Today's Topics in AgBioView.
* Full GM Separation May Double Prices - US Farmers
* The Green Phoenix: A History of Genetically Modified Plants
* Follow My Leader
* Biotech Workshop Film Now Available
* SciDev.Net: An independent website for the developing world
* Transgenic Plants as Protein Factories
* Polarised Views Still Beset Biotech
* Policy Divisions Shape Biotech Progress
* When DNA Comes Out to Play
* Does Globalization Make the World More Unequal?
* Letter to the Editor Re: A Nobel Prize for Sustainability
Full GM Separation May Double Prices - US Farmers
Reuters, November 28, 2001
BRUSSELS - Full separation of genetically modified (GM) soybeans from traditional varieties could double their cost to importers in the European Union, delegates at a food conference heard yesterday.
New EU proposals on traceability and labelling for food derived from GM crops now on the table, but U.S. farmer and industry groups fear they will be unworkable and could force the creation of two separate production chains.
"Strict identity preservation could easily double the price of soybeans," Jerry Slocum, president of the North Mississippi Grain Company, told the Agra Europe conference.
The European Commission has devised the traceability system as part of its new so-called farm-to-fork approach to food safety and to appease member states' concerns over GM food, which has led to no new varieties being approved in the EU for three years.
The proposal, if adopted by EU governments and the European Parliament, would require imported GM soybeans and grain, as well as processed foods, to carry details of their origin and path through the production chain.
"I can't imagine an exporter from the United States would take on the liability of shipping a cargo without knowing what was in it," Slocum said. "The way we read it (the proposal), it leads all the way back to my farm in northern Mississippi."
Given the way grain was harvested and transported to ports for export, only complete segregation from start to finish could guarantee there was no mix between GM and traditional varieties.
Slocum said a 50,000 tonne shipment of soybeans, for example, could contain seven million beans from perhaps thousands of farms across the United States.
However, the tough rules are probably the only way EU governments will end their de facto moratorium on new approvals, even though some want to go even further and introduce rules to hold GM producers liable for any damage to the environment.
European food safety Commissioner David Byrne and environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom have recommended restarting GM approvals based on the current traceability and labelling proposals, even though they could be up to three years away from being officially adopted as national laws.
They believe the present impasse could be illegal and leaves the EU open to challenge at the World Trade Organisation. However, a number of hardliners led by France have insisted that the legislation has to be in force before they would consider any fresh GM clearances.
Biotechnology Retrospective: Book Review
- F. C. Botha, Nature 414, 397 - 398 (2001) November 22, 2001
'The Green Phoenix: A History of Genetically Modified Plants'by Paul F. Lurquin; Columbia University Press: 2001.240 pp.$50,$25
Ask any student of biotechnology today when the first foreign DNA was transferred to plants, and the answer will invariably be 1984. Very few will recall that it all started with the innovative and tenacious work in Lucien Ledoux's laboratory in Belgium in the late 1960s. And it would be interesting to know how many plant molecular biologists have read the two pioneering publications of Ledoux and Huart, which claimed to report the integration of foreign DNA into the genome of barley. Paul Lurquin's book appropriately reminds us of the major difference between the theory of the scientific method and the way it translates into practice. Certainly, it is not as simple as formulating a hypothesis and then automatically verifying it. All those many failures - and often erroneous interpretations - are seldom told to newcomers to the field.
In the late 1960s, the concept of horizontal DNA transfer - the transfer of genes between species - was inconceivable, as this violated the accepted idea of slow, mutation-driven evolution constrained by sexual barriers. Without good models or detection systems, the early pioneers in this field had to persuade a highly sceptical scientific community of the merits of their hypotheses. It is almost unimaginable that they had to rely on a very basic technique, density centrifugation, to demonstrate gene transfer in plants. Today's students have the benefit of sensitive modern techniques, and yet often fail to obtain good evidence for the stable integration of foreign DNA into plant genomes. They will certainly appreciate the enormous task that early researchers faced in convincing others of this phenomenon.
