Today in AgBioView
* Environmentalist's Article Re-ignites Debate On Safety
* Brazil To Reinforce Pro-GMO Stance, Push Liberation
* China May Pay For Shielding Biotech Sector
* Life Sciences and Biotechnology: A Strategy for Europe
* Language and Persuasion In Biotech Communication
* Exploring Risks Involved In Risk Assessments: Q & A with Goklany
* OnPoint, Provocative Magazine Turns Green
* Science Activists Attack The Skeptical Environmentalist
* In Praise of the Unnatural
* I Love Global Capitalism--and I'm Under 30
esman , The Post-Dispatch (St. Louis) January 27, 2002 ,
'Barry Commoner, who once led research into the effects of nuclear
fallout, has written an article arguing that bioengineering could
produce crops that are dangerous to humans and the environment.
Commoner says that something other than DNA must be at work in the
cellular production of proteins, and that scientists know less than
they claim about the safety of biotech crops. Mainstream scientists
say Commoner is twisting facts to support an anti-biotech agenda.'
The man who convinced Baby Boomers to forsake the Tooth Fairy and
donate their teeth to science has a new campaign. This time
environmentalist Barry Commoner is contesting the fundamental
principles of genetics and railing against the biotechnology industry.
Commoner says there is evidence that biotechnology is built on a
shaky foundation, and may produce plants and animals that unwittingly
endanger human health and the environment. But mainstream scientists
say it's Commoner who has the weak argument and is twisting
scientific fact and misinforming the public to further his own agenda.
At issue is the very stuff of life -- DNA. Only a year after academic
and industry scientists offered the first look at the complete set of
genetic instructions that make up a human, Commoner is suggesting
that the scientists are ignoring the most important conclusion of the
multibillion-dollar project - that the central dogma of biology is
wrong. Commoner presented his view in an article in the February
issue of Harper's Magazine, bolstered by evidence plucked from
scientific literature about topics as diverse as the Human Genome
Project and mad cow disease.
The central dogma holds that DNA is the genetic material responsible
for passing along inherited traits. Scientists used to say that a
single DNA gene holds the instructions for making a single protein
with a specific function. In bacteria and other simple organisms
that's mostly true, but in more complex plants and animals it's a
different situation, said Phillips Kuhl, president of Cambridge
Healthtech, a biotechnology information company.
As scientists from the Human Genome Project and Celera Genomics
discovered, human beings carry only 30,000 to 50,000 genes. But, Kuhl
said, those genes may produce five to 10 times as many different
proteins - proteins that are needed to carry out all the necessary
functions of life. No one knows exactly how many genes there are. But
then, no one knows how many proteins are made either. Some proteins
may be made only under very specific conditions, and cells may trim
the protein or tack on chemical groups to alter the ones that are
made. Some scientists estimate that more than 500,000 protein
variants could be built from the basic DNA blueprints in a cell, Kuhl
So many necessary proteins, so few genes leave a cell with only one
choice - it must make the most of what it's got. What a cell has is
basically a long stretch of DNA with directions for building
proteins. The instructions are arranged in genes, which are further
broken into modular units known as exons. Each exon encodes a piece
of a protein. Cells can mix and match exons to produce different
proteins, much like snapping together Lego blocks to build castles or
For Commoner, this molecular tinkering - a process known as
alternative splicing - is evidence that something besides DNA is
directing which proteins are made and what they do. That means, he
says, that the central dogma is wrong. And if that's the case, it
means scientists don't fully understand what happens when a gene from
one organism is spliced into another.
Such practices have become common in agricultural biotechnology.
Scientists have inserted natural pesticide genes from bacteria into
corn and cotton plants, made soybeans and other crops resistant to
herbicides, and built defense mechanisms against fungus and virus
diseases into plants using genetic engineering.
Educating or advocating. Commoner first put forward his view that DNA
is not the only genetic material in the 1960s, in articles published
in the British journal Nature - the same journal that carried the
first report of the structure of DNA and last year published a
publicly funded project's version of the human genome.
Commoner's view was widely decried in the scientific community in the
1960s and led scientist and writer Isaac Asimov to observe, "If
Commoner disapproves of the incoming tide and wishes to amuse himself
by standing on the shore and commanding it to stop, he may. He may
also quote as many authorities as he likes to impress the waves. But
he will get his feet wet just the same."
For decades Commoner turned his attention to other environmental
issues, but he says he never converted to the faith of those who
follow the central dogma. "I have never run into any reasons to
change my views," Commoner said. "The argument hasn't changed, it's
just gotten a lot stronger."
But scientists involved in molecular biology and biotechnology
dispute that assertion. They say Commoner has distorted and
misinterpreted data, packaging it for public consumption. "I have
never really spoken into the ear of the king. I don't believe in it,"
Commoner said. Instead, he'll take his case to the people, just as
he's done for other environmental issues. An educated public has the
tools to influence government policy and keep industry in line, he
Scientists familiar with Commoner's view say he may be doing a public
"He's not educating people about science. He's advocating for a
cause," said Bruce Chassy, Assistant Dean of Biotechnology
Communication and Outreach at the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign. "His view of what science believes is horrifically
over-simplified. He's interpreting the world to vindicate his belief."
