- Today's Topics in 'AgBioView' -
* The Illusions of 'Frankenfood'
* GM Crop Research Slow to Reach Hungry Third World
* New Strains of Rice Promise Better Health, Eyesight
* Feedback on Joshi Commentary; Indian Cotton
* Gujarat Not to Burn Bt Cotton Crop
* Funds for R&D Declining for Genetically Modified Crops
* UN Population Fund's State of World Population 2001 Report
* Meeting: Hidden Dangers of 'Safe Trade'
* Officer Finds Two Possible Explosive Devices at Michigan Tech
* Attacks Haven't Slowed Environmental Radicals
* Molecular Farming Under Fire
* Risk and Precautionary Principle
* India's Malnutrition 'Crisis'
The Illusions of 'Frankenfood'
- Thomas Niles, The Washington Times, 7 Nov 2001
In the comparatively halcyon days before September 11, the media and many policy makers worried less about anthrax in the mail than they did about genetically modified foods on the store shelves. Needless to say, everyone's priorities have been readjusted in light of recent events. However, it would be unfortunate if we failed to take note of two developments concerning what its opponents call "Frankenfood."
The first concerns the well-known "monarch butterfly" story. In 1999, a letter in the scientific journal Nature reported a high death rate among monarch caterpillars that were fed milkweed leaves dusted with high doses of pollen from genetically modified Bt corn.
Anti-biotech crusaders quickly seized upon the preliminary findings to cast a cloud of doubt over the safety of genetically modified crops. Never mind the substantial flaws in the study design. (For one thing, the chances of a caterpillar in the wild encountering the amount of pollen used in the laboratory tests are virtually zero.) So it was heartening to hear the Environmental Protection Agency's recent announcement that, after nearly two years of extensive scientific testing, it has reaffirmed that genetically modified Bt corn poses no risk to human health or the environment, including the monarch butterfly.
The agency even said genetically modified corn actually protects the environment, by reducing the amount of conventional pesticides used to protect against the European corn borer. Based on this strong scientific assessment, the EPA has renewed registrations for Bt corn for another seven years. The second development is a recent report by the European Union's executive commission on the safety of genetically modified crops. European policymakers have been extremely zealous in seeking to restrict trade in food products containing genetically modified ingredients, going so far as to impose a moratorium on approval of new genetically modified organisms in 1998. The E.U. report summarized the results of 81 separate scientific studies, conducted over a 15-year period, aimed at determining whether genetically modified products are unsafe or not sufficiently tested or regulated, as alleged by many consumer and environmental groups.
The answer is no: Not one of the projects demonstrated harm to humans or the environment. And like the EPA, the E.U. conceded that not only do genetically modified crops pose no more risk to human health or the environment than conventional crop breeding methods, but the greater precision of the technology and the extent to which it is tested and regulated probably makes them even safer than conventional crops.
The significance of these two developments cannot be overstated as we approach the possible launch of new global trade talks at the World Trade Organization meeting in Qatar. For a long time, the more vocal environmental and consumer groups have sought to undermine the role of scientific scrutiny and valid risk assessments in existing WTO rules on international trade and public health.
These groups continue to demand the right to use unsubstantiated claims of risk to impose unjustifiable trade barriers - the so-called "precautionary principle" - even in the face of scientific evidence that the products in question are safe. With its moratorium, the E.U. has lent credence to this irrational approach.
It is crucial that U.S. negotiators in Qatar safeguard this vital technology and insist that hard science, rather than politics or protectionism, be the primary basis for determining whether genetically modified products are allowed to move freely in international trade. As we're seeing right now, there are clearly less illusory threats to public health that demand our immediate attention.
Thomas Niles is president of the United States Council for International Business, a New York-based industry group. He was U.S. ambassador to the European Union from 1989 to 1991.
GM Crop Research Slow to Reach Hungry Third World
- Reuters, November 7, 2001
London - With thousands of the world's poor dying from starvation every day and millions going to bed on an empty stomach, many desperate voices are calling on richer countries to use genetic science to wage an all-out war on famine.
In Africa, one in three children is underweight and malnutrition contributes to nearly seven million child deaths each year in developing countries. This, according to the United Nations children's fund, UNICEF, is more than any infectious disease, conflict or natural disaster. The developing world's heavy dependence on staple foods such as rice, soya, wheat and maize makes for a precarious existence if these crops are ravaged by unexpected drought, disease, flood or freak weather -- not uncommon events in poor countries. Some say this is where the controversial research area known as biotechnology can help feed the starving millions, by engineering plant strains with improved resistance and yields.
"By bringing in this technology to make the same crop that people eat and grow, make it more insulated against some of the elements of nature, more nutritious...it will improve local production,'' said Channapatna Prakash, professor in plant molecular genetics at Tuskegee University, Alabama. "If it does make a difference in their overall health and well-being with the least intervention, it needs to be looked at very carefully,'' he said. "If it does provide some solution in certain places and circumstances, then why not?'' Prakash is also a member of the U.S. Agriculture Department's agricultural biotechnology advisory committee.
