crops are being deployed, we are learning about the risks and benefits of this new technology, and are in a better position to evaluate them in comparison with the risks and benefits of alternative technologies. The EPA estimates that the use of Bt crops in the USA results in an annual reduction of >7.7 million 'acre treatments' of synthetic insecticides (US EPA, 2000), mostly broadspectrum insecticides which can affect non-target organisms and potentially lead to environmental and human health risks. Scientists may be more comfortable than the general public in comparing risks of technologies. In the case of the monarch butterfly, many entomologists believe the risks of Bt corn pollen are small compared to the destruction of their overwintering habitats (Reuters, 2001).
But in the highly publicized and highly polarized discussions of Bt plants, the monarch has become a symbol and seems to have taken on a life of its own, a life much larger than the laboratory study which placed it squarely in the center of the controversy. As with any technology, there will be questions raised about the potential environmental effects of transgenic plants, but these concerns should be addressed in a rigorous scientific fashion unencumbered by sensationalism. We hope that scientists, the media, public policy-makers and the general public will regain their rightful roles in the dialogue about agricultural biotechnology, and be able to view the forthcoming data on field studies of monarchs and Bt corn in a more thoughtful and reserved manner than was observed with the previous two reports on monarch butterflies and Bt corn.
Read the complete interesting commentary at http://www.blackwell-science.com/~cgilib/jnlpage.asp?Journal=tpj&File=tpj&Page=plantGM
GM Crops: Rationally Irresistible
- Syamal Krishna Ghosh,
Current Science, Vol. 81, No. 6, 25 SEPT 2001 p 655-660 (Excerpts Below)
Genetically modified (GM) crops have a great role to play in Indian agriculture, when we need more from lesser resources. The transgenics have the potentiality to resist biotic and abiotic stresses and result in increased productivity in addition to better nutritional quality. The hue and cry on the impact of GM crops on biodiversity has created hypes regarding economic, social and ethical concerns. Though several workers have contradicted the fears expressed regarding the risks and hazards of GM crops, concerns on the safety of GM foods are still creating controversies. India must avoid taking extreme decisions and has to develop a symbiotic relationship between the public and private sectors, to use new technological inputs to complement the traditional methods for making an ‘Evergreen Revolution’.
Since a long time, the plant breeders have been developing new crop varieties by using the existing genetic variability through crossing diverse genotypes. In conventional breeding, incompatibility and species difference is the main barrier for gene transfer. Genetic modification technology has made possible the insertion of desired foreign gene(s) and helped in overcoming incompatibility and species barriers. This genetic modification technique is known as genetic engineering (GE) and the outcome is a transgenic/genetically modified (GM) product.
If Indian economy has to grow at 7% per annum and also if the export base has to be expanded, the value of agricultural output must increase at an annual rate of 4.5% between 1997 and 2002, which was about 2.77% during the period 1980 to 1994. The productivity level in India is below the global average for most of the crops. According to Norman E. Borlaug, 93% of the increased food production has to come from increased productivity per unit land in increasingly complex circumstances. The topic of food ‘security’ and ‘sufficiency’ is much discussed. To meet the growing demands of the population, a steady yield improvement is essential for all food crops. Food security is not only associated with the higher production, but also its availability and access to the lowerincome group without deprivation.
In order to increase yield or to keep the present rates of genetic gains achieved, new breeding strategies have to be developed to widen the genetic base. The biotechnological advances in agriculture, such as transgenic crops, are expected to be major players in food production in the future. Major concerns are huge investments and economic and social concerns. A report from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has stated that the cost of molecular breeding is only $2 per plant, while that of traditional breeding is $30. According to J. Crouch of International Crop Research Institute for SemiArid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad the figure for molecular breeding is close to $4. The governments of both developing and developed countries have identified biotechnology as a promising and key research area, with widespread applications in diverse fields of agriculture , industrial products , healthcare and environmental management .
