Today's Topics in AgBioView.
* Speaking in Riddles
* Laureate: Ties Hunger to Roots of Terrorism
* Beyond the Anthrax Threat
* Manufacturers of Bt products
* Knowledge Has Calmed the Biotech Nightmares
* Edible Hepatitis B Vaccine May Be on the Horizon
* India's GM Cotton Story - 'Uproot & Destroy' Begins
* Govt Gets Cotton Farmers To Pay For Its Incompetence
* The Great Agricultural Biotechnology Debate
* Children Blinded by Greenpeace! - Co-founder Ready to Organize Protest Against Greenpeace
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Re: Activist anthrax scare
'Speaking in Riddles'
Many riddles start out with a mysterious analogy, and the answer to the riddle is surprisingly true, though trivial.
For instance: What does an island and the letter 't' have in common?
Jeremy Rifkin, a long-time critic of GE crops, has lately been working overtime with his cohorts to compare biotechnology to bioterrorism - essentially, they have been speaking in riddles: What do GE crops and bio-terrorism have in common? Well, they both involve Ph.D.s in laboratories doing things with genes. What does Bacillus anthracis and Bacillus thuringiensis have in common? Actually, they're close relatives.
What do Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and GE Bt crops have in common? As many point out, they both produce a toxin.
The fact is, all of these riddles work because the things being compared are more different than alike, making the solution a surprise. Such as the answer to our first riddle: An island is like the letter 't' because both are in the middle of water!
But in reality, an island bears little resemblance to the letter 't'.
Similarly, GE crops have little in common with bioterrorism. The former is designed to feed more people, more efficiently. The latter is designed to kill people.
Laureate Urges End To Hunger: Ties Hunger to Roots of Terrorism
- Jerry Perkins, Des Moines Registe, 10/20/2001
World Food Prize laureate Per Pinstrup-Andersen said Friday at the World Food Prize symposium that rich nations should invest their money in eradicating the roots of terrorism - hunger, poverty and human misery.
"It will be a mistake to try to build taller walls around ourselves," Pinstrup-Andersen said. "We cannot protect ourselves from mad acts." A better and more realistic way to deal with terrorism is to invest in ending world hunger. "We won't live in peace without removing the causes of terrorism," Pinstrup-Andersen said. "We will live in fear if we don't."
Pinstrup-Andersen, director of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C., was awarded the 2001 World Food Prize for influencing global food policies that have improved the lives of millions of people. In his laureate's address, Pinstrup-Andersen said the world's political stability is threatened by the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.
He cited statistics showing that the income of the world's richest 1 percent equals the income of the poorest 57 percent. More than 800 million people go to bed hungry every night, Pinstrup-Andersen said, and 166 million of them are children. Seven million children die from hunger every year. "All that can be avoided," the laureate said, by investing in agricultural research, clean drinking water, primary education, rural roads and irrigation. Using the money from one week of the world's military expenditures would be enough to fund all five investments, he said.
Pinstrup-Andersen said science and technology should be made available to the world's poorest people to help them feed themselves - if they want to use it. "If biotech crops are best for them, then the people in poor countries should be able to choose to plant them," he said.
Pinstrup-Andersen said opponents of genetically modified crops in rich countries shouldn't tell farmers in developing countries whether they should or should not grow biotech crops.
He said more research should be directed to the problems small farmers in poor countries face, and world trading rules also need to be monitored for the impact they have on developing countries. "Globalization is like a knife: It can slice your bread or kill you," Pinstrup-Andersen said. If the markets of developing countries are open to goods produced by the rich countries, he said, then developing countries also should have access to rich countries" markets "That is free trade with a human face," Pinstrup-Andersen said.
Health crises such as AIDS-HIV, malaria and tuberculosis also need to be dealt with, especially in Africa, where disease is making food production much more difficult. Health and food production are linked, Pinstrup-Andersen said. One problem can't be solved without dealing with the other.
Beyond the Anthrax Threat
- Editorial Board, Des Moines Register, 10/18/2001 http://www.dmregister.com/news/stories/c5917686/16210779.html
It has been easy to get the idea in recent days that our sense of freedom from harm has only recently been shattered. We forget, however, that our world has long been vulnerable to terror, whether it comes in the form of toxic substances in bottles of Tylenol or chemically tainted grapes and apples.
