Today in AgBioView - Weekend
* The Implied "Central Dogma" in Anti-biotech Activists' Call for "Zero
* Closed Minds are a Threat to the Greater Crop of Knowledge
* Frankenfood or Magic Bullet?
* Engineered Genes: Roll Over Darwin
* CIMMYT Finds No Presence of Transgene Promoter in Mexican Landraces
* Transgenic Crops Paying Dividends
* New Terminator" Technology?
* USDA Offers Grants for Ag Biotech Risk Assessment
* Two Nobel Prize Winners Urge Food Abundance
* Improving Technological Literacy Needs National Effort: NAS Report
* The Skeptical Environmentalist and His Critics
* Who Benefits When an International PR Agency Hires an Eco-warrior?
* Business of Betrayal
The Implied "Central Dogma" in Anti-biotech Activists' Call for "Zero
- From: ThomasRedick@netscape.net
While I would not presume to weigh in on the science underlying the
Debate over Mr. Commoners article in Harpers, I would take issue with the
anti-biotech crop movements use of the Central Dogma (i.e., its all in
the genes) in creating policies imposing zero tolerance for traces of
rDNA gene sequences in food. For purposes of food safety or ecology,
mere DNA is not a threat; so why on Earth are activists and EU regulators
testing food for tiny traces of rDNA gene sequences? Why not test for
proteins that pose allergen risks, etc., and leave PCR in the lab where
it belongs? As a lawyer struggling to keep export markets open to US
commodity grain traffic, I wonder whether the activist community and the
EU could abandon its allegiance to the central dogma of testing for
DNA, rather than protein.
As long as the purveyors of PCR testing (Genetic ID et al.) are allowed
any credence by a regulator, an organic crop certifier, or food company
considering a recall, the food industry in the US and overseas will be
captive to a Central Dogma --- the citizenry's unfounded reductionist
fear of DNA --- that cannot stand up to scientific scrutiny. While I am
not a scientist, my law practice involves taking apart scientific
theories that are carelessly thrown against the wall in litigation or
If there is any good reason to base a food safety policy on the
presence of bits of DNA, I would welcome some comments posted to Agbioview. If
there is no good reason, then lets admit that the laws and policies
imposing zero tolerance for rDNA are unfounded dogma, and we can all work
toward greater tolerance for traces of biotech crops in exports of
- Tom Redick
Closed Minds are a Threat to the Greater Crop of Knowledge
- Daily News Jan 17, 2002
The destruction of genetically engineered potatoes in a Christchurch
greenhouse laboratory is a blaring statement of ignorance. Worse, it is a
statement of some vandalising individuals' insistence that everyone
else should remain as ignorant as them. The crop of 1300 plants at the
Lincoln Agriculture and Science Centre had been developed over several
years to monitor the effect of genetic changes aimed at improving disease
and pest resistence -- which might reduce the need for chemical sprays,
as well as improve the plant's nutritional and medical qualities, and
its availability to New Zealand and a hungry world. Ironically, the
trials were also aimed at identifying genetic sequences linked to specific
traits so that conventional cross-breeding would be more effective. The
whole operation was in a secure, sealed environment, not tended as an
open field trial, which could be accused of faintly raising the risk of
contamination to adjacent potato crops -- if there were any.
An exhaustive Royal Commission on Genetic Modification last year
recommended that such research proceed with even less than Lincoln's extreme
caution. The commission's sensible and widely praised conclusions from
14 months' public and scientific submissions -- hesitantly endorsed by
the Government -- horrified the Green Party, which had demanded the
inquiry in the first place without ever imagining that it would leave with
GE egg all over its face.
The Greens want an organic, GE-free New Zealand by 2020. Party members,
such as co-leader Rod Donald and MP Nandor Tanczos, flatly refused to
accept the $6 million, 1200-page commission report and gave unequivocal
support to militant greens planning "non-violent direct action" against
test crops. The weekend raid in Christchurch is the result of such
encouragement to youthful zealots, as interested in a bit of a thrill as
they might be committed to Green principles. Former Wild Greens activist
Mr Tanczos, while claiming no prior knowledge of the destruction,
refuses to condemn it. In this election year, Mr Tanczos will succeed or
fail at the polls on his clearly defined objectives. Despite the honesty
and colour that Mr Tanczos adds to the political scene, his brand of
environmental fundamentalism is diametrically opposed to the knowledge
direction in which New Zealand should be headed.
As pioneering and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Marie Curie declared a
century ago, nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be
understood. Genetic engineering has been going on long enough for science, and
even the lay public, to see that its benefits vastly outweigh its
disadvantages. The greater danger is from the mindset the prevents the
expansion of knowledge -- the key to human evolution and survival.
Frankenfood or Magic Bullet?
- Shiv S Kumar, New Indian Express, Jan 20, 2002
Bojja Venkat Reddy faced a stark choice when his crop failed a couple
of years ago: commit suicide or sell a kidney. The impoverished cotton
and chilli farmer from Andhra Pradesh's Guntur district chose the latter
option. He sold a kidney for a 1,000 dollars to clear his debts and
keep his family going after his cotton crop had failed.
He is one of the luckier ones; thousands of cotton farmers in India are
believed to have killed themselves - consuming the same insecticide
they spray on their crops - in the last few years, crushed by the
intolerable burden of debt accumulated after crop failures. The reasons for
the crop failures vary: worthless seeds offloaded on unsuspecting farmers
by crooked salesmen; pests such as the bollworm which attack cotton;
plant viruses; or the failure of the rains (or too much of it).
Today, Venkat Reddy - and farmers like him - are at the centre of the
debate on GM (genetically modified) crops in India. Truth to tell, this
is somewhat bizarre: Reddy, like most Indian farmers, wouldn't know a
GM seed from a conventional seed, since he has never used them. But both
the pro-GM and anti-GM lobbies point to people like him to buttress
In the US and Europe, the debate on GM foods rests largely on issues of
the environment and food safety; but in India, the debate is much more
than that; involved here are issues of basic survival of small, poor
landholders and food security of a burgeoning population. The
biotechnology lobby argues that the new high-tech seeds can cut costs and boost
the yields of farmers. The opponents of GM crops believe the seeds would
leave vulnerable farmers even worse off. They warn of possible 'genetic
pollution,' single-crop farming and seed dependency on foreign
The highly polarised debate rages as the Indian government is set to
decide whether to allow commercial production of GM crops, a decision
that could come as early as next month. With an estimated 70 per cent of
India's population still engaged in agriculture, the market is a huge
one for multinational seed companies. The Government of India has so far
not allowed commercial planting of GM crops in the country; however, it
has allowed limited field trials to be conducted by the Maharashtra
Hybrid Seeds Co, Mahyco (in which Monsanto owns a 26 per cent stake).
