Today in AgBioView: March 21, 2002
* GE/ The 'The Golden Apple' Solution
* Butterfly Kills From Bt Corn Debunked By Researchers
* Biotech Remains Unloved by the More Informed
* Biotech Has Been Great For Farmers, Environment
* Counter-productive Systems
* Organic Farmers Ignorant about GM
* Organic Dogma
* The Rise of NGO
* Merchants of Morality
* Argentina Exposes Pro-GM Fallacy
* 'Gene Regime'
GE/ The 'The Golden Apple' Solution
- Bernie Napp, Asia Intelligence Wire via NewsEdge Corporation: NAPP
Bernie March 19, 2002
Genetic engineering is as safe, or safer, than conventional plant
breeding, says visiting British scientist and chaos theory pioneer
Lord Robert May.
Opponents of genetic engineering, consider these facts. Almost all of
the world's wheat is descended from seeds once exposed to atomic
It's pretty easy to do, really. Put seeds near radioactive cobalt,
grow the results, and keep the genetic mutants with desirable traits.
No one has ever died from eating randomly-created mutant wheat. And
yet, the reshuffling of 10 percent of genes in one radiation
operation is much, much more Frankenstein-like than modern GE in
which one or two genes from one species are spliced into the genome
of another. It's facts like these that have convinced one of the
world's top science minds, Lord Robert McCredie May, of Britain, that
GE poses no more risks to food safety than any other plant breeding
May, president of the prestigious Royal Society of London, was in New
Zealand last week sharing his views on science as a guest of the
Royal Society of New Zealand. In Britain, May is a zoology professor
at Oxford University and at Imperial College, London. He's a
theoretical physicist who turned to the mathematics of populations
and is best known now for his predictions on the spread of HIV and
He is not a person who's at all fazed by the views of GE opponents. A
classic objection to GE is that genes are holistic systems and work
in groups. You can't predict where a spliced gene will land in the
host's DNA, so the total effects of the GE operation are
So what? asks May. It's exactly the same with existing plant breeding
methods. The only difference is that GE is much more targeted,
quicker and more accurate. It uses known genes with known effects.
As for tampering with the basis of life - a second common objection -
life on Earth is already highly mixed, he says. Humans share half of
their genes with those of a banana. The building blocks of life, from
one end of the animal and plant kingdoms to the other, are much the
same. It's because lifeforms are so similar genetically from one form
to another that GE works.
Traditional Maori views that it is wrong to mix the whakapapa
(genealogy) and wairua (life force) of different lifeforms have no
scientific basis, May says. But this says nothing about the validity
of Maori views. "Science can tell you what the choices are and what
they are not. The (political) debate is not about science. It's a
debate about feelings, beliefs and values. The spirit of democracy is
to come to a majority view.
"I would hope in the longer term people have greater awareness that
we are part of a seamless web of life," May says. "The number of
genes we share buttresses that philosophy." This awareness will come
when GE delivers benefits to consumers rather than agri-business, May
says. The "golden apple" - a fruit that makes the eater thin and
witty - would be one. . Allergy-free peanuts would be another.
Despite greenies' concerns, GE food would be safer than, or at least
as safe as, conventional foods.
Potential weediness of GE crops and accidental hybrids, and permanent
insect resistance in plants, are non-issues, he says. The biggest
problem GE crops pose is to the environment. More monocultures can
mean less biodiversity. The world needs to focus on more
environmentally-friendly agriculture. Here again, GE can help.
Less need for pesticides is one environmental benefit of GE, May
says. It's odd that organic farmers - who routinely spray their crops
with poisonous metals - shy away from a technology that would remove
the need for such intervention. Organic farming combined with GE
could produce crops that work with "the grain of nature" , such as
drought, salt or insect tolerance. But, say GE opponents, what about
the precautionary approach, that one shouldn't do anything until the
effects are known? Aren't the risks of GE impossible to manage
because we don't have the information to manage them? Isn't GE an
inherently unpredictable technology, like nature's chaotic systems
such as weather and the spread of disease?
The last is a good question to ask May, a Sydney-born scientist who
has spent decades applying chaos theory to population biology. "Chaos
theory has nothing to do with genetic engineering," he says. "GE is
complicated . . . complicated things are complicated, we always knew
that. Chaos is much more revolutionary."
Chaos theory shows that even simple systems can exhibit complex
behaviours, he says. A tiny difference between actual and measured
wind speed or barometric pressure will produce huge differences
between weather patterns and forecasts after only a few days. That's
why weather forecasters will never be able to get it absolutely right.
May says films like Jurassic Park have given people the wrong idea of
chaos theory, that fiddling with biological systems produces
inherently unpredictable results. It only reinforces a pseudo-science
message that one tampers with life at one's peril.