Those turned out to be isolated episodes, however, and consumers eventually returned to buying pain relievers and fruit. Meanwhile, new threats to public health have emerged, such as the mad-cow and hoof-and-mouth diseases that exposed the risks associated with worldwide distribution of food. Now it's anthrax in the daily post and concerns about mass contamination from terrorists in a crop-dusting plane.
If there is a danger in making too much of the current anthrax scare, it is that it distracts attention from important work that must be done to assure the safety and reliability of food and water every day, the world over. This work is not in response to brief spikes of hysteria but a continuing process. There is work to be done not just in advanced industrial societies with an abundance of food but in places that still employ ancient agricultural technology and where many go hungry.
These are the issues that will be taken up beginning today at the World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines, under the general banner of "Risks to the World Food Supply in the 21st Century." The three-day symposium is a conversation that goes on in concert with the awarding of the World Food Prize in a ceremony at the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines this evening.
It may seem difficult, in some respects, to focus on issues such as the continuing challenge of feeding the world at a time when American and British warplanes are destroying what's left of Afghanistan and people are nervous about what surprise terrorists might deliver next.
Yet, this "war" on terrorism will eventually be concluded. Meanwhile, the challenge of feeding the world remains unmet. It is through events such as the World Food Prize ceremony and symposium this week that those engaged in trying to meet that challenge get a small measure of the recognition they deserve.
Subject: Manufacturers of Bt products
From: "Mary-Howell & Klaas Martens"
Re: Concern over Mary Murphy's concern about Bt
We did a bit of net searching on Bt, and found a really interesting site from N.C. State University on Bt products: http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/sustainable/peet/IPM/insects/pathogen.html
Everyone can be relieved, the production of most leading Bt products appear to be under the control of far more responsible companies than what Mary might have feared.
BtStrain Product Name Pest controlled Producer
kurstaki Biobit Lepidopterous larvae Dupont
kurstaki Dipel Lepidopterous larvae Abbott
kurstaki Javelin Lepidopterous larvae Sandoz
kurstaki Cutlass Lepidopterous larvae Ecogen
kurstaki Cutlass esp. diamondback moth Ecogen
kurstaki Foil esp. diamondback moth Ecogen
kurstaki Foil esp. Col. potato beetle Ecogen
kurstaki Foil some Euro. corn borer Ecogen
kurstaki Foil diamondback moth Mycogen
san diego M-Trak Col. potato beetle Mycogen
tennebrionis TridentII Col. potato beetle Sandoz
tennebrionis Novodor Col. potato beetle Novo Nordisk
azawa Xentari diamondback moth Abbott
azawa Agree diamondback moth
produced by Certis/Mitsui)
israelensis Gnatrol fungus gnats Abbott
However, we do ask for some information from the assembled experts. We find that the Agree product (Bt azawa, produced now by Certis) is identified as being described as a 'transconjugated bioinsecticide'. What does that mean?
We also spoke to our local supplier of Bt products - he works for United Ag Products. He reports that he has sold many tons of Bt products over the past few years to area farmers, and none of it has been sold to organic farmers. To imply that Bt is used only on organic farmers is obviously extremely incorrect. In fact, since organic land represents less than 1% of the farmland in the US, and only about 18% of US organic farmers surveyed by the Organic Farming Research Foundation recently report using Bt products regularly, it appears that most likely over 99% of the Bt products produced are used instead on conventional farms or in other non-organic pest control operations.
It would be interesting if Dupont, Ecogen, Mycogen, Sandoz, Abbott and Certis would give us an approximate breakdown on the percent of their Bt products sold annually to conventional farmers and municipalities vs. the percent sold to organic farmers?
- Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens
Knowledge Has Calmed the Biotech Nightmares
- John Roughan, http://nzherald.co.nz/ge, October 20, .2001
(Source: Francis Wevers )
When I first read of genetic engineering, as it was called in that Rolling Stone article almost 30 years ago, I remember I was chilled to the core. Humans in their remorseless curiosity had discovered they could slice DNA and graft genes of different species together.