Mahyco wants the government to fast-track approval for commercial
planting of its Bollgard, or Bt cotton, which is under trial now. It points
to tests over the last three-four years to make the point that Bt, or
GM cotton plants, are not only safe, but give higher yields than the
traditional and hybrid cotton seed varieties. Bt cotton is a plant
variety that has the Bacillum Thuringiensis, a common bacteria found in the
soil, spliced into its genetic make-up. The Bt bacterium is a
naturally-occurring pesticide that helps plants to resist bollworm, one of
cotton's worst enemies.
Mahyco, and proponents of Bt cotton, argue that in India where insects
eat up 50 per cent of the cotton yield, where cotton accounts for 70
per cent of all pesticide use and where pesticides add up to 50 per cent
of the cotton production cost, Bt cotton would be a boon to farmers.
Approval has to come from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee
(GEAC), an apex body under the Ministry of Science and Technology, for
both field trials and commercial cultivation.
So far, the GEAC has only permitted limited field trials of GM cotton
seeds; last June, it told Mahyco that more testing would have to be done
before it allows commercial cultivation. The GEAC wants further
environmental safety and socio-economic evaluation of Bt cotton before it
gives its approval.
The anti-GM lobby is trying very hard to stop the government from
allowing Mahyco to go ahead; at the very least, it wants the decision
delayed. Its reasons: the Bollgard test results are flawed because the seed
was sown two months late, when the bollworm menace had already peaked;
there is a lack of transparency; and possible insect resistance to Bt
cotton has not been studied in detail. Michelle Chawla of Greenpeace
India has argued that Mahyco is trying to push an outdated GM product that
hasn't passed environmental and food safety standards in Europe.
Devinder Sharma, a New Delhi-based activist, has warned of the potentially
devastating impact Bt cotton seeds could have on Indian farmers and
alleges that a scientific fraud has been perpetrated in the way the research
trials have been conducted and monitored - perhaps "the biggest
scientific scam" to have ever hit India.
The interesting thing about this debate is that it has been largely
conducted by the elites, with the farmer nowhere in the picture. The
votaries of GM crops as well as the vocal anti-GM lobby both claim to speak
on behalf of the impoverished, down-trodden Indian farmer, eking out a
livelihood from plots rarely exceeding an acre in size.
In fact, as the American radio journalist John Biewen, who produced a
GM documentary on India, pointed out, the farmers had little idea of the
issues involved. Those he met during an anti-GM rally in Bangalore were
there not because they opposed genetic engineering, but because the
organisers had provided them a free ride to the city. Biewen was also
struck how GM crops had been subsumed in a broader debate among Indian
elites over their nation's place in the new global economy. It appeared to
him that a section of Indian politicians and businessmen were keen to
embrace the new globalism; to them GM seeds was a way to make India an
'agricultural superpower'. But he also found others wanting to keep the
West at arm's length and maintain India's Nehruvian quasi-socialist
The Bt cotton row that surfaced in Gujarat last October is illustrative
of the dangers of a lack of public awareness of GM crops. The discovery
that thousands (10,000 according to some estimates) of hectares were
planted with a variety of Bt cotton for commercial use put the Indian
government's biosafety guidelines to the test. By the time the government
woke up to the fact, a substantial portion of the crop had been
harvested, and part had even reached the market.
The episode points to the difficulties in regulating the introduction
of GM seeds in developing countries like India, which lack the
scientific and technical infrastructure to monitor such developments. Though it
is not clear how the seeds (sold by a Gujarat-based company, Navbharat)
came to have the Bt gene, it shows up the dangers of uncontrolled
proliferation of GM seeds. While it is possible that the seeds were
imported from the US (where Monsanto's Bt cotton seed is freely available) and
then inter-bred with Indian hybrids, there are others who allege that
it was due to contamination from Bt cotton seed being tested in India,
an allegation that Mahyco denies.
E A Siddiq, head of an government biotechnology committee that monitors
transgenic crops, says: "This is a foretaste of a frightening situation
where transgenics will be out of control and all over the place."
Arvind Kapur, vice-president of the All India Biotech Association, says
biotechnology companies will suffer unless the government tightens controls
over the sale of transgenic seeds.
P K Ghosh, a senior official at the biotechnology department, argues
that India needs to spend Rs100 million ($2.5 M) on six national
laboratories equipped to monitor genetically modified organisms more closely.
But this is easier said than done. Biotechnology has been
revolutionised in the last decade or so; Indian expertise in the field, unlike say
software, is quite limited. Courses on biotech are just being introduced
in our universities. In fact, the prestigious Indian Institutes of
Technology (IITs) have just started B Tech and M Tech courses in
biotechnology; and even they face a shortage of skilled experts to fill up the
positions in their biotech departments.
To a disinterested observer, the debate on GM crops would appear a
confirmation of ".. and never the twain shall meet." There is an
unbridgeable divide between the rigid stands of the protagonists and opponents of
genetically engineered organisms. So visceral are the emotions stirred
up that neither camp is likely to change its mind, even if the evidence
and arguments to the contrary are compelling.
This is the real pity. The GM debate is too important to be left to
this minuscule minority (of whatever persuasion) which presumes to know
what is best for all of us. While biotechnology is still an unproven
technology, it is one that promises much. Like any other new technology, it
has to be evaluated fully before we embrace it. However, the a priori
attitude that all biotech is the product of the devil's workshop -
unsafe, dangerous and unpredictable - is as unscientific as one can get.
