- Today's Topics in 'AgBioView' -
* Will the Greens Close Down New Zealand?
* Genetic Engineering, Conservation and Development
* Comments on Lomborg; Edible Vaccines in Plants
* Trailing Edge: A Shot in the Dark
* Happy Birthday Greenpeace?
* Will Activists Attack Globalization Again in the Qatar Desert?
* New Issue of 'Agbioforum'
* Malaysia's Prime Minister Pushes Plan for 'Bio Valley'
* Mystery Surrounds Indian Child Deaths
* In Praise of Bad Habits
Will the Greens Close Down New Zealand?
- Alan Moran, IPA Review, Sept 2001, Vol 53, No. 3, pp 16-17;
Revering False Gods....The New Zealand Government may be on the verge
of worshipping the Green Baal and throttling the nation's agriculture
by banning biotechnology.
The implications of this are particularly profound for Australia. We
share many regulatory, political and commercial institutions with New
Zealand, not the least being a common regulatory oversight over food.
Our economies are closely integrated and cultural ties are strong. In
simple terms, New Zealand's decision to turn its back on the modern
world would put pressure on Australia to consider doing likewise.
Preventing the approval of genetically modified (GM) foods has become
the talisman of many activists around the world. They argue that the
technology may be unsafe. They clothe their opposition to the
technology behind the nefarious 'precautionary principle' (which
would prevent any new technology in any industry). Other strings to
their opposition bow include calls for full information (which would
impose considerable costs) or claims about possible adulteration of
In fact, genetic engineering is what humans have been doing with
plants ever since we ceased to be huntergatherers. The modern
technology which directly modifies plants' genetic structure is now
commonly used across a range of foods, and totally dominates the
production of two of the most common foodstuffs-corn and soybean. For
ten years now, the USA has been a vast testing ground for the
technology. This followed the Food and Drug Administration (among
other regulatory bodies) certifying the plant adaptations as safe.
200 million Americans have been eating GM food every day for the past
The result? On the one hand, not one death, not one hospitalization,
not one tummyache. On the other, a vast lift in productivity as
farmers were able to reduce pesticide usage. Future gains are in the
offing from GM developments that allow water conservation, plant
growth in saline areas, improved ripening characteristics, plant
incorporation of vitamin additions and a host of other productivity
and health improvements
GM is, however, a potent symbol for the Green levellers opposed to
all modern technology, other than that which allows them to network
on the Internet and travel to demos. In Europe, radical Greens and
their cohort consumerists have been busy destroying experimental
crops wherever they can find them. Not for them the scientific
process of examining the evidence and determining future action in
the light of it!
All Eyes On The Kiwis: For the past two years New Zealand has been an
improbable world centre for reviewing GM technology. The Green Party
and the leftwing Alliance Party count many GM opponents among their
supporters. For some of these the task is to undermine globalization
(code for 'US domination'). Others see it as a means to arrest
economic progress and return us to the simpler, less changeable world
to which they affect a romantic attachment.
A Royal Commission was established, at the Green and Alliance
parties' behest, to sift through the scientific evidence and
determine whether or not this new technology had a place in New
Given the pivotal nature of agriculture to the prosperity of New
Zealand, this should have been unnecessary. New Zealand, like
Australia, cannot afford the luxury of lowtech, or lagging,
agricultural methods. But such notions would never impress the
Enemies of Progress, who saw two benefits in having a Royal
Commission. First, it could be used as an excuse to justify a
'moratorium' on any developments and inground tests. Second, this
(and the publicity it would bring) could be used to energize their
supporters and spread scare campaigns. It was also thought by some
that a Royal Commission might offer ambiguous findings or even be
gullible enough to sympathize with their own views.
The Royal Commission was chaired by Sir Thomas Eichelbaum, a former
Chief Justice with an impeccable legal and analytical reputation. It
held nearly 60 days of formal evidential hearings, arranged public
meetings, received nearly 11,000 written submissions from all over
the world, heard 300 expert witnesses, and digested hundreds of
thousands of pages of testimony and evidence.
The supporters of the technology wheeled in some of the world's most
eminent plant biology scientists. Its enemies brought in the usual
assortment of quacks and rhetoricians.