Genetic modification (GM) involves exchanging or splicing genes of unrelated species that cannot naturally swap with each other and scientists say the applications are almost limitless. The species can be vastly different, for example, inserting scorpion toxin or spider venom genes into maize and other food crops as a 'natural pesticide' to deter insects and birds from feeding on the plants, or fish antifreeze genes into tomatoes.
Results Hard To Measure, Progress Still Slow
The tangible progress made so far is hard to assess as the various applications of biotechnology to Third World staple crops are still being developed. Scientists say the measurable results and possible benefits to farmers are still years away. Test projects already underway include virus-resistant strains of sweet potato in Kenya, insect-resistant rice in China and papaya in southeast Asia, as well as various cassava and maize projects in other African nations. Perhaps the most famous to date -- and also controversial -- is 'golden rice', which many see as having come to represent the hopes and fears about biotechnology, even though not one single seed of it has yet to be planted commercially.
Rice is the most important crop in the developing world and is eaten by close to four billion people every day. It accounts for around 80 percent of the total calories consumed by 2.7 billion Asians, or half of the world's population. In 1999, Swiss and German scientists developed a variety of rice engineered to produce beta-carotene, a substance which the body can convert to Vitamin A. In this way, they hope to stave off malnutrition in poorer nations where rice is a staple food. 'Golden rice', named for its yellow hue, is produced by splicing two daffodil genes and a bacterium gene into japonica rice, which is a variety adapted for temperate climates. However, experts say many more years are needed before the Vitamin A trait can be worked into the thousands of other varieties grown in countries such as India and Bangladesh.
With such an important crop, genetic scientists are also keen to develop rice strains with resistance to insects, which can eat away yields in tropical Asia by more than 30 percent. Many crops grown in Third World countries are effectively organic as smallholder farmers lack the money to buy pesticides and other chemical treatments -- thus bringing more significance to crops which can resist insects and the usual field diseases.
Progress Hampered By Technical Problems...
Other areas under intensive study include ways to improve resistance to drought and flooding, and tolerance to salt and high concentrations of soil metals. But the specific problems involved might prevent ultimate success, some scientists say. "Most traits of resistance to insects or diseases, or adaptation to drought or salt tolerance, are multigenic traits,'' said Barnaby Peacocke, rural livelihood advisor at the British non-profit development organisation ITDG.
"Even with resistance to pests and diseases, you run the risk of introducing monocultures into areas where they can't really take the risk of a monoculture, rather than building up on some good local varieties they may have already,'' he said. Soil toxicity from the presence of metals is also a great problem to farmers in developing countries who cannot always choose where they can grow their crops. Acidic soils, for example, often contain high levels of aluminium which hinders plant growth. With enough time and money, Peacocke said, some progress might eventually be made -- but not for several years at least.
"I wouldn't be surprised, if billions of dollars are spent on the research, they might be able to get some kind of tolerance to heavy metals,'' he told Reuters in an interview. "But I just haven't seen the evidence. They (GM scientists) are talking about it, saying these will be the answers they can provide. As a plant scientist, I know that they've been looking at this for decades and they've just got nowhere really.''
GM Not Necessarily Best Solution, Say Critics
Not everyone agrees that GM food will necessarily become the saviour for the world's hungry and critics insist that there is, as yet, no conclusive evidence of the touted benefits. The whole GM issue arouses strong emotions on both sides of the divide, particularly among the more militant opponents to the technology who march across fields and rip up fledgling test plants, demanding that governments put a stop to "Frankenstein'' foods by banning the import and the commercial use of GM crops. Apart from their charge that nobody yet knows how safe GM crops are, they also accuse powerful biotech multinationals of using poor countries as a 'dumping ground' for products which have failed to sell to lucrative but sceptical European markets.
Funding Still Scarce For GM Research
While some say increased funding should go into GM research for the staple foods of the developing would such as cassava, sorghum and corn -- as opposed to crops more used in developed countries -- others say the resources would be better used to promote sustainable agriculture in the world's poorer nations. "I think the developing world would probably be better off putting its research resources somewhere else, other than in biotechnology,'' said Jane Rissler, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a prominent U.S. environmental group. "There are many sustainable agriculture areas that probably would be much better for them in the long run,'' she said. "We're not sure yet that the (GM) benefits are going to be there.'' Despite the financial clout of some of the agribusiness giants, research into plant genetics still suffers from a lack of funding, which delays field trials and safety tests.
"The reason why we are not seeing cassava, sorghum or chickpeas being grown in Vietnam, Kenya or Peru is because of lack of funding -- these technologies don't come cheap -- and lack of expertise, and they go together,'' said Prakash. "Ten years from now the problem is not going to go away. But at least we can start thinking about it now.''
New Strains of Rice Promise Better Health, Eyesight
- Reuters, November 7, 2001
Manila - A modest bowl of rice is something Asia's poor and hungry will always look forward to, but scientists hope new strains of the staple food will do much more than fill empty stomachs. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, seeking to improve the diets of countless millions, is working on a new generation of healthier rice. In one of the largest human feeding trials of a staple food, 300 nuns in the capital Manila will be enlisted next year to help test a rice variety rich in iron and zinc that may help combat anaemia. The IRRI is also helping develop genetically-modified rice known as "golden rice,'' aimed at combating Vitamin A deficiency, responsible for half a million cases of irreversible blindness and up to a million deaths a year among the world's poorest people.