What science could do, it surely would. The haphazard business of breeding and evolution could be short-circuited. More than that, creatures that nature would never allow to mate could be mingled, or mangled, in a Petri dish.
By 1984 we might exceed George Orwell's imagination. Men and women in white coats would be able to pick the characteristics from different organisms to design their desired mutants. We were messing with the elements of life, the delicate chemistry of our being. We could self-destruct.
Scientists then seemed to agree. In the United States they called a moratorium on DNA experiments until the risks were better known. Not much more was heard about genetic engineering, at least in public, for another 20 years. When the subject returned a few years ago I was surprised to find that, for me anyway, the nightmare did not. The science seemed responsible, the risks manageable and the possibilities irresistible.
Maybe it was the age. The 1990s brought the marvels of the microprocessor into popular use. Technology was no longer rocket science and nuclear radiation, it was e-mail, eftpos, the internet. Biotechnology could be equally benign. Or maybe it was the lapse of time. During the moratorium the science had developed bacteria, the vehicles of gene transfer, that could not survive outside laboratories. They had regulated themselves and gradually developed genetically improved seeds, medicines and cereals.
By the time most of us heard the news we had probably eaten a good deal of GM corn, soy and other concoctions and felt none the worse for it. The only fierce objection seemed to be that companies such as Monsanto, which invested in genetic research, were making money out of it. Nevertheless, it was a good idea to appoint a royal commission. Some of the concerns of the 1970s still called for a human verdict even if the commission, when it was named, looked a mite too human. The chairman, Sir Thomas Eichelbaum, had been a quiet judge and the Rt Rev Richard Randerson had been far from Rt in his previous political contributions.
Their brief could hardly have been broader. They were to hear not only the health and environmental objections to genetic modification but social, cultural and ethical concerns. The commissioners stretched their remit further to add "spiritual" issues. Their report, when it arrived in July, was a strange document.
British genetic scientist, television presenter and Labour parliamentarian Lord Robert Winston was here for the Knowledge Wave conference a few weeks later. Asked what he thought of the royal commission's report, he said he had read enough to realise he needed to read our Treaty of Waitangi. It is not a report that will make much sense to other countries grappling with genetic modification. The opening chapters bear the stamp of the nominated ethicist, Bishop Randerson.
They stress the "uniqueness" of New Zealand, though in this dilemma we are not unique, and they attempt to draw some common national values from four sources: Maori culture, religious belief, other cultures and beliefs, and something called "eco-spirituality". The last is the worry. As explained to the commission, it objects to the idea that humans are masters of nature and can do with it what they like.
"Ecological thinking," says the report, "seeks ways to extend the moral boundaries to give a new or different moral value to animals and to the environment." In other words, it will not be enough to satisfy eco-spiritualists that genetically modified organisms can be safe for humans and for the environment - they object to tampering with nature in principle.
Presumably (the commission does not say) their objection does not extend to selective breeding, grafting of grape vines or farming and gardening generally, though it is hard to see how and where they draw the line. That is the problem. There is no way to reason with an argument from values, as the West Coast found when it tried to convince the Labour Party that native logging could be sustainable. In the end, Michael Cullen told them it was "a values call". I fear our genetic researchers are about to hear the same. They are up against ideology, not science.
I vividly remember the day biology became ecology. It was 1969, my final year of school. The biology teacher's eyes glinted in a way we had not seen before. As she outlined the rudiments of the new thinking her voice was caught with excitement. This was no longer dry factual science, this was postulating connections between all living things. There were implications for the way we live. This was relevant.
The following year ecology became the environment and made the cover of Time magazine. As a science it does not seem to have advanced much. The royal commission quotes Dr Peter Wills, an Auckland University professor of physics and a "theoretical biologist", urging the need to understand what he termed the "strange interconnectness" of ecosystems. The royal commission has reviewed all the concerns of Maori and environmental groups with obvious care and unfailing respect. It has taken the same attitude to the scientists.
The report is a bit light on the reasoning for many of the conclusions but nobody who reads it can be in any doubt this was a panel of largely inexpert but dispassionate and fair-minded people who made a conscientious inquiry. They were not persuaded to arrest the development of genetic science in this country by forbidding field trials or commercial release, suggesting instead how those should be monitored.