Far from ignoring the important discoveries of molecular biology,
scientists have celebrated them, even awarding Nobel prizes for work
that may seem at first glance to counter the central dogma, said
Richard Wilson, a co-director of the Genome Sequencing Center at
Washington University. "While we've learned a tremendous amount
about mammalian genetics in the last few decades (and the human
genome project is a cornerstone in this), there is still much to
learn about how it's all put together. Yes, we should be careful. No,
we shouldn't write off all that has been learned as a big sham,"
Wilson said in an e-mail.
The argument probably comes down to a matter of semantics, Kuhl said.
It all depends on how you define a gene, he said. Although molecular
biologists have uncovered surprising cellular tricks, the fundamental
principles of the central dogma still hold, he said. DNA is the
inherited genetic material. RNA - a close chemical cousin of DNA - is
used as an intermediate molecule to ultimately produce proteins.
(Because DNA is an important archive of genetic information, cells
make RNA copies of genes. Those copies can be edited, or even
shredded without losing any of the data tucked safely away in the
DNA.) Proteins then drive chemical reactions within cells. No
discrepancies with the central dogma here, scientists say.
And if details are a little murky, well, that's just part of the
miracle of life, not something to be feared, they say.
Plants give pause. Commoner is much less comfortable with the unknown
when it comes to genetically engineered plants (sometimes called
transgenic crops). "Research on transgenic plants is wonderful. It
belongs in the laboratory," Commoner said. "We simply don't know
enough to assert that in putting trillions of these plants out into
the open, nothing untoward is going to happen."
It was easy to get the public and other scientists on board to help
stop nuclear fallout - the danger was clear and easy to understand -
but it will probably be much more difficult to get scientists to let
go of deeply entrenched beliefs about the way genes work, Commoner
said. He says the stakes may be even higher this time.
"Here the dangers are more insidious, and, in the long run, may be
even more powerful because of the changes made in living things,"
Commoner said. But nature has been making changes in living things
for billions of years, often running random and sometimes cruel DNA
experiments, Chassy said. The results of traditional plant breeding
can be unexpected as well - sometimes creating plants that make
When biotech companies such as Monsanto Co. of Creve Coeur invent a
genetically engineered plant that can fend off insects or withstand
herbicides, the plant must be scrutinized by a battery of tests. Eric
S. Sachs, a Monsanto spokesman, says the tests are designed to find
hidden allergens and toxins that could damage human health; ensure
that the new crop is nutritionally equivalent to its parent plant;
determine whether the plant has qualities that could pose
environmental dangers; and prove that the newly created plant doesn't
hold any other nasty surprises.
"At the end of the day, we get what we want," Chassy said. "We end up
with a plant that looks, tastes and feels exactly like the plant we
started with, because that's the only plant we can sell." And if
Monsanto or other seed companies used conventional cross-breeding
techniques to produce an insect- or herbicide-resistant soybean
plant, what would the company have to do to show the crop is safe?
"The short answer is: nothing," said Sachs. That could mean that
genetically engineered crops are even safer than their conventionally
bred counterparts, Chassy said. Which is not to say that absolutely
nothing can go awry with genetically engineered plants. "Can it be
100 percent ruled out?" Kuhl said. "No, because nothing can. Is it
something I would stay up nights worrying about? No."
Reporter Tina Hesman covers biotechnology and science for the
Brazil To Reinforce Pro-GMO Stance, Push Liberation
- Alastair Stewart, Dow Jones, 28 Jan 2002
Sao Paulo, Jan. 28 - The Brazilian government will officially
reinforce its position in favor of the planting and sale of
genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, as well as increase efforts
to clear legal barriers in the way as soon as possible, local
business daily Valor Economico reported Monday. The report said
President Cardoso told a meeting of cabinet members last week that he
wanted an end to dissenting voices within the government and all
would have to follow the party line. Brazil is the only major grain
exporting country that still does not use GMO technology in the
In 1998, the government actually approved the planting of Monsanto's
RoundUp Ready GMO soybeans, but the decision was blocked by court
injunction. Later other injunctions restricted the imports of GMO
corn. The president has entrusted the Federal Prosecutions Service
with the task of lifting the injunctions, and it will now be the
official voice of government opinion on the issue. "We completely
endorse the use of GMO. Brazil needs this to expand in foreign
markets," said Benjamin Sicsu, Development Ministry executive
secretary. The government will officially announce its policy this
week and first steps in the campaign to liberate GMOs next week. The
business daily said the gag put on dissenting government voices was
aimed specifically at Sarney Filho, the Environment Minister, who is
said to have very close links with the environmental pressure group
Greenpeace, responsible for a number of the injunctions since 1998.
The introduction of GMOs would have a big impact on Brazilian soybean
and corn production, to significant export sectors.
China May Pay For Shielding Biotech Sector
- Nao Nakanishi and Lee Chyen Yee, Reuters, Jan 28, 2002
Singapore/Shanghai, Jan 28 (Reuters) - China is building a fortress
around its biotechnology industry, which is emerging as the largest
outside North America, analysts say.
But China's policy on gene-modified organisms (GMOs) shows government
opinion is divided, and Beijing risks harming its standing in the
international community after joining the World Trade Organisation on
December 11. More than that, spurning foreign investment is likely to
come at a high price, with China possibly losing out on advanced
techniques in bioengineering and so threatening its efforts to
achieve food security, industry officials say.
A draft government document obtained by Reuters has shown Beijing is
considering banning foreign investment in development and
manufacturing of GMO seeds such as corn and soybeans. The move
startled industry officials since China is pouring huge funds into
domestic research to develop GMO crops such as corn, rice and cotton.
