Today in AgBioView - April 3, 2002:
* Beware of bio-fundamentalists
* Fukayma's Bad Bet on Biotech
* Greens Infiltrate Boardrooms To Urge Corporate Surrender
* Kisan panel warn of civil disobedience
* GM crops win new friends
* Genetic Engineering and the Intrinsic Value and Integrity of Animals and
* Genomic Approaches to Forest Tree Stress Tolerance
* INTERNATIONAL RICE GENOME PROJECT PROGRESSING AHEAD OF SCHEDULE
* UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN ANALYST SAYS MORE FARMERS TURNING TO BIOTECH
* N. Indian farmers to miss Bt cotton bus
* Most Adults In UK Expect The Impossible From Science
* Science organization wants tests on new meat substitute
Beware of bio-fundamentalists
By SHUBHRANGSHU ROY
APRIL 03, 2002
SO the bio-fundamentalists are at it again, digging for worms in the
cotton crop this time.
Yesterday I woke up to Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign ranting on this page
against multinational seed breeder Monsanto for introducing a
pest-resistant seed that promises to double output and make India the
worldís largest cotton producer.
For well over a decade now, weíve been quite used to the protestations of
bio-fundamentalists against genetic doctoring of Godís gifts. So their
fulmination no longer surprises, even when, at times, their approach to
modern science and commerce sounds plain stupid.
Ms Sahai claims that genetically modified cotton seeds are good for big
farmers in the US, but bad for small farmers in India, because Monsanto
will not allow them to steal its seeds.
She also suspects that Monsantoís cotton seeds may not live up to their
potential in hot and humid India. Unlike Ms Sahai, I am no geneticist.
But common sense makes me respect the integrity of hundreds of small
farmers who prefer suicide to lynching money lenders when faced with a
To encourage them to steal, actually amounts to playing with the
self-respect of our humble farmers. I also wonder why Monsanto should
spend money on marketing seeds that do not work in India.
I would rather value its commercial judgement in developing a seed variety
that earns huge profits here. And profit, to me, is not a dirty word.
For the record, Indians grow cotton over nine million hectares of land,
accounting for the worldís largest area under production. But the yield,
at 300 kg per hectare against a global average of 650 kg, is among the
The fundamentalists wonít tell us how productivity could get worse if the
farmers grew pest-resistant cotton. For years now, weíve read reports
about hundreds of cotton farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Punjab
ending their lives in desperation because they grew cotton that did not
fetch them enough cash.
Why did that happen? Because pests, called American bollworm, chewed up
most of their crop. Now, and ironically, for the first time, an American
company is offering a choice that will not only help our farmers survive
the vagaries of nature, but allow them to prosper.
And the fundamentalists have problem with that. That problem, I suspect,
is not because the seed variety in question is genetically doctored, but
because of who sells that seed.
And in this case, the provider of quality seeds happens to be American
with an eye to future profit. No doubt, Monsanto, rather its Indian
partner, Mahyco of Maharashtra, will make money selling those seeds.
But so will our farmers once they start growing a better crop than what
they have been used to so far.
For close to five years now, farmers in Punjab, nearly 70 per cent of whom
belong to small and marginal groups, have been growing bumper wheat from a
single hybrid seed variety ó 343 ó on 85 to 87 per cent of the area under
This seed variety has been developed by the state-run Punjab Agricultural
University which has done pioneering research on several varieties of GM
Over the years, this genetically modified, disease resistant wheat has
also become hugely popular with farmers in neighbouring Haryana, UP and
Now, as with all lab-to-land transfers, over dependence on 343 can create
a potential problem. No one can predict when pests will mutate and chew up
the entire wheat crop across Punjabís farmlands.
Should that happen there will be no stopping the farmers from running to
desperation. Yet, wonder why our bio-fundamentalists donít raise an alarm.