What is urgently needed is a wide-ranging discussion of the issues
involved. The government itself has shown little transparency in this
regard; there have been no attempts to generate public debate and scientific
consensus on GM foods. This has to change if informed decisions are to
be made about the advisability of allowing GM crops into India.
Engineered Genes: Roll Over Darwin
- Malathi Laxmikumarn, The Daily Pioneer (India), 19 Aug 2001 http://www.teriin.org/features/art131.htm
I feel that this whole debate over GM or no GM is a lot in the air.
There are no logical reasons to oppose GMOs or their introduction into
India. First, the technological aspect: There is absolutely no reason to
suppose that GM crops, when introduced on Indian soil, will result in
uncontrollable cross-pollination with other indigenous species or with
the same plants' non-GM variety. The second argument, that India's food
security will be lost to corporates is equally unfounded. Farmers are
free to save, reuse, distribute or otherwise channelise their seeds and
The area of concern that I can foresee is that of patents and
Intellectual Property Rights relating to GM crop varieties. India's own research
and development in the area cannot match up to the standards in Europe
or America. Building up this development mid research is not as easy as
it sounds. Till 2005, India's position is clear as far as patents and
copyrights are concerned, but after that, India will constantly be
stepping on the toes of other, countries as, far as the genes and their
promoters are concerned. We do not want a blanket kind of ban on research,
development and use of Genetically Engineered food crops. Specially
since India has a problem with food security, it only makes sense to
promote high-yielding and hardier crop varieties. The most common argument
levelled against the developers or users and promoters of GMOs is that
these products are "not natural". It would be prudent to reconsider what
we consider natural in the first place. Take the rice growing in the
fields, for example - this is not the wild variety that grows naturally
in India, yet we depend on it as our staple.
Cross-breeding is another factor under severe attack, but that too, is
not only integral to nature, but has been a pail of animal rearing and
cropping throughout history! In fact, if going back to nature is the
aim, then there are no excuses to continue with the lifestyles that we
have in villages or in cities. Nature itself brings about more changes in
genetic codes than human beings have done. Unless the developments are
un-ethical-such as the terminator gene which makes no sense for Indian
conditions, I am all for it! How can a disease resistant, high
yielding, hardy, insect resistant and weed resistant crop possibly be a bad
thing. Considering India's economic situation, the introduction of crops
high in Vitamin A and Iron cannot be anything but beneficial. Technology
has always been used and will be. What India needs is not a blanket
ban, but better standards of testing and more resource allocation towards,
indigenous GM research. Careful testing and stringent control of
pollination are the key to ensuring that no unwanted changes occur in
indigenous strains. In this respect, the only way to ensure that a certain
crop suits the requirements of any geographical region is by studying crop
performance on a case by case basis.
The technology behind Genetic Engineering has been developed over the
years, and is not dangerous as is supposed by many people. There is no
possibility that the modified gene plants will start to pollinate
uncontrollably and forcibly modify the food or land use patterns in our
country. Geneticists only alter a single gene or two to make the plant
better, not worse. India does not need a blanket ban, but a careful analysis
of our needs. For instance, introducing herbicides in every crop does
not make sense for us. In the same way, introducing Brazil Nut genes
into the soya been plant's genes makes very little sense because of the
allergic reactions Brazil Nut produces in many people. Just labeling the
contents of a package containing a, Bio-engineered product is not
enough there should be emphasis on building consumer awareness as well. For
example. it is not possible to differentiate between genetically
modified oils and non-engineered oils. The testing is currently possible and
people do conduct the tests, but better systems need to lit- put into
place to make the testing accessible.
If health, environment impact and regulatory sties are considered
beforehand, there is no reason also to fear that Indian farmers will lose
control over their crops, but risk assessment is different from creating
a fear psychosis among people. We do a sui generis system in place as
far a,, plant breeders rights are concerned, and no other international
model such as the UPOV need be followed for the moment. The farmer
also, one must, remember will choose to plant the crop that gives him best
returns, you or I cannot stop him from doing that.
The debate over foreign control over our markets has also raged for
many, many years now. Why pick up the issue ? We will do better to develop
indigenous technology and open our markets. Then here may be an
increased exchange of expertise, an awareness of demands from the Indian
market and maybe, our farmers will get access to better technology in the
long run. It won't do to complain against the rise of market forces.
Further Tests at CIMMYT Find No Presence of Promoter Associated with
Transgenes In Mexican Landraces In Gene Bank or From Recent Field
- CIMMYT, December 14, 200, Apdo. Postal 6-641, Col. Juárez, Mexico, D.F. http://www.cimmyt.org/whatiscimmyt/further_test.htm
El Batan, Texcoco, Mexico-The International Maize and Wheat Improvement
Center (CIMMYT) has completed screening an additional 15 Mexican maize
landraces from its maize gene bank and determined that none of them
carried the common promoter (cauliflower mosaic virus 35S, abbreviated as
CaMv 35S) associated with the presence of an introduced gene
(transgene). In mid-October, 2001, a screening of 28 landraces from the gene bank
also failed to indicate the presence of the promoter.
In addition, CIMMYT tested seeds from 42 Oaxacan landraces (or farmers'
populations) that were collected in 2000 for a study on gene flow.
Again it was determined that the CaMV 35S was not present in any of the
samples. If the promoter had been found (and those results verified), it
would indicate that a transgenic maize plant had crossed with a maize
landrace, or conventional variety, at some point in the landrace's
ancestry. The screening work at CIMMYT was initiated in response to published
reports that transgenic corn had been found growing in the Mexican
states of Oaxaca and Puebla (September 27 [Vol. 413] and November 29 [Vol.
414], 2001 issues of Nature).
To date, all screenings of Mexican maize landraces and varieties at
CIMMYT have failed to show the presence of either the promoter or a
transgene. Details of both sets of the new screenings are given below.
Germplasm Screening of CIMMYT Gene Bank Materials for DNA Sequence Associated
with Transgenics (November 27, 2001) Seeds of 15 Mexican maize
accessions from the CIMMYT gene bank collection were received from Dr.
Suketoshi Taba, head of CIMMYT's maize gene bank, on October 1, 2001. Eight of
the landrace accessions were from the state of Oaxaca while the
remaining seven covered a broad geographic area ranging from Chihuahua in the
north to Chiapas in the south.