Global GM crop area has increased within a very short span from 1.7 m ha (1996) to 44.2 m ha (2000) (see Table 1)11 . The area under GM crops in 1999 has increased by 44% compared to total GM crop area of 1998. In 2000, the global GM crop area increased by 11% compared to that in 1999. Global market for GM products has grown rapidly from $75 million in 1995 to $2.1–2.3 billion in 1999 and is projected to reach approximately $3 billion in 2000 and $8 billion by 2005 . Globally, 3647 field trials of GM crops were conducted, out of which 796 were in Western Europe and the rest in USA, Canada, Latin America and Asia 14 . As expansion of transgenic crops continues, a shift will occur from the current generation of ‘input’ agronomic traits to the next generation of ‘output’ quality traits to satisfy high value added market. In India, the GE technology should not be followed with the same goals as in the West, but it should be applied to our problems where conventional breeding has not succeeded. We must find w
Issues and concerns: Despite the promises of the genetically modified organisms (GMO), it is thought that it may be harmful to public health and environment. The concerns raised on these aspects are as follows: · GM crops are a threat to environment and biosafety. · GM crops themselves may become weeds and wild population leading to ‘superweeds’. · They may lead to adverse allergic reactions to human beings. · Antibiotic resistance gene in GMO may lead to development of resistance to the antibiotics used to treat human and animal diseases. · It may disturb the ecosystem by eliminating the natural populations/biotic communities, by altering nutrient cycles due to introduction of certain microbes and plants. · It may aggravate the genetic uniformity, vulnerability to diseases and narrow down the genetic diversity. · Dependence of farmers on multinational companies
Indian context: Now Europe’s demand for organic food and boycott of GM food is more worrying for developing countries, as it affects the acceptance of GM crops. It is not that organic farming should be discouraged, but at the same time new technologies should also be incorporated for agricultural development, as developing countries can barely feed their populations. However, it would be less destructive in Europe, where overproduction is common. Therefore, the consumers should be well informed regarding the risks associated with both the organic and GM food products. Consumer research conducted during 1996–97 reported that approximately 65–70% of European consumers support biotechnology and are willing to accept food enhanced by GE . In the European Union, objection was raised by the Green Peace and according to the President of RFF , the opposition is to possible domination of the food chain by American companies.
Modern biotechnology is rather new to India and its application would increase as the products show the potential to provide better solutions to health problems, improve the quality of life, increase agricultural productivity and produce cheap industrial bioproducts.
Conclusion: In the new millennium, biotechnology may play the pivotal role for developing countries with respect to food and nutritional security. It may have negative effects like substitution of indigenous technologies, industrialization of agriculture and privatization of knowledge and technology. In fact, genetic manipulation has been going on for hundreds of years and genetically altered antibiotics, vaccines and vitamins have improved our health and oil eating bacteria have helped to protect the environment. Now biotechnology is the only alternative available to cope up with the burgeoning population. The tools of biotechnology offer both challenges and opportunities for growth and development of mankind. These technologies should be used to complement the traditional methods for enhancing productivity and quality, rather than to replace the conventional methods.
To adopt these technologies, GM crops and their products, awareness has to be created among the farming and consumer communities regarding their benefits and effects on human life, by the scientific communities and national leaders. It is neither wise to denigrate a technology itself nor to consider it as an universally accepted one, but assessment should be made on a case by case basis.
Read full paper at http://iisc.ernet.in/~currsci
Eat It If You Dare
- Warren Clements, The Globe and Mail, 06 Oct 2001
The challenge, inspired by public concern about genetically modified foods, was to modify the names of existing foods and suggest menu items calculated to unsettle apprehensive diners. Dinah Shields proposes including blood pudding "unaltered, as it is already totally unsettling, and genetic meddling could only improve it." Where there were duplicate entries, I flipped a coin. The winner is Sandra Woods of Pierrefonds, Que.:
Key lyme pie. Refried genes. Spaghetti and muttballs. Chili con taminant. Hasten Death ice cream.
Other disconcerting offerings:
Leg of Spam. Fondon't. (Linda Bukovy, Thunder Bay)
Sauce ta-ta. (Leslie and Iris Andrews, Vancouver)
Beef Unwellington. (Deb Calderon, Vancouver)
Arrgh!ula. Homme fries. (Ron Charach, Toronto)
Walled-off salad. Unfiteroles. Strawberi-beris. (Jan Fralick and Tom McGuirk, Toronto)
Cyborg lettuce. Moose-aka. Toadfu. (Natalia Mayer, Toronto)
Croup Suzette.Baba au rheum. (Vivian Berard, Richmond Hill, Ont.)
Last Rite-a-Roni. Past-its-prime rib. (Jerry Kitich, Hamilton)
Purrogies. (Jim Gartshore, Regina)
Heart of Pam salad. (Gord Gates, Toronto)
Fettucine afraido. 's no pea. (Ian MacKay, Ottawa)
Felawful. (Zachary Jacobson, Ottawa)
Duck a l'agent orange. (Mark Smith, Kingston)
Filly mignon. Orang juice. (Alanna Little, Toronto)
Candied sweat potatoes. (Kathleen Walker, Ottawa)
E. coliflower. Gasparagus. (Elizabeth Quance, Almonte, Ont.)
Chicken poodle soup. (J. T. Currie, Simcoe, Ont.)