The reality is otherwise: even if one lifeform looks very different
from another, we are all much the same; we have the same whakapapa
Butterfly Kills From Bt Corn Debunked By Researchers
- Delta Farm Press via NewsEdge Corporatio March 20, 2002
So, how many millions of people saw the sensationalistic TV news
stories a while back about how pollen from Bt corn was killing
There were certainly plenty of opportunities as TV anchors, dripping
concern, told how pollen from the genetically engineered plants was
drifting to the milkweed plants on which the butterfly caterpillars
feed. All this accompanied, of course, by film of the gorgeous
So, how many millions of people saw stories on TV and in the major
newspapers that scientists have conclusively established that risk to
the butterflies is "insignificant"? Not many, because those stories
apparently didn't have the viewer/reader appeal of the ones about
The whole thing was a tempest in a teapot from day one -- a story
based chiefly on the preliminary findings of a single very small
study, without collaboration by other scientists to lend validity to
the allegation. A number of reputable scientists subsequently
debunked the "killer pollen" assertions, but their statements got
nowhere the distribution of the original story.
It was announced just a few days ago that research conducted by a
group of scientists coordinated by USDA's Agricultural Research
Service found "no significant risk to monarch butterflies from
environmental exposure to Bt corn pollen."
The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences, and the findings made available to the media, which
mostly ignored the information.
Here's what the scientists found: For pollen from Bt corn to have a
toxic effect on the Monarch caterpillars, the insects had to be
exposed to levels in excess of 1,000 grains per centimeter. Corn
pollen levels on milkweed during the two weeks of crop pollen shed
averaged only 170 grains per centimeter within the corn fields.
Several field studies showed much lower levels, ranging from about 50
grains per centimeter at the edge of a corn field to less than 1
grain just a few feet away from the edge.
Only one variety of Bt corn was found to have a negative effect on
the caterpillars at very low concentrations, but it was an old Bt
variety, is not widely planted, and will likely be phased out
entirely by 2003.
All the studies have undergone critical peer review by independent
experts to insure the validity of the scientific methods, analysis,
and conclusions. The cooperation between researchers from many
separate institutions was "extraordinary," USDA said. In fact, "the
way in which this research was done is being considered as a model
for conducting risk assessment research." The studies included
exchanges of information between butterfly biologists, corn experts,
pest specialists, and others, all working to insure that they
Even publication of the data was handled in an unusual, coordinated
fashion, with researchers themselves pooling their findings and
submitting everything to a single scientific journal for peer review.
By publishing exposure, toxicity, and risk analysis studies at one
time in one journal, scientists and policymakers could more easily
evaluate the information.
Too bad the media weren't so industrious.
Biotech Remains Unloved by the More Informed
- Nature 416, 261 (2002), March 21. 2002
Sir - Public hostility towards biotechnologies is frequently
attributed to lack of information, due to poor and insufficient media
coverage. For this reason, scientific researchers and policy-makers
often call for journalists to give more attention to scientific
issues, for better information campaigns and for more communication
of science, to improve general understanding and thereby lead to
greater public support for biotechnologies and other innovations. But
is this approach correct?
In 2000 and 2001, with partial support from the Giannino Bassetti
Foundation, we carried out two surveys of Italian public opinion.
These were specifically to analyse the relationships between exposure
to science in the media, information on biotechnologies, trust in
science, and attitudes to biotechnologies. A representative sample of
1,022 Italian citizens aged over 18 were interviewed by phone in
September 2000; another representative sample of 1,017 citizens were
interviewed in November 2001. Some questions were identical for the
two groups, others were year-specific. (A copy of the full list of
questions used in the survey and the percentage response rates is
available from M.B.)
Respondents were asked about their level of exposure to science in
specified daily newspapers, television and radio science programmes,
popular science books and magazines. We used questions similar to
those of 1999 Eurobarometer (see
also asked additional ones about trust in science and scientists, and
the use, risks and moral acceptability of biotechnologies.
Our results confirm previous suspicions that exposure to information
does not always lead to greater trust in biotechnologies. We also
find that greater exposure to science in the media does not
necessarily mean a higher level of understanding. The proportion of
subjects who think "only genetically modified tomatoes contain genes
while ordinary tomatoes don't", for example, is almost identical
among those with high (29%) and low (31%) exposure to science in the
media. More than a quarter of the 'regular' consumers of science in
the media (28%) cannot give more than one correct answer to five
questions about biotechnologies, and more than half (57%) cannot give
more than two correct answers.
High exposure to science in the media does not significantly reduce
opposition to applications such as "taking genes from plant species
and transferring them into crop plants, to make them more resistant
to insect pests" or "introducing human genes into animals to produce
organs for human transplants, such as into pigs for human heart
transplants". But it does result in greater criticism for some
applications: 64% of the most exposed subjects consider embryo
research to be ethically unacceptable compared with 59% of the less
exposed, and 80% of regular consumers of science in the media
consider reproductive cloning useless compared with 76% of low
Of course, media exposure to science does not guarantee accurate
information; indeed, there are frequent complaints about the quality
of science coverage by the mass media. People who are exposed to at
least one high-quality source of public communication of science (for
example, the Italian edition of Scientific American) are more likely
to have a positive attitude to biotechnologies. Yet this result
merely highlights a well-known paradox in the communication of
science: the greatest impact is on a small minority, who are most
likely to have the information already.