There is no reason for the Government not to go along with its conclusions. No reason except the ideology of a few who asked for the inquiry and received, to their dismay, an honest, objective result.
Edible Hepatitis B Vaccine May Be on the Horizon, Could Eradicate Virus
- Sonia Nichols, NewsRx.com, October 19, 2001
In the not so distant future, hepatitis B vaccinations could be dispensed at the farmer's market instead of the doctor's office. Researchers used uncooked and unprocessed potatoes expressing recombinant hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) to boost immune response in mice. Edible vaccines might hold the key for global vaccine distribution and the eradication of hepatitis B virus (HBV), the vaccine's developers have proposed.
Investigators at New York's Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, in conjunction with colleagues at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, also of New York, and Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, developed the oral vaccine. They compared its efficacy in mice with another oral HBsAg vaccine derived from yeast, using an oral adjuvant composed of cholera toxin to boost vaccine efficacy. "Transgenic plant material containing hepatitis B surface antigen was the superior means of both inducing a primary immune response and priming the mice to respond to a subsequent parenteral injection of HBsAg," said Qingxian Kong and colleagues of Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
The scientists say HBsAg becomes encapsulated in plant cells, affording protection for the antigen during the trip through the digestive tract until the cells can reach an immune effector site and be degraded. After study mice ate the HBsAg-transgenic potatoes, they developed antibody titers that were comparable with or better than protective titers in humans. When the mice were then immunized with booster doses by injection, they developed a long-term secondary antibody response, Kong and coworkers noted.
In other portions of the study, parenteral priming by injection followed by oral booster dosing also produced long-term protection (Oral immunization with hepatitis B surface antigen expressed in transgenic plants, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, September 2001;98(20):11539-11544). "The demonstrated success of oral immunization for hepatitis B virus with an "edible vaccine" provides a strategy for contributing a means to achieve global immunization for hepatitis B prevention and eradication," said Kong and coauthors.
The corresponding author for this study is Yasmin Thanavala, Department of Immunology, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY 14263, USA. E-mail: email@example.com.
Key points reported in this study include: * U.S. researchers have developed a oral transgenic potato vaccine containing hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) * The oral vaccine was effective for priming immune response to HBV antigen in mice and for inducing the production of protective antibody titers * An oral HBV vaccine could be disseminated globally and might eventually contribute to the eradication of HBV This article was prepared by Gene Therapy Weekly editors from staff and other reports.
India's GM Cotton Story Gets Bigger - 'Uproot & Destroy' Begins on Gujarat Farms
- Vinod Mathew, Hindu - Business Line , Oct. 20, 2001
Gujarat's genetically-modified (GM) cotton story has taken a new twist with State Government officials today visiting farms and telling farmers they would have to "uproot and destroy" the crop.
According to farmers in the Dehgam taluk, some 30 km off the State capital, many of them have already reaped the first harvest. With the claims of a superior yield having been proven, the farmers were looking forward to a bumper crop when they got the rude awakening. A list prepared gives the names and addresses of six farmers in and around Gandhinagar, particularly in Dehgam taluk. All belong to the capital district of Gandhinagar.
The one thread of commonality linking the six farmers -- a two-member team of Dr C.D. Mayee, Director, Central Institute of Cotton Research, Nagpur, and Dr T.V. Ramanaiah from the Department of Biotechnology, Delhi, had visited all the six locations on October 8. It was found that the six farmers had been using 'Navbharat 151' a cotton seed sold to them by local traders with the assurance of a vastly better yield and considerably less expenses on fertilisers and insecticides.
The seeds were allegedly supplied by an Ahmedabad-based private limited company, though there is still no information pertaining to the original source of the seed. The samples taken by the Central team from the six farms found that the crop tested positive for the genetically-engineered Cry 1 A gene. Today, hordes of State Government officials reached their farms and told them of the impending order to "uproot and destroy" the existing cotton thus grown.
"We have been told that we will not be punished for using the superior quality cotton seed. It is our understanding that farmers in many other villages in and around Saurashtra have gone in for this crop. If the crop is to be seized then we will have to be adequately compensated," said one of the six villagers to have been put under the microscope by the Union Government team on October 8.