"This comes as a great surprise to us because it is at a time when
China is dramatically accelerating its investments in biotechnology,"
said Charles Martin, vice-president of corporate communications in
the Asia Pacific at U.S.-based Monsanto . "There are many promising
biotech traits such as anti-drought and anti-saline, which foreign
investors are unlikely to bring to China if this ban takes effect,"
The possible investment ban, to be announced soon by the State
Council, follows another set of new GMO regulations first released in
June last year which slammed the brakes on soybean imports.
Some say China is protecting its farmers. "China is trying to protect
its domestic biotechnology research and its copyright to the seeds,"
said Li Chenggui, researcher at the rural development institute of
the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "If the copyright on some
seeds falls into the hands of a foreign company, farmers may be
charged a high price and the ban is a way of protecting the farmers,"
Global Links. But many saw the ban as a setback to the country's
attempts to blend more tightly with the global community. "If that's
true, that is a real step backwards for the country that has just
entered the WTO and is claiming to be a legitimate member of the
world trade community," said a non-Chinese industry official.
"The question is whether they are trying to say the biotechnology
that they produce is good and that the biotechnology that we produce
is bad." Traders, industry officials and analysts have said while
trying to restrict imports of GMO products, such as bioengineered
soybeans from the United States or South America, China has beefed up
its own GMO research and development.
An article on plant biotechnology in China published in Science
magazine on Friday said: "China is developing the largest plant
biotechnology capacity outside North America." The industry official
said he heard that Beijing was about to launch a public forum to
discuss concerns about GMOs.
"If they are trying to turn public opinion against GMO, how are they
going to turn it back for GMO in three years when they are going to
release a whole bunch of GMO products they are making?...They are
playing with fire," he said. The Science article says China had
raised its area for GMO cotton, resistant to bollworm pest, to
700,000 hectares by 2000, or 20 percent of the country's cotton area.
It stood at only 2,000 hectares in 1997, the first year of
China has used both domestically developed Bt cotton and the variety
developed by a joint venture with Monsanto, though industry sources
say Beijing is about to turn down Bt corn developed by the U.S.
biotech giant after years of tests. Industry officials say China is
also close to marketing Chinese Bt corn, resistant to European corn
borer pest which has damaged 10-15 percent of the crop each year in
Opportunity After Starlink. Against that, industry officials and
analysts say, China may be trying to become a supplier of non-GMO
food to areas of Europe and Asia that have expressed concern over
possible health risks from GMOs. Over the past year, some in Japan
and South Korea bought higher-priced Chinese corn for human
consumption after discovering that U.S. corn included gene-spliced
Starlink corn that Washington allows only for animal feed.
"There is enough dissent in the world of GM plants...The whole world
won't be getting up to tell China to open up the door to GMO
products. Europeans will never say that," the first industry official
said. "(But) can they afford to do it?...How much money are they
going to lose in the domestic market due to inefficiencies of non-GMO
product and by the ban of GMO products?" he said.
Life Sciences and Biotechnology: A Strategy for Europe
- From: Klaus Ammann ; Debate 2002'0127 a:
EU Life sciences and biotechnology: A Strategy for Europe, 23.1.2002
This is an important strategy paper from the EU-Commission
'Commission Of The European Communities; Brussels, 23.1.2002 Com
(2002) 27 Final Communication From The Commission To The Council, The
European Parliament, The Economic And Social Committee And The
Committee Of The Regions'
"Life sciences and biotechnology: A Strategy for Europe"
Here only chapter 7:
7. A Framework For Dialogue And Action: It is time to clarify the
strategic opportunities and challenges facing Europe. Life sciences
and biotechnology are a global reality and essential for the
objective of developing dynamic and innovative knowledge-based
economies. We have to face the difficult questions and identify our
strategic objectives to avoid the pitfalls of short-term solutions to
long-term challenges and of local solutions to global challenges.
Recognising that life sciences and biotechnology raise particular
challenges, the Commission undertook to propose a strategy and
concrete actions. It now presents this initiative for a coherent,
collaborative and sustained effort.
The present initiative draws on a thorough analysis 13 of the
strengths and weaknesses of European biotechnology, and a broad
public debate and the specific public consultation launched by the
Commission in September 2001. The initiative should, in turn, itself
inspire further dialogue. The attached action plan suggests a broad
scope of measures according to the orientations set out in chapters 3
to 6 of this Communication. It constitutes a framework, within which
some actions can be launched in the short-term while other actions
for the medium and longer term are identified and suggested for
further development in collaboration with Member States and
The Commission now invites the Community institutions and bodies, the
Member States, protagonists and the public to contribute to refine
and implement the proposed strategy by defining detailed measures
under both short- and medium-term actions and the time-plan for their
deliverables, as a first decisive step towards an effective and
coherent European biotechnology policy.
Rural Delivery: GE's The Only Way To Grow
- Doug Edmeades, The New Zealand Herald, Jan 28, 2002 (Via Agnet)
The Greens asked for it. The Royal Commission delivered it. The
Government decided on it. But the Greens do not like it. And I do not
understand why. I embrace the goals of organic farming - quality
environment, quality food, quality soils and that is exactly why I
embrace genetic modification, or GM. Contradictory? Not at all. The
world population is about 5 billion and rising. How does this planet
feed these people and yet maintain soil quality, preserve
biodiversity and ensure clean water?