A high level of information does not guarantee a positive attitude:
49% of the better-informed respondents think that transferring genes
into fruit or vegetables is useless, and 54% think it is risky.
Embryo research fares poorly (60% in both groups consider it
unacceptable), whereas cloning for reproductive purposes is even more
severely judged by the better informed than by the less well informed.
A higher level of information is associated with the desire for
stricter state regulation of biotechnologies, as well as with the
belief that regulation should not be left either to companies or to
scientists alone. The better informed are also more likely to trust
consumers' organizations and scientific institutions more than
potential beneficiaries (such as patients' groups) and, sometimes,
If media exposure to science does not account for different attitudes
to biotechnologies, what does? Attitudes appear to be rooted at a
deeper, cultural level where values (such as trust and conception of
risk) are heavily involved and media information does not reach.
Public awareness of biotechnologies is increasing and the level of
education seems to be more important than other factors in explaining
attitudes in this area. So it may be wise to recommend that at least
as much attention is devoted to science education - both in terms of
research and of programmes and investments - as to the mass-media
communication of science.
Massimiano Bucchi; Department of Social Sciences, University of
Trento, via Verdi 26 - 38100, Trento, Italy; e-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org; Federico Neresini Department of Sociology,
University of Padova, via S. Canziano 8, 35122 Padova, Italy
Biotechnology Has Been Great For Farmers, Environment
- R. James Cook, Spokane Spokesman-Review, March 19, 2002 (From Agnet)
Pullman, Wa -- R. James Cook, who holds the endowed chair in wheat
research at Washington State University and is a member of the
National Academy of Sciences, writes that new biotechnology applied
to agriculture is a success.
More than one-fourth of U.S. cropland, about 85 million acres, was
planted in 2001 to crops genetically modified for resistance to
insect pests, the herbicide Roundup or both. An additional 50 million
to 55 million acres of these crops were planted in 2001 in Canada,
Argentina, China, South Africa and Australia, according to the
International Service for the Acquisition of Ag-Biotech Applications.
Brazil is now close to approving soybeans with resistance to Roundup,
as is India for cotton genetically resistant to insect pests. Cook
asks why are farmers adopting biotech crops at a rate that some
compare to the rate at which tractors replaced horses during the
early 20th century?
The reasons are simple: With no change in safety or quality of the
harvested products, these crops are easier and cheaper to grow than
their counterparts without herbicide or insect resistance. In
addition, the environmental bonuses represent, arguably, the greatest
benefits to resource conservation and environmental quality of any
technology introduced since the beginning of agriculture. Hazards
such as transfer of a newly introduced gene to another species' gene
pool and affects on nontarget organisms have been speculated upon,
but thus far, rigorous scientific investigation has left such
concerns hypothetical, unconfirmed or disproved.
Three potential crop management hazards are: Soil cultivation, which
is responsible for dust and sediments that pollute our air and water.
Weather magazine, for instance, declared the "Dust Bowl" the worst
weather event of the 20th century. Excesses in pesticide applications
raise issues of environmental safety. Nitrogen fertilizer left unused
in the soil can lead to pollution of ground water or surface water.
The adoption of biotech crops is helping to reduce all three of these
hazards. The adoption of crop varieties with resistance to Roundup is
facilitating if not accelerating "no-till' methods of farming --
where farmers do not plow under the remaining stubble after a
harvest. In addition to protecting a precious natural resource by
significantly reducing soil run-off, no-till farming requires less
fuel, residue of the previous crop left on the soil surface provides
habitat for birds and other wildlife, and carbon dioxide from the
atmosphere is sequestered in soil with the buildup of organic matter.
According to the Conservation Technology Information Center, nearly
one-third of the 75 million acres of soybeans grown in the United
States in 2001 were planted directly using the no-till method into
the stubble and other residue of previous crops, and another half of
all U.S. soybeans were grown with greatly reduced tillage. No-till
farming methods are also being rapidly adopted in Canada, Argentina
and Australia. Crops kept healthy by any method are less likely to
leave fertilizer unused in the soil. Seventy percent of the 2001 U.S.
cotton crop had a Bt gene for insect resistance. These varieties
require only 2-3 insecticide applications, compared with the standard
10-12 applications each season for cotton without this gene.
The adoption of insect-protected cotton in China has reduced
pesticide use on these varieties by 80 percent, saving about $300 per
acre. Due largely to the combination of increased competition from
biotech crops, and elimination of pesticide applications, the global
pesticide market is declining at 2-3 percent per year. The big
revolution in modern agriculture is not just biotech crops; it is the
more resource-use efficient and environmentally friendly cropping
systems made possible by these crops.
- Editorial, Business Standard (India)
If the Chinese economy is clocking growth rates strikingly higher
than India's, there are good reasons, including the plain fact that
the Chinese are more eager to grab the opportunities that come their
The latest example of this trait is the simplification of
certification procedures for genetically modified (GM) crops, so as
to remove hurdles in the way of their trade and pave the way for
quicker spread of GM crops, to the advantage of farmers.