These seeds were germinated and DNA extracted according to the standard
protocols of CIMMYT's Applied Biotechnology Center (ABC). DNA was
amplified using a primer corresponding to the CaMV 35S promoter, a fragment
of DNA found in most commercial transgenic maize and not known to exist
naturally in the maize genome (sequence available upon request). DNA
was extracted in a bulk of 10 plants, and a total of 50 plants tested per
population. DNA isolated from a known transformed plant containing the
CaMV 35S promoter was run as a positive control. To further ensure that
the reactions were working correctly, all DNA samples were amplified
using a primer corresponding to a fragment of DNA known to exist
naturally in the maize genome (in this case, SSR marker phi076). All positive
controls amplified correctly, and no bulk of gene bank maize amplified
the CaMV 35S promoter sequence, indicating that in the samples tested,
there is no CaMV 35S promoter sequence.
Germplasm Screening of Oaxaca Landraces for DNA Sequence Associated
with Transgenics (December 3, 2001) Seeds of 42 maize varieties were
collected by doctoral candidate Gael Pressoir and Dr. Julien Berthaud in
farmers' fields in the state of Oaxaca, within a 50-mile radius of the
city of Oaxaca, in February 2000. These seeds were germinated and DNA was
extracted according to CIMMYT ABC protocols. DNA was amplified using a
primer corresponding to the CaMV 35S promoter, a fragment of DNA found
in most commercial transgenic maize and not known to exist naturally in
the maize genome (sequence available upon request). DNA was extracted
from individual plants separately, and DNA from 20 different individuals
per population was then mixed into a bulk for amplification. DNA
isolated from a known transformed plant containing the CaMV 35S promoter was
run as a positive control.
To further ensure that the reactions were working correctly, all DNA
samples were amplified using a primer corresponding to a fragment of DNA
known to exist naturally in the maize genome (in this case, SSR marker
phi022). DNA of non-transformed maize was also mixed with transformed
maize in ratios of 9:1 (non-transformed : transformed); 14:1; and 29:1.
In each case, the transgenic sequence successfully amplified,
demonstrating the ability to detect a single transgenic plant in a bulk of 30
plants total. All positive controls amplified correctly. No bulk of a
Oaxacan landrace collected from the farmers amplified the CaMV 35S
promoter sequence, thus clearly indicating that there was no presence of the
CaMV 35S promoter sequence in any of the samples tested. For more
information, contact the Director of the Applied Biotechnology Center, Dr.
David Hoisington, at email@example.com.
Transgenic Crops Paying Dividends
- Southeast Farm Press via NewsEdge Corporation
Transgenic crops have lowered the cost of producing a crop for an
estimated 3.5 million farmers worldwide, according to a recently released
global review of genetically modified crops. According to the new report,
produced by the International Service for the Acquisition of
Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), the economic benefit of transgenic crops is
expected to surpass $1 billion in 2001.
A total of 300 million acres of transgenic crops were reportedly
planted by farmers in 15 countries in the five-year period since they became
commercially available. "In 2001, the number of farmers planting
genetically modified crops is expected to grow substantially to equal five
million or more, and the global area planted to transgenic crops is
expected to continue to grow by 10 percent or more," the report states.
However, because biotechnology is a relatively young and sometimes
controversial science, ISAAA Chairman Clive James says his institute
embarked on a program to annually review the use and adoption of transgenic
crops. The annual review, he says, provides the information needed by
the global community to make rational decisions on genetically modified
"Biotech should not be looked at as a panacea, but in conjunction with
conventional technology, it serves a great purpose," James says. "The
growth that we have seen in transgenic crops in the last five years is a
vote of confidence by the farmers using this technology. In the year
2000, we exceeded 100 million acres for the first time, that's more than
twice the land area of the United Kingdom."
The challenge farmers and transgenic crops face, he says, is feeding
the growing world of tomorrow by globally doubling production on the same
amount of cultivatable land that is farmed today. "There is no single
thrust or approach that will provide the food security needed to feed
the world's growing population, but surely technology has its place."
In the current report, James says the ISAAA has collected several major
studies assessing the benefits of transgenic crops in 1999. "From an
economic point of view we estimate that the benefits to farmers alone are
in the order of $700 million. Of the surplus income that is produced
when you grow genetically modified crops, the farmer is the major
beneficiary, taking up to half or more of the surplus income generated," he
says. Of the $700 million estimated figure, James says about 50 percent
of the benefit goes to farmers in developing countries, principally
China and Argentina.
In China, the rapid adoption of Bt cotton has allowed farmers to reduce
their pesticide applications by 80 percent and their cost of production
by 20 percent. From an economic point of view, these savings can
increase the average farmer's net returns from $185 to $400 per hectare. (One
hectare is equivalent to about two acres). "The question is often
asked, whether genetically modified crops are appropriate for developing
countries. If we take the china experience into account, the answer is
certainly yes," he says. "The United States, given its major participation
in genetically modified crops, is also a major beneficiary of
"There is very clear evidence in the report that the distribution of
benefits to various stakeholders, including farmers, consumers and
technology companies, is substantial," James says, "The perception that the
developers of the technology take the major portion of the surplus
benefit is incorrect." In addition to the economic benefit, the report finds
both an increase in productivity and a decrease in pesticide
applications as a result of the adoption of transgenic varieties. "This is a very
important environmental contribution with significant health
implications," James says.
"There is an increasing body of evidence that genetically modified
crops, in conjunction with conventional practices, offer a safe and
effective technology that can contribute to a better environment and more
sustainable and productive agriculture," James says. He adds, "It is now
widely acknowledged in the scientific and development community that
conventional technology alone cannot meet the future food needs of the
developing countries. Thus biotechnology, in conjunction with conventional
technology, is judged to be a prerequisite element in any strategy
designed to provide food, feed and fiber security through increased crop
From: "Andrew Apel"
Subject: Terminator" Technology?