If we adopted, on a worldwide basis, the means (the philosophy,
teachings and techniques) advocated by the organic movement we would
need to put more soil to the plough. Why? Because it is known that
the production per unit area from organic farming is lower - some
estimates are 40 to 50 per cent - than that achieved by conventional
practices. Therefore to feed the world organically we would need to
cultivate something like 40 to 50 per cent more land than at present.
And guess what? The extra land required includes soil regarded as
marginal. That is, it would be either of poor quality or, if
cultivated, would be subject to erosion. What will this do to soil
and water quality? All of this is aside from the fact that these as
yet untouched soils contain much of the world's biodiversity.
But this is not my major objection to the organic movement. The twin
tenets of the organic movement are that organic food has a higher
quality than conventional food and that organic techniques are safer
for the environment. What evidence is there to support these
opinions? Two recent reviews of the international literature
concluded there is no evidence that organic food is better than
conventional food. The quality - defined as either nutritional
quality, the presence or otherwise of harmful chemical residues or
taste - is no different.
Similarly, my own research comparing organic and chemical fertilisers
shows that soil or water quality is not enhanced by using organic
fertiliser. Indeed, organic fertilisers contribute to the pollution
of soils and waterways because they have fixed ratios of nutrients
and because of this it is difficult to apply balanced nutrient inputs
to crops with these products. The foundations on which the organic
movement is based are frail indeed. They are based on ideology, not
fact, and this makes the organic movement dangerous. So, too, is
their rejection of, and threatened protests against, the findings of
the Royal Commission on GM.
There are risks with any new technology. But the risk of not doing
something must be compared with the alternative risk. If we reject
GM, how then do we feed this planet? To do so without GM will require
more chemicals, more fertiliser, more intensification to achieve more
production per unit area. Where does that leave our environmental
goals? Man has been manipulating plant and animal genes ever since he
progressed from the forests to the plains. GM is the latest tool in a
long series of developments to enhance this progress. And if GM means
fewer pesticides and herbicides per unit production then I am for it.
If it means less fertiliser nutrient per unit production then I am
for it. If it means more animal production per unit feed intake then
it must be good for this planet.
The alternative is to reduce the world's population. Will the Greens
make this their election platform? Who is saving the planet now?
Language and Persuasion In Biotechnology Communication with The Public:
How To Not Say What You're Not Going To Not Say And Not Say It
- Steven B. Katz , North Carolina State University; (Excerpts Below)
The purpose of this paper is to begin to explore the role of language
in biotechnology communication with the public by briefly analyzing
in a particular press release how organization, style, and diction
convey values and emotions that can undermine intended meaning. These
are not problems of grammar or usage or mechanics or spelling,
commonly associated with "bad writing." Nor are these simply problems
of clarity or logic. Rather, these communication problems are the
result of rhetorical choices of organization, style, and/or diction
that are ultimately based on unconscious and often flawed assumptions
about the role of language, values, and emotion in communication and
While there are differences between other controversies and those
surrounding the acceptance of agricultural biotechnology by consumers
here and abroad, the general parameters of these controversies can
reveal deep-seated assumptions, as well as the pitfalls of
communication with the public. One almost universal feature is the
public fear of possible long term and as yet unknown risks to health
and the environment that no amount of scientific assurance seems able
to assuage. Despite statements to the contrary by researchers and
officials, the public by and large perceives decisions to be based as
much on politics as science. The public questions the role of
industry in the decision making as a conflict of interest. And
organized protests, disruptions of meetings, threats of violence, and
damage to equipment sometimes ensue.
For their part, researchers attempt to provide the public with clear,
up-to-date information, and to explain the scientific logic of their
reasoning. Government agencies attempt to deal with the crisis in
public confidence by developing expensive public information and
education campaigns. But these usually are massive failures. In the
face of seemingly insurmountable resistance, early optimism on the
part of scientists and public officials gives way to incredulity,
outrage, and contempt for the public that now appears ill informed
and unreasonable (Katz & Miller, 1996).
A press release delivered before the National Press Club by former
Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman (1999) noted similar public
reaction to the issue of genetically modified foods (GMFs): a fear of
possible and as yet unknown long term risks to health and the
environment; a distrust of the decision-making process that consumers
see as much political and economic as scientific; and a distrust in
the role of industry in developing biotechnology and assessing its
safety. The speech also noted "great consumer resistance and cynicism
toward biotechnology," protests, and violence and damage to test
plots overseas. To attempt to deal with these issues, the Secretary
proposed five principles, including "complete and open public
involvement; the establishment of 'regional centers' around the
country;" and "a strong public education effort to show consumers the
benefits of these products and why they are safe." Despite public
resistance, the speech attempted to express great optimism not only
in biotechnology, but also its acceptance. "We have to ensure public
confidence in general, consumer confidence in particularS¨I believe
farmers and consumers will eventually come to see the economic,
environmental, and health benefits of biotechnology products".
Exploring Risks Involved In Risk Assessments: Q & A with Indur Goklany
CEI UpDate, January 2002, http://www.cei.org
Indur Goklany is an independent scholar who has more than 25 years of
experience working and writing on global and national environmental
issues. He has published several peer reviewed papers and book
chapters on an array of issues, including air pollution, climate
change, biodiversity, the role of technology and economic growth in
creating, as well as solving, environmental problems, and the impacts
of international environmental regimes on people living in
His latest book, The Precautionary Principle: A Critical Appraisal of
Environmental Risk Assessment, attempts to redefine the precautionary
principle in a more rational manner than has traditionally been done
by environmental activists. He then applies the precautionary
principle to three key international environmental issues: fighting
malaria with pesticides, harnessing biotechnology's potential to
reduce global hunger while reducing the environmental impacts of
conventional agriculture, and developing a risk/risk approach to
addressing global climate change. Goklany shows why the conventional
environmentalist interpretation of the principle in an arbitrary
manner can exacerbate problems caused by global poverty and do more
harm than good, particularly to people living in less developed
* CEI: What is the precautionary principle and why is it important?