Under the simplified procedure, if a GM organism has got
environmental and health clearance in the country of its origin or a
third country, it will be granted approval, albeit temporary, in
China within a month. Though India, being a democratic country with
multi-level checks and safeguards in its decision-making process, may
not be able to emulate the Chinese example in toto, it surely can
learn a lesson or two.
India is now one of only two (Brazil being the other) of the worldís
major agricultural countries that are yet to harness crop
biotechnology. The Indian case is unique in many respects. The
country has chosen to be a laggard in this field despite having some
major strengths, such as a modern and the worldís largest
agricultural research network; abundance of scientific manpower,
including biotechnologists; ready availability of GM seeds and
technology in both the public and private sectors; and, to top it
all, a satisfied peasantry which has already grown, though
unknowingly and illegally, the transgenic insect-protected Bt cotton,
with good results.
There cannot be any compromise on bio-safety, nor exposure to
environmental or health hazards. Therefore, thorough evaluation of
any product through laboratory testing and field trials is a must.
But the process of evaluation should not be so protracted and
cumbersome that it becomes a pointless obstruction in the way of
gainful deployment of this technology.
Besides, the assessment process should not wholly ignore the results
of similar tests and trials carried out on a gene elsewhere, as also
the experience of large-scale cultivation of GM crops abroad. The
experience with the Bt cotton evaluation has underscored the need for
a review of the existing biotech regulatory framework.
For one thing, this framework is based on rules framed by the
environment ministry way back in 1989 under the Environment
(Protection) Act, which itself needs a re-look in view of recent
developments, especially in the field of molecular biotechnology.
This apart, the existing multiplicity of authorities is creating more
problems than it was intended to solve. At present, the Review
Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM), which is supposed to
oversee research activities, including field trials, is under the
department of biotechnology while the final authority for granting
approval to biotech crops is the Genetic Engineering Approval
Committee (GEAC) of the environment ministry.
What is needed is a competent unified regulatory authority
representing scientists, medical and nutrition experts and
environmentalists to conduct evaluations, scientifically and
transparently, and to give final approval. The environment ministry
alone cannot be entrusted with the responsibility for issues that
have far-reaching economic implications
Organic Farmers Ignorant about GM
- AgraFood Biotech 12 Feb 2002
(Forwarded by "Mieschendahl Dr., Martin" )
Study undertaken by Kristen Lyons from Griffith University of
Queensland, Australia. She surveyed over 70 organic producers in
Queensland, New South Wales, and the South Island of New Zealand.
The GU survey shows that organic farmers tend to be seriously
misinformed about GM said the Chairman of the Life Science Network,
Dr. William Rolleston. "It is no surprise that Dr. Lyons research
suggests that the majority of organic farmers surveyed are opposed to
GM technology. However we are shocked by the level of ignorance and
misunderstanding which appears to be disclosed by the survey", said
Rolleston. "These views are clearly not supported by science or
commercial application," said Rolleston. "For example in Australia
where farmers grow GM cotton there has been a reduction of
insecticides by over 40% every season."
"Organic, conventional and GM farming can co-exist and continue to
grow and prosper in both Australia and New-Zealand. But the challenge
for organic producers is to resist using emotional and irrational
arguments to publicly condemn the use of GM technology, and to
instead seek out factual, responsible and reliable information
sources to raise their own level of understanding and acceptance, Dr.
Luke Gaskell, New Scientist, March 23, 2002 (From Agnet)
It is curious that you have juxtaposed three articles "Green
harvest", "Beating back a killer" and "Taming the tsetse" (23
February, p 16 and p 17). In the first it is argued that poor
countries' food supplies can best be safeguarded by abandoning modern
drugs and chemicals, while in the second and third, threats to human
health are best addressed by more sophisticated drugs or even wiping
out a vector species. These approaches are obviously contradictory.
It is not a "myth" that organic farming gives lower yields. In the
West, whole farm output is typically some 30 per cent lower than with
conventional methods. I would suggest that the improved yields quoted
are likely to have been brought about by better husbandry rather than
abandoning fertiliser and insecticides. The use or otherwise of these
products should depend on the cost to the farmer relative to the
extra revenue he gains by employing them, which in some cases may
mean they are of little or no benefit.
Malnutrition is still a major killer in the Third World and to go
organic for reasons of dogma would be very dangerous.
- Luke Gaskell, Melrose, Borders
The Rise of NGO
From: email@example.com , March 21, 2002
The International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources
"Who are the NGOs?"
And how did these "non-governmental organizations" get so powerful?
"They are yesterday's special interest groups who today, have
convinced the public and the press that they are the moral compass
and ethical watchdogs against the forces of government and
capitalism. They start from a single cause. They develop an
infrastructure. They become a business with a keen eye to making
money; except they don't pay taxes on the revenue, nor do they use
the money to solve the problems from which they make their money."
"Many factors played into the rapid rise and amassment of power and
influence [including] an increase in disposable income and the most
powerful tool for the effective development of social activism; the
rise of the Internet. Suddenly there was money, a sympathetic army,
and a method to reach millions with pictures and propaganda."