On October 18, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee had ordered the Gujarat State Co-ordination Committee on Biotechnology to destroy much of the cotton grown on all these six locations. But the malaise had gone much deeper as the Gujarat Government finally admitted that some 10,000 acres of land spread over of districts have been under cultivation using the genetically-modified (GM) cotton seed. According to Mr P.K. Ghosh, Principal Secretary, Department of Environment and Forests, Gujarat, there is no more argument about whether the transgenic cotton crop has to be destroyed or not. "We have to destroy it and the compensation package to the farmers has to be fixed,'' he said.
Meanwhile, the Green lobby has already got active in the State with a number of NGOs demanding an inquiry into the episode. "It is Monsanto that has patent on the Bt gene cotton and so they have to be held accountable. The Indian company alone cannot be held responsible as the seeds, some 13,000 packets of 450 gm each, had to be sourced from the MNC," said Ms Vandana Shiva of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in an interface with the media in Ahmedabad on Saturday.
(Indian) Govt Gets Cotton Farmers To Pay For Its Incompetence
- Darshan Desai And Sonu Jain, Indian Express, October 21, 2001 http://www.indian-express.com/ie20011021/top2.html
Jagdishbhai Devji Patel wonders why for the last 15 days, so many government officials and bio-technology experts are crawling all over his cotton farm in Maghodilat village. He doesn’t know why they want to set his bumper crop on fire.
He’s had an unusually high yield—35 quintals per acre as against the usual 20 and he should get Rs 2,200 per quintal. He has used what he calls "Navbharat 151" seed. This is what has angered the Government. For, this is Bt Cotton, the genetically manipulated cotton seed that hasn’t yet been cleared for sale in India. What the Government hasn’t told several farmers like Patel is its own dubious role:
* It has been sitting on the seed for five years
* It has tested the seed, found it to be safe and beneficial.
* Now that seeds have entered "illegally," it has asked the state government to burn the crop over an estimated 10,000 acres.
* To make matters worse, a cash-strapped Gujarat government will have to compensate the farmers.
As of now, Patel doesn’t know any of this. He got the seeds from a local trader, who, in turn, is said to have bought it from a firm called Navbharat Seed Limited. Incidentally, this firm is run by one D B Desai, a well-known breeder scientist and a former employee of Mahyco, the same company which has been struggling for clearance for over five years now. Desai’s company sold the seed to Patel calling it not Bt Cotton, but ‘‘the only hybrid cotton that has resistance power against Bollworm.’’ (a description of Bt Cotton).
Mahyco confirmed to The Indian Express that Desai is a former employee but beyond that, declined to comment. Sources say the company is wary of saying anything at this stage that could further prolong its wait for clearance. Another cotton farmer who bought the seed is more angry. Says Dhansukh Karamsinh Ladabhai of Vadodaralat village: "We will not allow anyone to touch our crop unless we are first paid the compensation of every rupee spent on our farms to grow the crop."
For Dahyabhai Nanji Patel, another farmer in nearby Champapura village, compensation isn’t the issue. "Fine, I will get my compensation, but in front of my own eyes, this crop, of such fine texture, will be burnt for no fault of mine," he says.
There are hundreds of Dayabhais, Jagdisbhais, and Dhansukhbhais in Gujarat today who have such questions. In fact, some of them say that the Government’s decision to burn the fields will revive unfounded fears. As of now, however, the question is who will pay the compensation. The fortnight-old Narendra Modi Government, already cash-strapped, doesn’t have an answer.
State principal Secretary, Forests and Environment, P K Ghosh, who visited the fields, told The Indian Express: "We will have to destroy the crop though I am not commenting on whether the Navbharat 151 seed is good or bad. It was supplied without the necessary permission. Now, we have to fix the compensation."
Department of Biotechnology Secretary Manju Sharma who has said that "there is absolutely no problem from our side" on the entry of Bt Cotton now says: "A lot of letters from anguished farmers have come to me. I will look into the matter on Monday. It has to be made clear that the plants which are to be burnt are of illegal seeds supplied by a private company and not the Bt cotton which will be approved later."