In the very early days of plant genetic engineering, the small flowering plant Arabidopsis was already the laboratory workhorse for the Ledoux team. In 1974, they stated that they had achieved the successful complementation (restoration to normal function) of a vitamin B1 mutation by the transference of genetic material from bacteria. In the same period, D. Hess in Germany claimed to have engineered a change in flower colour through horizontal gene transfer. Both pieces of research were heavily criticized and their accuracy was questioned. But a major turning point came with the discovery in Germany and the USA that genes from the bacterium Agrobacterium can transfer naturally to plants. The book accurately describes the very rapid developments that followed this discovery, culminating in the conclusive demonstration of horizontal gene transfer to plants in 1984.
Looking back at the turbulent first two decades of plant genetic engineering, it is difficult to understand how the researchers involved persisted with their ideas. It is inspiring to read how a few individuals, driven by curiosity and faced with strong opposition and criticism, eventually had such a huge impact on science. Yet again, this history illustrates how major breakthroughs, with enormous potential applications and financial reward, often flow from very basic research. The book makes the point well that good research is driven by new ideas and not by technology. In reality, the technologies available are often inadequate for testing new hypotheses accurately. Thus, it remains puzzling that the private sector remains so reluctant to fund basic research. How many of those who today are reaping the benefits of biotechnology would have been prepared to support this early research financially, especially when controversy reigned in the field? There is probably a lesson to be learned from the fact that M
Plant genetic engineering is a highly controversial topic, and will probably long remain so. Whether the technology will deliver its promise of a better life for all, only time will tell. With the negative impacts of the first Green Revolution still fresh in our minds, many are concerned that the new technology will have an equally negative impact on the environment, and increase the gap between rich and poor still further. Most of the advances in biotechnology are in the hands of major companies in the developed world, and the question is rightly asked whether those most in need will ever be able to afford the technology. It is a pity that the book fails to mention the several instances where it has already significantly improved the living standards of small-scale growers, and the broader community, in the developing world.
Often ignored is the very important role of plant genetic engineering in advancing our understanding of plant metabolism and plant defence mechanisms. As Lurquin points out, many more basic questions regarding collateral gene damage during integration of the new gene into the genome and the control of gene statement must be answered before the technology's potential can be fully realized.
Lurquin's book is the first to describe accurately the history of plant genetic engineering. For students labouring at the bench and getting frustrated at the lack of reproducibility of their experiments, reading this work will provide reassurance. Even scientists who are no longer at the bench, and are now mostly preoccupied with administrative and teaching duties, will find it an important reminder that research is a demanding task, with much disappointment and controversy, and few successes.
F. C. Botha is at the Institute for Plant Biotechnology, University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa.
Follow My Leader
- Henry I. Miller, Nature Biotechnology, Dec 2001 Vol 19 No 12 p 1103 The Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA. firstname.lastname@example.org
To the editor: A news article in the September issue, describing a New Zealand Royal Commission's deliberations on the future of recombinant DNA technology in that country (Nat. Biotechnol. 19, 792, 2001), reminded me of a cartoon that is especially apt in this international context. The cartoon depicts a lawyer conversing with his client, a primitive prehistoric warlord, who has just been informed he is accused of pillaging and plundering Paris. "What'll we do," asks the worried client? "I'll try to get it reduced," the lawyer promises. "To what," the other asks? "Pillaging and plundering Helsinki," says the lawyer.
Even if the Royal Commission rejected the absurd measures demanded by extremists-namely, "the idea of branding New Zealand 'clean and green' and free of all genetically modified material"-its assumptions and conclusions leave much to be desired. They all but ignore scientific principles and knowledge as the basis for public policy, and it appears that all of the available options open to the New Zealand government would still be excessively precautionary, discriminate against the use of recombinant DNA technology, and impose upon it what amounts to a punitive tax.
The remit of the inquiry was to cover the whole gamut of scientific, economic, environmental, ethical, indigenous, intellectual property, legislative, and regulatory aspects of the subject. How ironic that, in spite of such a broad mandate, the commission accepted terms of reference too narrow to enable it to get the correct answers.
The commission accepted the pseudo-category of GMOs as a meaningful one, despite scientific consensus to the contrary1, 2. We should certainly by now consider a "given" that recombinant DNA techniques are an extension (or refinement) of earlier, less precise techniques for genetic modification. Just as we no longer argue about whether Pons and Fleischmann deserve the Nobel Prize for their alleged demonstration of cold fusion or whether water retains "memory" of a solute at infinite dilution, we must get past the pseudo-controversy, false assumptions, and unsubstantiated rhetoric about recombinant DNA technology.