"We are not only developing higher yielding rice but also developing super-value rice,'' 36-year-old Filipino scientist Glenn Gregorio of the IRRI told Reuters by telephone. The Institute estimates that about one third of the world's population suffers from anaemia, which impairs immunity and reduces physical and mental capacity. About 60 percent of all pregnant women in Asia and about 40 percent of school children are iron deficient.
Golden Rice The IRRI, credited widely for helping the world feed itself by developing high-yielding rice during the so-called Green Revolution of the 1960s, is one of several organisations around the world carrying out systematic work on improving crops. Rice feeds about half of the world's population, and 90 percent of the total annual harvest comes from Asia.
Not all research into new crop varieties involves genetic engineering, but the IRRI is helping with work on genetically-modified Vitamin A enriched rice, or "Golden Rice.'' This rice was developed by German scientists by implanting two genes from a daffodil and one from a bacterium into a japonica rice variety called T309. Samples of the grain were donated to IRRI this year for research and breeding. IRRI's chief plant biotechnologist, Swapan Datta, believes genetic engineering could speed the quest for healthier rice. "If there is a need and there is a possibility to have a new technology and new ways to improve nutrition, we should be doing that,'' he said. Datta said the planting material for golden rice would be ready within two to three years. "Farmers can have them in five years. That's our hope,'' he said.
Nuns Experiment In a bid to improve the nutritional value of rice, the IRRI's Gregorio is developing a new rice variety which it stumbled upon while working on research into rice with tolerance to low temperatures. The variety, rich in iron and zinc and known as IR68144, was developed by cross breeding two varieties. It will be fed to nuns from eight Manila convents early next year, Gregorio said. The IRRI, based near Manila, said the trial aims to convince nutritionists that the iron and zinc-enriched rice is capable of reducing the incidence of iron-deficiency anaemia. The trial was originally set to begin this April, but delayed because of an inadequate harvest of the iron-rich rice.
"Typhoons late last year swamped our farm, resulting in a poor harvest,'' said Gregorio. The IRRI said it had recently harvested enough rice in a nearly 13 hectare (32 acres) farm inside the institute to feed the sisters over a period of seven to nine months in the test which will be supervised by Cornell University and Pennsylvania State University in the United States. "We tested 27 religious sisters in 1999,'' Gregorio said, adding that the iron status of the nuns improved after eating the rice exclusively for a period of six months.
"But nutritionists remained unconvinced, and that trial is now being regarded as a dress rehearsal for the main event,'' the IRRI said in its recent annual report. In the new trial, about half of the 300 sisters will be fed with IR68144 and the rest will eat normal rice for up to nine months. Gregorio said that if next year's trial succeeds, the rice variety could be released to farmers within two years.
From: "Kershen, Drew L"
My congratulations to Mr. Sharad Joshi who wrote about the Jhootistan campaign against Bt cotton in India. At the same time, his piece is one of the funniest and saddest commentaries on agricultural biotechnology that I have ever read. If Mr. Joshi keeps writing with the quality of his Jhootistan piece, he should be garlanded as have other Indian Nobel Laureates for Literature who also have the incredible gift for mixing sadness and humor.
Mr. Joshi has now given me a name for the entire anti-biotechnology campaign. It is all one big Jhootistan!!
Drew L. Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law, Univ of Oklahoma
>Jhootistan Strikes against Cotton Farmers
>- Sharad Joshi, Business Line (India), Nov 7, 2001
>* Founder, Shetkari Sanghatana (A Farmers Organization, India)
From: Mel Oliver
Re: Illegal Cotton in India
I liked your story on illegal cotton in the latest from Agbioview - along with the desire to prevent the spread of a transgene into the environment this was one of the reasons why the Technology Protection System (aka Terminator a term used by others to instill fear) was developed - it would have solved this problem altogether.
(Note from Prakash: Dr. Mel Oliver is the developer of Technology Protection System aka 'Terminator Gene.')
From: "Bob MacGregor"
Subject: Re: Irony of Illegal Cotton
Well, are the outbred progeny of radiation-mutated crops mutants or hybrids? Similarly, as has been pointed out here before, once a transgenic trait is introduced and proven stable, it becomes a cotton/corn/soy/tomato/canola/etc. trait. By this logic, then, the Bt cotton in Indian could be considered a hybrid, rather than a transgenic, since all the genes came from cotton parent varieties. Of course, the regulatory authorities, patent holders and Greenpeace don't want to subscribe to this line of thinking.
Subject: Bt cotton
Your article in The Hindu is quite compelling. I hope that it will taken note of by the people who determine our fate.
During the past ten days or so I received several messages on the issue of Bt cotton in India. One opinion that is gaining support is that the current illegal crop in Gujarat should not burnt, but should be used to gather whatever data that are feasible, taking the non-Bt cotton crop in the vicinity, as a sort of an unintended control. There is overwhelming support in the country, barring the known vocals, that no time should be lost in legally releasing Bt cotton, which will also prevent clandestine releases. Farmers are willing to pay for quality seed. Hope that a similar view expressed by the Union Minister for Agriculture will have some impact in modifying the slack policy.