Once again, technology has moved faster than Govt legislation. * How many acres of cotton farms will the Govt burn? Reports are coming in of Bt Cotton seeds being ‘‘illegally’’ used in Andhra, Maharashtra * Won’t burning of the crop revive old fears, fears that the Govt, in its own tests, has found are entirely misplaced? Why not take action against the supplier for breaking the law rather than set the bumper crop on fire? * Why should state governments be asked to cough up compensation? * Why is the govt still blocking entry of the seed if it has declared that it is safe and beneficial?
From: "Dr. Gurumurti Natarajan"
I have been following this raging outbreak (story of iIlegal Bt cotton in India) over the last several weeks and this turn of events does not surprise any one. I for a moment do not condone the lapses of the private seed company alleged to have flouted the laid down statutes of the country; everyone ought to be responsible and uphold the regulatory regimes that are currently prevalent.
Yet, it goes to show that when the legitimate aspirations of a struggling and indigent farming community are being stonewalled by bureaucratic wrangles, piracy takes over and ultimately, it is the hapless farmer who is being taken for a ride once again by sale of seeds of unknown quality and attributes. It is this lackadaisical attitude on enforcement of existing laws and lack of sensitivity to the plight of the farming community by the powers that be, that led to sale of ineffective and spurious crop protection chemicals in the past that resulted in massive damage to crops (despite farmers incurring huge expenses on these dubious chemicals) that we need an inherently effective protection against the cotton boll worms afforded by bt-cotton.
These events ought to be an eye opener to the stubborn opponents of science-based progress that the insignificant Luddites are imposing on the whole population of our country.
- Guru, India
The Great Agricultural Biotechnology Debate
- Colin Scanes, Iowa State Univ, Ames, IA; Mary Ann Smith, Univ of Illinois Urbana, IL
(NABC 2001, Chicago, May 21- 24, 2001; “High Anxiety and Biotechnology: Who’s Buying, Who’s Not, and Why?” ) Workshop Report Summary, National Agricultural Biotechnology Council
The workshop sessions for NABC 2001 were engineered in ‘debate’ format, to consider the following resolution, “That GM technology is a sound and safe innovation, and should be permitted in the food chain without restrictions.”
The debate structure was intended to* engage conference participants as active players in a fast-paced process of discovery, and* compel conference participants to critically and thoroughly evaluate diverse viewpoints. Toward these ends, unsuspecting conferees were, upon entering work-shop- breakout rooms, immediately assigned to a particular framework position, and were soon called upon to rapidly absorb, adopt, and rigorously defend a stance perhaps contrary to their own deeply ingrained beliefs.
Workshop Session #1 — The Set Up: At the outset, a mock debate was staged, featuring extreme viewpoints on either end of the debate spectrum. Arguments were heard from a land grant university professor who was an advocate of GM technology, versus a English prince/gentleman organic farmer strongly opposed to GM crops, followed by a pro-biotechnology industry representative versus an anti-biotechnology radical protestor from a consumer-advocacy group. While deliberately exaggerated in tone and content, the mock debate introduced the ‘Rules of Engagement’ for the work-shop sessions, and provided a preview to the typical point/counterpoint order of argumentation in traditional debates.
Next, the conferees were divided into four workshop-breakout sessions, each of which was staffed by at least two debate coaches (moderators). Teams were randomly organized to represent each of the following ‘positions’ with regard to the GM debate:
* pro-GM university scientists* anti-GM militant environmental “green” group (anti-corporate, anti-multinationals, etc.)* pro-GM large corporate USA/multinational biotechnology industry representatives* anti-GM consumer advocates in the European Community* pro-GM farmers in the developing world* anti-GM organic farmers in the United States* pro-GM United States regulatory agency representatives* anti-GM government regulatory agency (non-USA) representatives* pro-GM politicians* anti-GM politicians
Teams were invited to draw up ‘Top Ten’ lists of arguments in favor of, or opposed to (depending on their as-signed identity), the stated debate resolution. The brief period of time (10 to 15 minutes) allowed to formulate ar-guments fostered intensive, cooperative effort and built camaraderie within each team.
". . . unsuspecting conferees were called upon to rapidly absorb, adopt, and rigorously defend a stance perhaps contrary to their own deeply ingrained beliefs."