"Terminator" Technology?... Someone is bound eventually to complain
United States Patent Application 20020007500 - January 17, 2002 -
Molecular control of transgene escape by a repressible excision system - The
present invention is related to a method and a system for controlling
the transgene segregation and spread. Escape of the gene of interest
(TGI) into the environment is prevented by a repressible excision system
(RES), which can be controlled by externally applicable means and
comprises an excision construct (EC) having a gene encoding recombinase
closely linked to the (TGI) and flanked by excision recognition sites
(ERSs). The externally applicable means for controlling the repression of
the expression of the gene encoding the recombinase enzyme is achieved
with or without a repressor construct (RC). The action of the
repressible excision system (RES) leads to excision of the transgenic insert,
whenever a transgenic organism and the externally applicable means are
withdrawn, which occurs if a transgenic organism escapes from the human
control. Inventors: Kuvshinov, Viktor; (Helsinki, FI) ; Koivu, Kimmo;
(Helsinki, FI) ; Kanerva, Anne; (Helsinki, FI) ; Pehu, Eija; (Helsinki,
From: Dr. Ray Shillito
Subject: USDA Offers Ag Biotech Grants for Risk Assessment
The USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service
(CSREES) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is jointly seeking
grant funding applications by February 15 for the Biotechnology Risk
Assessment Research Grants Program (BRARGP). There is an estimated $1.5
million available in grants The program's purpose is to assist Federal
regulatory agencies in making science-based decisions about the safety of
introducing into the environment genetically modified organisms,
including plants, microorganisms, fungi, bacteria, viruses, arthropods, fish,
birds, mammals, and other animals. The Program accomplishes this
purpose by supporting environmental assessment research. Applications may be
submitted by any U.S. research or educational institution or
organization. For more information, see the
http://www.reeusda.gov/1700/funding/brargp.htm for electronic access to
the application forms.
Two Nobel Prize Winners Urge Food Abundance
- Dennis T. Avery, Dec 19, 2001
WASHINGTON, DC- As the world tries to celebrate peace despite another
strife-torn holiday season, two Nobel Peace Prize winners are pleading
for high-yield food production to help relieve Third World poverty and
Oscar Arias, the former Costa Rican President, won the Peace Prize in
1987 for brokering a truce between Nicaragua and its Central American
neighbors in the 1980s. Dr. Norman Borlaug, who led the Green Revolution
that saved a billion people from starvation in the 1960s, was named the
Peace Prize laureate in 1970.
Arias and Borlaug could hardly be more different. One is from an Iowa
farm, the other from a Central American city. One is a scientist, the
other a professional politician. Borlaug began his international
plant-breeding career in the 1940s, when Arias was still a child.
But both men share a deep and urgent concern: that the continuing rural
poverty and land scarcity associated with traditional low-yield farming
will keep on yielding political ferment and conflict. The current wave
of Moslem extremism, for example, has its roots in the widespread
poverty among the Middle East's millions of subsistence farmers. In 1997,
nearly a million Rwandans of the Tutsi tribe were killed in genocidal
attacks by the Hutu tribe that shared the same densely populated Central
African highlands. "Despite the successes of the Green Revolution,"
Borlaug says, "the battle to ensure food security for hundreds of millions
of miserably poor people is far from won."
The two Nobel Peace Prize winners are equally concerned that continued
expansion of low-yield farming, to feed a peak human population of
perhaps 10 billion in 2050, will literally plow down much of the world's
biodiversity. "Poor and hungry rural people have few options" for how
they will earn a living and feed themselves, Arias notes. "More than 1.1
billion people live within the 25 most threatened species-rich areas of
the world, dubbed 'biodiversity hotspots' by scientists. The majority
of these hotspots are also areas with very high [human] malnutrition
rates. . . . Clearly, the answer to biodiversity conservation cannot be to
stop growing food. Nor is it to keep farming the old way."
The Nobel laureates are endorsing a new concept called "ecoagriculture"
put forward recently by the Swiss-based World Conservation Union and
FutureHarvest, a network of Third World farm research institutes. The
primary emphasis of ecoagriculture is higher, more-sustainable crop
yields, so that more of the low-quality land in farming regions can be left
to wildlife. This will help interconnect the world's nature preserves
and amplify the preserves' ability to sustain wild species.
Arias says eco-agriculture is a "new approach, emerging around the
world. Instead of working against each other, farmers and environmentalists
work together to find farming methods that both produce more food and
preserve the environment. From grazing lands to coffee plantations to
rice paddies, farmers and scientists are finding ways to preserve
biodiversity within largely agricultural landscapes."
Arias and Borlaug urge that eco-agriculture be a major topic at the
World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held next year in
Johannesburg, South Africa. The meeting will be the tenth anniversary of the Rio
Summit of 1991, which laid out ambitious and still unmet goals for
global wildlands conservation.
Unfortunately, the Nobel Peace Prize winners face enormous opposition
to their cause-mainly in the well-fed First World. Perhaps the leading
opponent of science-based agriculture today is Greenpeace, a group of
North American and European activists that derives some $300 million per
year through media-attractive protests.
However, hundreds of lesser-known organizations also receive funding to
oppose science-based farming. As an example, the Institute for
Agriculture and Trade Policy of Minneapolis spends about $3 million per year
promoting "natural" food production (despite its low yields) and opposing
world trade in farm products. (How will densely- populated Asia feed
itself and keep its tropical forests without food imports?)
Like many such groups, the IATP is funded by well-meaning foundations
that impossibly want to preserve lots of traditional American small
farms in an era of high-paid, high-tech urban jobs. The IATP gets
substantial funding from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation (inherited General
Motors stock), and the McKnight Foundation (hi-tech money made in 3-M).
Another group opposed to science-based farming is the Center for
Science in the Public Interest. It gets money from the Barbara Streisand
Fund, the Helena Rubenstein Foundation (cosmetics) and the Robert Wood
Johnson Foundation (ironically, dedicated to saving lives through modern
Should we preserve yesterday's farms or tomorrow's food and wildlife
habitat? The environmental movement told us to "think globally, and act
locally." The two Nobel Peace Prize winners recommending
higher-yielding ecoagriculture are clearly thinking globally.
Dennis T. Avery is a senior fellow for the 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.