Another point that has been put to me is that, transgenic gene constructs should be incorporated into the Indian germ plasm, whatever the crop. I was under the impression that the Bt cotton sought to be released in India is basically Indian germ plasm, but some people do not think so. If the Indian germ plasm is used for transgenic crops to be grown in India, the acceptability will certainly be greater.
There must be much more publicity on transgenics, covering both the benefits and the apprehensions, the global experience, scientific evidence in favour of and against. I feel that we must urgently evolve a mechanism by which we create a large base for expanding awareness. I know a lot has been done, but much more is needed and in the right quarters. I think that we should publicise the benefits of Golden Rice and be much more prepared to face the adverse publicity.
- C Kameswara Rao
>The Irony of Illegal Bt Cotton
>- C. S. Prakash, The Hindu (India). Wednesday, November 07, 2001
Gujarat Not to Burn Bt Cotton Crop
- The Times of India, 11/06/2001
Gandhinagar: The Gujarat government will reject any formal order from the Centre to burn the genetically engineered Bt cotton crop. State agriculture minister Purshottam Rupala told Times News Network that no such order has been received from the Centre so far. He said, "Our stand remains unchanged, it is unnecessary and impractical to burn the cotton."
Rupala said instead of punishing the farmers by giving the order, the government should bring to book the company that sold the seed to the cotton farmers without formal permission. He said, "I have been receiving representations from farmers all over the state saying the new seed is more beneficial. It has been found that very little pesticides are necessary on the cotton produced from it. The crop yield is also better and quicker. Besides, nearly 50 per cent of the cotton produced in the US and China is from the same seed."
Speaking on the impracticality of burning the cotton, Rupala said, "It is impossible to know which field used Bt cotton and which did not. The appearance is not very different. The identification is indeed a big problem. Nearly 50 per cent of the Bt cotton is already in the market and is mixed with other ordinary cotton. The farmers who have sold the cotton in the market say even the seeds are not very different."
Rupala, himself a farmer, further said, "There is no guarantee which seed is being sold sold to the farmers for the next season. After all, this year hundreds of cotton farmers used the Bt cotton seed produced during the last season. There is no mechanism to ensure that a new company does not sell the seed to the farmers in the next season. The seeds are reusable, though one need not necessarily have the same quality as earlier."
Funds for R&D Declining for Genetically Modified Crops
- Indian Express, November 06, 2001, ttp://www.indian-express.com/ie20011106/bus7.html
Noted agricultural research scientist LT Evans of Australia on Monday said that while the next agricultural revolution depended on genetically modified seeds to increase agricultural output to feed the growing population in the world, developed countries and the World Bank are allowing lesser funds for research and development in agriculture. Evans was delivering the first lecture in the series of Sir John Crawford Lectures organised jointly by the Australia—India Council and the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER).
Evans said that in the more developed countries, the private sector has provided the substantial finance needed to develop GM crop varieties. In developing countries the funding of agricultural research and development has fallen sharply following serious cuts in foreign aid for R&D down by 57 per cent in the eight years between 1988 and 1996. Even World Bank funding for rural development fell by 47 per cent between 1986 and 1998, Evans said. According to Evans, agriculture has had to compete with other issues such as maintenance of biodiversity, the amelioration of global warming, the promotion of sustainability, non-farm rural development etc for foreign aid.
Evans said that while the US has been opting for genetically modified (GM) seeds with 54 per cent of the soyabean crop, 33 per cent of the maize crop and 72 per cent of the cotton crop grown from GM seeds, the European Union has since 1998 blocked the registration of any GM crops. He said that China has had lesser concern for over biosafety while countries like India, Brazil and Kenya have been depending on biosafety rules to delay the use of GM crops.
The Indian population which has increased from 50 crore (500 million) at the beginning of the Green Revolution to 100 crore (1billion) now, has witnessed average cereal yield increasing faster than population—wheat growing 2.7-fold, rice 2.1 fold and dryland coarse cereals by about 65 per cent during this period, thanks to heavy inputs of irrigation and fertilisers. The lecture was inaugurated by President KR Narayanan and chaired by RBI Governor Bimal Jalan.
UN Population Fund's State of World Population 2001 Report
http://www.unfpa.org/ , November 7, 2001
Human activity is altering the planet on an unprecedented scale, the report points out. More people are using more resources with more intensity and leaving a bigger 'footprint' on the earth than ever before. To accommodate the nearly 8 billion people expected on earth by 2025 and improve their diets, the world will have to double food production and improve distribution. Global poverty cannot be alleviated without reversing the environmental damage caused by both rising affluence and consumption and by growing populations, the report stresses. It calls for increased attention and resources to balancing human and environmental needs. World population, now 6.1 billion, has doubled since 1960 and is projected to grow by half, to 9.3 billion, by 2050. Some 2 billion people already lack food security, and water supplies and agricultural lands are under increasing pressure. Water use has risen six-fold over the past 70 years; by 2050, 4.2 billion people will be living in countries that cannot meet people's dail
The report examines the close links between environmental conditions, population trends, and prospects for alleviating poverty in developing countries. It finds that expanding women's opportunities and ensuring their reproductive health and rights are critically important, both to improve the well-being of growing human populations and to protect the natural world.