For the remaining 10 to 15 minutes of the first workshop-breakout session, each ‘pro-GM’ team exchanged their top ten lists with their counterpart ‘anti-GM’ team. Opposing teams now used the time to brainstorm to come up with the best ‘counterpoint’ arguments to refute the top ten arguments proposed by the other team. The opposition teams were not privy to the ten counterpoint-refuting arguments compiled by their challenging debate teams.
Workshop Session #2 — The Outcome Of The Debates: In a follow-up session, each of the teams in the breakout groups designated two spokespersons, and abbreviated debates were staged be-tween pro and anti teams that seemed at opposite extremes of the spectrum with regard to GM issues. The two spokespersons in each team, in turn, made brief speeches to affirm their as-signed identity, after each of which they were cross-examined by the members of the opposing team. The strengths of the arguments — some of which might have provided a ‘turning point’ — were then discussed by the breakout group as a whole. Pitfalls that inhibited serious resolution of opposing viewpoints were documented, as were cases where the arguments were parallel or when they did not address the same points at all.
By general consensus, the debate sequences that were staged during the afternoon breakout sessions were remarkably well orchestrated. Debate-team spokespersons, even those assigned to positions contrary to their own beliefs, provided well constructed, impassioned short speeches. During each lively debate between two opposing teams, the intensity of the arguments seemed to escalate as the steps in the process progressed. Participants reported that they came away with a new appreciation for the wealth of information and complexity behind some of the opposition viewpoints, which (perhaps) they had previously viewed as fairly one-dimensional. After each persuasive speech and each rebuttal, the spokesperson was typically rewarded with the applause of the broader workshop audience, which further encouraged development of stronger arguments.
The debate coaches agreed that the presentations staged in their breakout sessions provided well balanced mixes of opinions about GM products in the marketplace that spanned the range of rational and irrational attitudes to-wards GM materials. One debate coach commented, “Our role as coaches diminished the moment the groups understood what their tasks were — as they jumped right into it, and came up with good arguments for their positions. Every individual on each team was throwing in ideas and perspectives, so we had an excellent mix of people who were not afraid to participate.” Some of the most difficult issues to resolve concerned the approval/regulatory process, labeling, and, moral/ ethical issues.
Approval/regulatory processes: Based on available data, teams were not able to verify to what extent GMOs are required to undergo regulatory approval in the United States. Pro-biotech literature emphasizes that GMOs are perhaps the most highly scrutinized technology in recent history. The European press argues that the approval process in the United States is shrouded in mystery, and the interconnection between the major regulatory agencies (EPA, FDA, and USDA) is unclear and without transparency in the approval process.
Participants came away with a new appreciation for the wealth of information and complexity behind some of the opposition viewpoints Agricultural Biotechnology Council Labeling Neither side of the issue could address how labeling policy is consistent with United States law, practice, or longstanding policy. Opponents argued that U.S. labeling policy is out of synchrony with the rest of the world, whereas the European Union views labeling as the first step as a matter of policy. There was also confusion, and apparent contradiction pointed out, regarding substantial equivalence (of a product) and the ability to patent the gene (the process).
Moral and ethical issues: When a debater exclaimed, “I’m scared! I want to know my risks!”, the fears could not be alleviated with data, statistics, and probabilities. Moral/ethical arguments could actually be effectively used to defend both extremes in the spectrum of GM acceptance. Proponents argued that denying the enhanced nutritional/ production benefits to an impoverished international community is ‘immoral,’ whereas opponents easily argued that any technology that is ‘against nature’ is inherently ‘immoral.’
Interestingly, the participants saw clear parallels between these GM de-bates and emotion-charged discussion of unrelated issues like creationism vs. evolution. It was observed especially that science-based arguments are frequently insufficient against ideological arguments or moral/emotional concerns. One debater — an industry representative in the seventies who had endured the ‘pesticide wars’ — felt that those years were worse in terms of being in an uncomfortable position, representing an industry that was constantly attacked.
" . . . denying the enhanced nutritional/ production benefits to an impoverished international community is ‘ immoral.’ . . . any technology that is ‘against nature’ is inherently ‘immoral.’"