"Today, the plethora of NGOs shares several key elements in common.
They are anti-business, distrustful of government- educated,
sophisticated communicators, and zealous in the conviction of the
correctness of their views. Their weapons are public exposes,
boycotts, litigation, tariffs, prohibitions, regulatory restraints,
public demonstrations, grassroots mobilization, state ballot
initiatives, third party certification, labeling and more."
"They know that 'perception is reality,' that emotion is a more
powerful motivator than fact and reason, and that feelings are more
compelling than thought. Finally, they abide by the rule that the end
justifies the means . The leaders are cynical, savvy, brilliant
strategists and well aware how to amass and use power and money."
The Center for Consumer Freedom tracks the activities of activists
and NGOs (click any link in this story to learn more) -- and exposes
the truth about their funding. Visit ActivistCash.com for details.
Merchants of Morality
Which global injustices gain your sympathy, attention, and money?
Rarely the most deserving. For every Tibetan monk or Central American
indigenous activist you see on the evening news, countless other
worthy causes languish in obscurity.
The groups that reach the global limelight often do so at dear
cost-by distorting their principles and alienating their
constituencies for the sake of appealing to self-interested donors in
rich nations. Full Text at
Argentina Exposes Pro-GM Fallacy
- The Grocer (UK), March 09, 2002
Sir; Professor CS Prakash makes strong assertions about the honesty
of critics of biotechnology, as well as a variety of claims about the
benefits of GM and its role in poverty alleviation (GM: technology
will help the poor, The Grocer, March 2).
Professor Prakash is an unapologetic cheerleader for GM technology.
But even discounting his facetious suggestion that we all eat less
meat and that Iowa farmers give their crops away, there is little in
his letter that merits serious consideration. His claims that
developing either GM crops or export markets will help reduce hunger,
or lead to increased prosperity in the rural sector are misleading.
The crisis in Argentina illustrates the unjust reality: in 2001
Argentina produced enough wheat to meet the needs of both India and
China. Yet neither Argentina's productivity nor its status as the
second largest producer of GM crops largely for export did anything
to solve its very real hunger problem at home. More examples can be
found the world over: in 2000 in India, which accounts for more than
a third of the world's hungry, more than 50 million tonnes of grain
rotted in silos.
In Thailand nearly 43% of the rural population lives below the
poverty line, even though agricultural exports grew 65% between 1985
and 1995. Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Philippines, all suffered
an increase in rural poverty and hunger despite abundant yields and
participation in the global commodity trade.
The truth is that faith in increasing agricultural intensity like GM
and the global marketplace will result in a race to the bottom for
poor farmers around the world.
The only real solution to poverty and hunger is low input, low cost,
sophisticated knowledge-based agriculture. It is based on a process
and not a product, which has no price on the global market.
Charlie Kronick, Chief policy advisor and GM campaign team
- Francis Fukuyama, Foreign Policy, March/April 2002
Imagine the World Trade Organization (WTO) striking down a national
ban on importing cloned embryos because it is a barrier to trade.
Neither the WTO, nor individual governments, nor scientists, nor
ethicists can effectively regulate human biotechnology on a global
scale. So who will settle the troubling questions it raises?
Human biotechnology intimately connects good and evil. The same
technology that promises to cure your child of cystic fibrosis or
your parent of Alzheimer's disease presents more troubling
possibilities as well: human cloning, designer babies, drugs that
enhance rather than heal, and the creation of human-animal hybrids.
In the face of the challenges this technology poses, only one
response is possible: Countries must regulate the development and use
of human biotechnology by political means, setting up institutions
that will discriminate between those technological advances that help
humans flourish and those that threaten human dignity and well-being.
These regulatory bodies must first be empowered to enforce these
decisions on a national level and then ultimately extend their reach
Why should this technology be regulated by government? Biotechnology
is clearly unlike nuclear technology, whose destructive potential was
immediately clear and was from the outset tightly ringed with
political controls. But neither is biotechnology as benign as
information technology, for example. The Internet has promised
benefits such as wealth creation, information access, and the ability
to foster communities of users. While it has downsides-among them, it
can facilitate money laundering and the distribution of
pornography-many of these problems can be addressed without
heavy-handed government regulation.
Biotechnology falls between the two extremes. It is easiest to object
to new biotechnology if it yields a botched clinical trial or a
deadly allergic reaction to a genetically modified food. But the real
threat of biotechnology is far more subtle and harder to weigh in any
utilitarian calculus. Biotechnology offers the potential to change
human nature and therefore the way that we think of ourselves as a
The debate on biotechnology is polarized. At one end are libertarians
who argue that society should not and cannot put constraints on the
development of technology. This camp includes researchers and
scientists, the biotech industry, and, particularly in the United
States and Britain, a large group that is ideologically committed to
some combination of free markets, deregulation, and minimal
government interference in technology. At the other end of the
spectrum is a heterogeneous group with moral concerns about
biotechnology, consisting of those who have religious convictions,
environmentalists who believe in the sanctity of nature, and people
worried about the possible return of eugenics. This group has
proposed banning new technologies ranging from in vitro fertilization
and stem cell research to transgenic crops and human cloning.