The regulation of risk is complex, to be sure, but if democracy must eventually take public opinion into account, good government must also discount heuristic errors or prejudices. Edmund Burke emphasized governments' pivotal role in making such judgments. He observed that in a republic with leaders elected to represent public interests, "[y]our representative owes you, not only his industry, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion."
Finally, the objective of deliberations of the sort undertaken in New Zealand is to get the right answer, not merely to sample public opinion in an open and egalitarian fashion. Although it may be useful, and also politic, for governments to consult widely on high-profile public policy issues, when the consultations and deliberations have been completed, government leaders are supposed to lead. We will soon see if they choose to do so in New Zealand.
Cheryl Norrie and Liz Fletcher respond:
New Zealand's Royal Commission Inquiry was charged with investigating and reporting on genetic modification and was not bound to accept a "scientific consensus" (if indeed such a consensus exists). The Royal Commission would agree with Miller that its objective was to aim at a "right" answer, and not merely to sample public opinion. Indeed, its chairman, former chief justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum, explicitly rejected the notion that the commission was conducting a public referendum. The processes of the inquiry were geared toward informing the four commission members (a former judge, a member of the clergy, a general practitioner, and a scientist) as well as consulting with New Zealand's publics-both lay and scientific. Nevertheless, New Zealand deserves credit for allowing the public to air their views and for attempting to develop some consensus on the best way forward. At a time when public confidence in government policies on food and food safety is at an all-time low, no politician can afford to ignore
1.Anonymous. Nature 356, 1-2 (1992).
2.National Academy of Sciences. Field testing genetically modified organisms: framework for decisions. (National Academy Press, Washington, DC; 1989).
From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Members of this list responded kindly and promptly to a previous
request for a paper. I am emboldened confidently to ask for a
different paper. If you have available, Robert Tripp, [Overseas Development Institute, London] "Can Biotechnology Reach the Poor? The adequacy of Seed and Information Delivery," 4th ICABR Ravello International Conference (2000),
I would appreciate receiving a copy. Thank you,
Drew L. Kershen, University of Oklahoma College of Law, Norman, Oklahoma 73019-5081 U.S.A.
Biotech Workshop Film Now Available
UCSD-TV Frontiers of Knowledge Series: Genetically Modified Crops & Foods (117 min)
With support from the American Society of Plant Biologists' Education Foundation, Maarten Chrispeels of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Division of Biology, conducted an "outreach workshop" which was recorded as part of UCSD-TV's "Frontiers of Knowledge" series. The goal of the workshop, held February 2, 2001, was to explain where academic scientists stand on the issues surrounding genetically modified (GM) foods. The workshop was first aired on local cable television in San Diego on July 4, 2001, in a two-hour show format.
*View a 3 minute preview 34 Kbps (requires Free RealPlayer Basic)
*To order a complete copy of the film (VHS or CD ROM RealMedia format) email Paula Brooks, email@example.com or call 301-251-0560 x116. Single copies are free to ASPB Members (one free copy per member; extra copies or non-ASPB members, $10 each).
- Nature 414, 567 (2001) December 06 2001
This week sees the launch of an independent website for the developing world.
The exclusion of large parts of the world's population from many of the benefits of science and technology is a critical issue in international affairs. We are therefore pleased to announce our support for a new independent website, SciDev.Net, launched this week, which will provide a forum for authoritative news, information and comment about how science and technology can help meet the needs of developing nations. Although the site has been in gestation for more than a year, its appearance now could hardly be more timely. The range of potential topics to be addressed is broad, from global warming to genetically modified crops. The spirit is one of dialogue: it is as important to transmit perspectives held in the developing world as it is to convey those of 'the North'.
We have been closely involved in the incubation of SciDev.Net and (together with the journal Science) will be providing free access each week to selected articles from our pages. Support and guidance is being given by the Third World Academy of Sciences, and funding generously provided by the UK Department for International Development, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the International Development Research Centre in Canada.