The latter group failed to impress the Royal Commission. It concluded
that 'It would be unwise to turn our back on the potential advantages
on offer, but we should proceed carefully, minimizing and managing
risks'. The Royal Commission, therefore, totally rejected Green
demands for no GM, let alone a ban on field trials. Indeed, the
Commission said, 'Field trials are an essential part of risk/benefit
analysis prior to any release into the wider environment. Without
field trials it is not possible to assess safety'
The Royal Commission also dismissed claims that GM crops and organic
agriculture could not coexist. This is especially important, because
organic food fanatics have spearheaded the opposition to the new
technology. While nobody should be denied a preference to pay more
for food grown in a particular way, those people should not be
allowed to impose their own preferences on the rest of us. This is
especially pertinent for food-turning our backs on modern techniques
and technologies would mean a threefold cost increase. Indeed,
organic agriculture would not be able to feed the world's present
Having lost the debate before the umpire-the Royal Commission-did the
opponents of GM come to terms with its future? Not a chance! Even
before the sounds of the Royal Commission's decision had ceased
echoing around the newsrooms, the opponents of GM were regurgitating
the same myths that the Royal Commission had discredited. These
* LTryptophan produced by GM bacteria causes death. This case was
forcefully promoted by Steven Druker of the Alliance for
BioIntegrity, an organization that sponsors Yogic flying. In fact,
Tryptophan became popular in the 1980s as a dietary supplement to
treat insomnia and depression. In the US, a faulty batch of the
products was released causing some 37 deaths and over 6,000 people to
be disabled or otherwise affected. This had nothing to do with
* A gene transfer from GM rapeseed to bacteria in the gut of a bee
was alleged to pose potentially dangerous transfers of GM material.
Some evidence of this was alleged by a German research project, but
Nature and other peerreviewed scientific journals have rejected the
offer to publish the research, considering it to be inconclusive.
Greenpeace, which publicized the story on German television,
cross-examined Dr Klaus Amman on the matter before the Royal
Commission. Dr Amman told the Commission that there have been at
least 100 experiments conducted to test for a horizontal gene
transfer from a higher organism like a flowering plant to bacteria,
but that no link has been demonstrated.
* Dr Pusztai's experiment on the effects of GM potatoes on rats has
been one of the best known cases in the GM literature, because of his
highly unorthodox method of seeking to publicize the results. The
experiments, however, did not follow standard practice, because they
required the rats to eat raw potatoes, a diet that the rats rejected
to the point that they began to starve to death. Nobody in the
scientific community has replicated the results; and the consensus,
shared by the Royal Commission, is that no link has been demonstrated.
Many opponents of GM food argue in favour of the 'precautionary
principle'. Although precaution is intuitively reasonable, the
principle (and Dr Julian Morris has counted no fewer than 19
different specific definitions) amounts to not allowing something to
proceed unless it is proven safe.
Such a standard is scientifically impossible, and no food that we
presently consume could ever pass it. Yet, the rules of liability law
and the strict standards of the many regulatory authorities have
given us levels of food safety unparalleled in human history. Indeed,
the sort of 'natural' food of yesteryear resulted in considerable
harm, because of spoilage and the presence of poisons.
Aftermath: Will fanatics agree to the decision of an umpire who did
not, as it transpired, support their position? Anyone thinking so has
not been following activist politics. Certainly, as the outcome of
the Royal Commission has demonstrated, rational arguments will
convince a properly constituted review panel. But the process
demonstrates yet again that sober evidence will not dislodge strongly
held irrational beliefs.
And many of the GM opponents are not simply concerned about the
marginal efficiency issues that were at the heart of the Royal
Commission's recommendations. They seek to prevent it on far higher
grounds-grounds that call into question the entire basis of modern
society. Ten thousand chanting militants took to the streets to
coerce a shaky, left-wing government to reject the Royal Commission's
findings and impose a further moratorium.
Francis Wevers of the NZ Lifescience Network describes his
confrontation with one anti-GM demonstrator in Auckland. The
demonstrator claimed that he would reject GMOs even if the outcome
were to be mass world starvation. 'Stunned, I looked him in the eye
and asked, "would you personally kill 120 million innocent children a
year?" "Yes I would," he shouted back. "To stop GMOs, I would kill
them all" And there you have it.'
Yet New Zealand, like Australia, cannot afford to give in to these
Luddites. The stakes are too high for the vast majority of human
beings, who just want to get on with their own lives and who aspire
to a better standard of living.
