Today in AgBioView
* Bogus Story on Afghanistan GM Seed Aid?
* Combating World Hunger Vital To U.S. National Security
* Gene Technology Will Benefit Consumers
* European GM Crops, Slow Progress
* Conference on the Biosafety of GMOs in Beijing
* Agricultural Superhero Keeps Mother Nature Proud
* Environmental Heavy-Weight: A Global Greenpeace Perspective
* South to North Biotechnology Transfer in Genomics !
* Response to "Whom should we blame if not the engineer"
* Response to Scientific American - Lomborg Critique "Misleading math
about the Earth"
* Lomborg's Four Noble Truths
Bogus Story on Afghanistan GM Seed Aid?
Agence France Presse had a story yesterday on an USAID project in
Afghanistan which refers to GM seeds being provided to Afghan
farmers. This story sounds very dubious.
First, US Government would not provide biotech-enhanced seeds to any
country with no biosafety clearance system in place. Second, it says
GM seeds "had already seen yields 300 percent greater than normal."
While this is impressive, the story is a hoax as there was hardly any
time for a growing season, much less a harvest! Finally, it refers
to GM wheat which clearly confirms this story being bogus as there is
no biotech wheat approved for planting any where in the world.
The AFP story was picked up from the Lexis Nexis database by Pew
Agbiotech (http://www.pewagbiotech.org) and then subsequently
appeared in the newsletters from Checkbiotech and Agnet. Apparently
AFP stands by their story but we have not received feedback yet from
USAID to confirm the authenticity of the story or its quotes. Will
keep you informed. It clearly looks like a manufactured story to me.
A former AID official had this to say: "As the former official for
USAID, I can say I'd be quite surprised to find 1) any agriculture
program underway at this stage of the humanitarian response process
(they've got bigger issues, like de-mining, to do before they start
putting plants in the ground), and 2) while USAID has strongly
supported technology developments, including biotechnology, as part
of development projects to help increase food security, it would not
make sense for them to be promoting a development-oriented project
(such as using ag biotech) to address the current humanitarian and
transitional needs of the people of Afghanistan. If this is an
attempt by some activist group to damage ag biotech while attacking
U.S. efforts to help the people of Afghanistan move from their
current state of crisis, then it is a despicable manipulation.
Unfortunately, we've seen past examples of these types of
manipulation, such as the false rumors spread in India claiming
"terminator" seeds were being planted when no-such seeds existed. The
result of these false rumors, spread by such anti-biotech activists
groups like Third World Network and IATP, was the burning of farmers
crops, riots and vandalizing of research facilities. So to believe
this may be a similar public dis-information campaign by unscrupulous
activist groups is, unfortunately, a possibility."
A case of French mischief?
US Reconstruction Projects Under Way In Afghanistan: USAID
Agence France Presse ; January 26, 2002 ; LENGTH: 418 words
BODY: Farming projects funded by the United States as part of its
efforts to help the rebuilding of Afghanistan are already under way,
a US official said.
Andrew Natsios, administrator of the US Agency for International
Development (USAID) said some of the projects were started in
November, at the same time US warplanes began bombing Afghanistan.
Anticipating an early end to the bombing campaign in most of the
country, USAID had funded non-government organisations and other
agencies in Afghanistan to the tune of 90 million dollars "with
specific instructions to begin reconstruction immediately".
Genetically modified wheat seeds given to farmers in Kamari village,
about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Kabul, he said, had already
seen yields 300 percent greater than normal.
"The farmers were so pleased with it they are now planning 200 tonnes
of seed for the next planting season," he said.
"So we have started the reconstruction effort, we are simply
ratcheting it up now that we have almost 300 million dollars worth of
resources. We can extend it much more rapidly to more areas."
The US donated 296.75 million dollars as part of the overall 4.5
billion dollars pledged towards the reconstruction of Afghanistan at
the international donors' conference in Tokyo.
Natsios announced USAID had opened an official mission office in
Afghanistan to administer the US reconstruction programme, with an
initial staff complement of 10.
He said some of the villages he had visited in the past days "had
more devastation than any civil war I have been to in the past 13
years ... and I've been to virtually all of the civil wars except
Natsios said he had a two-hour meeting with Afghan interim leader
Hamid Karzai earlier in the day.
"We got into great detail about the kinds of things he is interested
in seeing done and the help he would like to get from USAID and the
These included agricultural projects, small-scale enterprises that
would create jobs, and a revival of the education system that the
Taliban, which was toppled early December, had all-but destroyed in
favour of religious schooling.
Natsios defended the use of genetically modified material in
"One of the only ways we are going to be able to feed the developing
world and upgrade the agricultural system in the third world is
through genetically modified material."
This position, he added, was supported by most health ministers in
the developing world.
JOURNAL-CODE: WAFP ; LOAD-DATE: January 26, 2002
Combating World Hunger Vital To U.S. National Security
White House, Capitol Hill Put Development Policy Higher On Agenda
WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Efforts to eradicate global
hunger and poverty should be a vital part of U.S. national security
and foreign policy in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September
11, agreed senior policymakers, legislators, and lobbyists taking
part in a special symposium on development and foreign aid policy
convened by Resources for the Future (RFF).
"We still live in a world in which 800 million people are
malnourished," Undersecretary of State Alan Larson told the
symposium, adding that the Bush Administration is aware that poverty
and hunger are breeding grounds for terrorism.