Goklany: First, there is no such thing as the precautionary
principle, but there are several different versions of the so-called
precautionary principle (PP). Although I discuss some of these in my
book, the version I use is the so-called Wingspread Declaration. This
declaration, the product of a conference of activists, scholars,
scientists, and lawyers at Wingspread, home of the Johnson Foundation
in Racine, Wisconsin, is quite popular with many environment a lists.
Understanding the PP is important because many environmental groups
supported by several European governments and the European Union (EU)
itself have tried to foist it on the international community as a
"customary" principle of international law. And, as such, it ought
to, according to them, trump science-based risk assessment. The
problem is, there is no customary internationally accepted definition
of the PP. Without such a customary definition it becomes hard to
accept that it is a customary principle of international law or
anything else, for that matter. Without an accepted definition, you
can't get from here to there.
* CEI: You seem in your book to favor a risk/risk approach to
assessing environmental and public health risks. But when
environmentalists invoke the Precautionary Principle, they are
talking about something else entirely. How would you describe the
difference? Goklany: Fundamentally, I believe in truth-in-packaging.
Therefore, if one applies the precautionary principle, it ought to,
at worst, ensure that environmental and/or public health risks are
not increased; at best, it ought to reduce those risks. And if the PP
is used to choose between several different policy options, the PP
should select the one that reduces the risks the most. Now, it is
easy to meet this objective if a policy only reduces risks. In this
case, the road ahead is clear. We adopt that policy. Similarly, if a
policy will only increase risks, the decision is equally simple:
avoid that policy. But what if a policy reduces some risks while
increasing or prolonging others? What do we do in such situations
where the answers are clouded with ambiguity? Unfortunately, most
policy options fall into this category.
There are very few black and white situations; generally we have
various shades of gray. To address these ambiguous situations, my
book has developed a framework to help me apply the PP. This
framework allows me to compare all the environmental and public
health risks that would be reduced by a policy against the risks that
would be generated or prolonged by that same policy. This is the only
way to ensure that policies we choose to implement will actually
reduce overall risks; that is, they ... there is no such thing as the
precautionary principle, but there are several different versions of
the so-called precautionary principle. would, in fact, be
precautionary. So you see, I start with the PP and end up, quite
logically, with a risk/risk assessment. The most important thing
about this is that the risk/risk assessment is derived from the
precautionary principle. Many people insist that the PP and risk/risk
approaches are incompatible. But you can't hope to have precaution
without the implementation of risk/risk assessment.
* CEI: You note that the key problem with environmentalists' use of
the precautionary principle is that they "...take credit for the
public health and environmental risks that might be reduced by
implementing the policy, but they overlook those public health and
environmental risks that the policy itself might generate or
prolong." Do you feel this summarizes how the environmental debate
has played itself out generally? Goklany: Yes I do. Genetically
modified crops and [the pesticide] DDT are two examples. In both
cases, environmentalists have claimed that the PP justi fies global
bans on these technologies. These are not just environmental and
public health issues, but also ethical ones. Consider DDT. The
environmentalists' argument was that the PP supported a global ban
because DDT is a persistent pollutant which has been shown to cause
declines in populations of bald eagles, peregrine falcons and other
raptors, and could accumulate in human tissue and mother's milk
which, it was suspected, might cause various human health related
problems. But this justification was sustainable only as long as one
ignored the role of DDT in controlling malaria, one of nature's dread
Malaria, which was eliminated in the U.S. and other developed
countries partly with the help of DDT, still rages in many parts of
the developing world. It currently strikes over 300 million people
and kills over one million people annually, mainly in Africa. Think
of that as the Twin Towers disasters repeated every day of the year!
We know that since World War II, in many developing countries malaria
fell, then rose, and then declined once again as DDT use was first
begun, then stopped and then restarted. Sri Lanka, or Ceylon, is a
classic case. Before DDT, in the 1940s, it used to have 2.8 million
cases annually. After DDT it declined to below 20 in 1963, then it
rebounded to over 2 million after DDT use was suspended. Thus, a
global ban on DDT would increase death and disease due to malaria.
This increase would be large and certain. On the other hand, while
there are real environmental benefits to be obtained from banning DDT
globally, the public health benefits of such a ban are speculative
and uncertain in magnitude. Given these facts, using my framework for
applying the PP, I conclude that it does not justify a global DDT ban.
This is because my framework gives greater weight to human life than
to bald eagles or other wildlife. This is where ethics comes in.
Therefore, if one insists on a one-size-fits-all policy, that policy
must be to encourage the indoor spraying of DDT everywhere. But by
allowing greater fiexibility it is possible to improve both public
health and the environment by letting malaria-infested countries to
spray DDT indoors while banning DDT where malaria is no longer a
problem. As an aside I should note that when I was a kid in India 40
or more years ago the walls in our house were sprayed with DDT
periodically. Having had malaria, I can vouch for its debilitating
effects. If you don't die from it, you won't be much good for long
after. One study done in Bangladesh showed that eradicating malaria
made it possible for farmers to have the strength to plant an extra
crop of rice each year!