Major findings include:
* Empowering women and enabling them to have only the number of children they want would lead to smaller families and slower population growth, easing pressure on the environment and buying time to make crucial decisions about the future.
* Internationally agreed actions to reduce poverty, empower women and promote social development need to be implemented and adequately funded to ensure the well-being of growing human populations while protecting the natural world.
* Next year's Johannesburg 2002 review of the 1992 Earth Summit agreement will present an opportunity to incorporate this integrated social agenda including education for all and universal access to reproductive health care and family planning into initiatives to promote sustainable development.
* All of the projected growth in world population will take place in today's developing countries. The 49 least-developed countries will nearly triple in size in 50 years, from 668 million to 1.86 billion people.
* To accommodate the nearly 8 billion people expected on earth by 2025 and improve their diets, the world will have to double food production and improve distribution.
* The world' richest countries, with 20 per cent of global population, account for 86 per cent of private consumption; the poorest 20 per cent account for just 1.3 per cent. A child born today in an industrialized country will add more to consumption and pollution over his or her lifetime than 30 to 50 children born in developing countries.
* Nearly 60 per cent of people in developing countries lack basic sanitation, a third do not have access to clean water, one quarter lack adequate housing, 20 per cent do not have access to modern health services, and 20 per cent of children do not attend school through grade five.
* Support from international donors for reproductive health and population programmes is less than half the amount required to meet basic needs.
UNFPA is the world's largest multilateral source of population assistance. Since it became operational in 1969, it has provided more than $5 billion to developing countries to meet reproductive health needs and support sustainable development efforts.
INVITATION: Hidden Dangers of 'Safe Trade'
- From: Greg Conko
International Policy Network and the Competitive Enterprise Institute present:
"The Hidden Dangers of 'Safe Trade' Or How the Precautionary Principle would Undermine the Rules-Based Multilateral Trading System, Harm the World Economy and Lead to Lower
Levels of Environmental Protection," Featuring
Dr. Robert Nilsson, Professor of Toxicology, Stockholm University; Senior Scientist,
Chemicals Inspectorate, Sweden; Advisor, US Environmental Protection Agency
Hon. Andrew Thompson, Trade Analyst and Former Chairman of the Australian Parliament's Committee on Treaties
Among the most important topics to be discussed at next week's World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Qatar will be the appropriate role for "environmental" constraints on trade. Some more extreme environmental groups say that the current rules-based trading regime leads to environmental degradation and have called for restrictions on trade to be imposed on "precautionary" grounds. The EU has taken up their cause. But others object that "precaution" is merely a euphemism for protection.
November 14, 12:00 Noon; Hunan Dynasty Restaurant, 215 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE
Lunch will be served, but seating is limited. For reservations, please contact Megan McLaughlin at 202-331-1010 or e-mail
From: Patrick Moore
Subject: Greenspirit Book and Video
"Trees are the Answer!"
The 3rd printing of my book "Greenspirit - Trees are the Answer" has arrived. I have also produced a 28-minute broadcast quality video "Trees are the Answer" Both can be previewed and ordered from my web-site http://www.greenspirit.com
Cheers, Patrick Moore, Greenspirit, "MAY THE FOREST BE WITH YOU"
From: "Andrew Apel"
Subject: Anti-Biotech Bombs?
'Officer Finds Two Possible Explosive Devices at Michigan Tech'
- The Associated Press State & Local Wire; November 5, 2001
Houghton, Mich. Two explosive devices were found Monday at Michigan Technological University, prompting authorities to evacuate two buildings and reroute traffic. Campus police officers discovered the devices around 3:30 a.m. while on routine patrol, officials said. One was found outside the U.J. Noblet Forestry Building and the other was in a parking lot near an adjacent U.S. Forest Service engineering laboratory. The buildings are on the southwestern edge of the university grounds, less than a half-mile from the main campus.
Jack Dueweke, the Houghton County emergency measures coordinator, said the devices consisted of five-gallon jugs with wires leading to timers. One device had two jugs. The other had one. They smelled of gasoline, university spokesman Dean Woodbeck said.
A state police bomb squad from Negaunee inspected the devices, first using a remote-control robot equipped with a video camera. Police rendered them harmless but declined to say whether they had actually been 'armed' to explode, Woodbeck said. 'We're fairly confident that this isn't related to the Sept. 11 attacks or those terrorist organizations,' Woodbeck told The Daily Mining Gazette.
No note was found with either device, and apparently neither police nor university officials received any warning, said Bill Curnow, another Tech spokesman. The university received some threatening e-mails around Earth Day in April, Woodbeck told The Associated Press.
'There is research in the university's forestry building into genetic manipulation of plants and trees,' Woodbeck said. 'Apparently there's a group that opposes that kind of research. But no one has claimed any responsibility for what happened today." Michigan Tech Public Safety, Houghton police, the Houghton County Sheriff Department and the Houghton Fire Department evacuated everyone within a 2,000-foot radius of the buildings.