We hope that the information and perspectives offered by SciDev.Net will both strengthen the hands of policy-makers and empower individuals and communities, leading to sounder decision-making at all levels of society. By doing so, the website aims to help bridge the gap between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' in science and technology in development. We invite you to show your support by visiting the website (http://www.scidev.net), registering your interest, and engaging in the debates that we hope it will stimulate
Transgenic Plants as Protein Factories
Giddings G (2001) Curr. Opin.Biotechnol.12,450-454. (From: http://www.bio-scope.org/)
Gliddings' review focuses on recent progress that has been made in the production of pharmaceuticals, vaccines and industrial proteins in transgenic plants. Both advantages and drawbacks of the production of recombinant proteins in transgenic plants are discussed.
Transgenic plants are showing considerable potential for the economic production of proteins, with a few already being marketed. Recent clinical trials of pharmaceuticals produced from transgenic plants are encouraging, with plant glycans showing reassuringly poor immunogenicity. Our increasing understanding of protein targeting and accumulation should further improve the potential of this new technology.
Polarised Views Still Beset Biotech
For certain people, "a position for or against biotech has become a question of identity, almost divorced from arguments or information. People are for or against biotech crops because of who they feel they are, and perhaps more importantly, who they feel their enemies are." So says Daniel Charles, author of Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money and the Future of Food. He says in writing the book he frequently faced the question: "Friend or foe", despite his emphasis that he was just a science reporter, telling a story. "I suspect that these hardened fronts will only break down when the technology becomes identified in the public mind with other social forces, independent of large companies - perhaps local university researchers, or vendors at urban farmers' markets, or the international ag research centers. Besides that, accurate information certainly plays a role, as does credible government regulation, and the enlightening influence of passing time."
When trying to account for different perceptions of plant biotech in Europe and the USA, Charles says the experience of BSE in the UK was certainly pivotal in shaping attitudes toward food safety, toward the scientific establishment, and toward government regulators. "More broadly, public attitudes in northern Europe when it comes to novel technologies and the environment are certainly more skeptical about technical "progress" than attitudes in the United States", he says. "One product of that is a powerful "green" political force, which had decided years earlier that genetically engineered foods were to be distrusted, if not opposed outright."
Charles thinks it's possible that developing countries may actually benefit from the opposition to biotech in terms of enhanced access to technology from biotech firms keen to enhance their image. However, the opposition may make governments reluctant to approve GM plants. "The CG centers are having better success getting their hands on technology, but developing countries are wary of allowing the finished product into their fields. That may change, though, as things move closer to reality, and the benefits become less "potential" and closer to hand."
Charles notes the double standards that abound in consideration of GM risks, pointing out that UK government advisors wanted to restrict Roundup Ready use because of they would eliminate weeds and potentially harm farm birds that ate those weeds. He points out that "vigorous hoeing" could do just the same, and that government agencies had never "stepped in to make sure that farmers grew a requisite number of weeds".
Along with some other biotech companies, the rises and falls of Monsanto are charted in the book. Charles says that "They've continually promised new things coming out of their pipeline, including things that consumers would want, and none of it seems to happen". He believes that the Monsanto's best new product is rootworm-protected corn, "but it's not going to keep the company afloat. I suspect that Monsanto's fortunes are going to rise and fall with Roundup, not their biotech seeds," he says.
Charles says it's hard to single out which of agbiotech's many characters he encountered during writing the book was the most interesting. "I was fascinated by Robb Fraley, but never felt like I really understood him. I found Tom Urban terrifically interesting as the leader of a business enterprise that was also the legacy of his father and his father's friends. Benny Haerlin's personal saga is a great story. And there were lots of other people I developed a lot of respect for."
Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money and the Future of Food by Daniel Charles is published by Perseus Publishing.
Policy Divisions Shape Biotech Progress
Governments in developing countries have taken very different approaches to regulating GM crops, and this has led to major differences in the progress achieved. This is one of the conclusions of "The Politics of Precaution: Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries", written by Robert Paarlberg at Wellesley College for the International Food Policy Research Institute. The book notes that China has taken a permissive approach to biosafety, trade, and food safety and consumer choice, and is way ahead of other developing countries in terms of growing GM crops on a large scale. Paarlberg points out that "lack of open political space" for opponents of GM technology to raise objections has been one factor allowing China to move ahead in this way. Meanwhile Kenya, Brazil and India have adopted a more precautionary approach.