The debate on biotechnology must move beyond this polarization. Both
approaches-a completely laissez-faire attitude toward biotech
development and the attempt to ban wide swaths of future
technology-are misguided and unrealistic. Certain technologies like
reproductive human cloning should be banned outright, for moral and
practical reasons. The moral reasons have to do with the asymmetric
relationship of a cloned child with his parents: the child will be a
twin of one and not related to the other. Practically speaking,
cloning is the opening wedge for a series of technologies that
ultimately lead to designer babies. If cloning is allowed now, it
will be harder to oppose germ-line engineering to enhance babies in
But for most other emerging forms of biotechnology, a more nuanced
regulatory approach than outright bans is necessary. While everyone
has been staking out positions on various technologies, almost no one
has been looking concretely at what kinds of institutions would be
needed to let societies control the pace and scope of technology
Regulation-particularly international regulation-is not something
anyone should call for lightly. Regulation brings with it many
inefficiencies and even pathologies that are well understood. The
excesses of regulation sparked a great deal of innovative work in the
past generation on alternatives to formal state regulation, including
self-regulation by businesses and more flexible models for rule
generation and enforcement.
However, schemes for self-regulation tend to work best where an
industry produces few costs to society, where the issues are
technical and apolitical, and where the industry involved has strong
incentives to police itself. These criteria apply, for example, in
the development of a wide variety of technical standards or in areas
such as bank settlements. They do not apply, however, to the
biotechnology industry or to many of the technologies it is likely to
produce. The community of research scientists has done an admirable
job up to now in policing itself in areas like human experimentation
and the safety of recombinant DNA technology, but there are too many
commercial interests chasing too much money for self-regulation to
continue to work. The U.S. biotech industry by itself spent nearly
$11 billion on research in 2000, employs over 150,000 people, and has
doubled in size since 1993. Most biotechnology companies simply do
not have the incentives to observe many of the fine ethical
distinctions that will need to be made.
One of the greatest obstacles to thinking about a regulatory scheme
for human biotechnology is the widespread belief that technological
advance cannot be controlled, and that all such efforts are
self-defeating and doomed to failure. This view is asserted gleefully
by enthusiasts of particular technologies and by those who hope to
profit from their development and pessimistically by those who would
like to slow the spread of potentially harmful technologies. In the
latter camp, particularly, there is a kind of defeatism as to the
ability of politics to shape the future.
Belief in the inevitability of technological advance has become
particularly strong in recent years because of the advent of
globalization and recent experience with information technology. No
sovereign nation-state, many argue, can regulate or ban any
technological innovation, because the research and development will
simply move to another jurisdiction. In fact, this trend is apparent
in the highly competitive international biotech industry, where
companies are constantly searching for the most favorable regulatory
climate. Because Germany, with its traumatic history of eugenics, has
been more restrictive of genetic research than many developed
countries, most German pharmaceutical and biotech companies have
moved their labs to Britain, the United States, and other less
restrictive nations. In 2001, Britain legalized therapeutic or
research cloning. Should the United States join Germany, France, and
a number of other countries that do not permit this type of research,
Britain will become a haven for it. Singapore, Israel, and other
countries have indicated an interest in pursuing research in stem
cells and other niches if the United States continues to restrict its
own efforts out of ethical concerns.
But pessimism about the inevitability of technological advance is
wrong (though it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy if adopted
by too many people). The speed and scope of technological development
can indeed be controlled. Many dangerous or ethically controversial
technologies-weapons and nuclear power, ballistic missiles,
biological and chemical warfare agents, replacement human body parts,
and neuropharmacological drugs-are subject to effective political
control and thus cannot be freely developed or traded. Even more
benign technologies like the Internet may be controlled. The Chinese
authorities, for instance, have forced Internet sites like Yahoo! and
Microsoft Corp.'s MSN to restrict publication of unsympathetic
stories on their Chinese-language Web sites by simply threatening to
revoke their rights to operate in China.
Skeptics will argue that none of these efforts to control technology
have been successful in the end. Certainly, no regulatory regime is
ever fully leakproof. But social regulation does not need to prevent
all breaches to be effective. Every country makes murder a crime and
attaches severe penalties to homicide, yet murders nonetheless occur.
But the prevalence of murder has never been a reason for giving up on
the law or on attempts to enforce it. The purpose of a law banning
human cloning in the United States would not be undermined if some
other countries permitted it or if Americans traveled abroad to have
LAWS DON'T CLONE EASILY. It is true that regulation cannot work in a
globalized world unless it is global in scope. Nonetheless,
national-level regulation must come first. Effective regulation
almost never starts at an international level: Nation-states have to
develop rules for their own societies before they can even begin to
think about creating an international regulatory system. In
particular, other countries will pay a great deal of attention to
developments in U.S. domestic law, just as they did in the cases of
food safety or in pharmaceutical regulation. If an international
consensus on the regulation of certain biotechnologies is ever to
take shape, it is unlikely to come about in the absence of American
action at a national level.