"I think we're at a moment of hope," David Beckmann, president of
Bread for the World, declared, saying the terrorist attacks have led
to deeper American interest and involvement in the world. President
Bush, he noted, is the first president in memory to address world
hunger in his first year in office.
Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), who called on President Bush to use
his State of the Union address to recognize the importance of helping
the world's poor to fight terrorism, said the mood had also changed
on Capitol Hill. "These are people who are used to saying no; now
they are saying, 'We have to find more resources'. Congressmen now
realize there is also a need to remind the world that we do good
things, and they are under increasing grassroots pressure from
Americans who want them to step up to the plate."
There is growing recognition that battling terrorism also means
battling the root causes of it, but food aid alone is not the answer.
There must be a long-term sustainable strategy for combating poverty
and world hunger as central planks in U.S. national security and
economic policy, panelists agreed.
Larson said the United States should go to the next world hunger and
G7 summits later this year with a clear agenda, suggesting three
policies: -- More support for agricultural research, which has been
declining in recent years, -- Trade liberalization, opening new
markets especially for poor countries' agricultural products, -- A
willingness to deal "head-on" with the issues of biotechnology --
including genetically modified foods -- and the gains in agricultural
productivity such new advances make possible.
The RFF symposium comes as progress in reducing malnutrition appears
to have stalled. At a world conference in 1996, some 186 countries
including the U.S. pledged to cut world hunger in half by 2015. But
six years later the number remains unchanged. Panelists addressed
what had gone wrong in the past as well as challenges and problems
that still stand in the way of a coherent and sustainable development
John Podesta, President Clinton's former chief of staff, called it a
"daunting task" -- partly because it will be hard to sustain current
levels of public interest; also because of inter-agency turf wars,
lack of overall leadership and accountability. Dan Glickman, former
secretary of agriculture, said that while 70 per cent of food aid
worldwide had been supplied by the U.S. in recent years, it was the
result of domestic political pressures to raise commodity prices for
the benefit of American farmers, not out of any long-term plan to
improve diets in poor countries.
Glickman said efforts to make development policy a higher priority
during the Clinton administration were also eclipsed by budget
constraints imposed by Congress. Podesta added: "Even with the total
support of the President, it was almost impossible to get long-term
food aid policies off the ground."
American policy on food aid since 1996 has been under an interagency
working group with three co-equal chairs, reported RFF senior fellow
Mike Taylor, and 15 people have served as co-chairs in that time. The
result, he said, was an ineffective group with no focal point of
leadership, responsibility or accountability.
Meanwhile, World Bank lending to developing nations for agricultural
development had dropped to its lowest point in the institution's
history -- only 10 per cent," said Robert Thompson, World Bank
director of rural development. He said developing nations have too
strong an urban bias in their own development policies, holding food
prices low to benefit urban consumers. That policy is further
aggravated, Thompson said, by rich countries that heavily subsidize
their own farmers and then dump their surpluses abroad at prices with
which no unsubsidized farmer can compete. Rep. McGovern said the U.S.
could succeed where it had failed in the past -- if it made a
compelling case, engaged a broad constituency, and tackled the issue
in a bipartisan way.
Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution added there had to be
"tough love" in any development policy. "Too many are skeptical that
aid doesn't work. And though aid in general has done a lot for health
and basic human needs, it doesn't help countries grow economically
unless they have good policies," he warned. Countries that refuse to
put good policy in place should be refused all aid but basic
humanitarian help, he said.
--- For audio/video of symposium, plus speaker biographies, go to:
Gene Technology Will Benefit Consumers
- G. Venkataramani, The Hindu (India), Jan 29, 2002
CHENNAI, JAN. 28. "We are at the dawn of another revolution in
agriculture, a revolution fuelled by biotechnology. The developments
in gene technology promise new genetically-based advances leading to
higher yields and better food quality. Already the biotechnology
revolution is of significance in global agriculture. There are
transgenic crops of cotton, maize, soyabean and canola, planted in
more than 40 billion hectares worldwide,'' said W. James Peacock of
the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization
(CSIRO), Canberra, Australia.
Delivering the tenth millennium lecture organised by the M.S.
Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and the Hindu Media Resource
Centre on "Genes and the future'', Dr. Peacock underscored the need
for appropriate developments in the management of the new
technologies. "Without linked improvements in both genes and
management, we are likely to lose any advantage that biotechnology
could bring. We will then not have the capacity to meet the demands
of food production over the next several decades''.
There are several ways in which gene technology is helping, but the
new development of genomics is probably going to outstrip all other
technologies. Genomics is a spectacular development, and one that is
probably going to underlie virtually all plant breeding in the
future. ``In many agricultural systems, for the first time, there
will be a real opportunity for integrated management systems''. Dr.
Peacock listed the recent developments in gene technology and gave
examples of how the new technology would benefit the consumers,
farmers and the environment. He presented facts to allay some of the
concerns expressed against transgenic plants. The Governments should
support public research and public plant breeding to maintain a
balance with private companies which have major stake in
biotechnology research now. "The perceived hazards must be evaluated
and measured by testing and we have to demonstrate, on a case-by-case
basis, whether or not there are any significant risks,'' he said.
"There is a fear that GM (genetically modified) crops will cause
reduced biodiversity. This is simply untrue. In fact, gene technology
methods are improving our access to naturally existing genetic
variation. I think it is very important that this is recognised,
particularly as it enhances the value of our germplasm resource
collections around the world. We do have to have regulations which
require us to test for safety and we need to transmit understanding
of the changes and benefits brought about by these technologies. So
far, in all cases of GM crops and food, tests show a clear benefit
relative to any negative risk,'' he said.