Paarlberg says that consumer resistance to GM crops in Europe and the consequent government moratorium has had an indirect effect on exporting countries in the developing world. "Those countries are tempted to remain GM-free to retain their access to European markets." He points out that developing countries could move ahead with industrial crops such as GM cotton, and with crops such as Bt maize or RR soyabeans previously approved in the EU. "But informal consumer resistance to GM in Europe could discourage even the planting of these crops. And if the price for ending the moratorium is a strict traceability regime, as is now expected to be in place sometime after October 2002, then developing countries might find it highly unattractive to export to Europe if they are planting GM."
Paarlberg believes that some countries could benefit in the short term by going GM-free: "Some exporters to Europe, Japan, or Korea might benefit from staying GM free (so long as illegal planting as in Brazil and India can be blocked). But over the long run it will become quite costly for poor farmers should they have to forego the benefits that continued GM crop innovations might provide."
Paarlberg doubts that the World Trade Organization is likely to push all countries in to accepting GM crops. "The US may eventually bring a case in the WTO against the new EU traceability directive, but even if the US were to win such a case I expect the EU would prefer to pay compensation or accept retaliation rather than change its directive."
The Cartagena Protocol on biosafety, with its rules on entry for living modified organisms, has been a mixed blessing for developing countries, says Paarlberg "The Protocol creates no new obligations for developing countries as importers of LMOs, so they tend to view it as a plus. The exceptions are countries such as Brazil, which expect some day to be exporting GM commodities. For exporters, the protocol is potentially troublesome because it allows importers to refuse LMOs on a precautionary basis, without a scientific demonstration of risk."
In his book, Paarlberg emphasises the need for governments to commit to research spending if they want to make progress, noting that China was investing in crop biotech as long ago as 1986. He thinks that intellectual property rights have been overemphasised as a barrier to GM development in the developing world. " The major barrier so far has been getting biosafety approvals for GM crops from national biosafety committees in the developing countries themselves. Where biosafety approval has been granted, IPR has never been a barrier." He says that the IPR problem is sometimes solved when companies allow royalty-free use in the developing world, and sometimes by putting the valuable trait in a hybrid variety.
The Politics of Precaution: Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries, is published by Johns Hopkins University Press.
When DNA Comes Out to Play
- Joe Schwarcz, The Gazette (Montreal), Nov. 18, 2001
"Wow! Look at my DNA!" the exuberant little boy blurted out as he pulled the thread-like strands out of the test tube. Other excited voices chimed in as about two dozen children and a sprinkling of adults began to play with their own genetic material.
We were all seated around tables in a laboratory at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, having been attracted by signs pointing toward the "Gene Scene." Our experiment started with everyone swirling salt water in their mouth for 30 seconds or so to collect some of the cells that are continuously sloughed off by our cheeks. We were then asked to spit the solution into a little cup (as cries of "yuck" filled the room) and then transfer it to a test tube containing some detergent. A couple of minutes of gentle shaking allowed the detergent to break down the cell membranes and liberate the DNA molecules, which were then solidified by adding alcohol. We then dipped a stirring rod into the test tube and pulled out long filaments of DNA.
As the session drew to a close, the children were asked what they had learned. There were some pretty good answers but the one that really stuck in my mind was provided by the little boy who had cried out so enthusiastically when he first glimpsed his DNA.
What he had learned, he said, was that when he grew up he wanted to study biotechnology and become a genetic engineer! Quite a refreshing comment given that so many people these days look warily on this area of science. The raised eyebrows can often be traced to a lack of clear understanding of what biotechnology is all about.
Simply put, biotechnology is the provision of useful products and services from biological processes. It does not necessarily involve scientists in white lab coats hovering over petri dishes. Biotechnology goes back thousands of years, probably to the first use of yeast to convert sugars and starches. Yeast is a little living machine that takes in food and produces excrement. But don't pooh-pooh that excrement. Many humans like it. It's called alcohol.