No one knows whether an international consensus to ban or strictly
regulate other technologies like cloning or germ-line modification
will emerge, but there is no reason to rule out the possibility at
this early stage [see sidebar on page 61]. Consider reproductive
cloning-that is, the cloning of a human child. As of November 2001,
24 countries had banned reproductive cloning, including Germany,
France, India, Japan, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and the United
Kingdom. In 1998, the Council of Europe approved an added protocol to
its convention banning human reproductive cloning, a document that
was approved by 24 of the council's 43 member states. The U.S.
Congress was just one of a number of legislatures deliberating
Views on the ethics of certain types of biotechnology, and
particularly genetic manipulation, span a continuum. At the most
restrictive end are Germany and other countries in continental
Europe. Continental Europe has also been home to the world's
strongest environmental movements, which as a whole have been quite
hostile to biotechnology in its various forms. At the other end of
the spectrum are a number of Asian countries, which for historical
and cultural reasons have not been nearly as concerned with the
ethical dimension of biotechnology. If there is any region that is
likely to opt out of an emerging consensus on the regulation of
biotechnology, it is Asia. A number of Asian countries either are not
democracies or lack a strong domestic opposition. Asian countries
like Singapore and South Korea have the research infrastructure to
compete in biomedicine and strong economic incentives to gain market
share in biotechnology at the expense of Europe and North America.
An international consensus on the control of new biomedical
technologies will not simply spring into being without a great deal
of work on the part of the international community and the leading
countries within it. In August 2001, Germany and France called on
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to introduce a draft reproductive
cloning ban worldwide, with an eye to bringing the United States back
into a global agreement after its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.
As in the case of national-level bans, controversy exists at the
international level over whether the ban should be restricted to
reproductive cloning or whether it should extend to research cloning
No magic formula for creating a consensus on such issues is possible.
Building consensus will require the traditional tools of diplomacy:
rhetoric, persuasion, negotiation, and economic and political
leverage. But in this respect the problem is not different from the
creation of any other international regime. The international
governance of human biotechnology does not inevitably mean creating a
new international organization, expanding the United Nations, or
setting up an unaccountable bureaucracy. At the simplest level, it
can come about through the efforts of nation-states to harmonize
their regulatory policies.
FIELD TESTING NEW RULES. The attempt to build an international regime
for human biotech can draw lessons from regimes governing genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) and human experimentation. In the United
States, the regulatory environment is relatively relaxed and has
permitted the field testing and eventual commercialization of such
GMOs as Bt corn, Roundup-Ready soybeans, and the FLAVR-SAVR Tomato.
For the most part, American regulators have not adopted an
adversarial relationship with the companies and individuals seeking
approval of new GMOs. They do not themselves evaluate the long-term
environmental impacts of biotech products but rely instead on the
applicants or outside experts to provide assessments.
The European regulatory environment for biotechnology is considerably
more restrictive, due in part to strong political opposition to GMOs
but also to the cumbersome nature of regulation that exists at both
national and European levels. Biotech regulation varies considerably
among European Union (EU) member states. Denmark and Germany, for
example, have passed relatively stringent national laws regulating
safety and ethical aspects of genetic modification. The United
Kingdom, by contrast, has maintained a relatively hands-off approach.
Until 1989, the French relied on self-regulation by their scientific
community. By EU rules, individual member states are allowed to be
more restrictive than the community as a whole, though the degree to
which this is permissible is a matter of dispute. Austria and
Luxembourg, for example, have banned the planting of certain
genetically modified crops that are legal in the rest of the EU.
The regulatory regime is much less developed for human biotechnology
than for agricultural biotech, largely because the genetic
modification of human beings has not yet progressed as it has for
plants and animals. Parts of the existing regulatory structure will
be applicable to the new innovations over the horizon; other parts
are just now being put into place, particularly those having to do
with straightforward issues related to safety and efficacy. But
future innovations in biomedicine will involve ethical choices
concerning, for example, enhancement rather than therapeutic uses of
genetic technology or the introduction of nonhuman genes into the
human genome. In these areas, the most important elements of a future
regulatory system have yet to be designed.
The existing regulatory structure concerning human experimentation is
also relevant to a regime for human biotech. These rules would apply
to future experiments with human cloning and germ-line engineering,
and they represent a case in which significant ethical constraints
are effectively applied, both nationally and internationally, to
scientific research. This case runs counter to the received wisdom
concerning regulation: It shows that there is no inevitability to the
unfettered advance of science and technology. Indeed, rules
concerning human experimentation are strongest in the country that is
supposedly the most hostile to government regulation, the United
The United States developed an extensive set of rules protecting
human subjects in scientific experiments largely because of the role
of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In its early years, NIH
set up a peer review system for evaluating research proposals but
tended to defer to the scientific community in establishing
acceptable risks to human research subjects. This system proved
inadequate with the revelation in 1963 of the Jewish Chronic Disease
Hospital scandal, in which chronically ill and feeble patients were
injected with live cancer cells; the Willowbrook scandal, in which
mentally retarded children were infected with hepatitis in the
mid-1960s; and the 1972 Tuskegee syphilis scandal, in which it was
revealed that 399 poor black men diagnosed with syphilis had been put
under observation during a 40-year period but not told of their
condition and in many cases not treated for it when medications
These incidents led to new federal regulations in 1974 to protect
human research subjects and to create the National Commission for the
Protection of Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. These
laws laid the groundwork for the current system of Institutional
Review Boards, which now are required for federally funded research.