Streets in the vicinity of the buildings also were closed for nearly eight hours, and classes inside the forestry building were canceled. Classes elsewhere proceeded on schedule after police checked all other campus buildings twice and found nothing suspicious, Curnow said. Agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were at the scene Monday afternoon, Curnow said.
The area, except for the USDA and forestry buildings, was reopened about 12:30 p.m. Officials were hoping to reopen the buildings Tuesday. About 270 students and 30 faculty and staff members use the university's forestry building. Two commuter lots were closed, but other parking was made available to students arriving from off campus.
From: "Andrew Apel"
Subject: Green Terrorism Unabated; "GM Gonorrhea" Stabinsky Phears Pharming
Colleagues, Green terrorism continues unabated....
'Attacks Haven't Slowed Environmental Radicals'
PORTLAND, Ore: The new war on terror hasn't slowed down one group - environmental radicals who have claimed responsibility for at least five acts of sabotage over the past two months. Guerrilla greens have been as busy as ever since Sept. 11, setting fire to a maintenance building at a primate research facility in New Mexico, releasing minks from an Iowa fur farm twice within a week and firebombing a federal corral for wild horses in Nevada. Only three days before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, militants torched a McDonald's restaurant in Tucson, Ariz.
And now authorities are trying to determine whether radical greens were involved in placing two bombs that were found and disarmed at two forestry buildings on the Michigan Tech University campus in Houghton, Mich. The FBI, ATF and Michigan State Police are investigating. Four of the five confirmed radical actions have been claimed by the Animal Liberation Front and one by its sister organization, the Earth Liberation Front.
'We believe that their methods of intimidation and violence have crossed the line into unacceptable for law enforcement, and they've crossed the line for the majority of Americans,' Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokeswoman in Portland, said. She said it was 'pretty unbelievable' that the groups continued to wage their war for the environment while the country is waging its war against terrorism.
But the spokesman for the two groups, David Barbarash, said the Sept. 11 attacks changed nothing for underground activists. 'The Sept. 11 attacks were horrific acts, but we also have to remember that the atrocities against the earth continue unabated,' Barbarash said. But he conceded the ALF and ELF run the risk of losing any sympathy for their cause by carrying out illegal acts during the nation's terrorism scare. But he said they don't care. 'Sympathy isn't a factor high on the agenda of ALF and ELF,' Barbarash said.
The ALF first surfaced in 1987 and the ELF nine years later. They have claimed responsibility for dozens of acts of sabotage against companies and agencies they say are harming animals and the environment- including fur farms, research facilities, fast-food restaurants and logging operations. One of the most notorious operations carried out by the ELF was an Oct. 1998 fire that swept through part of the Vail ski resort in Colorado. The group said it was protesting the resort's expansion into lynx habitat.
In the post-Sept. 11 age, the word 'terrorism' has become an even more loaded word, and now authorities and radical environmentalists are arguing over whether the word applies to groups like ALF and ELF. The FBI defines terrorism as 'the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce' the government or the civilian population , words that Steele says fits ALF and ELF to a tee.
But Barbarash argued that militant environmentalists are not terrorists because their aim is not to harm people, but to protect animals and the environment. ELF and ALF ěare acting out of compassion for all life, including human life,î and can't be likened to terrorists who crash hijacked planes into buildings or spread disease as a weapon, he said.
The FBI has an active investigation into the ELF and the ALF. Congress also wants to know more about the two groups. Former ELF spokesman Craig Rosebraugh of Portland has been subpoenaed by a House subcommittee to testify on ecoterrorism. Rosebraugh said he won't cooperate. Rosebraugh stepped down as spokesman for the ELF about two months ago. His role has been taken over by Barbarash, who previously was spokesman only for the ALF. Barbarash, a former ALF activist who now acts as their spokesman from his home in Vancouver, British Columbia, said the two groups send him anonymous communiques when they want to announce they've carried out an illegal act. Barbarash then relays the information to the news media. The communiques can come by fax, e-mail or phone, he said.
Barbarash served four months in jail for taking part in an ALF action - the release of cats used in medical research at a Canadian university in 1992. He said he ceased taking part in ALF actions because he lost his anonymity when he was arrested. But that hasn't stopped him from relaying the communiques, or speaking out in favor of their acts.
..... and Greenpeace' Doreen 'GM Gonorrhea' Stabinsky sucks in another
'Molecular Farming Under Fire'
- Charles Mandel, Wired Nov. 6, 2001
OTTAWA -- The next wave of genetically altered plants are on the horizon, and activists are warning the hue and cry over plant molecular farming will dwarf any previous controversy over other such products.
The new outcry over plant molecular farming coincides with a public forum currently underway in Ottawa. The federal government's Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has called for the public's views on plant molecular farming --or 'pharming' as it's sometimes referred to in the industry. The one-day forum and three-day technical conference are meant to help the CFIA as they draft new regulatory directives for 2002. While no plants for molecular farming are currently approved in Canada, the government wants its regulatory framework in place before the practice takes off.