He said that if India keeps up with world science, with the new
developments, with searching for understanding, which will generate
value-added products, and build the partnerships and the regulatory
mechanisms, it will have a profitable and sustainable set of
M.S. Swaminathan, Chairman, MSSRF, presiding over the function, said
that the potentials of new technologies, which were environmentally
safe and socially acceptable should be tapped. He stressed the need
for public understanding of the science to gain their confidence, and
the importance of media in informing the public and the policy makers
about the new scientific developments. P.C. Kesavan, Executive
Director of MSSRF, recalled the pioneering research, development and
administrative contributions of Dr. Peacock in the field of
biotechnology and gene technology.
European GM Crops, Slow Progress
OpenI, January 29, 2002 http://www.openi.co.uk/oi020128.htm (via Agnet)
While the popularity of genetically modified crops elsewhere in the
world almost certainly means they will eventually be accepted in
Europe, nobody expects the process to be either smooth or swift. With
six years of commercial success of the technology elsewhere in the
world and no serious scientific concerns, it might have been expected
that even the most sceptical opponents would be placated. But the
rump end of opposition to the technology is still, however, alive and
wriggling, stimulated it seems by the media and food retail
interests. Recently announced British government plans for the last
of the three years of farm scale environment trials suggest that
nothing unexpected has been detected during the first two years.
While minor amendments were made to placate opponents to the
technology, these were made in the context of the concerns of organic
producers over the technology, something which the results of the
trials will logically dispel.
Probably more significant were comments by the Minister of
Environment over the need for an independent review before final the
approval for growing genetically modified crops. While there seemed
to nothing new in this with the Agriculture and Environment
Biotechnology Commission already in place to do just this, it does
suggest that the government is anxious to distance itself from what
it anticipates will be an unpopular decision with environmental
activists. Those opposing genetically modified crops grasped at this
as a major victory. It now seems that even they recognize the farm
scale environmental trials are now unlikely to turn up any
unexpected. But the prospects of the delay implicit in a review and
another chance to influence the final decision is likely to provide
only short term comfort for them.
Paradoxically the three-year delay resulting from the farm scale
trial period has surely increased the probability of the technology
eventually being accepted. Over the last three years the area of
genetically modified crops world wide has almost doubled to 52.6
million hectares and they have now been grown on all six continents.
Further the positive commercial experience has been stretched from
three to six years. The results of a few hundred British field scale
trials are in the final analysis likely to seem rather irrelevant.
The Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission undoubtedly
appreciated this reality last September when it recognized that both
potential benefits and hazards should be considered in any
environmental decision over the growing of genetically modified
crops. The most critical tenet for the future of the technology in
Britain has been the government's science basis for policy decisions.
This seems to have stood almost unchallenged since it was announced
almost three years ago. Unfortunately it does not seem to be
something that features prominently in the thinking of some member
states of the European Union(EU) which also need to provide approval
for the technology.
The EU Commission appears to recognize the challenge faced by the EU
in the context of its informal moratorium and its World Trade
Organization commitments, even if its recommendation for regulation
and legislation have been subject to criticism by proponents and
opponents of the technology. But its ability to impose its thinking
on member states is very limited. And further if past experience with
such issues as the banning of growth hormones in beef production is
any guide outside pressures may not be effective. The reality is that
those who oppose the technology have been very effective in scaring
politicians. But where the issue has received its ultimate political
test, at the polls, those opponents of the technology have been
Major elections this year in France and Germany, the EU two largest
member states, will be important. If experience of major elections
elsewhere is any indication, it will emerge that if concerns about
the technology deeply are felt by some, they are not very wide held.
This realization will, however, be a gradual process. The dawning
will result from the tiring of the media, and possibly more
importantly from retailers realizing the issue is not a very
effective weapon in their fight for market share.
The challenge for the industry will be whether to compromise on
conditions for acceptance of the technology as soon as the tide is
seen to be turning, or wait for more acceptable terms. Experience
with the EU is that once legislation together the bureaucracy to
supervise are in place, they are difficult to amend and dismantle.
All this is no doubt a frustration for Monsanto and other companies
that have developed the technology. But unlike the Wright brothers
who almost a century ago never managed to manufacture their flying
machine, they have already achieved a major commercial triumph.
Acceptance in Europe will, however, be the icing on the cake.
7th International Conference on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified
Organisms in Beijing, China, Oct. 10 - 15, 2002.
The International Symposium on The Biosafety of Genetically Modified
Organisms(GMOs) has been held biennially, to address the scientific
basis for biosafety (environmental as well as human and animal health
issues) associated with GMOs. The Symposia series is designed for
senior scientists, policy makers, regulators, environmentalists and
industry representatives involved in the commercial release of GMOs.
The 7th Symposium will be held October 10-15 2002 in Beijing, China,
under the responsibility of the newly-founded International Society
for Biosafety Research. During the Symposium, each morning will be
devoted to a plenary session, in which major themes will be examined,
with a particular effort made to project from the current state of
knowledge into the future. In the afternoons, concurrent sessions of
oral presentations and posters will focus on more specific issues.
You can also download a draft programme of the Conference under:
http://www.worldbiosafety.net under the 'agenda'.
you can download the form for an electronic reply and submission of
an abstract until April 30, 2002 with the same link under
Return address: Professor Hongya Gu; College of Life Sciences Tel:
(86-10) 62751847; Peking University Fax: (86-10) 62751841 Beijing
100871, China; Send the electronic form to: email@example.com
(Thanks to Klaus Ammann for Info on
Agricultural Superhero Keeps Mother Nature Proud:
Agricultural Biotechnology Solves Environmental Problems and Relieves
- C. S. Prakash, Onpoint, Winter 2002. http://www.tim.co.il/
TIM - Technion Institute of Management (Israel)
The ever-growing need to sustain increasing populations means that we
must cope with demands for food while making sure that the
environment is not compromised. Agricultural biotechnology addresses
this challenge by using modern science and knowledge to improve crop
varieties and produce better crop yield. Increasing area of
agriculture, urbanization, and deforestation are the main culprits
causing environmental damage.
Agbiotech provides ways to decrease, even eliminate these problems,
yet it has been met with strong resistance by critics who's main
environmental concerns (or rather, misconceptions) are as follows:
* GM (Genetically Modified) crops are contributing to genetic
pollution. (Genetic pollution refers to the idea that the pollen of
modified crops is released into the environment and mixes with
regular crops causing contamination.)
* GM crops cannot be recalled once they are released into the
environment, unintentionally harming the environment, and destroying
The concept of genetic pollution is a powerful and emotional concept,
but is not reasonable or realistic. Biotechnology is a tool, not a
product. The co-existence of pollen and seeds between agricultural
and wild plants already exists and has existed for 10,000 years. Many
genes that we introduce in our crop lands encoded for so called
domestication traits, are characteristics only useful under
agricultural conditions. They have little or no value in the wild, so
they do not persist. It is important to recognize that scientists are
not claiming every gene inserted will not have an impact on the wild
relatives of crops, but each crop variety must be addressed on a
caseby- case basis.
Tame and Wild Biodiversity: There are two main issues relating to
biodiversity concerns: biodiversity within crops, and wild
biodiversity. We don't want our crops to be monolithic and narrow in
their diversity, however, they are already at such a state,
regardless of biotechnology. Scientists can increase biodiversity by
adding new genes, while refraining from destroying any existing ones.
Another significant added value of agbiotech is that crops can be
tailored to their ecological regions more successfully. Where areas
have more challenging conditions (i.e. drought, poor soils),
agbiotech allows for crops to be appropriately suited to their
specific regions. This too allows for more biodiversity. Finally, new
technologies allow for improved conservation of our germplasm thus
helping to preserve biodiversity in gene banks. Wild biodiversity
includes trees, insects, etc. Agbiotech can help by putting less
pressure on the expansion of agriculture and decreasing the use of
Terminating Pests Poison-Free: Agricultural workers use pesticides
and herbicides to prevent their crops from being destroyed by pests
and weeds. This also creates a tremendous negative impact on the
environment. For example, cotton makes up a low percent of
agricultural land in the United States, and yet accounts for nearly
half of the pesticide usage. Adoption of GM cotton-called Bt cotton
and resistant to boll worms, which is the greatest threat to cotton
crops-has led to an almost 80% reduction in pesticide use on those
farms that have planted it. While any reduction is a benefit, this is
only the beginning. What is most important is the potential for
future crops and future reductions in pesticide usage as this
technology continues to expand.
More troubling than pesticide/herbicide pollution, is the pollution
that occurs as a result of fertilizer usage. Although large amounts
of fertilizer are applied, the plants extract only a small percent of
nutrients. Most of the fertilizer gets washed away, causing the water
that flows downstream to become murkier and saturated with nitrogen,
phosphorous, and other fertilizer nutrients. Research already shows
that the efficiency of a plant's nutrient-extraction system from soil
can be improved so that farmers don't have to apply as much
fertilizer. It is still too early to measure the impact that
biotechnology has on ground-water pollution, but with all the
reductions in pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer use, the potential
for a notable decrease in water pollution is high.
Tree Usage: All Bark No Bite - Paper production is among the most
polluting industries in the world and the reason for this is the
chemical process of transforming stiff tree bark into soft paper.
Unfortunately, this process of breaking down lignin (the tough
compounds in wood) is the most polluting process in the paper-making
industry. With agbiotechnology, scientists at Michigan Technological
University have developed new types of trees that create something
like 20-30% less lignin, meaning 20-30% less chemical pollution.
Through agbiotech, trees and plants can also be designed to
decontaminate toxic chemicals in the soil. Mercury, once released,
persists in the soil. Certain GM trees now developed through
agbiotech are successful in extracting mercury from soil, and
converting it into a harmless mercury vapor (as harmless as the
fillings in your teeth) that is released into the air, where it
Environmental Injustices Worldwide: Environmental injustice is a true
fact of life today, and that is more glaringly obvious when it comes
down to food and agriculture. Poor countries and regions are facing
enormous burdens relating to food security, which is a function of
both food that is produced and food that is actually consumed. The
solution is not to expand the land, but rather creatively and
responsibly use the land already in use. This of course means that we
run into a lot of complications if the land available is overused,
eroded, and depleted of its valuable nutrients. Demanding conditions
on fragile soils is one of the major overriding reasons for low
productivity leading to hunger and poverty in many parts of Africa,
and Southeast Asia. Agricultural biotechnology directly addresses
these issues and brings environmentally sound solutions by allowing
crops to be tailored to specific environments. But technology alone
is not enough. Environmental problems must also be wisely targeted
with creative policies where people who are at the wrong end of the
environmental justice spectrum, can benefit equally.
Knowledge - Based Approach to A New Way of Agriculture: Agriculture
is not and has never been a zero sum game. Farming has and will
always create some imprint on the environment. How deep an imprint
made depends on the tools we choose to use. Society's apprehension of
the agricultural biotechnology tool is understandable, yet addressing
the issue with science and facts shows that this tool can lessen
negative impacts on the environment. Judicious use of this technology
has been shown to increase biodiversity, decrease chemical pollution
(pesticide, herbicide, fertilizer, paper, and mercury pollution), and
may help eliminate environmental injustices in agriculture. What's
more, agbiotech also introduces an immeasurable potential for a
domino of future environmental benefits. Starting with plants, then
seeping into the soil, flowing onward to the stream, and beyond,
relieving the environment from agricultural pressures that exist and
can easily disappear, if we are willing to let that happen.
This article was written from a transcribed phone interview with
Prof. C.S. Prakash. http://www.agbioworld.org . Prof. C. S. Prakash
Director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research, Tuskegee
University, USA. Serves on the USDA's Agricultural Biotechnology
Advisory Committee, and on the Advisory Committee for the Department
of Biotechnology of the Government of India
Pesticide Reduction Due to GM Crops : HT Canola (Canada) 29%; Bt corn
(USA) 33%; HT soybean (USA) 10%; Bt cotton (USA) 21% HT cotton (USA)
0; All pesticides (USA) 0.5-3.4% Chemical Reductions in GM Crops
1. The Canola Council of Canada (CCC)Špublished a study this spring
that concludes that less herbicide is used to grow transgenic canola
than is used to produce conventional varieties. The total herbicide
reduction is estimated to range from 1,500 tonnes (1 tonne =1000 kg)
in 1997 to 6,000 tonnes in both 1999 and 2000, which translates into
a reduction in herbicide cost of about 40 percent. Additionally, fuel
savings due to fewer field operations ranged from 9.5 million litres
in 1997 to 31.2 litres in 2000. Reduced dockage and higher yield
contributed further to the farmer's revenue to give a net gain of
$5.80 per acre.
2. Genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant soybeans grown in 30
states have lowered growers' annual costs by $15 per acre to date,
which translates into $735 million across 49 million acres...
Overall, for insect-resistant US cotton, production increased by 260
lbs per year, pesticide use declined by 2.7 million lbs per year, and
revenues increased by $99 million per year. 1: Agbiotech Bulletin,
Agbiotech, 07-11-2001 2: Harnessing the Potential of Plant-Based
Biotech Vicki Brower, Genetic Engineering News, vol 21, no. 21. Dec
2001. p. 40 & 71
Environmental Heavy-Weight: A Global Greenpeace Perspective
- Interview with Steve Sawyer, Climate Policy Coordinator, Greenpeace;
Onpoint, Winter 2002. http://www.tim.co.il/
What are the main challenges that distinguish between environmental
causes (oceans, deserts, forests, air, etc.) and what is most
pressing for people to know today about the ocean, the land, and the
air? I would say that the main distinguishing feature would be that
oceans and the atmosphere are part of the global commons, i.e.,
belonging to everyone and no-one, the common heritage of man-kind;
whereas most (except Antarctica) land areas are in the jurisdiction
of one or the other national government. This has a major impact on
the way in which these issues are addressed, i.e., the oceans and
atmosphere are in general (although of course not exclusively)
governed by international treaty, whereas land areas are most
commonly addressed through national and local governments.
What is most pressing for people today to know about the ocean, the
land and the air is that: * all are under threat from human activity;
* they are all part of one planetary environmental system, and none
exist in isolation from the rest; and * the understanding of each of
these systems is radically dependent on each of the others, and
activities that have an impact on one system will invariably have
impacts on the other two.
When Greenpeace takes on an issue, what is the process by which it
follows in attempting to make the changes it believes need to be
made? Quite often there are discussions with companies before
protests begin, but not always. Whether or not we try to work with
companies that pollute depends very much on their willingness to
acknowledge that they are creating a problem and are willing to do
something about it. There are many who make lots of money denying a
problem, or questioning the science, or delaying regulation through
buying politicians, or whatever-we wouldn't bother trying to work
with them, assuming a simple approach doesn't work.
What are the main environmental objections (and reasons for these
objections) that Greenpeace has towards agricultural biotechnology
and genetically modified crops? Genetic scientists are altering life
itself-dabbling with genes to produce unnatural living plants, and
animals. But when the scientist's job is done and industry pushes
these strange life forms into every area of our lives no one will be
able to control them and no one can even begin to predict the impact
they will have on all our lives. The precautionary principle dictates
against the widespread, uncontrolled (and uncontrollable)
introduction of a poorly understood technology into the agricultural
sector. We should have learned this lesson from the early days of the
nuclear industry (too cheap to meter) and the petrochemical industry
(DDT, PCBs, Dioxins, etc., et. al). Biotechnology by its very
definition reduces biodiversity in the agricultural sector, where we
as a species can only endanger our survival by reducing the variety
of plants upon which we depend for our lives.
What are the economic incentives, (if any) for developing and
developed countries to embrace the environment? The economic
incentives are contained in any perspective that lasts longer than
one term of office or a generation, depending on the situation and
the resources that are involved. The global conversation about this
revolves around the concept of "sustainable development", and its
three pillars: economic development, social equity, and environmental
protection. The goal would be to present future generations with at
least as positive prospects as the current generation.
The shortsighted economics developed over the past several thousand
years do not adequately address our current situation where we are
running up against the limits of the finitude of this small planet in
terms of our ability to feed, clothe, house, educate and find
productive work for our billions; where we are despoiling one
ecosystem after another; and where we are wasting our non-renewable
resources at an alarming rate.
From: Javier Verastegui
Subject: South to North Biotechnology Transfer in Genomics !
Dear colleagues / Estimados colegas,
For your information, I copy below a Washington Post article of
December 29, 2001, taken from the FAPESP's website
(http://www.fapesp.br/), which I strongly recommend to visit (please
search for Genome Project or ONSA). It shows how well it pays for a
developing country to invest strategically and smartly on the most
advanced scientific areas, in this case the Brazilian state of Sao
Paulo, who had invested strongly on genomic research since 1997. We
can also conclude that there is always a niche of opportunity for
biotechnology research in developing countries because their urgent
needs in human health, agriculture or industry are almost never the
research subject for the advanced centers and firms of developed
Calif. Vintners Put Hopes in Brazil's Labs: Work on Decoding a
Devastating Microbe Reflects New Rules of Global Science
- Abigail Trafford, Washington Post, December 29, 2001
SAO PAULO, Brazil -- The Botany Department at the University of Sao
Paulo is a spare, gray two-story building surrounded by uneven grass.
The lights are turned off in the hallways to save electricity. Power
outages have been a problem.
But inside its walls lies perhaps the best hope to protect
California's $2.7 billion wine industry from a devastating predator.
A team of Brazilian scientists has cracked the genetic code of the
bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, which has decimated vineyards in
Southern California and is rapidly heading north. Under a unique
combined project, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the California
Department of Food and Agriculture and the American Vineyard
Foundation are funding the work. The U.S. government turned to Brazil
for help because "Brazil is now the leader in this area of
agriculture," said Edwin L. Civerolo of the USDA's Agricultural
Research Service. "We did not have the experience or infrastructure
to do the work." Brazil's accomplishment illustrates the new rules of
science in the global economy. Researchers anywhere in the world who
do quality research and master the Internet can leapfrog national
borders and challenge the traditional citadels of science in the
United States and Europe. Brazil's achievement took money, focus and
the right microbe. The work on the genome is complete, according to
results reported this month at a San Diego research symposium on
Pierce's disease -- the name for the ailment caused by Xylella
fastidiosa. It is the first step toward designing targeted strategies
to block the disease in the grapevines at the cellular level.
"No buildings, no walls, no turf battles," said Carlos Henrique de
brito Cruz, the president of the foundation. The operating imperative
was one of cooperation, rather than competition, among scientists.
"The most difficult thing was to learn how to work together," said
Van Sluys, project leader of the Xylella genome study. "Everyone had
to learn together -- how to sequence, how to do functional analysis."
Simpson, of the cancer research institute, put it this way: "It's
human nature to be competitive. What we did was to turn it outward.
We're competing as a group against the rest of the world. It's like a
football team going into the Super Bowl." In June 2000, the USDA
declared Pierce's disease an agricultural emergency. The disease has
been around since the 1880s, but about 10 years ago it began
spreading rapidly. The outbreak was caused by a new and more
aggressive microbe-delivery system: the glassy-winged sharpshooter.
Dark brown with small yellow dots and translucent wings, the
half-inch-long bug can fly faster and farther than previous
disease-carrying vectors. It breeds and feeds in grapevines,
depositing the Xylella bacterium into the plant, clogging the
water-conducting vessels, spreading death from vine to vine. Pierce's
disease can kill a grapevine in two years, and there is no known cure.
The insect is thought to have been brought into California in nursery
plants from the southeastern United States. Since then it has caused
more than $40 million in damage, according to some estimates. "The
glassy-winged sharpshooter has emerged as the most significant threat
to California agriculture in 20 years," said William J. Lyons,
secretary of the California Deparment of Food and Agriculture. In
fall 1999, a few days after the Brazilian team had completed the
Xylella genome for citrus disease, Simpson announced the results at a
conference on bacteria genomes in San Diego. In the audience was a
representative of E. & J. Gallo Winery. "He asked me, 'Do you know
that Xylella is a problem in California vineyards?' " Simpson
recalled. He didn't, but that conversation led to unprecedented
cross-equator cooperation between the United States and Brazil. The
United States is now paying $300,000 to the Brazilian team to unravel
the genome of the strain spreading Pierce's disease. The funds are
matched by Brazil's foundation as part of its program to enhance the
country's worldwide role in genomics.
Meanwhile, the virtual genomics institute has expanded its research
to other pathogens. Brazilians are closing in on another killer of
citrus trees -- Xanthomonas campestris -- and working on a scourge of
sugar cane. They are collaborating with the Joint Genome Institute of
the University of California on the Xylella strains that affect
almonds and oleander. They are making their data available to
scientists around the world who are analyzing specific parts of the
genome and possible pathways of disease. The research bonanza comes
in comparing the completed genomes of the two Xylella strains. "With
the ability to compare different strains," Van Sluys said, "you can
build a much stronger hypothesis" about how the microbe causes
disease and possibly how to block that process.
The design of a genomics-based cure is hardly around the corner.
Oliveira's relatives in the citrus-growing region of Sao Paulo keep
pressing her about a treatment. "I tell them to pray. It's going to
be a long process," she said. "In a few years, we'll see something."
But Brazil has already benefited from the research. The country known
for soccer and the samba has added genomics to its national
reputation. Brazilian scientists have entered the fray of human
genomics. They have designed a method for analyzing gene fragments
and are collaborating on a data bank of human cancer genes with the
National Cancer Institute. They have also kept their lead in plant
genomics. Recently, they completed the genome of the tropical
bacterium Chromobacterium violaceum, which might lead to the
development of antibiotics and compounds that alleviate the effects
of pollution. All in all, the gamble on Xylella paid off.
Genomics was not only a boon to Brazil; it seems that it was also a
special bonus for women in research. The leaders of the original
laboratory team were largely women: Van Sluys, Oliveira, Claudia
Monteiro-Vitorello, Ana Claudia Rasera da Silva, Marilis V. Marques,
Elizabeth Martins and Ana Maria Aranha Camargo. "We were a bunch of
girls," Oliveira joked. Most have gone on to leadership roles in
other genomics projects.
Dear Editor of "The Reflector":
I wish to comment on the letter written by Dr. Thomas H Kerr III
titled "Whom should we blame if not the engineer?" in response to an
earlier article written by Dr. Charles Rader titled "Don't Blame the
Engineer''. Dr. Kerr is entirely mistaken and misinformed on the
issue of agricultural biotechnology and this is very evident in his
rebuttal to the excellent commentary by Dr. Rader.
Dr. Kerr says that 'Antibiotics have been genetically engineered into
some crops'. Antibiotics have NOT been genetically engineered into
crops and what has been introduced into crops are the antibiotic
marker genes. There is a very high scientific consensus that such
markers do not pose any health or food safety risks. FDA and
different advisory groups in the World Health Organization and the
Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations reviewed
available data in 1993 and in 2000 and determined that there is no
evidence of harm or risk to consumers or the environment by the use
of antibiotic markers. The opinion of the European Commission's
Scientific Committee on Plants was also again very similar.
Dr. Kerr continues "Nut-like aspects have been genetically engineered
into some crops
that are not ordinarily monitored for human allergic reactions."
Again, this simply shows how ignorant he is on this technology or
perhaps he derives his "knowledge" of agricultural biotechnology by
reading the literature from Greenpeace. No nut genes or any allergen
has been introduced into any crops that are currently commercialized.
A Brazil-nut gene was introduced into soybean to improve its
nutritive value in a research study in late eighties, but once the
allergenicity of the protein from this gene was discovered during the
early testing, this soybean was never commercialized.
Thus, it is rather irresponsible for Dr. Kerr to say that this
'never-commercialized' product foiled "the vigilance of parents and
school systems trying to prevent their allergy-prone kids from
exposure to life-threatening substances."
Far from threatening, the agricultural biotechnology offers valuable
tools to reduce allergen and toxic compounds from our food and thus
make it more safer. Crops derived by agricultural biotechnology are
helping the environment through reduction of pesticides and
reduced-tillage of soil, and also hold enormous potential to enhance
food security in the Third World.
May I encourage Dr. Kerr and other members of IEEE to visit
http://www.agbioworld.org/ to learn more about the benefits of this
technology and to recognize the fact that 3300 scientists including
19 Nobel laureates have endorsed a declaration in support of
C. S. Prakash
>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).
From: Owen McShane"
A letter (yet unpublished) that I wrote to the Scientific American in
response to their anti-Lomborg issue follows.
The Editor, Scientific American
Dear Sir - RE: Misleading math about the Earth, January 2002.
I am sure others will make the point that Science does not defend
itself against attack. Scientists challenge the work of other
scientists. Religions defend themselves against heresy. These four
responses to Lomborg's book read more like religious statements of
faith by offended priests rather than the measured response of
scientists. But then how many of the four authors are genuine
scientists in their fields? John Bongaarts is a vice president of the
Population Council in New York. Naturally, he has a vested interest
in maintaining the population problem'. Without it, he is out of a
He argues that if population had grown less rapidly in the past we
would be better off now. What is his evidence? Throughout human
history low growth rates in population are associated with low growth
rates in wealth. On the other hand, population explosions are
associated with increased wealth.
Bongaarts shows a huge misunderstanding of the economics of food
production when he claims massive governmental subsidies to farmers,
particularly in the developed countries, keep food prices
artificially low. Although technological developments have reduced
prices, without these subsidies, world food prices would certainly be
What qualifies him to make such an extraordinary claim? The US and
the European Economic Union have massive agricultural subsidies but
these artificially increase food prices rather than reduce them.
Tariff barriers and quotas complement these subsidies as part of a
plan to exclude cheaper foreign food from domestic markets. For
decades the WTO has promoted free trade for manufactured goods but
upheld protection of agricultural produce. The end result is higher
food prices in developed countries and the throttling of the
agricultural economies from poor countries. John Bongaarts appears to
believe that this has benefited the world's poor.
New Zealand broke the mould when it removed all agricultural
subsidies during the nineteen-eighties. This stimulated innovation
and our farmers became even more more cost competitive in
international markets. The Economic Union and the United States
responded by raising tariff barriers, quotas and domestic subsidies
to keep New Zealand products from competing unfairly with their
Contrary to John Bongaarts' presumptions, New Zealand's agricultural
sector has increased output at lower prices while removing land from
agricultural production. Sir Roger Douglas, the Minister of Finance
who removed the subsidies has proved to be a great benefactor of the
environment because much unproductive land has now reverted to native
forest while, soil erosion and water pollution by chemical runoff has
been reduced dramatically. Lomborg is correct. We can feed future
populations using less land than we do now AD provided that the OECD
countries abandon their subsidies which encourage over investment in
domestic agriculture, at the expense of the environment.
The environmental benefits of Sir Roger Douglas's reforms contradicts
Thomas Lovejoy's argument that environmental improvement occurs only
because environmentalists identify a problem and then develop
solutions. They had no involvement in our agricultural reforms and
are normally embarrassed when I point out that this Chicago school
politician has done more to improve our current environment than
groups such as Greenpeace or our ostensibly Green politicians.
But of course such policies are unpopular among government agencies
whose budgets are driven by government interventions of all kinds.
It's much easier for the Population Council to the starving people
for their profligate breeding than to promote reforms within the
Federal Government which provides their own funds.
It is no surprise that Bongaarts attributes lower rates of hunger to
intensive efforts by governments and the international community. He
obviously has little faith in the ability of ordinary people to grow
their own food. This reveals the typical bias of so many
environmental advocates, most of whom have no faith in markets or
John Bongaarts fails to recognise the harm that governments do and
finds it easier to lay the blame on people's private lives and
private choices. He fails to see that he proves Lomborg's major point
- that so much of the environmental litany is now driven by ideology
and self interest rather than good science. I have called this kind
of science budget science because its driven by the need to gain next
year's budget rather than promote real solutions to real problems.
If these four essays represent the voice of modern American science
then I wonder when your science, and your magazine, became vehicles
for government propaganda.
Lomborg's Four Noble Truths
- From: "Red Porphyry"
OK, I've finally had a chance to take a look at Lomborg's book "The
Skeptical Environmentalist". It's very dense reading, which isn't
surprising, given that it's meant to be a counterpart to the
Worldwatch Institute's "The State of the World" series, which is also
very dense reading. This density, though, provides an important clue
to what's really going on here.
Basically, what Lomborg has done ispresent the work of Julian Simon
in the same format ("look and feel") as that of "The State of the
World" series, right down to the abundance of pictorial graphs and
chapter divisions. "The Skeptical Environmentalist" is not a work of
*science*, and Lomborg never meant it to be taken as such. Rather,
like "the State of the World", it is a work of advocacy for a
particular *opinion*, in Lomborg's case Simonian techno-optimism. The
fact that both techno-optimists and techno-pessimists, by accident or
design, debate its content as if it *were* a work of science reveals
more about the internal psychological state of techno-optimists and
techno-pessimists than it does about Lomborg. The pronounced tendency
of both techno-optimists and techno-pessimists to respond bothto
Lomborg and to each other out ofwhat can only be described as a
persecution and seize mentality is profoundly disturbing. Given the
influence of both over public and private policy in both the U.S. and
the world, such responses are of legitimate concern to those of us
who hold a more balanced view of the role of technology in
As for the Lomborg's basic theses, they're basically the following:
1) The state of the world is getting objectively better. The reason
this isn't seen is a consequence of two things: (a)focusing only on
short-term trends in the environmental data at the expense of the far
more important, and relevant, long-term trends, and (b) placing far
too much trust in computer simulations and not enough trust in
empirical data ("place your trust, not in concepts, but in direct
2) Scientists are unusually vulnerable to both 1a) and 1b), but
particularly to 1b). Lomborg's clearest and most open declarations of
this are on p.254: "One prominent conservationist admitted in
'Science' that 'the lack of data does worry me' [concerning
extinction rates]. Worried about the reaction from other biologists,
he demanded to remain anonymous, because 'they'll kill me', as he put
it. Although 'kill' is presumably intended to be taken in the
metaphorical sense, it does rather emphasize that the biologists have
a clear opinion of where the debate between figures and models should
end. There are many grants at stake", and on p. 256: "Unfortunately,
when it comes to the crunch, observations do not seem to satisfy most
[E.O.] Wilson continues to say 'believe me'...Having the attitude
that in scientific discourse on species extinction it is unnecessary
to provide evidence is, of course, problematic. The biologists
seriously argue that any skeptic [Lomborg specifically calls out
Jared Diamond, of 'Guns, Germs and Steel' fame, here] should himself
go to the jungle and carry out the biologists' research, because the
biologists already KNOW that things are going askew. In reality, of
course, they [the biologists] are asking society for a blank check to
prevent something which is claimed to be a catastrophe (50% over the
next 50 years) but which is not supported by data (indicating a
problem in the region of 0.7% over the next 50 years)."
3) Because of these vulnerabilities (to 1a) and 1b)), Lomborg infers
that society perhaps relies too much on the conclusions of scientists
when formulating public and private environmental policies.Instead,
society might be better served if scientists stick to their
commonlyunderstood and accepted role to "objectively gather evidence
to help society make real, well-informed choices" (p. 256). Who
should society rely on then, to help it draw the appropriate
conclusions from the evidence objectively gathered by scientists, if
not the scientists themselves. Lomborg provides a clue on p. 305 with
regards to what society should do about global warming: "On of the
most important model-builders [!] in this field is the professor of
economics [!] William Nordhaus of Yale University. He produced the
first computer model, the Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy model
(DICE) in order to evaluate the pros and cons of different political
Ultimately, for Lomborg, it is the (political?) economist(like Julian
Simon, for example) whowill provide us with the proper way to analyze
environmental data, an analysis that will keep computer simulations,
empirical data, and statistics in their proper perspective. Armed
with such an analysis, society will at last be able to formulate
appropriate public and private environmental policies, thereby
ensuring the wise use of the Earth's resources and a healthy
environment. There you have it. In a nutshell:
Lomborg's Four Noble Truths of Environmental Studies:
(1) Empirical data over computer simulation
(2) Follow long-term trends over short-term trends
(3) Use scientists for data gathering
(4) Use economists for data analysis