Improving Technological Literacy Needs National Effort;
Potential Benefits Are Many, Report Says
Most Americans know little about the world of technology, yet from day
to day they must make critical decisions that are technologically
based, such as whether to buy genetically engineered foods or transmit
personal data over the Internet. Moreover, the use of technology as a
learning tool in the classroom is often confused with the broader concept of
being technologically literate -- knowing something of the nature and
history of technology, as well as having a certain level of skill in
using technologies and thinking critically about them.
Neither the educational system nor the policy-making apparatus in the
United States has recognized the importance of this more comprehensive
view of technological literacy, says a new report from the National
Academies' National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council.
It calls for a broad-based effort to increase the technological literacy
of all Americans, a goal that will have many benefits including more
informed decision-making by citizens and business and government leaders
about the development and use of technology, and a more erudite
population that will be better prepared for the demands of today's high-tech
Learning about technology should begin in kindergarten, and the
connection between all subjects and technology should be emphasized throughout
a student's education, the report says. Technology content should be
infused into curricula, teaching materials, and student assessments. At
the federal level, the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department
of Education should provide incentives for publishers to include
technology content in new science, history, social studies, and language arts
textbooks. Likewise, technologically focused agencies such as NASA and
the National Institutes of Health should support the development of
curricula for teachers of all subjects and grades, especially to help make
clear the connections between technology, science, and other school
All educators should be better prepared to teach about technology, the
report says. Schools need to move beyond the perception of technology
as a separate subject to be taught in "shop class." Science teachers in
particular need a solid education in technology and engineering, and
even history and social studies teachers should be required to know how
technology relates to their subjects. Schools should ensure that
teachers specializing in technology follow standards issued by the
International Technology Education Association.
Read the full text of Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to
Know More About Technology for free on the web at
http://www.nap.edu/books/0309082625/html/ . A companion Web site can
be viewed at http://www.nae.edu/techlit.
The Skeptical Environmentalist and His Critics
- Ian Castles, Dialogue 20, 3/2001, Academy of the Social Sciences
In The Unnatural Nature of Science (1992), Lewis Wolpert, FRS,
Professor of Biology at University College, London, concluded that 'Science is
one of humankind's greatest and most beautiful achievements and for its
continuation, free and critical discussion, with no political
interference, is as essential today as it was in Ionia'.
In principle, the international science community accepts the vital
importance of such 'free and critical discussion', and asserts the need
for these values of science to be applied to the world's problems. The
most recent such proclamation came from 63 academies of science after a
meeting in Tokyo in May 2000: Science is, in a very fundamental sense,
the process of seeking the truth. The values of the scientific
enterprise - openness, community, quality and respect for evidence - are of
great importance and application to the search for sustainability. The
scientific community must be involved in the broad interactive process of
establishing societal priorities Š and in fostering the public
understanding and the political will to ensure that progress moves in directions
that correspond to those priorities.
Regrettably, however, there are many in the science community who are
more strongly committed to implementing their priorities than to the
'values of the scientific enterprise'. This has recently been demonstrated
in their enraged reaction to The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjørn
Lomborg , a book that takes issue with the claim that the pursuit of
economic progress inevitably leads to an ever-deteriorating environment.
Lewis Wolpert, for one, has found it convincing: At last a book that
gives the environment the scientific analysis it deserves, and provides
understanding of the problems, the risks and the solutions. Essential
reading. But many other scientists are unhappy at the attention that is
being given to an alternative view, as James Woodford revealed in his
review of the book for the Sydney Morning Herald: For 350 pages, backed up
by nearly 3000 footnotes, the Danish statistician critically examines
the slogans and arguments that have galvanised much of the developed
world into environmental action. It is a book that the green movement
would love to see pulped; several people I have spoken to about the text
have asked me not to give Lomborg any more publicity.
...no one denies that there are and always have been starving
people in the world, including in the 1970s: images on television screens
can only testify to that tragic fact, not to the existence of
'unimaginable famine'. But finally, and most importantly, Burke is apparently
unaware that the spectre of the imminent deaths of hundreds of millions
raised by Paul Ehrlich in his 1968 book was not a 'prediction': it was
the most optimistic of three 'scenarios' that he offered as a
description of the 'kinds of disasters that will occur as mankind slips into the
famine decades' - and he challenged his readers to create a more
optimistic one. Paul Ehrlich was explicit that his scenario presuming 'the
death by starvation of perhaps as many as half a billion people' was a
'cheerful' one with 'considerably more appeal than the others'. His fear
was that it involved 'a maturity of outlook and behaviour in the United
States that seems unlikely to develop in the near future'. For example,
it would require the suspension of food shipments to 'India, Egypt and
some other countries which [the US] considers beyond hope'; the
imposition of 'a moderate food rationing program' in the US itself; and the
development of a plan to contain the world's population to two billion in
2025 and 1.5 billion in 2100.
The scenarios that Ehrlich considered more likely envisaged either an
early global war induced by pressures on food supplies, with more than
100 million Americans dying from the fallout from Chinese thermonuclear
devices 'transported in submarines [and] detonated in the sea off our
West Coast'; or famines, plagues and anarchy leading to 'a general
thermonuclear war' in the 1980s, making the entire globe uninhabitable by
humans. The most intelligent creatures ultimately surviving this
catastrophe would be cockroaches. Understandably, Tom Burke and the millions he
believes to have been smeared by Lomborg's analysis would prefer these
false prophecies of doom to be forgotten. And they would like to
anathematise Matt Ridley, author of Genome, for his advice to every
environmentalist to read Lomborg's book 'so that the appalling errors of fact
the environmental movement has made in the past are not repeated'.
Lomborg provides strong evidence that in mixed market economies
with democratic institutions, the growth of income above a medium level
(a level that much of the developing world has either achieved or can
be expected to achieve in the not so distant future) will lead to
environmental improvement and not the reverse. 31 countries, for each of the
years 1972 and 1986. The analysis includes cities in the developed
world and in China, India, Thailand, the Philippines, Korea, Brazil, Chile,
Colombia and Venezuela. It shows that, between these two years, both
types of pollution fell for all nations at all levels of wealth. Lomborg
concludes that 'developing countries can not only achieve both economic
growth and a better environment, but over time will get even better
environment for a given amount of wealth': This is because developing
countries can buy progressively cheaper, cleaner technology from the West.