Dr Alan Moran is Director, Deregulation Unit, at the Institute of
Genetic Engineering, Conservation and Development
- Ronald J. Herring, The Earth Times, November 20, 2001
Who is to own nature? Market society often bundles complex rights of
access,transferability and control and calls it ownership. This
bundle of rights is especially complicated in natural systems --
embedded in international treaties, national law, and local usage.
Distribution of rights is vigorously contested. How rights -- public,
private, and hybrid -- are defined and distributed present both
dilemmas and opportunities for conservation and development.
Preservation of biodiversity depends on the interaction of natural
systems with human systems. Conservation in modern times typically
relies on public authority, often ultimately on public ownership. But
who is the public? Ranchers, foresters and miners in the American
West contest the claims of Washington, D.C. and federal agencies,
often in violent ways. "Indigenous peoples" in poor nations contest
national parks and protected areas. The genomics revolution makes
possible ownership of nature on a much smaller scale -- beginning
with genes. Ownership of the "building blocks of life" is hotly
debated globally, and increasingly in the United States as well -- a
nation with a very strong property regime. It is crucial that social
and policy scientists understand the technical implications of this
transformation, just as scientists need to examine implications of
the evolving property systems that affect both access to nature and
the incentive structure surrounding inventions.
Conflicts over ownerships in large landscapes are pervasive in
history as in contemporary times. The results of conflicts are
frequently inimical to both conservation and development. As the
possible scale of ownership grows smaller with genomics, disputes
move from landscapes to cells. Strong property-rights regimes are
conventionally considered the sine qua non condition for innovation.
The classic case is pharmaceutical,where lucrative "hits" are rare
and development and testing costs very high. Patents on both process
innovations and end products are seen as necessary to spur
investment. Yet is it possible that in fields of rapidly changing
technology, conventional theory is turned on its head: strong
property rights stifle innovation by increasing transaction costs.
The common analogy is to words in literature: surely one cannot
establish intellectual property rights in the individual words used
by a novelist, but it seems right that the paragraphs are worthy of
protection. Perhaps even the sentences. But what if the sentences are
derived from folk proverbs, street slang, remembered conversations --
so tangled over time that it is difficult to tell where innovation
starts and heritage stops. Patenting of words would quickly put a
halt to much creative work in literature.
In the field of transgenic crops, who is to own products built on
generations of human experimentation and hard-won knowledge? What
institutional arrangements are capable of ensuring benefit-sharing
sufficient both to maintain the natural base and to facilitate
continued research? What local, national and global institutions can
provide authoritative knowledge about the safety and risks of
bioengineering? Failure to resolve these controversies threatens to
deny benefits of the biological revolution to people in both rich and
The list of medical and agricultural discoveries is large and growing
rapidly, as are the sources of resistance and unanticipated
consequences. Wild biota have contributes significantly to innovation
by providing insights and specimen; declining biodiversity increases
the urgency of conservation. The pressing practical question is the
appropriate balance of public interest and distributed rights in
biological resources. Existing institutional mechanisms lag both
technological advances and market forces. One means of giving
material value to protection of biodiversity is through
"bioprospecting" agreements in which firms pay upfront costs for
access to wild biota and agree to share profits from any
commercialized discoveries. The first such agreement was brokered by
Cornell. These same arrangements are criticized as 'biopiracy' in the
mounting protest against globalization.
Biopiracy: Biological materials have been moving around the globe for
centuries; theft was not uncommon as a mode of acquisition.
"Biopiracy" now refers to a form of neo-colonialism in which the
biological riches of the South are appropriated without adequate
compensation by vectors of the North. Ironically, one of the most
lucrative recent cases of biopiracy did not move from South to North,
but from North to North. The PCR invention which enables efficient
DNA replication was derived from a unique thermophilic microbe --
Thermus aquaticus -- obtained in Yellowstone National Park. This
process entered public culture through the O.J. Simpson trial, before
which few people outside laboratories had ever thought about it.