Moulds are also neat little machines that produce a variety of by-products. When the ancient Egyptians put mouldy bread as a poultice on wounds, they were using biotechnology. The mould probably churned out penicillin, not recognized as such, of course, and helped the wound heal.
How these microbes convert raw materials into finished products was not elucidated until relatively recent times. The pivotal moment came in 1953 when Francis Crick and James Watson unraveled the molecular structure of DNA, the molecule that controls the inner workings of the living cell. The instructions for everything a cell does are encoded in genes, which are specific fragments of DNA. Basically, genes tell the cell what proteins to produce. Proteins are needed as structural material and as enzymes, the catalysts that control all reactions in a cell. Once DNA's role was clearly understood, it became obvious that if its structure could be modified, the proteins it produced could be altered. By the 1970s, such manipulation, known as genetic engineering, had become a possibility. Genes could be transferred from one organism to another, or could even be built from fundamental components using the "Gene Machine," invented by former McGill chemistry professor Kelvin Ogilvie, now president of Acadia University
We are now beginning to see some of the practical results of this genetic tinkering. For example, cheese-making requires an enzyme called chymosin to separate the curds from the whey. The traditional source is the stomach lining of calves, but the fragment of DNA, the gene, which tells the cell to produce this enzyme, has now been isolated. It can be incorporated into the DNA of a yeast, which then dutifully cranks out chymosin. This has made cheese production more efficient and has also allowed for the manufacture of cheese that has no meat components, something that is desirable when conforming to certain religious dietary restrictions such as kasruth.
Much more dramatic is the potential treatment of people who suffer from specific immune-system deficiencies becasue of a malfunctioning gene. Already in one case, bone marrow has been extracted, the malfunctioning gene replaced, and the marrow infused back into the bone. This has resulted in the production of cells with normal genes.
These days, insulin for diabetics is cranked out by bacteria to which the human insulin gene has been transferred. Bacteria also have been engineered to produce TPA (tissue plasminogen activator), which has saved countless lives. It is commonly administered after a heart attack to dissolve blood clots.
Unfortunately, bacterial fermentation cannot meet the need for TPA and the drug ends up costing thousands of dollars a gram. Researchers have recently succeeded in introducing the gene that codes for TPA into the DNA of a goat with the result that the animal produces TPA that can be isolated from its milk. In this process, known as "pharming," one goat can make as much TPA as a 1,000-litre bioreactor.
Biotechnology may even prevent heart attacks from occurring in the first place. The Italian hamlet of Limone Sur Grada has become famous because its inhabitants are free of heart disease in spite of having high blood-cholesterol levels. They have inherited a gene that codes for Apolipoprotein A1, a protein that scavenges cholesterol from the bloodstream. Injections of a genetically engineered form of this protein have dramatically reduced clogging of rabbits' coronary arteries, a treatment that may eventually be viable for humans.
Perhaps our young biotechnologist-to-be may one-day work on this problem. But for now, he was content to scrutinize a display about lysozyme, a natural milk enzyme with antimicrobial properties. Genetic-engineering techniques can increase the levels of this enzyme in milk, reducing udder infections and the need for antibiotics.
As the little guy wondered off, I noted he stuffed his DNA sample into the back pocket of his jeans. Jeans that might have been dyed with indigo produced by recombinant DNA and made of cotton genetically engineered to repel insects with no need for pesticides.
Joe Schwarcz is director of the McGill Office for Chemistry and Society. His E-mail address is joe.schwarcz@McGill.ca.
Does Globalization Make the World More Unequal?
- Peter H. Lindert, Jeffrey G. Williamson, NBER Working Paper No. W8228; April 2001 http://papers.nber.org/papers/W8228
Abstract: The world economy has become more unequal over the last two centuries. Since within- country inequality exhibits no ubiquitous trend, it follows that virtually all of the observed rise in world income inequality has been driven by widening gaps between nations, while almost none of it has driven by widening gaps within nations. Meanwhile, the world economy has become much more globally integrated over the past two centuries. If correlation meant causation, these facts would imply that globalization has raised inequality between nations, but that it has had no clear effect on inequality within nations.