* CEI: Do many of the command-and control style regulations that we
see cause similar problems whether or not they invoke the principle?
Goklany: I think some of our command- and-control regulations are
suffused with this principle. Some of our environmental laws are
written with the notion that there should be no limit to the cost we
should incur to reduce pollution. This would be fine in an ideal
world with infinite resources, but as some of our environmentalists
tell us, resources are limited, and that's true for fiscal and human
resources as well. Today they are more scarce than land, energy and
material resources - resources over which Neo-Malthusians have long
* CEI: You've stated that you don't wish to take a stance on whether
or not the precautionary principle is a good policy in and of itself.
Do you feel that, if your efforts to define the principle as a
risk/risk approach to environmental issues prevail, it could be a
useful policy tool for regulators in one of its more relatively weak
forms? Goklany: In my framework I don't differentiate between "weak"
and "strong." Either formulation ought to use a risk/ risk approach
to ensure that public health and/or environmental risks are not
increased. I guess one could differentiate between weak or strong
versions of the PP based on how much weight you want to give to
costs. I know some would say that the value of a life could be
estimated at something like a few million dollars. I'm skeptical of
this approach because, although a life might be priceless, I can
think of several different interventions that can save lives at a
fraction of that cost. I would be loath to spend millions of dollars
for one life if I could save many more at a fraction of that price. I
myself would differentiate between strong and weak versions based on
the preference given to maximizing the number of human lives saved.
In my estimate, the greater the preference for such maximization, the
stronger the version of the PP. ...while there are real environmental
benefits to be obtained from banning DDT globally, the public health
benefits of such a ban are speculative and uncertain in magnitude.
Technicon Institute of Management Turns Green:
Upcoming 'OnPoint' Magazine Discusses Environment
OnPoint, TIM's provocative magazine turns green, as its upcoming
issue covers pressing concerns relating to the environment.
Professionals, professors, activists, and executives share their
perspectives on topics ranging from industrial planning, to
agricultural biotechnology, to cleaner production methods. Discover
how Israel stands up to other countries on the pollution spectrum.
Explore the new concept of Environmental Justice, and its
implications worldwide. Is Agricultural Biotechnology something to
abolish or embrace? Is globalization an environment friend or foe?
Also don't miss reading about one of the leading countries on
environmental issues: Germany. Join our contributing writers from
Greenpeace, Intel, and others in an open dialogue about the
environment, economic and social concerns, and a way to provide new
solutions to old problems. OnPoint's latest issue on the environment
will be out in January.
Science Activists Attack The Skeptical Environmentalist
- Dennis T. Avery, January 9, 2002
CHURCHVILLE, VA- 'Scientific American' spends 11 pages of its latest
(January) issue trashing a bold new critic, who says the "litany of
eco-doom" that pervades the media (and the Scientific American) is
largely wrong-headed. "Bjorn Lomborg accuses a pessimistic and
dishonest cabal of environmental groups, institutions and the media
of distorting scientists' actual findings," says the magazine's
editor-in-chief, John Rennie.
Lomborg, a Danish professor and self-described leftist, has harvested
huge swaths of newsprint on both side of the Atlantic by documenting
the world's largely positive current environmental trends. He
recommends more science and more affluence-for the sake of the
planet. His book is titled The Skeptical Environmentalist. Rennie
lets four noted scientific doomsayers pummel Lomborg in his
magazine's latest edition-but their critiques fail to dent Lomborg's
There's no question that for 40 years, eco-activists have been
claiming the environment around us is doomed because people are
raising too many babies and living too well. The activists have
predicted massive famines, energy shortages, the destruction of the
world's forests, unprecedented soil erosion, and a global warming
that will fry the world's crops and wildlife even as it melts the
Arctic ice cap and floods port cities like New York and Calcutta.
None of these dire predictions are coming true.
The eco-activists are abetted by such "science activists" as Paul
Ehrlich (who predicted America would starve in the 1970s) and Stephen
Schneider, a climate scientist who first predicted a new Ice Age,
then reversed himself to support the global warming scare. In the
Scientific American critique, John Bongaarts of the Population
Council admits, "Environmentalists who predicted widespread famine
and blamed rapid population growth for many of the world's
environmental, economic and social problems overstated their cases."
But Bongaarts then claims: "The historically unprecedented population
expansion in the poorest parts of the world continues largely
Lomborg notes that births per woman in the Third World have dropped
from 6.16 in 1950 to 2.8 today. That means the poor countries have
come four-fifths of the way to population stability (2.1 births). Is
that Bongaarts' definition of "largely unabated"? Bongaart continues:
"Lomborg correctly notes that poverty is the main cause of hunger and
malnutrition, but he neglects the contribution of population growth
to poverty." Bongaarts ignores the reality that the poor areas of the
world today were poor before modern medicine created their population
surge. Moreover, such formerly poor countries as China and India are
now getting affluent despite hugely increased populations.
John P. Holdren of Harvard and Berkeley agree with Lomborg: "the
world's energy resources-coal, oil shale, nuclear fuels and renewable
energy-are immense." Holdren believes, however, that using these
fuels is creating dreadful air pollution, acid rain, water pollution,
and global warming. Lomborg finds the First World's air is clean and
getting cleaner, acid rain is a minor problem for a few tree species
in limited areas, the sea is clean, First World coastal waters are
rapidly getting cleaner, and the nitrogen fertilizer which sometimes
overfertilizes our streams has saved at least 25 percent of the
world's forests from being plowed for food.
On global warming, Scientific American offers us Stephen Schneider
himself complaining about Lomborg's assessment that the warming will
be less than the world experienced in 1200 AD, during the Medieval
Climate Optimum. Lomborg says it will have minimal effects on food
production, sea level, storms and malaria. He recommends we adapt to
warming instead of strangling the world's economy with high-priced
Lomborg says we've not had huge species extinctions. He notes that
the United States cleared vast amounts of virgin forest in the late
19th century with few species losses, and virtually all the
extinctions documented so far have been recorded on islands. Critic
Thomas Lovejoy, a biodiversity advisor to the World Bank, claims
there's a "long-established relation" between habitat area and
Lovejoy then jumps to a profoundly false conclusion by claiming that
pessimistic activists have created the current positive environmental
trends, by identifying problems and triggering solutions. As the
biggest example of his error, most of the world's present wildlife
species are alive only because of high-yield farming, which has saved
millions of square miles of forest from low-yield crops. Both the
eco-activists and the "science activists" have ardently opposed
high-yield farming. Both demand organic farming, which would have to
unleash another 8 billion chomping cattle to supply organic nitrogen
for its crops.
Lovejoy even complains about plantation trees that can produce 20
times as much wood per acre, and thus sharply reduce the acres of
wild forest logged to produce our timber and paper.
The best thing about the activists' attack on The Skeptical
Environmentalist is that they felt the need to launch it. Bjorn
Lomborg's book has begun to worry the "pessimistic and dishonest
cabal of environmental groups, institutions and the media" who've
profited by distorting real science.
Dennis T. Avery is a senior fellow for Hudson Institute of
Indianapolis and the Director of the Center for Global Food Issues.
He was formerly a senior policy analyst for the U.S. Department of
State. Readers may write him at Post Office Box 202, Churchville,
In Praise of the Unnatural
- Patrick West, Spiked-Online, January 24, 2002, (Excerpts below)
In modern-day discourse the word natural is increasingly used as a
form of legitimisation, as a term of endorsement. Dairy products
boast that they convey 'nature's goodness'; people buy natural
skincare products from The Body Shop; and companies ranging from
Marks & Spencer to Tesco to BP have adorned their products in the
Opponents of censorship argue that sex is 'the most natural thing in
the world', and so shouldn't be hidden away. Prince Charles and
eco-worriers in general encourage us not to 'mess with nature',
whether by despoiling the planet or creating 'Frankenstein foods'.
Like primitive societies we truly worship nature. 'She' has
sensibilities that may be pleased or offended - lest She will have
Who cares what happens in nature? As far as I'm concerned, nature is
not our friend - it is the enemy of humanity. Earthquakes, cancer,
death, wisdom teeth, short-sightedness: these are natural.
Penicillin, antibiotics, heart surgery, toothpaste, the spectacles I
wear as I write this: these are the innovations of man. Our ability
to defy, defeat and overcome nature is what makes us human. Thanks to
our tampering with the natural order of things, most people in the
Western world can now look forward to dying in their beds.
So why do we worship nature? Jean Jacques Rousseau, the godfather of
modern anti-modern whining, was one of the first thinkers whose
hatred of the world led him to adore a natural world that might have
come before it. He speculated on the life of the happy savage in the
'state of nature', contrasting it unfavourably with the 'state of
society'. The man in tune with nature wants for nothing but 'food, a
female and sleep'.
But nature worship really came into its own with the growth of the
green movement over the past 30 years, which perceives Western
lifestyles as inherently destructive or 'unsustainable'. According to
eco-activist Stephanie Mills, editor of the 1997 book 'Turning Away
from Technology: A New Vision for the 21st Century: ' As a species,
human beings have more experience living wild, in hunter-gatherer
band, embedded in healthy ecosytems.' As with Rousseau, this kind of
nature worship is bound up with Romantic Primitivism and the idea
that non-Western peoples are somehow closer to nature than Western
Ironically, today's praising of nature is possible precisely because
we have pretty much conquered nature. Just as the British started to
romanticise the Scottish Highland tradition in the 1750s - shortcake,
bagpipes, tartan and all - as soon as the Highland hordes were
finally vanquished, so we can romanticise nature because we no longer
live at its mercy.
Consider the true state of nature. In pre-modern, pre-urban society,
men and women lived in filth and were hostages to disease. According
to science commentator Ronald Bailey, life expectancy at birth for a
primitive hunter-gatherer was 26. For early agricultural communities,
it was even lower: 19 years of age. It could even be argued that rape
and unwanted pregnancy are both features of nature. The proscription
of non-consensual sex is something guaranteed by civilisation.
If we hadn't intervened in nature, particularly agriculture, most of
our ancestors would never have been born. Today we live beyond
reproductive age thanks to medical technologies. Hospitals are
modern-day temples to humanism. Take away hospitals, clean water,
electricity and so on, and witness the state of nature in all its
horror. Even 'natural childbirth' is an invention, relying upon
modern notions of hygiene, not to mention a watch to time
contractions. 'Organic food' does not grow itself either -farmers
have to work hard and with great skill to produce such foodstuffs.
I would argue that not only are tribal societies fantastically
regimented, religiously intolerant, and in possession of far more
do's and don'ts than Western liberal society - they are also
ecologically destructive. Aboriginal Australians and Native Americans
caused massive deforestation to create grazing areas for species they
hunted, many to extinction. According to the anthropologist Roger
Sandall, after their arrival to New Zealand 800 years ago, the Maoris
had made extinct 30 percent of the islands' bird life, including 12
species of Mao bird alone.
Next we'll be told that masturbation is acceptable because
chimpanzees do it. This suggests to me that the idea of people living
'in touch with nature' is bogus - that all societies modify their
surroundings. Of course, we humans get things wrong, and there is
cause for some concern for our planet, unfortunately thanks to the
excesses of Western industrialised society. But this doesn't warrant
the widespread anthropophobia - the view of eco-extremists who see
humans as parasites on the planet.
Today's nature worship is generated not only by ecological concerns,
but by a broader crisis in the Western world. So what or who do we
turn to understand what is right and wrong these days? It used to be
God; then it was man; but we live in post-humanist times now. The
high priests of humanism, scientists and doctors, are figures of
suspicion. They are seen by many as being 'out of touch', 'arrogant',
and decidedly dangerous. Nature has filled this ethical vacuum.
Nature has become a point of reference, as it seems it is 'all in the
genes'. So even the human genome project seems to have been
transformed into a moral quest to understand how and why we act as we
The collapse of the Western humanist ideal, which I would say started
in Hungary in 1956 and was completed in Berlin in 1989, has corroded
the left - and the left has somewhat perversely found solace in
nature worship. Deeming something wrong because it was 'unnatural'
was traditionally the preserve of conservative minds, railing against
homosexuality, women in the workplace, or defending slavery and the
divine right of kings.
I Love Global Capitalism--and I'm Under 30
- Aaron Lukas, April 20, 2001 http://www.cato.org/dailys/04-20-01.html
"Fight corporate power and greed!" Thus runs the refrain of the
perpetual- protest set. From Seattle to Washington, D.C., from Prague
to Davos, and soon in Quebec, street-bound "carnivals against
capitalism" have become a political lollapalooza that no deeply
caring, shallow-thinking young person can afford to miss. If you
aren't protesting, you aren't cool.
Well, for you politicians and journalists out there, I have an
announcement: I'm in my '20s and I like global capitalism. And here's
some more news: Most people my age agree with me.
Yet you won't hear much about my views at this weekend's Summit of
the Americas in Quebec. Instead, you'll see members of my generation
trumpeting their passionate concern for the environment, the world's
poor, Mumia Abu-Jamal, organic farming and a laundry list of other
Honestly, I'm not sure what planet these kids are living on. They
look at the world and see only exploitation and repression, as if
such evils were the bane of multinational corporations and not the
norm throughout history.
In contrast, I see a flowing of human liberty and material
prosperity. I see the move toward economic freedom that has swept
through the Communist and developing worlds over the past decades for
what it is: a recognition on the part of national leaders that their
state-dominated systems have failed-failed in absolute terms as
billions of people remained mired in grinding poverty, and failed in
relative terms by comparison with the prosperous West and the
relatively open and thriving Pacific Rim. Free trade has not been
imposed from the top down; it has emerged from the bottom up.
Trade is also a matter of freedom here at home; the freedom to spend
your own money on whatever you wish, regardless of the skin color or
language of the person you decide to buy from; the freedom to invest
your savings where you choose, even if that choice is on the other
side of the planet. We have no more right to tell our fellow citizens
what brand of clothing or car they must buy any more than we have the
right to tell them what they can say or think.
Free trade has been good for both workers and the environment. By
promoting economic growth, it enables less- developed countries to
afford higher environmental standards and helps create an educated
middle class to support them. A similar story exists with wages and
labor conditions, which are improving in those places where
globalization has taken hold.
The institutions that govern trade, like the Free Trade Area of the
Americas to be discussed in Quebec, are no threat to sovereignty or
democracy. Such agreements are nothing but contractual arrangements
between sovereign nations to mediate trade disputes according to
rules agreed upon by consensus. And despite the talk of "secret"
negotiations, the Summit of the Americas is more democratic than the
people it drives to apoplexy. After all, the negotiators at Quebec
represent elected governments from throughout the hemisphere. Who
elected the purple- haired sign-waver on the street in the black
mask? The disruption and damage left in the wake of these protests
are more akin to mob rule than democracy.
Puppet-bearing students in Quebec will speak of a "global corporate
coup d'etat." But let me let you in on a little secret: Most young
people don't hate corporations. In fact, many of us either work in
one, know someone who does, or even own stock in one. Corporations
are nothing more than voluntary associations of people who are trying
to achieve some common business goal. So the "evil, sinister, greedy
corporation" mantra doesn't jibe with our life experiences. It's
propaganda, and we know it.
Hurtling oneself against a police barricade in protest of free trade
may be fun. But it's hardly a brave act for spoiled children of
affluence--though ask any protester and you'll inevitably hear a tale
of "hardship" (I had to work and go to school!)--to rail against the
instruments of their own prosperity. Doubtless many of the Quebec
marchers will be concerned for the world's poor. Yet through their
opposition to open markets they make themselves the enemies of the
Hey kids, want to help make the world a better place? Then grow up:
Start a business or get a job. Want to help the poor? Hire them.
"Corporate greed" has helped far more people than big puppets ever
Aaron Lukas is an analyst in the Center for Trade Policy Studies.