Plant molecular farming uses genetic engineering to produce substances for a variety of uses. Potential products include the development of antigens for vaccines that might be mass-produced in plants such as corn and used to fight such diseases as cancer and diabetes. It's the fact that the plants are used to produce drugs that is alarming activists. They worry that once production begins, the altered plants might find their way into the food supply or cross-pollinate with clean crops.
Concern arose last year after GMO corn produced by StarLink accidentally ended up in commercial food products. 'These are drugs that you should only be eating if you've got a prescription from the doctor, and not because they're in your taco shell,' says Doreen Stabinsky, a geneticist in Bar Harbour, Maine, who is a science advisor to Greenpeace.
Stabinsky said once people learn more about plant molecular farming, she would expect the fuss over them to be larger than it is over other GMO crops. 'I think people will really react to this in a way they haven't reacted to other GMOs,î she said. ěIt's much more blatant. 'Somebody's putting a drug in my food? What!' Stabinsky argues the issues associated with plant molecular farming are more serious than other GMO plants because pharmaceuticals are involved. 'They're drugs. They're meant to cause some kind of physiological change in humans,' she said.
Plant molecular farming is potentially big business. The CFIA, in a recent report, says that U.S. demand alone for biotech pharmaceuticals is expanding at 13 percent annually and is expected to command a market value of $28.6 billion by 2004. Already such American companies as ProdiGene in Texas and Applied Phytologics Incorporated of California are testing plant molecular crops. ProdiGene is developing vaccines for animals and humans, while Applied Phytologics is growing open-air crops of rice containing human proteins including lactoferrin.
'Conversation on Risk and Precautionary Principle'
I am inclined to posit the opposite: 'Irrational convictions lead to the substitution of prejudice for data.'
>Risk, Science And Society
> - Professor Sir Colin Berry,
>One of the UK's top scientists explains why the 'precautionary principle' -
> the substitution of prejudice for data - leads to irrational convictions.
From: Andrew Apel
Anonymous is correct, but that does not necessarily mean that he is in disagreement with Prof. Berry. Berry said:
'This general conceptual problem about risks has been further confounded by the proposed use of prejudice as a substitute for data, in the form of the precautionary principle (PP). This is damaging since it eschews the scientific method in the way that it deals with data.'
I don't read this as Berry positing a causal relationship in which the precautionary principle leads to the adoption of irrational convictions. Rather, Berry seems to be saying that the PP is not compatible with a rational approach to risk assessment.
It would be a fairer interpretation of Berry to say that he claims we are becoming increasingly obsessed with very small risks, that obsessions can rise to the level of prejudice, that the substitution of data with prejudice is irrational, and that a principle such as the PP which approves the substitution of data with prejudice is similarly irrational.
That said, I would add that in practice, the PP is generally used as a post-hoc rationalization (in the psychological sense) of exaggerated fears of the unknown. If there were no exagerrated fears of the unknown, the PP would not need to exist. Because of this, it would be more reasonable to say that irrational convictions lead to the precautionary principle, rather than the other way around.
In sum, I don't know who authored the interpretation of Berry which appears all the way at the bottom of this posting, but I don't think it's an accurate interpretation.
Indur Goklany wrote:
While the precautionary principle has been invoked to justify a bunch of flawed policies, it doesn't follow that the PP itself is necessarily flawed. Just because some claim the PP supports their favorite policies to retard, if not suppress, some technologies, doesn't mean those claims deserve credence. Just because the PP has been hijacked, doesn't mean it can't be rescued. While I would agree that many have invoked the precautionary principle in support of their favorite policy prescriptions some of which, on closer examination, can be proven to be counterproductive (e.g., global bans on DDT or GM crops), it does not follow that the PP is itself flawed. What is flawed is the alleged application of the PP.
[I say "alleged" because while the PP has often been invoked, it has rarely been applied, systematically or otherwise, evenhandedly (what do I mean "evenhandedly"? Read on, MacDuff.) The PP has been invoked much like an advocate invokes the law or Bin Laden, the Koran, i.e., by quoting all the passages favoring one's position while ignoring all the passages that cut the other way. This does not mean the law or the Koran are necessarily biased, only that it's (ab)users are.]
One can never stop such misuse, but one can point out that there are other passages in the ouvre that would contradict that position. And once the competing set of passages are on the table, then one has a chance of convincing the body politic that another position may be just as, if not more, in keeping with the overall intent of the law/Koran. But to get to this point one needs to identify the various statements in the law/Koran that address the issue at hand, whether the statements are positive or negative. Then, one needs to systematically evaluate the various statements, comparing one against the other using a plausible framework for such an evaluation.
In "The Precautionary Principle: A Critical Appraisal of Environmental Risk Assessment" (Cato Institute, 2001), based on a framework I've deveised for applying the PP in cases where a policy might result in both positive and negative outcomes, I systematically evaluate a number of policies that conventional environmental wisdom has proclaimed to be precautionary. However, when one evenhandedly compares the risks that those policies would reduce against the risks they would create or prolong, these policies turn out to be riskier for public health and/or the environment. Therefore, under any formulation of the PP, these policies would not (and do not ) pass muster. The specific policies I looked at are: global bans on DDT and GM crops, and greenhouse gas emission controls beyond "no-regrets".