The key factor here is that technology makes it possible to achieve
growth as well as a better environment.
Many scientists have become so accustomed to thinking of growth and the
environment as opposites that they are unable to accept the clear
message of the empirical evidence on this fundamental point. Thus Ian Lowe,
Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society, Griffith
University - another critic of The Skeptical Environmentalist on the ABC
Earthbeat segment - claimed that Š to say the problems [of the environment]
will be solved by greater wealth and private property rights is
economic dogma, Š not science. There's no convincing evidence that greater
wealth necessarily leads to environmental improvement. Even Bjørn's
figures show that in some cases greater wealth makes the environment better,
in others it clearly makes it worse. It all depends on the starting
point and what options people have.
Lomborg has made an outstanding contribution to the discussion of some
of the most vital issues of our time. If parts of his analysis are
unsound on scientific grounds, it should not be beyond the capacity of
scientists to demonstrate this in free, critical and civil discussion.
Those who have chosen instead to distort or suppress his message, or to
engage in ill-tempered abuse, are doing a disservice to themselves, their
disciplines and the scientific enterprise.
Who Benefits When an International PR Agency Hires An Eco-warrior?
The Agency? Clients? or, The Crusader?
- Ross Irvine, http://www.epublicrelations.org.
Burson-Marsteller's London office has a new cash cow: Lord Peter
Melchett, former Greenpeace head and anti-GM (genetic modification) crusader.
Lord Melchett has joined BM as a consultant in the company's corporate
social responsibility unit. Here, he can be charged out a high rate,
earn a good salary plus expenses, contribute significantly to the bottom
line, satisfy WWP Group shareholders who own BM, and offer little value
If clients pay for the "insights" Lord Melchett can provide into the
beliefs, strategies and tactics of Greenpeace and other non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) which the Lord has connections, they're wasting
their money. Such information is readily available on the websites of
Greenpeace and other activist NGOs. If clients think that by having Lord
Melchett on staff, BM has an "in" on discussing, negotiating, and
compromising with groups such as Greenpeace they're wrong. In taking the
position with BM, Lord Melchett made it clear he will not compromise his
New PR consultant holds extremist positions Lord Melchett told the
Associated Press: "If I can use my experience to give people advice about
what I think should happen and, of course, I have not (emphasis added)
changed my mind about any of that, if there is the hope, and maybe
occasionally the actuality, of change happening then that is to the good."
He goes on: "I am happy to tell people, just as I did for 15 years with
Greenpeace, what I think is right for the environment." He is also
reported as saying he will advise companies on "commercial practices that
benefit the environment."
What is good, right and beneficial in the estimation of Lord Melchett
who ripped up a field of GM wheat in 1999? A quick visit to the
Greenpeace website provides some answers. The website notes:
"Neither consumers or farmers stand to benefit from GM. GM crops are
living pollution that will contaminate conventional and organic farms
alike. Greenpeace is campaigning for a ban on GM Š" "When you buy organic
you know that is both good for your and good for the environment."
"The risks of GM are enormousŠ" "Keep Brazil GM-free" "Ban genetic
engineering in food and farming" For Greenpeace and its former head there
is no compromise: GM and its products must be stopped! Lord Melchett was
stated unequivocally he will not give up for modify such extremist
PR advice for clients: Close up shop - As a believer in such
anti-biotech ideas, what business advice can Lord Melchett offer companies, such
as Monsanto which has sought advice from BM? To be consistent with his
stated, uncompromising beliefs Lord Melchett should advise companies
with interest in GM to stop researching, developing, commercializing and
marketing GM products because these products must stopped in their
tracks or, better yet, before they are even dreams . Such extreme
anti-biotech sentiments are not new to people and businesses attempting to
develop GM products and services. Why any company in the biotech field would
pay BM to hear the obvious is unfathomable. As Lord Melchett said: "If
I think a company should be closed down, I shall tell them." Shutting
down a business is simply a preemptive attack that makes banning a GM
product unnecessary. How many BM clients would see such extremism as the
answer they needs.
The BM approach to PR: Truth or fear - But BM's hiring of Lord Melchett
is curious on another level. In an October 2001 interview on the
History Channel, BM founder Harold Burson acknowledged the "power of truth"
in good public relations. Yet, Lord Melchett comes from a group that
many claim has avoided and bent truth in favour of promoting fear. Truth
or fear? What is BM's approach to PR?
In the same interview, Burson noted that PR agencies are, in his word,
"advocates." He also said, "Public relations is doing good things and
getting credit for it. You have a dual process, one involves
appropriate, correct behavior and the other is communicating that you are behaving
yourself in an appropriate way to the public you want to reach."
How can BM be a strong and forceful advocate, for say a company in the
GM field, when its opinions and advice may be tempered by someone with
Lord Melchett's background and unflinching beliefs? Put another way,
how can clients be assured the advice they receive from BM is not
prematurely tempered or watered down by internal BM discussions. This is
particularly crucial when dealing with issues that require legislative or
regulatory approval. It is the legislative and regulatory authorities
that have the final say, not the special groups such Greenpeace from which
Lord Melchett comes. Giving in too soon could result in costly,
unnecessary and unreasonable compromise.
Dear Lord Melchett: Thanks for the money - Furthermore, if BM believes
that GM or some other matter is not a "good thing," and involves
inappropriate or incorrect bahaviour it should drop those clients
immediately. Failure to do so, would go against Burson's own definition of PR. The
marriage of BM and Lord Melchett raises some interesting questions and
situations. Fortunately, they are easy to explain away. As Alan Biggar,
chief executive or BM's London office, said: "This (the corporate
social responsibility unit) is a growing area of business for usŠ"
In other words: "Show us the money. We must keep the shareholders
happy. Thanks for the cash, Lord Melchett!"
Business of Betrayal
- George Monbiot, The Guardian, Jan 15, 2002.
'Greens who defect to the corporate world jeopardise the very survival
Environmentalism as an argument has been comprehensively won. As a
practice it is all but extinct. Just as people in Britain have united
around the demand for effective public transport, car sales have broken all
records. Yesterday the superstore chain Sainsbury's announced a 6%
increase in sales: the number of its customers is now matched only by the
number of people professing to deplore its impact on national life. The
Guardian's environmental reporting is fuller than that of any other
British newspaper, but on Saturday it was offering readers two
transatlantic tickets for the price of one.
The planet, in other words, will not be saved by wishful thinking.
Without the effective regulation of both citizens and corporations, we
will, between us, destroy the conditions which make life worth living. This
is why some of us still bother to go to the polling booths: in the hope
that governments will prevent the rich from hoarding all their wealth,
stop our neighbours from murdering us and prevent us, collectively,
from wrecking our surroundings.
Because regulation works, companies will do whatever they can to
prevent it. They will threaten governments with disinvestment, and the loss
of thousands of jobs. They will use media campaigns to recruit public
opinion to their cause. But one of their simplest and most successful
strategies is to buy their critics. By this means, they not only divide
their opponents and acquire inside information about how they operate;
but they also benefit from what public relations companies call "image
transfer": absorbing other people's credibility.
Over the past 20 years, the majority of Britain's most prominent greens
have been hired by companies whose practices they once contested.
Jonathon Porritt, David Bellamy, Sara Parkin, Tom Burke, Des Wilson and
scores of others are taking money from some of the world's most destructive
corporations, while boosting the companies' green credentials. Now they
have been joined by a man who was, until last week, rightly admired for
his courage and integrity: the former director of Greenpeace UK, Lord
Melchett. Yesterday he started work at the PR firm Burson Marsteller.
Burson Marsteller's core business is defending companies which destroy
the environment and threaten human rights from public opinion and
pressure groups like Greenpeace.
So what are we to make of these defections? Do they demonstrate only
the moral frailty of the defectors, or are they indicative of a much
deeper problem, afflicting the movement as a whole? I believe
environmentalism is in serious trouble, and that the prominent people who have
crossed the line are not the only ones who have lost their sense of
There are plenty of personal reasons for apostasy. Rich and powerful
greens must perpetually contest their class interest. Environmentalism,
just as much as socialism, involves the restraint of wealth and power.
Peter Melchett, like Tolstoy, Kropotkin, Engels, Orwell and Tony Benn,
was engaged in counter-identity politics, which require a great deal of
purpose and self-confidence to sustain. In Tolstoy's novel
Resurrection, Prince Nekhlyudov recalls that when he blew his money on hunting and
gambling and seduced another man's mistress, his friends and even his
mother congratulated him, but when he talked about the redistribution of
wealth and gave some of his land to his peasants they were dismayed.
"At last Nekhlyudov gave in: that is, he left off believing in his ideals
and began to believe in those of other people."
Lord Melchett was also poorly rewarded. There is an inverse
relationship between the public utility of your work and the amount you get paid.
He won't disclose how much Burson Marsteller will be giving him, but I
suspect the world's biggest PR company has rather more to spend on its
prize catch than Greenpeace.
But, while all popular movements have lost people to the opposition,
green politics has fewer inbuilt restraints than most. Environmentalism
is perhaps the most ideologically diverse political movement in world
history, which is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.
There is a long-standing split, growing wider by the day, between people
who believe that the principal solutions lie in enhanced democracy and
those who believe they lie in enhanced technology (leaving existing
social structures intact while improving production processes and
conserving resources). And, while the movement still attracts radicals, some
are beginning to complain that it is being captured by professional
campaigners whose organisations are increasingly corporate and remote. They
exhort their members to send money and sign petitions, but discourage
active participation in their campaigns. Members of Greenpeace, in
particular, are beginning to feel fed up with funding other people's
As the movement becomes professionalised and bureaucratised (and there
are serviceable reasons why some parts of it should), it has also
fallen prey to ruthless careerism. The big money today is in something
called "corporate social responsibility", or CSR. At the heart of CSR is the
notion that companies can regulate their own behaviour. By hiring green
specialists to advise them on better management practices, they hope to
persuade governments and the public that there is no need for
compulsory measures. The great thing about voluntary restraint is that you can
opt into or out of it as you please. There are no mandatory inspections,
there is no sustained pressure for implementation. As soon as it
becomes burdensome, the commitment can be dropped.
In 2000, for example, Tony Blair, prompted by corporate lobbyists,
publicly asked Britain's major companies to publish environmental reports
by the end of 2001. The request, which remained voluntary, managed to
defuse some of the mounting public pressure for government action. But by
January 1 2002, only 54 of the biggest 200 companies had done so.
Because the voluntary measure was a substitute for regulation, the public
now has no means of assessing the performance of the firms which have
failed to report.
So the environmentalists taking the corporate buck in the name of
cleaning up companies' performance are, in truth, helping them to stay dirty
by bypassing democratic constraints. But because corporations have
invested so heavily in avoiding democracy, CSR has become big business for
In this social climate, it's not hard to see why Peter Melchett
imagined that he could move to Burson Marsteller without betraying his ideals.
It was a staggeringly naive and stupid decision, which has destroyed
his credibility and seriously damaged Greenpeace's (as well,
paradoxically, as reducing his market value for Burson Marsteller), but it is
consistent with the thinking prevalent in some of the bigger organisations.
Environmentalism, like almost everything else, is in danger of being
swallowed by the corporate leviathan. If this happens, it will disappear
without trace. No one threatens its survival as much as the greens who
have taken the company shilling.
From: "Mary Murphy
So, there can never be a good private citizen company and there can
never be agreement between environmentalists and the private sector? This
guys needs to get a life... Why is it bad for the environment that
consumers purchase non-organic foods at Sainsbury? Yikes.
My favorite quote, "Environmentalism, just as much as socialism,
involves the restraint of wealth and power."
Oh, and the fact that Melchett is "morally frail" and that a rationale
for his move to the dark side was that he was "poorly rewarded" for his
activism with Greenpeace! He's filthy rich, was paid tens of thousands
of pounds upon his departure from Greenpeace by the organic food
industry (for which Monbiot never uttered a word)... but he should have been
better paid to be an law-breaking activist?
The silver lining of course, is Monbiot's admission that Melchett's
move was "a staggeringly naive and stupid decision, which has destroyed
his credibility and seriously damaged Greenpeace's..."