Benefits from this invention were eventually captured by a European
firm (Hoffman-La Roche), which held the property rights and made well
over a billion dollars from same. No benefits were returned to
Yellowstone, the park service, or the people of the United States. In
the wake of this loss, the Yellowstone Research Foundation entered
into a bioprospecting agreement with Diversa Corporation to see if
other micro-organisms of the unique thermal environment of
Yellowstone might have such useful properties. The deal provided a
prospecting fee upfront for the Park, and a guarantee of a share of
profits should there be any. The impetus for this deal came in part
from Costa Ricaís experience, through a visit by Bill Clinton and
Bruce Babbitt to Costa Rica. The more distal roots were entwined with
Cornell, through which the original INBio agreement with Merck in
Costa Rica was crafted. Yellowstoneís benefit-sharing agreement with
Diversa is now in the federal courts, challenged by environmentalists
who argue that it is illegal on a number of grounds -- failure to
consult the public that owns national parks, failure to conduct an
environmental impact statement, and the prohibition in U.S. law of
removal of any material -- even invisible material in tiny quantities
-- from a national park, among others. The environmentalists have won
a partial victory on one issue,lost on another, but appeals may well
take years to resolve. Birth pains of a new property regime stand in
the way of public-goods production.
Sustainable Development: As we look to these puzzles at Cornell
University, we find ourselves linking two kinds of intellectual and
practical puzzles. First: how is public authority to protect natural
systems constituted, realized on the ground at various levels (from
village commons to global soft-law regimes), contested and undermined
by pressures of livelihood and profit? These are well-established
puzzles with a vast literature and no clear solutions, as they
centrally concern justice and legitimacy. Biotechnology forces
reconceptualization of those traditional problematics. The second
puzzle is then: How does the biological revolution alter our
conventional concerns with integrity of ecological systems,
distribution of rights, power and money, and improvement in people's
lives? These two puzzles are joined by an overworked but persistent
condensation concept: sustainable development.
Any list of serious obstacles to sustainable development will include
a number of intractable problems which can -- in principle -- be
solved through genetic engineering, provided adequate safeguards and
means of technology transfer at reasonable cost. Moreover,
biotechnology offers significant prospects for conserving
biodiversity by limiting destructive practices while obtaining higher
and more stable yields on less land.
Genes conferring drought resistance, for example, might alleviate
politically and developmentally crippling conflicts over water
control and access which drive both small and large-scale dispute in
many parts of the world. Improvements in non-commercial or
subsistence crops (often termed "inferior grains" despite their
nutritional characteristics) do not attract corporate research
efforts but offer great potential for food security. Pest-resistant
strains can reduce damaging application of toxins that enter ground
water and harm agricultural workers. Genetic engineering for
nutrition can provide enhanced health to poor people -- the so-called
"golden rice" with Vitamin A being a much discussed example. Gordon
Conway, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, refers to this
potential as a "doubly green revolution." With appropriate targeting
of research and solution to property rights questions, the
developmental consequences are profound but as yet little understood.
What institutional developments would promote production of public
goods in this field?
The genomics revolution has spawned considerable fear in the mind of
the public, some justified, much self-evidently exhibiting a basic
lack of information about the process and outcome. Yet the practical
questions were sufficiently compelling that people from disciplines
as different as law, economics, anthropology, political science and
plant breeding, among others, are comfortable talking to one another
at Cornell University. We have concluded, however, that three tasks
are urgent if public goods in genetic engineering are to be realized:
we need to 'regroove' a generation of researchers used to
disciplinary discourse; we need to find means of expressing our
findings in a way that is comprehensible in public discourse; and we
need to find means of training a new generation of students in this
inherently interdisciplinary problematic.
Ronald J. Herring is John S. Knight Professor of International
Relations and Professor of Government Director, The Mario Einaudi
Center for International Studies.
From: "Theresa Klein"
I was interested to read about the assault on 'The Skeptical
Environmentalist' now being waged by the worlds green factions. It
seems that part of 'The Litany' now includes cautioning the public
against exposure to any literature that might be deemed
inapproriately subversive. Why does this seem vaguely Stalinist?
Subject: Plant based vaccines
Commentary re Edible Vaccines in Plants
Those of us who have been involved in the support of the developing
molecular farming industry are excited about the potential for plant
based platforms for the production of many commercially valuable
proteins, including those that will be used for medicinal or
therapeutic purposes. However, the concept that people will be able
to simply eat foods that contain antigens to different diseases and
thus become immunized is rather naive.
This is not to say that plants do not represent excellent vehicles
for the commercial production of drugs and vaccines but rather the
administration is not likely to be so simple as just eating them. It
seems unlikely that conventional vaccination methods will be
replaced. However, the antigen that is administered may well be
produced cheaply and safely, on a large scale, by plants.
Paul G. Arnison, General Manager, FAAR Biotechnology
Trailing Edge: A Shot in the Dark
- Technology Review, December 2001,
From a backyard battle with squirrels came the idea for the gene
gun-the tool that creates biotech crops by shooting helpful genes
into plant cells.
The early days of genetic engineering were pretty crude, especially
for plant geneticists. But the technology to insert genes conferring
traits like pest resistance into plants has revolutionized modern
agriculture. Today a device with origins in a pest reduction battle
of a different sort is responsible for virtually all the genetically
modified soy and maize crops grown in the United States. It's been
dubbed the gene gun.
It all started in 1983, when Cornell University plant breeder John
Sanford turned to biotechnology in his hunt for a shortcut past the
lengthy and random cross-pollination process commonly used to create
new plants. But penetrating a plant's thick cell walls to deliver new
genes for specific, desired traits was a challenge. While waging war
against a backyard squirrel infestation with a BB gun, Sanford
thought of using a similar gun to blast genes through the cell walls.
He approached Edward Wolf and Nelson Allen, engineers at Cornell's
Nanofabrication Facility, for help designing projectiles to deliver
the DNA. The duo decided that microscopic particles of tungsten could
be coated with desired genes and shot directly into the cells using a
gun. Preliminary tests involved an ordinary air pistol (above).
Theodore Klein, a postdoc in Sanford's lab, tested the scheme on its
first subject: an onion. But because the researchers couldn't control
the gun's air bursts-the particles either didn't penetrate the cells
or destroyed them-early trials frequently left the lab walls
splattered with onion bits. Sanford's team then developed a device to
use .22-caliber gunpowder charges that provided higher velocities and
less shock. In this system, a specially designed plastic bullet
charged down the gun barrel, coating itself with the pellets. At the
barrel's end, the bullet slammed up against a metal sheet, sending
the particles flying at high speed through a small hole in the sheet
and into the cells. Within several months, the onion experiments
worked. By the mid-1980s, the team had also inserted foreign genes
into tobacco, wheat and soybeans.
In 1990, Cornell sold the rights to the technology to DuPont. Since
then, "gene guns" have gone through several refinements, making them
much more precise. Meanwhile, researchers at Monsanto, Washington
University in St. Louis and Ghent University in Belgium developed a
competing method using a bacterium to inject DNA into plant cells.
Plant geneticists now use both methods with about equal frequency to
genetically modify crops.
Happy Birthday Greenpeace?
- Mike Nahan, IPA Review, Sept 2001, Vol 53, No. 3, p 15;
Lost in the fallout from the airliner bombing of New York was a much
On 15 September 2001, Greenpeace turned 30 years old.
This is an occasion to ponder. Greenpeace has had a profound impact
on Western society. It has grown from a small, church-based group of
antiwar and environmental activists to a global organization with
income of over $250 million, a worldwide support base of 2.5 million
people, and offices in 41 countries.
It has developed one of the most widely recognized global brands,
secured the cooperation of the media, gained the ear of politicians
and generated fear among business leaders. It has provided a model
for the NGO movement and a job-creating machine for activists. It has
proven that if you believe, are willing to act, and have a good sense
of farce and theatre, you can achieve anything.
Greenpeace has also contributed greatly to the dumbing down of
debate-where dressing up as a butterfly is more important than
knowledge of the genome. It has gained acceptance for the 'well
meaning lie'. It has diverted the money of millions away from
actually doing things for the environment. It has provided a Trojan
horse to democracy, one in which a small group of activists is
allowed to speak for all environmentalists. It has helped perpetuate
a new form of imperialism, where the values and priorities of
affluent nations are imposed on the poor nations.
Greenpeace has been a boon for activists, but a scourge for the rest of
Will Activists Attack Globalization Again in the Qatar Desert?
- Dennis T. Avery, November 7, 2001
Nearly two years ago, the world tried to open a freer-trade
negotiation in Seattle. The event was blocked by thousands of
environmental activists and labor union demonstrators who took over
the streets, assaulted restaurants, and smashed store windows
throughout the downtown. Will the activists attack globalization
again in the Qatar desert?
Since Seattle, activists opposed to "globalization" have blocked
several international meetings, most importantly a summit of the
world's elected leaders in Genoa, Italy last summer. (The Genoa
violence produced the anti-globalization movement's first "martyr"
when a young man was killed as the mob attacked a police car.)
The Moslem extremists' attacks on America, however, radically changed
the climate for activists. First and foremost, Americans actually
have real dangers to worry about: airplanes being hijacked to become
massive missiles; deadly anthrax spores; and, the possibility of
rubber boats attacking cruise liners as they did the U.S. destroyer
Government-approved pesticides, high-tension power lines, microwaves,
computer screens and cotton bed sheets don't stack up very high as
current health threats.
Americans never did respond very strongly to the anti-globalist
charge that corporations are the scourge of modern life. Today we're
looking at TV footage of Afghanistan and the Pakistani border, where
we see begrimed poverty, spreading famine, total repression for
women, and schools turned into academies for fanatics-with nary a
corporation in sight. CNN now indirectly raises the question of
whether a few more corporations (and modern jobs) might not be an
important way to reduce the Moslem world's current poverty and
U.S. labor unions provided most of the disciplined troops and
organization in Seattle, but the unions have now bailed out of the
anti-globalization campaign. The AFL-CIO leadership wants no
association with street violence, at least for the duration of the
public's concern about terrorism. Lots of union members are proudly
displaying U.S. flag decals on their cars.
Biotechnology, another major target of the street violence, is also
undergoing a major change in public perception. Gene researchers
recently scored important public victories with: 1) a potential cure
for cancer, for which human trials start next spring; 2) "golden
rice," offering a cure for severe malnutrition in more than a billion
rice-culture children and women; and 3) salt-tolerant crops that will
make Asia's irrigated farming fully sustainable for the first time in
history. (No one will benefit more than the subsistence farming
families of the Moslem world.)
None of the biotech disasters predicted by the eco-activists have
occurred. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that
even Monarch butterflies are better off with biotech corn (carrying a
natural insecticide inside its stalks) than with corn insecticides
being sprayed in the fields. The European Commission recently issued
a report saying that its 81 biosafety research projects find biotech
crop development slightly safer for people and the environment than
cross-breeding because of the precision of biotech modifications.
The activists know they have a problem. They're claiming a "new era"
in anti-globalization protests without violence. But no one knows
whether they can attract much attention without any violence at all.
The black-hooded "anarchists" have been a major focal point for their
media coverage. The "movement" is also struggling with fragmentation
over tactics. (Replace street takeovers with boycotts? Attack
corporate headquarters instead of cities?)
Governments have canceled some meetings (including a World Food
Summit) and moved others to remote locations. It's no accident that
the WTO meeting is in a tiny, desert country on the Persian Gulf
coast. One of the activist groups (Attac) claims 50,000 members, but
how many of them will gather on the hot sands of Qatar to protest the
Ironically, the gravelly Qatar desert will emphasize the flaw in the
activists' opposition to international farm trade. They demand that
every community produce its own food, but Qatar literally can't grow
its own food. It can, however, swap oil for imported wheat and
cooking oil. Much of the Third World lacks the land and water to
supply the high-quality diets (enriched foods, meat, milk, and fresh
produce) that most of the activists routinely enjoy. Canada booked
the next G8 summit into a remote Rocky Mountain resort named
Kananaskis. The activists claim the mountain terrain is "ideal for
hippies, crappy for cops." But the day I hiked around Kananaskis,
rangers posted warnings about a big male grizzly bear.
The ultimate question is whether the anti-globalization movement,
which claims to represent the world's poor, can rise above its roots
among affluent suburban students in rich countries. In Washington,
D.C. last year, large numbers of activists gathered on a sunny
weekend before their planned demonstration against the International
Monetary Fund. However, it was raining when the time came for the big
takeover of the streets-so the activists went home.
DENNIS T. AVERY is a senior fellow for Hudson Institute of
Indianapolis and was formerly a senior policy analyst for the U.S.
Department of State. Readers may write him at Hudson Institute, 1015
18th Street, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20036.
New Issue of 'Agbioforum'
Articles in this issue provide results and key findings from the
Policy Influences on Technology for Agriculture or PITA project. The
PITA project, funded by the European Commission, provides integrated
analysis of policies and market-related factors relevant to the
agrochemical, biotechnology, and seeds sectors. Below is the table
of contents for this issue.
Influence Of Government Policy On Biotech Innovation In Europe
Editors' Introduction ; Innovation Challenges For The European
Agbiotech Industry Project Novartis: New Agribusiness Strategy;
AgrEvo: From Crop Protection To Crop Production; Rhône-Poulenc
Agrochimie: An Uncertain Future; Advanta: Worldwide Challenges ;
Seminis Vegetable Seeds KWS: Going Beyond Sugar Beet; Limagrain: A
Cooperative Spirit Among; The World's Seed Leaders ; BASF: AgBio Fast
Follower; Zeneca Agrochemicals .; Bayer AG - Chemicals And Life
Sciences ; How Will US-Based Companies Make It In Europe?
Malaysia's Prime Minister Pushes Plan for 'Bio Valley'
- Cris Prystay The Wall Street Journal- November 19, 2001
Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia has registered one biotechnology patent in
its 44 years of independence. But that hasn't deterred Prime Minister
Mahathir Mohamad from trying to build a national biotech industry
Dr. Mahathir wants to create a so-called Bio Valley inside Malaysia's
$3.7 billion Multimedia Super Corridor, a
15-kilometer-by-50-kilometer hard-wired zone in and around Kuala
Lumpur that is intended to be a test bed for new technologies. The
Bio Valley project -- now in its planning stage -- will include three
new research institutes. Malaysian officials are banking on the plan
to spawn domestic biotech ventures and to attract $10 billion in
foreign and local investment within 10 years.
That is a tall order for Malaysia, which has a small scientific
community and is still struggling to attract information technology
investors to the six-year-old Super Corridor project. Moreover, the
country faces stiff biotech competition from Asian rivals with a
bigger research capacity, particularly Singapore. Still,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists helping to design
Bio Valley say the plan is viable if Malaysia follows the right
strategy. To play to Kuala Lumpur's competitive advantages, the MIT
team recommends developing a research niche based on agriculture- and
natural resource-based biotechnology. To make the plan work, the MIT
advisers say, Malaysia must also hire research experts to administer
the project and be willing to pay top-dollar to recruit talented
foreign scientists and beef up the country's own technical know-how.
"I'm confident we can build a multibillion dollar biotechnology
industry in Malaysia," says Anthony Sinskey, a professor of metabolic
engineering at MIT. "All the ingredients are here. We are just
working on the recipe." The Bio Valley project faces the same
pitfalls that beset the Super Corridor plan, which is intended to
help transform Malaysia's manufacturing- and resource-based economy
to one based on value-added technology. A review of the Super
Corridor commissioned by a government agency earlier this year
concluded that the project had failed to draw significant investment
from multinational companies and said Malaysia must offer better
incentives to lure such concerns. Companies that have moved into the
Super Corridor also complain about too much red tape and contend that
government-backed venture-capital funds -- currently run by
bureaucrats -- should be managed by professionals. Bio Valley
planners want to avoid making the same mistakes.
"Our recommendation is that you need an international team to do
this," says ChoKyun Rha, a professor of biomaterials science and
engineering and the head of the MIT team. The National Biotechnology
Directorate, a Malaysian government-linked agency, will oversee the
project, but the MIT team has proposed that a separate
business-development group -- composed of consultants from the U.S.,
Europe and Malaysia -- be created to guide investments and manage the
three institutes. The institutes will specialize in pharmaceutical,
agribiotechnology and genomics.
Mystery Surrounds Indian Child Deaths
- Clodagh O'Brien, New Scientist, 19 November 01
The reason for deaths and illness in Indian children who received
vitamin A during a UNICEF-sponsored anti-blindness campaign remains
unclear, eight days after the supplements were given. The vitamin A
was administered to 3.2 million children under five years old in the
form of a bottled syrup. But less than 24 hours later the first
deaths had been reported and thousands were taken to hospital after
complaining of nausea, fever and vomiting.
Local reports say 15 children have died and over 3000 have been taken
ill. The authorities in Assam have halted the administration of
vitamin A to children while an investigation takes place. Initially,
it was reported that the infants may have received more than the
recommended dose of the vitamin, due to confusion over the correct
size of spoon. However, senior Assam district administration
officials deny this, claiming that the children were being given the
vitamin with two millilitre spoons provided by UNICEF, in keeping
with the prescribed dose.