Pearana, a flesh-eating fruit. (Elizabeth F. Reilly, Brighton, Ont.)
The liqueurs Grand Mourner and Tekilla. (Kurt Loeb, Toronto)
Black forecast cake. (Colin Eyssen, Toronto)
Vermincelli. (Glen Acorn, Edmonton)
Misteak tartare. Eggs Benedict Arnold. (Maeve Holmes, Toronto)
Curried goatee. Chicken and dumpings. (Robert Duffy, Brampton, Ont.)
Garrote cake. (Ken Purvis, Toronto)
Moo ague gai pan. (Chris Doyle, Burke, Va.)
Viciousoisse. Notso gouda. (Barrie Collins, Courtenay, B.C.)
Dreaded veal cutlets. Misfortune cookies. (B. W. Jackson, Hamilton)
Fruit composte. (Irene Nickerson, Wolfville, N.S.)
AgBioView Selection from the Past.............
'Shiva's Little Green Book (Book Review)'
The Times Higher Education Supplement
- Fred Pearce, March 2, 2001
Fred Pearce argues that visionary green thinking can lead to disaster.
Tomorrow's Biodiversity. By Vandana Shiva. Thames and Hudson 144pp, Pounds
6.95. ISBN 0 500 28239 0. THES Bookshop Pounds 5.95
Earth Summit 2002. Edited by Felix Dodds. Earthscan 336pp, Pounds 18.95.
ISBN 1 85383 712 1 THES Bookshop Pounds 16.95.
Managing the Planet. By Norman Moss. Earthscan, 224pp Pounds 16.99. ISBN 1
85383 644 3. THES Bookshop Pounds 14.99Tel: 020 8324 5104
Vandana Shiva is the Chairman Mao of the green movement. Her long intellectual march on behalf of peasants and plants, and against what she sees as the dominance and destructiveness of reductionist science and the industrialisation of technology, is enervating, brilliantly expressed, intellectually beguiling and ultimately crackers. It contains within it a recipe for as much potential for famine and social dislocation as Mao Tse-tung's Great Leap Forward. Luckily, she has no country to try it out on.
Shiva is an Indian physicist and philosopher, one of a generation of social and environmental radicals inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. She has been building her guru status for many years now, through books, articles in journals such as The Ecologist and the salons of a few green thinkers round the world. At each stage, she has hooked her thesis to prevailing western concerns, whether feminism or, as here, fears over the various ecological and health threats posed by genetically modified foods. And her star continues to rise, up to and including a Reith lecture on the BBC last year.
She takes no hostages. "Reductionism destroys biodiversity," she says. Why? "Because it reduces our complex, diverse and dynamic world into a fragmented, atomised and uniform construction. This in turn leads to the intensive manipulation of ecosystems and species to increase partial and fragmented production."
She chastises technology for its reliance on "a crude, mechanical paradigm based on competition rather than cooperation, monocultures rather than diversity, control rather than self-organisation". Industrial farming and fisheries, forestry and medicine, she says, have all been shaped by this reductionist world view. It is a view that destroys cultural as well as biological diversity "because non-reductionist systems of indigenous knowledge have been discounted and discarded as unscientific".
Much of this is no doubt true. It is an inescapable fact that global standardisation has wiped out a lot that is local. And that the lands where there is greatest cultural diversity are also the lands with the greatest biological diversity. Look at the Amazon rainforest, or the island of New Guinea. But equally, much more of what survives of the world's linguistic, cultural, biological and technological diversity is available locally, whether on the internet, in Sainsbury's or among the exotic shrubs of an English country garden.
Shiva is right to see science moving in her direction, and to spot that there is a growing tension between the reductionism of much technology and the anti-reductionist trends in much science. "Scientists round the world are challenging the dominant paradigm of genetic reductionism and evolving a science based on gene ecology," she says. "They show that complex, self-organising, dynamic living systems are not reducible only to constituent genes. Sciences of processes are replacing the reductionist science of mechanics and objects, sciences of qualities are replacing the science of Cartesian quantity."