In other words, if we apply the PP evenhandedly and systematically, it does not necessarily support "unscientific" or unreasonable policies. It only does that if one accounts for the benefits of a policy but ignores the harms it might create (or vice versa).
I should also note that the arguments used by those skeptical of the PP is unlikely win rhetorical points and sway the general public. The notion that it is better to be safe than sorry is inherently appealing to the vast majority of the public. But one can live with this, and still have policies that make sense. This is what I have attempted to do in my book. How so? When one side says "if you can't prove a policy is totally safe, don't do it", it's rhetorically a poor rejoinder to note that one can't prove something to be absolutely safe (even if that's true). It's much more effective to show that the policy might also result in some unsafe outcomes, and then the debate almost automatically shifts to the issue of whether we are safer with or without that policy.
[In effect, if no policy is safe, under the PP the preferred policy ought to be one that is "safer" rather than one that is "safe". Or if absolute safety can't be guaranteed, the next best thing is to choose the safer or less risky option. Certainly, my mother who was quite fond of the "better safe than sorry" aphorism also held that when faced with two imperfect options, then choose the one with fewer imperfections. More importantly, she was also a great believer in "not doing anything dumb and counterproductive."] But of course you can't get to the point of selecting the safer alternative if one either ignores -- or is silent about -- the negative consequences of the policy under discussion, while trumpeting its positive effects. I'll grant that it seems to be harder for scientists to be heard than it is for well-seasoned and well-oiled media-savvy PR machines like Greenpeace and FOE, because it seems they often get a free ride from the media (and I believe academia, in many cases, but they are not invin
The case of DDT is a great example. If people like Don Roberts, Amir Attaran, Richard Tren and Roger Bate had not squealed loud enough, then the decision makers on the POPs treaty would have been free to ignore DDT's public health benefits, and DDT would indeed have been banned globally. But once there were voices raised -- and once these voices were organized -- the politicians did indeed take heed of the comparitive risks associated with such a ban. [In a democracy, it is not enough to have reason on your side; you also have to have opinion makers and at least a few vociferous voters.]
[Of course, in an ideal world, it should not have been necessary for those voices to be raised. The bureaucrats who were negotiating the POPs convention ought to have known right from the start that a global DDT ban would result in more harm to global public health than good. Thus, one is forced to conclude that either they were ignoramuses, intellectually dishonest, morally obtuse, or perhaps all three, for not having recognized this on their own.] Finally, I note that while I have seen several statements and claims that the PP supports this or that policy, I have almost never seen any analyses to back up those claims. I think, therefore, if one makes a claim that the PP supports this or that policy, one should be challenged (by, for example, offering any examples showing how that policy could result in counter-productive outcomes) and asked to prove that claim . Otherwise, that claim will get a free ride and we could end up with poorer policies.
To summarize, although it's not clear to me that the PP is bankrupt, many of it's alleged applications are. And I hope (and believe) it is possible to rescue the PP from those who have hijacked it.
'AgBioView Selection from the Past ....'
India's Malnutrition 'Crisis'
- AltGreen, November 20, 1999 http://www.altgreen.com.au/Biotech/991120malnutrition.html
The World Bank has said malnutrition affects huge numbers of people in India, especially women and children, despite decades of often effective government action. Its report "Wasting Away - The Crisis of Malnutrition in India" blames poverty and low status of women for some of its most shocking statistics - half of all children under four are malnourished, it says, and 60% of women are anaemic.
It praises India's effort to feed its people through agricultural innovation and poverty alleviation schemes, but says population growth, high prices and unemployment often offset well intentioned government programmes.
India has been justifiably proud of its self sufficiency in food since the so-called green revolution in agriculture in the 1960s and 70s. But this report will add to growing feelings of unease that a new attempt to end hunger once and for all is an urgent need as the country enters the next millennium.
Two ulterior motives for featuring this tragedy and neither have anything to do with population panic.
1. Note that it is poverty that is the underlying cause of this malnutrition and anaemia. A situation that will be dramatically worsened by the ridiculous pursuit of implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. We cannot address poverty by destroying wealth creation and depressing the global economy and since advocate and sceptic alike have shown that complete implementation of the protocol cannot make any difference to global climate there is no gain available for the pain that we will inflict on the impoverished.
2. While we attempt to address this poverty we need a quick and cheap means of addressing micronutrient deficiencies such as vitamin A and iron in order to address the massive anaemia problem. The most promising means of so doing is with biotechnology (see feature on golden rice). Think very carefully about attempts to suppress genetically modified foods in the wealthy western societies since these crops are the funding mechanisms for development of nutritionally enhanced food crops. And nutritional enhancement is desperately needed by the impoverished. Stifling development of genetically modified foods will impact almost exclusively on impoverished peoples.
When next you are approached by some organisation seeking to hinder development, restrict energy availability or increase its cost, or do anything which hinders wealth generation, remember these statistics: half of all children under four undernourished, 60% of women anaemic. They are the ones paying the price of nonsense ideology and dogma. It is a very high price to pay just so that fear-mongers can extort larger donations from you.
You want to give money to appease your conscience for having a fortunate life? Give it to a development program where it will actually do some good - and tell the scaremongers to take a hike.