Even now, the adequacy of these protections has been criticized. The
National Bioethics Advisory Commission issued a report in 2001 urging
creation of a single, strengthened National Office for Human Research
Oversight, and the U.S. government briefly suspended clinical trials
at Johns Hopkins University later that year in response to the death
of a human subject.
Then, as now, scientists pursuing ethically questionable research
defended their actions on the grounds that the medical benefits that
could be derived from their work outweighed possible harms to the
research subjects. They resisted the intrusion of federal law,
arguing that the scientific community alone was best able to judge
the risks and benefits of biomedical research.
Rules on human experimentation also exist on an international level.
The Nuremberg Code, born in the aftermath of the revelations of
experiments by the Nazis in concentration camps, established the
principle that medical experimentation could be performed on human
subjects only with their consent. In this case, international law
preceded national rules, and the code had little effect on actual
practice in other countries, where many doctors resisted it as being
too restrictive of valid research.
The Nuremberg Code was largely superseded by the Helsinki
Declaration, adopted by the World Medical Association (the global
organization representing national medical associations) in 1964. The
Helsinki Declaration established principles such as informed consent,
and the international medical profession liked it better because it
was a matter of self-regulation rather than formal international law.
Actual practice among developed nations nonetheless varies a great
Despite variations in practice and occasional lapses, the case of
human experimentation shows that the international community can
place effective limits on how research is conducted while balancing
the need for research against respect for the dignity of research
subjects. This issue will need to be revisited many times in the
NOT A JOB FOR THE WTO. It is too early to prescribe a particular sort
of international regime for regulating human biotechnology because
most countries do not yet have national institutions capable of
making the decisions that technology advances will force upon them.
While some smaller countries may be influenced by passage of a
U.N.-sponsored global cloning ban, to take one example, the United
States and other large countries with important interests in
biotechnology likely will not. They will first have to make up their
own minds on how to deal with these problems. The international
community can talk about harmonization only after there is something
That said, it is clear that existing international institutions will
not be adequate to meet future challenges. At the moment, the WTO is
the only global body with jurisdiction over biotech issues. Under its
sanitary and phytosanitary provisions, for example, national food
safety standards can deviate from those laid out by the international
body, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, only if they are
"science-based." In dealing with genetically modified food, there is
currently an acrimonious fight between the United States and Europe
over whether Europe's "precautionary principle"-the notion that
products should be presumed guilty until proved innocent of
potentially threatening the environment or health-is in fact
The dispute over GMOs is just a foretaste of what is to come when
dealing with human biotechnology. What will constitute a
science-based rule concerning cloning, preimplantation diagnosis and
screening, or germ-line engineering? National-level rules in these
areas will be based in good measure on ethical considerations, with
science having little to say. Will the WTO dare to strike down a
national ban on, say, the import of cloned embryos on the grounds
that it constitutes a nontariff barrier to trade?
The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax
mailings reveal another motive for greater oversight of the global
biotech industry. The next generation of bioweapons will involve
recombinant DNA to make biological agents resistant to antibiotics
and vaccines. The biotech research community is not used to having to
police itself, yet the threat of a rogue researcher or lab producing
dangerous agents, even if inadvertently, is a real one that needs
somehow to be addressed.
If international rules on human biotechnology are to be taken out of
the trade realm and put into an alternative institutional framework,
careful thought will have to be given to its design. Formal, top-down
international regulation faces formidable enforcement hurdles and has
a poor record of success. Coming up with different, more creative
approaches to designing international institutions is a crucial item
on the agenda for the new century.
Francis Fukuyama is the Bernard L. Schwartz professor of political
economy at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies
at Johns Hopkins University, a member of the Bush administration's
Bioethics Council, and author of, most recently, Our Posthuman
Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (New York:
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002).
Comments from Andrew Apel: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fukuyama seems to be arguing against the inevitability of
technological advance (i.e., progress), going so far as to call it a
"pessimistic" notion. It used to be that a belief in unremitting
progress was reserved for optimists.
Often overlooked is the fact that moral obligations drive progress.
When a scientific advance makes it possible to do something
beneficial, making use of that advance becomes an imperative;
conversely, failing to use it creates moral culpability. In that
sense, there is a "technological imperative," which is far from being
a headlong rush to embrace anything at all that is merely new, at any
cost and heedless of risk.
When human germ-line engineering becomes possible and practical, will
there be a moral obligation to use it? Of course there will. Who
would intentionally deny their child the advantages of being free of
inherited disorders, or of enhanced disease resistance or increased
Comments from Anon: Numerous factual errors and examples of non
rigorous reasoning in this piece. It is the work of a dilettante,
not a careful scholar.