This paper argues that the likely impact of globalization on world inequality has been very different from what these simple correlations suggest. Globalization probably mitigated rising inequality between participating nations. The nations that gained the most from globalization are those poor ones that changed their policies to exploit it, while the ones that gained the least did not, or were too isolated to do so. The effect of globalization on inequality within nations has gone both ways, but here too those who have lost the most from globalization typically have been the excluded non-participants. In any case far too small to explain the observed long run rise in world inequality.
Unpublished Letter to the Editor of 'Science'
Re: A Nobel Prize for Sustainability, Perhaps?
Geert de Snoo and Joeri Bertels (A Nobel Prize for Sustainability, Perhaps?; Science 12 October 2001, vol 294 p 303) suggest a new Nobel prize for Sustainability to recognize individuals and organizations who have contributed to "environmental science, economics, and social development." I think this is a suggestion worthy of consideration.
However, I was rather perplexed to read further that the Netherlands-based organization 'Greenpeace' be a candidate for such a prize. Lest others take this recommendation seriously, permit me to set some facts straight about this organization. Greenpeace started with some lofty accomplishments in raising awareness of environmental issues in the seventies but has now become a $120 million multinational institution promoting fear of science among gullible public. Greenpeace has been relentless in its attack on biotechnology and those who speak on behalf of it. Dr. Ingo Potrykus, the developer of golden rice, got so frustrated with Greenpeace for its vicious efforts to stop his innovation from helping the Third World children, he has suggested that this organization be tried in the International Court for 'crimes against humanity' (1).
Greenpeace has been known to twist facts and figures to advance its political agenda. The most notorious incident concerned the oil rig Brent Spar destined for disposal in the North Sea, where Greenpeace falsely accused the British oil company Shell for dumping radioactive and toxic wastes into the sea but was later forced to apologize for its mistake. A look at the one of the Greenpeace's website http://www.fishtomato.com further reveals how this organization indulges in misinformation campaigns to scare the public with half-truths and misconstrued facts ("But GE food also threatens our environment. Already, we know GE soybeans use two-to-five times more herbicide than natural soybeans." ; AND, "Back in 1947, Dr. Paul Muller received a Nobel Prize for an experiment that corporations told us was safe. The experiment was DDT, a chemical so toxic that it was among 12 chemicals the world banned in Stockholm in May 2001. Genetic engineering (GE) is the latest such experiment "
Dr. Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, quit this organization citing his disappointment with its embrace of extremism and anti-science agenda for political and fund-raising goals. Recently, Greenpeace activists in Paris successfully prevented him from speaking via videoconference at a scientific meeting by chaining themselves to the seats in the auditorium and threatened to shout down the speakers (2).
Surely, Greenpeace has been very successful in 'sustaining' anti-science attitude in Europe and the Third World through its campaigns against research and field testing of genetically modified crops. Many developing countries such as Thailand, Philippines, India, and Mexico are now slowing down their efforts with agricultural improvement using biotechnology because of the local Greenpeace campaigns.
True heroes of sustainability are those individuals and organizations who strive for solutions to problems facing humanity and thus help sustain better quality of life for all; and not those who merely 'cry wolf' over conjectural risks to the environment for self-serving reasons. A good candidate for the 'Nobel Prize in Sustainability' is the CGIAR consortium of international agricultural research centers which has systematically applied science in improving farm productivity around much of the world to contribute towardss "environmental science, economics, and social development" by enriching rural communities and bringing affordable food to billions while reducing the need to encroach wild ecosystems for farming.
References: (1) Ingo Potrykus 2001. Golden Rice and the Greenpeace dilemma.
AgBioView Posting; 16 Feb 2001; http://www.agbioworld.org/listarchive/view.php?id=1204
(2) Patrick Moore, 2001. Greenpeace's Gestapo Tactics to Silence People. AgBioView Posting. 18 Oct 2001; http://www.agbioworld.org/listarchive/view.php?id=1289
Yours, C. S. Prakash, Professor, Plant Molecular Genetics; Tuskegee University
>A Nobel Prize for Sustainability, Perhaps?;
>Science 12 October 2001, vol 294 p 303)
>The hundredth anniversary of the creation of the Nobel Prizes provides
>an excellent opportunity for some reflection. Alfred Nobel's goals,
>as specified in his will and testament (1), were obvious: