Today in AgBioView - Weekend
* Chase the GM Bogey Away
* Biotech's Battle Against Famine
* Barry Commoner's Early Science
* Fields of Dreams
* Anti-Ecohype: A Cure For Ecochondria
* Don't Blame the Engineer.....
* Peter Raven: A Sustainable Future Should Include Biotech
* Eco-terrorists May Be Hit With Triple Damages
* Biotech, Big Money and the Future of Food
* This is a Case of Table Pounding..... Hate Campaign Against Lomborg
* Biotech Abbreviations Database for your Palm Pilot
* Heat Resistant Bacteria
* Stossel and Avery Vindicated!
Chase the GM Bogey Away
- Editorial, Hindustan Times (India), Jan 25 2002,
Indian farmers will certainly find the grass greener on the other
side of this decade, going by the government's decision to clear the
trials of the controversial GM cotton. Bt cotton contains a
transgenic gene transferred from the bacterium Bt (Bacillus
thuringiensis) that lets plants produce a safe insecticide.
This will help the plant to fight the nasty bollworm pest and make
life easier for cotton farmers. The department of biotechnology has
also indicated that it will soon give its clearance to the
transgenics of several other crops as well. This is a good first step
for India as it gingerly walks towards the post-WTO world - a
ruthlessly competitive place where a country like ours with its low
productivity will find the going tough unless it makes use of newer
technologies. Otherwise, the Indian cotton user industry will be
severely handicapped and can never hope to win any significant slice
of the world textile trade.
Meanwhile, the controversy over GM crops may never really go away.
It's natural that the introduction of any new strain is received with
suspicion. Critics fear GM crops because of their potential to limit
biodiversity. But such fears are unfounded since GM crops themselves
hardly limit biodiversity as much as conventional agriculture does.
It works like this: agriculture labels several species of animals and
weeds as pests and tries to get rid of them. In other words,
agriculture seeks to damage biodiversity, even if by default. Or
consider something like wheat that everyone takes for granted,
although it is actually a product of natural genetic engineering. It
has seven additional chromosomes from different species with which it
had cross-bred before man even thought of agriculture. So concerns
about interfering with nature's plans are misplaced.
Man has redrawn nature's plans ever since agriculture was discovered.
Once such irrational fears are overcome, therefore, even cavilers
will have to agree that new technologies are the only way to ensure
adequate food supplies for the future. If people were to use, say,
the farming techniques of the Thirties, not more than 10 per cent of
the world's population could be fed. This would mean the use of at
least double the amount of land already being used for agriculture,
land that is today available for forestry, wildlife and food control,
thanks to technology.
Biotech's Battle Against Famine
- Robert Wager, Globe and Mail, Jan 25, 2002
One of the most important issues facing today's agriculture is
environmental stewardship. All forms of farming have an impact on the
environment. As the human population rises from 6- to 9-billion
people in the next 30 years, the environment may be further stressed
by the increase in agriculture.
Two very different solutions have been put forward to answer the
inevitable increase demand for food. One proposed answer is to grow
everything organically, while other people argue to embrace food
biotechnology. I would like to examine some of the logistics of these
Growing crops organically means not using chemical fertilizers and
only a select few "natural" pesticides. There are many people who
swear by this type of agriculture for their local needs. The problem,
as I see it, is a matter of scaling up. If it were decided to grow
all food organically, the demand for manure fertilizer would increase
approximately 100 times (based on the fact that about 1 per cent of
food is grown organically today). Where are we going to graze a
hundred times as many cows? We would have to denude the rest of the
forests and fill in all the wetlands to have any hope of producing
enough cattle and dung to satisfy the need.
Another problem with organic farming on a global scale is yield. With
few exceptions, organic farming results in significantly lower yields
per acre than conventional farming. It has been estimated the world
food production will have to double to avoid mass starvation in the
next century. This means that an all-organic farming system would be
expected to (at least) triple the amount of land needed to satisfy
the demand for food.
Each year approximately 25 million acres of land are lost to salt
contamination of the soil. This means in 30 years there will be
750,000,000 acres (about 10 per cent of all arable land) contaminated
with salt. Traditional plant breeding has had almost no success in
addressing this problem. A similar problem exists with aluminum in
soil. Soil containing aluminum impairs 2.5 billion acres of crops
(about 30 per cent of all arable land). Again, traditional plant
breeding has few answers for this global problem.
Now look at the other option, biotechnology. This science has been
developing for about 25 years. It works in collaboration with
conventional farming practices. Chemical fertilizers have probably
reached their limit in increasing yields, but an increase in
fertilizer demand would not have a corresponding increase in demand
Scientists have been successful in developing procedures that create
"designer" crops that have the ability to address a wide variety of
agricultural problems. The so-called first generation of crop
biotechnology has engineered traits like resistance to viruses,
insects and herbicides. Since one-third of crops worldwide are lost
to insect pests and disease each year, these traits offer a potential
increase of 30 per cent to the world's food supply with no more land
A significant amount of food rots before it can be eaten. Scientists
are working on traits that will make food ripen slower and resist
rot. These traits will also help increase world food supply without
any increase in land use. Recent work by scientists has resulted in
the production of several different salt-tolerant crops by taking the
genes for salt tolerance from mangrove plants, which grow in
saltwater. This one engineered trait will mean those 750,000,000
acres of salty soil around the world can continue to be productive.
Similar work is resulting in aluminum-tolerant crops. Again, this
means 2.5 billion acres of land can continue to be productive. As for
the insect resistance trait, it has resulted in a reduction of
hundreds of millions of pounds of insecticide being used in the six
years since it became available. Everyone should cheer this.
Most of the increase in population will occur in developing
countries. It is in these same countries that most of the salt,
aluminum and rot problems exist. People in Europe and North America
must become aware of what it means to the developing world if we deny
them the products of crop biotechnology. It is simple logistics.
The author is a member of the Biology Department at Malaspina
University College in Nanaimo, B.C. He has a science degree in
microbiology and a masters of science in biochemistry and molecular
biology from the University of British Columbia.
Barry Commoner's Early Science
- Milton Zaitlin, Professor Emeritus, Cornell University;
The recent comments in AgBioView about the quality of science
espoused by Barry Commoner in his forthcoming Harper's article takes
me back to my days as a graduate student (1950-54) working in the lab
of Sam Wildman at UCLA. Our principal interest was the biology of
tobacco mosaic virus, a subject also investigated by Commoner, then a
professor at Washington University. We followed his work in detail.
I think it is not libelous to conclude that he had only a negative
impact on the progress in the field. The third edition of the
extensively annotated seminal text in plant virology by R.E.F.
Matthews does not refer to any of his TMV work, which should say
Commoner had a serious of incredibly poor TMV papers that tried to
challenge established dogmas, but with little success. Here are a
* In a paper presented in 1958 at the Fourth International Congress
of Biochemistry, he claimed that protein was required in addition to
RNA for viral infectivity. This was in spite of the paper published
in 1957 by Fraenkel-Conrat and Singer (which he did not cite) who
showed that in mixed reconstitution of TMV coat protein and RNA from
different strains that only the RNA was responsible for the
infection, and it encoded the gene for the coat protein. Just as
today, he ignores data which do not fit his preconceived notions.
* In a series of papers he claimed that the TMV rod elongated
stepwise by concurrent synthesis of RNA and coat protein. A bizarre
notion in the light of what was known at the time. The work was
based on 14C labeling of viral components, taken at various times as
the infection progressed in the leaf. If you looked at his methods
in the footnotes, it was apparent that the radioactivity measured
gave only a few counts above background, and was multiplied by big
factors to get respectable specific activity numbers. What trashy
* One paper really was a classic. I used to use it in my classes in
plant virology, asking the students to find the flaw. Barry did
some experiments from which he concluded that the coat protein of TMV
was in some way infectious. He dissociated virions and then
polymerized the isolated protein into rods; they infected tobacco
plants! He had tested the protein for infectivity beforehand in its
most dissociated form, and found it would not infect plants, and thus
claimed it was RNA free. What he did not appreciate was that the
low molecular weight forms of the coat protein are a very effective
inhibitor of infectivity. His coat protein had RNA after all. He
needed a few more controls.
* He has a number of papers examining the "non-virus proteins
associated with TMV". Without exception, in later studies by him
and others, these all turned out to be various aggregation states of
the coat protein!
How can a man with such a poor record for credibility be believed?
Unfortunately, those who don't like genetically engineered plants
will pick up on his Harpers article to advance their agendas. He is
well known, and they will cite him as a respectable authority.
Fields of Dreams
- Philip Stott, TechCentralStation, Jan 18, 2002
If you have ever worried that environmentalists are genuinely
thwarting progress in the field of agricultural biotechnology, then
now may be the time to think again. In 2001, over 5 million farmers
opted for the future rather than for a rose-tinted return to a never
existing, "organic" past. From China to Canada, farm fields are
waving with the three big 'Cs': biotech canola, corn and cotton. And
biotech soybeans now cover a massive 33 million hectares of the good
So much for biotech terrorism: try ripping out that lot.
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications (ISAAA) has just published its annual survey of biotech
crops in commercial use for the year 2001, the "Global Review of
Commercialized Transgenic Crops, 2001." The figures speak for
themselves. For the very first time, biotech crops cover over the
magic 50 million hectares barrier with a total of 52.6 million
hectares around the globe. This figure is up by almost 20% over the
And this massive increase hasn't just been generated in North
America. Important agricultural players -- including at least six
developing countries - are using biotech crops today. China, for
example, is tripling its farm area under Bt cotton and Indonesia is
planting Bt cotton for the first time. In Latin America, Argentina is
now second in the world in terms of agricultural land growing biotech
crops, with 11.8 million hectares of its farm area under biotech
products. Moreover, three quarters of the 5.5 million farmers
involved were resource-poor rural folks. Between 1996 and 2002, the
cumulative world total of biotech crops covers a massive 175 million
hectares, or, to put it in more old-fashioned terms, nearly 450
Moreover, these figures concern only biotech crops that are currently
in full commercial production. The statistics take no account of
those biotech crops that are under scientific trials in countries
ranging from Australia to Zimbabwe, Cuba to India. And they take no
account of the seed that is smuggled across national boundaries by
desperate farmers who want to grow new and improved crops. It has
been frequently reported, for example, that there is a constant
traffic of such seed from the biotech fields of Argentina into
Brazil. This is happening despite the opposition of western
environmental groups and certain opportunistic governments.
The current state of affairs represents an enormous global
experiment. And during the whole time, there has not been one proven
serious environmental or nutritional problem -- despite the constant
hype, exaggerations, distortions, and apocalyptic visions suggesting
otherwise. From cotton underpants that will give you gonorrhea to the
demise of the Monarch butterfly, it has all been largely nonsense.
Indeed, the evidence is increasingly the opposite. The spread of new
crops is resulting in a massive reduction in the use of herbicides
and pesticides and no-till options are helping to control the loss of
topsoil from erosion. And I will never forget listening to one old
Missouri farmer when he told me, with tears in his eyes, how, as a
child, he remembered having to spray crops up to 16 times with all
sorts of nasty chemicals, and now he used one or two at the most. And
the birds, he said, were returning to his fields.
Where is the biggest gap in all this exciting growth and development?
It's in Europe, where Green vandalism has routinely put scientific
trials at risk and where the Byzantine and labyrinthine complexity of
European Union (EU) laws and politics has been employed by some
member governments to slow down the adoption of the new crops, not to
mention the import of these crops from the rest of the world. Only
Spain stands out as a bold, if insignificant, small-scale commercial
But while Europe may still be fighting the tides of history and
scientific knowledge, 5.5 million real farmers from all round the
world are moving another direction, bravely putting their money where
their mouth is. From the statistics, it appears that down-to-earth
common sense and rationality are winning the day.
Philip Stott is Emeritus Professor of Biogeography in the University
of London. His latest book, with Dr. Sian Sullivan, is Political
Ecology: Science, Myth and Power (Arnold and OUP, 2000). Philip also
hosts the AntiEcohype web site. (See below)
Anti-Ecohype: A Cure For Ecochondria
'Ecohype' ... the use of junk or partial ecology to create scary
scenarios for political or personal purposes. This web site aims to
counter current 'ecochondria' about the world induced by such
'ecohype', which is generated on a daily basis by knee jerk
journalism and politically-motivated 'Greenwash'.
It is taken as axiomatic that we inhabit a tough old world in which
change is the norm and that humans survive change through constant
adaptation and development. Please note that this is not a straight
'science' site - rather it often focuses on semiotics
(signs/signification) and on the construction of environmental
"...re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any
book" (Walt Whitman, 1855, from the 'Preface', Leaves of Grass).
Don't Blame the Engineer.....
From: "Charles M. Rader"
Last fall I wrote a letter to my local electrical engineering
society's newsletter, The Reflector, which was printed in September.
I was surprised and disappointed to see, in the February issue, a
reply containing numerous false statements. That reply was written by
Dr. Thomas Kerr.
I'm hoping that some readers for the FORUM will be interested enough
to write to the editor of The Reflector and let him know about these
false statements. The Reflector is published by the Boston Section
for the IEEE Central New England Council; 240 Bear Hill Road,
Waltham, MA 02451-1017. The editor is Robert Alongi, Jr. The email
Kerr's letter follows:
Letter to the Editor: Whom should we blame if not the engineer?
As the current and past ('90-'92) chairman of the Boston IEEE Control
Systems Section, I offer the following observations in answer to
Charles Rader's editorial entitled "Don't Blame the Engineer'' that
appeared on page 4 of this September's IEEE Reflector.
First, I have the following concerns regarding genetically engineered
products that were covered in an evenhanded treatment on a past 1999
episode of NOVA (on PBS).
1. Antibiotics have been genetically engineered into some crops.
(There had previously been wide spread warnings from physicians not
to over do use of antibiotics in humans and cattle feed. The fear is
that harmful germs will evolve more quickly with immunity to this
particular class of antibiotics and, as a consequence, just up the
ante on what can be effectively used against them.)
2. Nut-like aspects have been genetically engineered into some crops
that are not ordinarily monitored for human allergic reactions, thus
foiling the vigilance of parents and school systems trying to prevent
their allergy-prone kids from exposure to life-threatening substances.
3. Salmon farm populations have been genetically engineered to grow
to full size more quickly but scientists also warn that such salmon
should NEVER be allowed on the open ocean because the resulting
salmon take priority in mating and usually produce only males.
Existing mathematical models and corresponding computer simulations
for similar fish predict species extinction in 30 generations (10
years) if such a catastrophe were to occur and these genetically
modified fish get released into the open ocean.
Despite the warning in item 3 above, a genetically engineered salmon
farm in the open ocean off Maine was battered by a storm and 100,000
genetically engineered salmon escaped into the open ocean of the
Atlantic in the fall of 2000. (As reported in the Boston Globe, page
A1, 23 February 2001 in an article entitled "Escaped farm salmon
Raise Alarm in Maine''.) The above three activities were pursued by
the very same people whose awareness and sensitivity should already
be heightened beyond that of the general public and so should have
known better than to do it. These specialists should have foreseen
the risks and long-term adverse consequences yet they did it anyway.
(....letter continues on topics unrelated to genetic engineering) -
Thomas H Kerr III, PhD., Tek Associates
Peter Raven: A Sustainable Future Should Include Biotech
At age six, Peter Raven was already a budding botanist-roaming
through fields in San Francisco to collect beetles, butterflies and
plants so that he could study their life cycles. At age 65, Raven is
director of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, a leading
institution for botanical research with a diverse horticultural
display covering 79 acres.
Called a "Hero for the Planet" in a Time magazine article in 1999,
Raven's main mission in life is to help preserve endangered plants
and to advocate for conservation and sustainability-using the
planet's resources to meet current needs without compromising the
needs of future generations. Raven believes biotechnology has a role
to play in ensuring sustainability.
"One of the modern discoveries that can and will contribute to
agricultural sustainability is the production of genetically modified
(GM) crops," says Raven, who has been director of the garden since
1971. And, he believes the need for sustainability is intensifying.
"We clearly are living non-sustainably by any measure," says Raven.
"So we are not headed down the right path. But there is greater
understanding of what is facing us that is prompting more people to
look seriously at how we can attain sustainability."
Raven views the interaction people have with Earth much like a bank
account and he sees humanity living off Earth's capital rather than
its interest. For example, in the past 50 years, 20 percent of the
worlds' topsoil has been lost and about one-third of the world's have
been chopped down. At the same time, the extinction rate of plant
species has jumped, and the world's population is exploding-hitting 6
billion in 2000 up from 2 billion in 1930.
"How the world is going to look in the future depends on the actions
we take now," Raven said. He feels agriculture is one area that
especially needs to be studied. In addition, current agricultural
methods stress water supplies, decrease the fertility of the land,
and employ large amounts of pesticides. "Agriculture, being that
big, has to become sustainable for the world as a whole to be
sustainable," Raven said. The more efficient agriculture is on
presently cultivated land, the more opportunity there is to preserve
biodiversity on non- cultivated land, he said. That is why he is in
favor of using biotechnology to obtain sustainability.
To that end, the Botanical Garden is collaborating with the Donald
Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. The garden is supplying a
wealth of knowledge to the Danforth Center in form of its library of
books and plant specimens. "This information allows people to work
on plants in any way they want, whether it's anthropology,
archeology, pollination systems or the feeding habits of
chimpanzees," Raven explained. "In cooperation with a place like the
Danforth Center, we can provide knowledge about plant diversity and
they can provide a higher order of application of what is known about
Raven sees biotechnology only as part of the solution to our
sustainability problem. "I want to emphasize that for the goal of
sustainable agriculture, there are many, many ways we need to
approach it. And many of these ways have nothing to do with crops
themselves." For example, countries need to help educate rural
people to cultivate their land more wisely. In addition, there needs
to be a better way to allocate water resources and topsoil needs to
Importantly, the U.S. and other wealthy nations need to look at their
role in resource consumption and how environmental degradation is
often about how richer countries use up the natural resources in
poorer countries. "The U.S. has 4.5 percent of world population.
Yet, we use 25 percent of the worlds' resources to support our
standard of living," Raven said. "Our kind of standard of living
can't be projected worldwide. It would require more land than the
The U.S., in fact, depends on countries all over the world for its
prosperity, Raven points out. As a result, he believes this country
should be interested in worldwide sustainability because what happens
in other countries "it affects us directly."
Eco-terrorists May Be Hit With Triple Damages
- Rockymountain News, Jan 23, 2002
Eco-terrorists who target experimental and research agricultural
products or animals in Colorado could wind up paying triple damages.
A bill allowing judges to impose such penalties sailed through the
Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday.
The civil damages, including attorneys fees and court costs, would be
on top of any criminal penalty. The legislation was proposed by Sen.
Mark Hillman, a farmer from southeast Colorado who said there have
been a growing number of attacks on fields and labs by radical groups
like the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front.
"There has been an alarming increase across the nation in the number
of incidents that I call agri-terrorism, but might also fit under
eco-terrorism," Hillman said. Eco-terrorists claimed responsibility
for a $2.5 million fire in Niwot on Nov. 27, 2000, and a fire that
caused $12 million in damage at Vail ski area in 1998. Last October,
2.5 acres of genetically engineered corn at the University of
California at Berkeley was destroyed -- the fifth time in three years
that someone had targeted the corn product.
Lords of the Harvest
- Daniel Charles, BioMedNet, Jan 18, 2002 - Issue 118
From Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food
©2001 Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Used with
Editor's note: "Biotech, Big Money and the Future of Food," the
subtitle of Dan Charles' book on genetically engineered crops, is the
story of the battles of titans. Monsanto, the huge agrichemical
company, is the protagonist, and its foes include Greenpeace, Jeremy
Rifkin, and a host of environmentalists, regulators, and competitors.
But the issues, Charles discovers as he meets the players, are never
as black, white, or green as they appear to be. In this section,
Charles narrates the struggle between Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred,
America's premier seed company, over the introduction of
herbicide-tolerance genes into seed corn. Although "traditions and
values" figure in this particular skirmish, the real issue is money.
When Pioneer, king of seeds, confronted Monsanto, juggernaut of
genes, it delivered some of the best theater in Des Moines. It was
hard to imagine two more different corporate personalities. Monsanto
was driven, frenetic; critics said it sometimes confused motion with
progress. Pioneer was the ultimate patient company; it calmly sank
money into research that it knew wouldn't produce results for a
decade and tested products for longer than any of its competitors.
Monsanto flaunted its success. Pioneer tried to hide it. The children
of its founders drove respectable midsize cars, owned respectable
midsize houses, and otherwise lived their lives as though in denial
of their net worth, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Monsanto came from the city; Pioneer from the country. Yet
competitors of both companies universally describe each of them as
It was also a confrontation between generations, in this case between
generations of technology. Pioneer was the master of plant breeding,
a technology perfected over the course of the twentieth century that
requires nothing more than intelligence, sharp eyes, and a sharp
knife. Corn breeders place bags over the tassels - the male genitalia
- of each corn plant, to collect the pollen. The breeders then
transfer that pollen to selected corn ears - the female genitalia -
on the plants they have chosen as the female parent. They then take
the offspring of this "cross," observe their genetic characteristics,
and select those that seem most useful.
It is, in a sense, playing card tricks with nature. The cards are
genes; each plant contains tens of thousands of them drawn from a
deck of cards as vast as the genetic diversity of that species. With
each cross-pollination, the breeder shuffles these cards together and
draws a new hand, looking for the combinations of genes that will
produce a more bountiful harvest. For plant breeders, it remained the
most practical, elegant, and even sophisticated method for
manipulating the genetic makeup of plants.
Plant breeders, particularly those at Pioneer, mocked the extravagant
claims of genetic engineers. Their attitude resembled that of an
aging revolutionary, convinced that true greatness lay in the past,
unmatched by any accomplishment of the present. Yet their own
technology, and their own company, had been born in a similar frenzy
of enthusiasm. A former head of research at Pioneer, a dignified,
austere man named Donald Duvick, is old enough to remember some of
the pioneers of hybrid corn, including Henry Wallace. He described
the spirit of the time: "They were motivated not by dreams of riches
but by dreams of power - power to remold corn quickly and certainly
into new and productive forms. The capacity to produce a handsome
hybrid . . . produced a kind of disease - a continuing and nearly
uncontrollable impulse to breed, test, and release new corn hybrids."
Replace the word hybrid with genetically engineered plants and the
description applies equally well to Monsanto's scientists.
The men in charge of biotechnology at Monsanto, possessed by their
own "dreams of power," were convinced that the day of traditional
plant breeding was passing; that Monsanto, with its new and superior
science, had opened the door to an inevitable future.
Monsanto's Robert Shapiro painted a picture of that future for Tom
Urban. Monsanto's gene for Roundup resistance, he said, would
transform agriculture. Seed companies who offered new genes would
prosper; those who did not would fail. The price of survival in the
soybean industry, he suggested, was the price of the Roundup Ready
gene - millions of dollars in royalty payments.
Tom Urban remained unimpressed. He and his associates rolled out the
speech that they had practiced on dozens of previous emissaries from
biotech companies. People at Pioneer could practically recite it:
"Congratulations! You've got a gene! Guess what? We've got fifty
thousand genes! Our genes make a soybean plant grow tall, produce
lots of beans, and fend off diseases; these are the genes that
convince farmers to buy our varieties. Without our varieties, your
gene isn't worth a thing. So who's bringing value to the table here?
And who's going to make money selling herbicide to spray on those
plants? You know what? You don't hold the keys to the market. We do!
You ought to pay us for the right to put your gene in our varieties!"
Urban's broadside wasn't just showmanship. Pioneer's plant breeders
were convinced, based on decades of experience, that single genes
didn't matter; what mattered was the sum total of all the genes - a
plant's "germ plasm." It was an earlier, fuzzier term for the genetic
determinants of a plant, almost like "personality" or "genetic
makeup." The breeders also felt personally offended that Monsanto
would waltz into Des Moines and argue that one gene, by itself,
should double the value of a seed.
Pioneer executives also didn't believe that a seed company could
charge significantly more for a single new trait. They'd never been
able to jack up their prices when they introduced varieties that were
resistant to diseases or more likely to stay upright in a storm.
What's more, they said, they didn't want to.
One Monsanto negotiator described the Pioneer position as "a kind of
socialism." Historically, for every four dollars in increased profits
that a new corn variety produced, Pioneer raised seed prices by one
dollar. The rest went into the farmer's pocket. The Monsanto
approach, charging what the market would bear, struck them as immoral
profiteering. "We're in the business of helping farmers," Pioneer
executives insisted. (In fact, Tom Urban had once tried to raise
prices more steeply on the theory that Pioneer was giving away value
for free. Sales sagged and Pioneer quickly backtracked.)
"Sometimes we just stared at each other. It was like we were
Martians. Didn't even speak the same language," recalls one Monsanto
Yet behind their facade of bluster and bravado, Pioneer executives
fretted. They knew how much farmers love to kill weeds, and they
suspected that Roundup Ready soybeans might indeed turn out to be
popular with farmers. They wanted the rights to Monsanto's genes;
they just didn't want to pay much money for them.
Daniel Charles is a science reporter who has been a technology
correspondent for National Public Radio and the Washington
correspondent for New Scientist.
This is a Case of Table Pounding
- Helene Guldberg, spiked-online, Jan 2002
The hate campaign against Bjørn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical
Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World and professor
at Aarhus University, Denmark, has been gathering momentum.
From having an Alaska pie pushed in his face at a book-signing in
Oxford, to being vilified on anti-Lomborg.com, a website dedicated to
trashing him, Lomborg has had the ultimate insult hurled at him -
being compared to a holocaust denier, in the respected scientific
journal Nature. The current issue of Scientific American has devoted
a series of articles to attacking Lomborg's 'contrarian good news'
Every religion, it seems, has its heretics who must be stoned - and
as a Sunday Telegraph article put it, Lomborg is the 'anti-Christ of
the green religion'. But Lomborg does not seem to be too perturbed
by the hate campaign. Okay, he says, some may have presented the book
'as an evil book that has to be excommunicated'. But The Skeptical
Environmentalist has had not only bad press. There have been positive
reviews on both sides of the Atlantic - and the book has sparked a
lively and reasoned debate between Lomborg and his critics here on
Even being compared to a Holocaust denier does not upset Lomborg too
much. 'I actually feel kind of good, because it shows the
desperateness of their argument. A good saying among lawyers is: if
you have a good case, pound the case; if you have a bad case, pound
the table. And this is definitely a case of table poundingwhich is
kind of revealing about their arguments.' This is true, but there is
something particularly insidious about likening critics of
contemporary orthodoxies to Holocaust deniers. This tactic may
indicate the weakness of the arguments put forward by Lomborg's
critics, but in today's censorious climate it can be effectively used
to silence any real debate.
What does agitate Lomborg is that the pieces published in Science,
Nature and Scientific American have been presented as 'the
scientists' response'. 'This is clearly untrue', he argues. 'Many
scientists, both in public and private, have praised the book.' He
also makes the point that none of the pieces has put forward any real
critique of the overall analysis of the book. 'Instead you will find
that they deal with fairly minor points: errors they have found in
In his book, Lomborg aims to show the real state of the world,
challenging what he calls the 'litany' of environmental destruction
that has pervaded the debate for so long. 'Blatantly false claims can
be made again and again, without any references, and yet still be
believed.' Lomborg's 500-page book is the product of four years of
statistical research with a team of students, contains 180 figures
and tables, almost 3000 footnotes and a 70-page bibliography. Being
cavalier with the facts is something Lomborg cannot reasonably be
But as Lomborg points out, 'of course there are bound to be some
errors in the book when you are dealing with so many numbers. Which
is not to say that errors do not matter. You want to present the
public with the right figures. But there are other ways of dealing
with such minor errors, like in an email'. Lomborg hopes that any
impartial observer would recognise that the articles in the
Scientific American are 'fairly petty pieces'.
One of the criticisms thrown at Lomborg is that he selectively uses
just those data that support his thesis that the world is getting
better, on almost every count. In response, he says: 'Of course I can
never say, yes, I included all the data that are available in the
world. That is an impossible task. But I really honestly tried to use
the most relevant and balanced data. And if I have failed to do so,
my critics cannot get away with just saying, "Oh, he's biased". They
have to actually show how that is true.'
Lomborg's book has gone a long way towards challenging what he calls
the environmentalist 'Litany'. And he is hopeful about the impact it
will have because 'rational arguments have a strong force'. However,
in a culture that is so risk-averse, claims that the environment is
deteriorating dangerously are likely to have more resonance than
Lomborg's argument, regardless of the facts.
The predisposition to view everything as getting worse has infected
politics, culture and just about every sphere of life today. Facts
and data are crucial in showing that, in so many ways, things are far
from getting worse. But as Lomborg must be starting to realise,
today's political and cultural outlook has to be countered with more
than numbers alone.
The latest issue of AgBioForum is now available online at
Table of Contents:
- Impacts Of Herbicide Resistant Rice Technology On Rice-Soybeans
Rotation: M. Annou, M. Thomsen, & E. Wailes
- Corn Contamination From Genetically Engineered Corn Pollen: J.M.
Jemison, Jr. & M.E. Vayda
- Language And Persuasion In Biotechnology Communication
- French Ag-Biotech SMEs: Development Prospects: V. Mangematin, S.
Lemarié, & D. Catherine
- Biotechnology R&D Races: J.F. Oehmke
- The Estimated Profit Impact Of Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin: L.W.
- Decomposing The Size Effect On The Adoption Of Innovations: J.
Fernandez-Cornejo, S. Daberkow, & W.D. McBride
- Agricultural Biotechnology And Industry Structure: M. Fulton & K.
Biotech Abbreviations Database
From: Christian Nordqvist
Pharma Lexicon has just launched a Palm Pilot version of the
Medical/Pharma/Biotech Abbreviations Database. Details at the
following website: http://www.pharma-lexicon.com
The world's largest database of medical, pharma, biotech, agrochem
and healthcare abbreviations (and their meanings). 46,000 entries.
Created as a result of contributions from hundreds of people and
organisations the world over. A must for doctors, pharmacists,
scientists, healthcare professionals, students and academics.
From: "Robert Wager"
Subject: Heat Resistant Bacteria
The ability to survive extreme temperatures is a combination of many
different genes. If we start with the cell membrane, there must be a
change in the lipid composition to accommodate the higher temperature
or else the membrane will disintegrate at the high temperatures. This
would probably involve over twenty different genes. If we consider
the proteins in the membrane similar arguments can be made that
without many different genes changing the proteins would denature and
the cell would die. Within cells there are mechanisms to protect from
small increases in temperature. These chaperone proteins function by
binding to sensitive cellular proteins to protect them from the
transient temperature increase. The range of protection is usually in
the order of 5-10 degrees Celsius not the high temperature of
composting. So again without many different genes changing it is
highly unlikely that an organism could survive.
Now if we move to the genetic material. Such high temperatures would
result in the chromosomal DNA denaturing and without specific
mechanisms to prevent this the organism would die. Again multiple
genes and GC content would have to change for this protection to
develop. So on the whole the ability of a microorganism to survive
the high temperature of composting would have to involve the
mutations of several dozen to hundreds (or more genes) all at the
same time in order for the microorganism to become resistant to the
heat. There are bacteria on the planet that live quite happily at
these high temperatures but they evolved over billions of years. It
is my opinion that there is almost no chance of a pathogenic bacteria
that normally lives at ambient temperatures mutating into one that
can survive 160 degrees F.
- Rob Wager Malaspina University College
From: "Tom DeGregori"
Re: Manure & E Coli
The following note on composting of manure was sent to me. In my
judgement, it is informative and merits posting. I respect the
author's wish to remain anonymous. It is as follows:
I think in food sterilization an analogous (or maybe opposite)
problem is called "the center pea problem" - in heat-sterilizing a
can of peas, you need to get heat penetration to the center pea
without cooking/deflavorizing the peripheral peas. In a compost pile,
even if the center is at 160 degrees F, the periphery is at ambient
temperature, probably body temperature or below. Somewhere in the
pile you have a zone of 98 degrees F (37 degrees C) and some happy
E.coli. Turning the pile isn't going to help. If you want to
sterilize the lot, you've got to get the whole pile to sterilizing
temperature and time - it'll never happen in a compost pile.
I presume that Alex Avery will be posting a note on the new USDA
rules on composting and how difficult it will be to adhere to them. I
also received another very informative response on why bacteria are
unlikely to mutate into more heat resistent forms. I will post
anonymously in a day if the sender does not do so which I hope that
From: Tom DeGregori
Subject: John Stossel (and Dennis Avery) Vindicated!
John Stossel was right, as was Dennis Avery.
Yesterday, I submitted for posting the abstract of the following
article (the entire article is available only to those with an E
subscription) along with a note indicating that Anne Clark not only
proclaimed that there was no concern about the use of manure in
agriculture but that this view was shared by the senior author of the
paper. There was even the suggestion by Dr. Clark that the article
was good news because it provided knowledge about the pathways of
contamination. The assumption apparently was that with proper
composting of the manure, the E. Coli O157:H7 and other harmful
micro-organisms would be eliminated. There was also the further
assumption that all "organic" farmers properly composted.
The comments of the senior author seemed to indicate a favorable
attitude towards the use of manure in agriculture. One can commend
him and his co-researchers for their research capabilities and their
integrity but unless I have some deficiency in reading the English
language, the article does not support the lack of concern expressed
in Anne Clark's statements.
The sentences quoted below show that even with the assumption of the
best of practices, there is still a danger of E. Coli O157:H7
contamination and that direct contact with the lettuce leaves is not
necessary for this to happen. A clarification by the author or
Professor Clark is in order. By the so called "precautionary
principle" and every other principle proclaimed by the "natural
foods" enthusiasts, we should be concerned. Can one imagine the
rhetorical excesses and demands for regulation if conventional
agricultural practices presented the same threats to food safety as
has been shown for unpasteurized juices, alfalfa sprouts and now for
Solomon, Ethan B.; Sima Yaron and Karl R. Matthews. 2002.
Transmission of Escherichia coli O157:H7 from Contaminated Manure and
Irrigation Water to Lettuce Plant Tissue and Its Subsequent
Internalization, Applied and Environmental Microbiology,
The transmission of Escherichia coli O157:H7 from manure-contaminated
soil and irrigation water to lettuce plants was demonstrated using
laser scanning confocal microscopy, epifluorescence microscopy, and
recovery of viable cells from the inner tissues of plants. E. coli
O157:H7 migrated to internal locations in plant tissue and was thus
protected from the action of sanitizing agents by virtue of its
inaccessibility. Experiments demonstrate that E. coli O157:H7 can
enter the lettuce plant through the root system and migrate
throughout the edible portion of the plant.
P. 397 - "Research has demonstrated the long term survival of E. Coli
O157:H7 in manure held under a variety of conditions, so even a
strict adherence to the guideline may result in the application of
manure containing culturable E, Coli O157:H7 to production fields."
P. 400 - "Direct contact between the leaves and contamination sources
is not required for the organism to become integrated into edible
And finally the authors end the article with is clearly an
understatement: "The impacts of on-farm practices which may result in
E. Coli O157:H7 becoming associated with lettuce, or for that matter
other crops, have not been sufficiently explored."
Irradiation anyone? JOHN STOSSEL IS VINDICATED.
Supporting citations for the quotes on page 397 were given as follows:
Wang, G.; T Zhao, and MP Doyle. 1996. Fate of Enterohemorrhagic
Escherichia coli O157:H7 in Bovine Feces, Applied and Environmental
Microbiology 62(7):2567-2570, July.
Abstract: Dairy cattle have been identified as a principal reservoir
of Escherichia coli O157:H7. The fate of this pathogen in bovine
feces at 5, 22, and 37 degrees C was determined. Two levels of
inocula (10(3) and 10(5) CFU/g) of a mixture of five nalidixic
acid-resistant E. coli O157:H7 strains were used. E. coli O157:H7
survived at 37 degrees C for 42 and 49 days with low and high
inocula, respectively, and at 22 degrees C for 49 and 56 days with
low and high inocula, respectively. Fecal samples at both
temperatures had low moisture contents (about 10%) and water
activities ( < 0.5) near the end of the study. E. coli O157:H7 at 5
degrees C survived for 63 to 70 days, with the moisture content (74%)
of feces remaining high through the study. Chromosomal DNA
fingerprinting of E. coli O157:H7 isolates surviving near the
completion of the study revealed that the human isolate strain 932
was the only surviving strain at 22 or 37 degrees C. All five strains
were isolated near the end of incubation from feces held at 5 degrees
C. Isolates at each temperature were still capable of producing both
verotoxin 1 and verotoxin 2. Results indicate that E. coli O157:H7
can survive in feces for a long period of time and retain its ability
to produce verotoxins. Hence, bovine feces are a potential vehicle
for transmitting E. coli O157:H7 to cattle, food, and the
environment. Appropriate handling of bovine feces is important to
control the spread of this pathogen.
Kudva, I. T.; K. Blanch; and C.J. Hovde. 1998. Analysis of
Escherichia coli O157:H7 Survival in Ovine or Bovine Manure and
Manure Slurry. Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
Abstract: Farm animal manure or manure slurry may disseminate,
transmit, or propagate Escherichia coli O157:H7. In this study, the
survival and growth of E. coli O157:H7 in ovine or bovine feces under
various experimental and environmental conditions were determined. A
manure pile collected from experimentally inoculated sheep was
incubated outside under fluctuating environmental conditions. E. coli
O157:H7 survived in the manure for 21 months, and the concentrations
of bacteria recovered ranged from <102 to 106 CFU/g at different
times over the course of the experiment. The DNA fingerprints of E.
coli O157:H7 isolated at month 1 and month 12 were identical or very
similar. A second E. coli O157:H7-positive ovine manure pile, which
was periodically aerated by mixing, remained culture positive for 4
months. An E. coli O157:H7-positive bovine manure pile was culture
positive for 47 days. In the laboratory, E. coli O157:H7 was
inoculated into feces, untreated slurry, or treated slurry and
incubated at 20, 4, 23, 37, 45, and 70°C. E. coli O157:H7 survived
best in manure incubated without aeration at temperatures below 23°C,
but it usually survived for shorter periods of time than it survived
in manure held in the environment. The bacterium survived at least
100 days in bovine manure frozen at 20°C or in ovine manure incubated
at 4 or 10°C for 100 days, but under all other conditions the length
of time that it survived ranged from 24 h to 40 days. In addition, we
found that the Shiga toxin type 1 and 2 genes in E. coli O157:H7 had
little or no influence on bacterial survival in manure or manure
slurry. The long-term survival of E. coli O157:H7 in manure
emphasizes the need for appropriate farm waste management to curtail
environmental spread of this bacterium. This study also highlights
the difficulties in extrapolating laboratory data to on-farm