She rails against the commercialisation and industrialisation of nature. For her, the development of a resource in the modern world is its commodification and, in effect, its theft from the poor of the planet. She has much to say that is useful on the way corporations use and abuse the advances of science and technology. And coming from India, she sees clearly how the resources of that country are hoovered up, patented, repackaged and sold back. But in emotional terms she too often feeds off the West's visions of a golden age of pre-industrial idyll when the peasants lived in mystical harmony with nature.
And her prescriptions are deeply worrying. She would sweep away the green revolution of the past half-century -a revolution that doubled world food production faster than world population could double. She is right that the revolution reduced crop biodiversity. Yes, the gains in grain production tonnages were often at the expense of other crop products such as straw and green manure; and yes, the revolution required huge and often unsustainable inputs of chemicals and water. But without it, would the world's stomachs be anything like as full as they are today? It seems unlikely. The warnings of the early 1970s that billions could be dying of starvation before the 20th century was out could indeed have come true. And, in this dogmatism in the face of the world as it is, her world view does bear comparison with Mao's madder phases. It is all too easy to imagine Shiva, transported back in time to the dawn of cultivation, raging against the loss of genetic diversity and the commodification of food caused by cle
Her book is full of name-calling and provocative phrases. Some are borrowed from the tabloid press, "frankenstein foods" for instance. Some are self-coined such as the "monoculture of the mind". She talks usefully of the "genetic mine" as being the predominant metaphor of genetic engineering. On this view, genes are simple encoders for certain characteristics, to be mined and used as we think fit. They are apparently divorced from the organisms from which they come, and the ecosystems within which those organisms live. In taking this view, the engineers are no doubt simplifying the world. And perhaps as a result they will have some nasty shocks when, transposed into new organisms in a new environment, genes start coding for things we had not bargained for. But what is new? Humanity has always made sense of its surroundings by simplifying and reducing complexity to the bare essentials. When our simple views fail to work for us, we change them for ones that do. And science, reductive or not, has been a superb
Moreover, Shiva herself, in telling her simple and compelling story of the appropriation and industrialisation of nature, is engaging in her own form of reductionism. It is a defining characteristic of mankind. It is what our brains do.
At the other end of the environmental arena from Shiva and her visions sit the environmental diplomats. They have been in trouble lately. The failure of the climate conference in The Hague in November to deliver a completed Kyoto Protocol was a serious blow. Initial claims that fatigue and shortage of time had scuppered the deal were undermined when subsequent informal talks failed to break the log-jam between Europe and the United States. Now George W. Bush is in the White House. And there is a growing fear that the task of reining in climate change, perhaps the most vital global project for the 21st century, is in serious trouble. If that proves to be the case, then the only substantive outcome of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 will have foundered. And that in turn will throw a burning spotlight on the follow-up to Rio, scheduled for South Africa in 2002, and what it will do to rescue the world's climate.
How sad then that the first pre-summit reader, Earth Summit 2002, should contain just two passing references to climate change. Written before The Hague meeting, the book blithely assumes that the Kyoto Protocol is a done deal, and that, with climate targets set, the South African summit should move on to other topics. How wrong can you be?
The book seems mired not simply in the pre-Hague world, but also in a mindset where even planetary salvation can appear a mundane, committee-bound, jargon-ridden pursuit. The contributors, many respected figures in their fields, are mostly regurgitating things they have written too many times before. Those people already deeply bound up in the pre-conference diplomacy will no doubt feel they must read it. The rest of us might do better to take a look at Norman Moss's racy Managing the Planet, subtitled The Politics of the New Millennium. Moss covers much old ground. But, as a journalist of some repute, he covers it well. This is the story of how, for the first time in history, mankind is acting in a significant way on key planetary processes. We are responsible for ripping holes in the ozone layer, taking over the sulphur and nitrogen cycles and tweaking the carbon cycle on a scale that within a few decades will be as profound as the planetary wobbles that swing us into and out of ice ages.
Unlike Shiva, Moss does not shrink from this responsibility. Shiva tells us to stop worrying the sheep and get back in our kennels. Moss says that, having created mayhem across the hillside, we have to get out there and round up the sheep. If we are in charge of the planet we had better make a go of it. We are apart from nature, he concludes. "Humans have the right to impose their moral values on the rest of nature because they are the only creatures with moral values." Having invented biotechnology we have a near-duty to use it. By taming nature, we may find a way to live with her.
Fred Pearce recently wrote (with Paul Harrison) the commentary to the Atlas of Population and Environment, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.