Perhaps the most compelling take-home message that arose from the ‘Great Debate’ workshops was the following: In order to be fully informed, it is essential that we thoroughly appreciate all the nuances, positive and negative, and complexities of the opposition view. NABC 2001 participants came away not only with a broader understanding of opposition viewpoints, but also with a fuller appreciation of the subtle, perceived flaws inherent in their own stated positions.
A full report on the NABC 2001 Workshops will be part of NABC Report 13, which will be published in early 2002. Single copies of NABC Report 13 will be available to individuals free of charge. Contact:
Subject: Views from Patrick Moore
Dear colleagues, See clipping below. Who wants to take him up on the offer?
- Kind regards, Peter
Children Blinded by Greenpeace!
- Co-founder Ready to Organize Protest Against Greenpeace
- Patrick Moore, National Post, October 20, 2001
Earlier this week, Greenpeace activists in Paris successfully prevented me from speaking, from Vancouver via videoconference, to 400 delegates of the European Seed Association. The Greenpeacers chained themselves to the seats in the Cine Cite Bercy auditorium and threatened to shout down the speakers. The conference organizers decided to retreat to the Sofitel Hotel, where many of them were staying. The auditorium is in a very important building and they did not want their conference to be associated with an incident there.
As the Sofitel does not have videoconferencing capability, my keynote presentation was cancelled. When I helped to create Greenpeace from a church basement in Vancouver in 1971, I had no idea that I would spend the next 15 years as an international director and leader of many Greenpeace campaigns.
I also had no idea that after I left in 1986 they would evolve into a band of scientific illiterates who use Gestapo tactics to silence people who wish to express their views in a civilized forum. And I could never have guessed that my former colleague and then teen-age founder of Greenpeace France, Remi Parmentier, would be the one issuing the orders to silence me. Over the years, Remi has risen to the title of Political Director for Greenpeace International. (Remi is so political that when Francois Mitterrand led the socialists to power in France he suddenly became a defender of French nuclear testing in the South Pacific.) He has fought tirelessly against the reprocessing of nuclear waste, a campaign that I have some sympathy for. He has also directed the effort to prevent deep-sea disposal of harmless oil storage platforms in the Atlantic Ocean. This has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars wasted for no good purpose. I imagine his intentions were good even though his priorities were misguided. B
The issue, in this case, is the application of biotechnology to agriculture, genetic modification in particular. The conference in Paris was the coming together of delegates from seed companies, biotechnology companies, government agencies involved in regulation, and others from across Europe. The purpose of their gathering was to discuss the role of biotechnology in the future of agriculture, surely a topic covered by the rules of free speech. As a long-time leader of Greenpeace in its formative years, and as someone who supports using biotechnology for the good of human welfare and the environment, I had been invited to give a presentation via videoconference from Vancouver. I would have told the assembled that the accusations of Frankenstein food and killer tomatoes are as much a fantasy as the Hollywood movies they are borrowed from.
I would have argued that if putting a daffodil gene in rice can prevent half a million children from blindness each year then we should move forward carefully to develop the Golden Rice. I would have told them that Greenpeace policy on genetics lacks any respect for logic or science. A few days ago the European Commission released the results of 81 scientific studies on genetically modified organisms conducted by over 400 research teams at a cost of US$65-million. The studies, which covered all areas of concern, have "not shown any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding. Indeed, the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods."
Clearly, my former Greenpeace colleagues are either not reading the morning paper or simply don't care about the truth. And they choose to forcibly silence those of us who do care about the truth. In response to Greenpeace's scandalous attacks on the promising development of Golden Rice, one of its inventors, Ingo Potrykus, accused Greenpeace of "crimes against humanity." I agree with him.
But how can we fight back without resorting to crimes of our own? What if 100 research scientists walked into a Greenpeace International meeting, chained themselves to the place, then called the media and stated their demands? Among those demands would be a promise not to prevent people from free assembly and free speech. What if those same scientists were to hang huge banners reading Greenpeace is Wrong about Biotechnology; Fight Anthrax, Not Corn; Millions of Children Condemned to Blindness by Greenpeace; etc. I would be happy to help organize such an event.