Suspicion had also fallen on a polio vaccine administered to some as
part of the same programme. But a UNICEF spokeswoman in India told
New Scientist that the children who became ill had not received the
vaccine. The Indian authorities are now investigating the possibility
that the vitamin supplements were contaminated and are awaiting
results from laboratory tests. Assam's health minister Bhumidhar
Barman stated: "If reports say the vitamin solutions were
contaminated, we will take the harshest of legal steps against
Years of success. Wivina Belmont, at UNICEF headquarters in Geneva,
told New Scientist: "Vitamin A has been successfully administered in
India over the past 20 years and no incident such as this has
occurred before. Out of the 3.2 million children given the vitamin
that day, only two or three areas have been affected." Belmont
disagrees with local reports on the number of casualties: "According
to our sources there has been one death and out of the 750 children
that became ill, all of them are now out of hospital."
She believes contamination of the vitamin A is unlikely, as
quality-assurance tests were done both in India and in Australia. "We
are waiting on the state government's results before we know what
happened, although the symptoms such as stomach cramps and vomiting
could be a reaction to vitamin A," Belmont adds.
Recommended dose. Vitamin A is an essential vitamin necessary for
night vision, growth of skin, bones and reproductive organs. Lack of
vitamin A may also lead to eye infections and slowed growth. The
World Health Organization's recommended doses of vitamin A for India
are 100,000 units for children aged six months to one year, and
200,000 units for those between one and five years. "This far exceeds
the recommended daily amounts for children in the UK, 1155 units,"
says Gail Goldberg at the British Nutrition Foundation. "But these
supplements are for children in remote areas with a vitamin A
In Praise of Bad Habits
- Peter Marsh, Lecture to the Institute for Cultural Research, King's
Fund, London, November 17 2001. Social Issues Research Centre.
In this lecture I will try to do three things. First, I want to
present a perspective on the level of concern (some might say
'obsession') with dietary, health and lifestyle correctness that
characterises contemporary Western societies, and the UK and the
United States in particular. This pursuit of novel, narrow concepts
of so-called 'health' and 'fitness' has led us to create new outcasts
- those who fail to conform to the increasing catalogue of
prescriptions for what is 'best for us' - those who, contrary to the
advice of self-appointed arbiters of modern rectitude, persist with
Secondly, I want to argue that this zeitgeist of 'health' has some
unfortunate and unsavoury historical predecessors, which might serve
as warnings to us. The forces which lie at the root of what I will
refer to as 'healthism' might be rather less benign than we have been
led to believe.
Thirdly, I want to argue that a number of trends evident in our
cultures run counter to what we might take to be our evolutionary
heritage. The idea that we should seek to remove all risks to our
lives and to our bodies, avoiding what previously might have been
seen as pleasurable or 'fun', might prove to be 'unsustainable' -
leading to patterns of living for which our stone age brains are
simply not yet designed.
In case this should seem to preface a simplistic, reductionist or
neo-Darwinist account of the human condition, I should also declare
from the outset the philosophical framework, if that is not too grand
a term, in which my remarks will be made. At the Social Issues
Research Centre we have been trying, not wholly successfully I must
admit, to revive a perspective which seems to have all but
disappeared in recent years - that of a left-of-centre, libertarian
position. The word 'libertarian' has largely been high-jacked by the
extreme political right - particularly in America - while the left
has moved increasingly towards lifestyle coercion and what has aptly
been described as 'focus group fascism' - if Mr Blair's focus groups
think something is 'bad', then let's ban it in pursuit of easy
populism - a rather novel approach to democracy.
All of this is a great pity. And we seem to have moved a long way
away from John Stuart Mill who, in his essay On Liberty, said:
"Neither one person, nor any number of persons, is warranted in
saying to another human creature of ripe years that he shall not do
with his life for his own benefit what he chooses to do with it. All
errors he is likely to commit against advice and warning are far
outweighed by the evil of allowing others to constrain him to do what
they deem his good."
I find nothing in this original concept of 'liberalism' that is
incompatible with a just and caring society, which believes in
redistribution of wealth and support for its least advantaged
members. And I say all this because I am fed up with being labelled
as a 'conservative' by right-on, middle-class, self-appointed
guardians of what passes for political correctness these days. I'll
just get that off my chest ...
I should also, I suppose, based on previous experience of floating
some of the points in this lecture, issue a health warning. In the
way that a humble packet of peanuts now has a label which says
'Contains Nuts' - just in case we were unaware of that fact - and an
electrical screwdriver has a sticker which warns 'Do Not Insert in
Ear' - this lecture may contain statements and arguments which may
give rise to intellectual and psychological distress. Your statutory
rights are not affected by this warning..
read on... The complete text of the lecture is posted at