There are two reasons for this. One, the farmers are too comfortable
growing the crop, and making money; they have no time for moral-hazard
Two, the seeds, having been developed at a state-run lab, have come to the
farmers for almost free and is, therefore, not ìstainedî by profit
Now, we have a part-American private enterprise seeking to make a pile in
return for bringing prosperity to our cotton farmers. And it doesnít
believe in free lunch. But our fundamentalists will have nothing of that.
And it doesnít matter to them that our farmers are not seeking their
Is Suman Sahai listening?
Fukayma's Bad Bet on Biotech
My fellow science writer, Reason's Ron Bailey (www.reason.com), has
quipped that the trouble with bioethicists writing about biotechnology is
that they don't know anything about it. I assume he's exaggerating, yet
he speaks much truth. Comes now Francis Fukayama, a professor at the D.C.
campus of Johns Hopkins University and best known for writing "The End of
History and the Last Man," with his new book called "Our Posthuman
Future." In short, it's a bash on biotechnology, at least as it relates
to human gene engineering. It attacks not only the scientists but the
self-appointed guardians of the scientists, the bio-ethicists.
The problem is that Dr. Fukayama knows even less about biotechnology than
bio-ethicists do. He may as well be describing a color he's never seen.
Mostly he just plays the role of reactionary, in the tradition of Jeremy
Rifkin. For example, Fukayma fears that major increases in human
longevity could be disruptive because "life extension will wreak havoc
with most existing age-graded hierarchies," thereby, for example,
postponing social change in countries with aging dictators. My worst fear
is that we'll just spend those extra years plopped in front of the boob
tube eating cheezypoofs. But flip Fukayama's assertion around. Just as
age does rid us of some of our worst leaders, aging also denies us
accumulated individual wisdom. It may just be coincidence that two of our
youngest presidents, Clinton and Kennedy, spent more of their time being
playboys than being presidential or that our oldest President, Reagan, was
among the most presidential we've had in decades. Then again, maybe it
Fukayama is basically saying is that change scares him and is therefore
wrong. He fears we may lose "our humanity," but some of us think we never
had it. Certainly the last century was nothing to brag about. What
Fukayama most fears, germ-line therapy that tinkers with inherited traits,
strikes me as a non-issue. Bionics and computers will allow our bodies to
do far more than any sort of genetic engineering ever will. Even the
world's strongest man is a 99-pound weakling compared to the V-6 engine
under my car's hood. But that's no excuse for fearing something just
because we don't understand it * especially when we've deliberately
undertaken to write about an issue we don't understand.
Greens Infiltrate Boardrooms To Urge Corporate Surrender
Investorís Business Daily
April 2, 2002, p. 16
The corporate perception of the anti-globalization movement is of unkempt,
youthful demonstrators taking to the streets to disrupt every gathering of
international commerce. They are seen as naughty children with little real
influence over the ìsuitsî running multinational corporations. But itís
not street mobs posing a major danger to business; instead, it is the
roosters in the henhouse of economic prosperity - anti-capitalists in
pinstripes. The anti-globalization crowd is making major inroads into
corporate business practices by marching right through the front door.
Radical greens in business suits are now employed at some of the largest
public relations firms in the world - firms that counsel multinational
corporations on how to deal with environmentalists. Under the guise of
ìcorporate communications counseling,î radical activists employed at two
of the worldís foremost PR firms are offering ìcapitulation counselingî -
selling out by shutting up. In December 2000, one worldwide PR firm
launched its Non-Governmental Organization Practice Group and hired
Jonathan Wood-cliff to manage it. Woodcliff used to be Greenpeace
Internationalís director of communications.
Hiding Behind Rhetoric
Last month another top U.S.-based public relations firm hired the former
executive director of Greenpeace U.K., Peter Melchett, a radical tied to
acts of property destruction while waging the Greenpeace campaign against
genetically modified foods. Hiding behind public relations rhetoric such
as ìdialogueî and ìbeneficial relationships,î these consultants will
advise corporate clients to surrender to their critics, pure and simple.
They are counseling companies to spend millions on becoming more green on
the assurance that the consultants will in turn persuade the radicals to
say nice things about the company. Corporate implosion through
infiltration - very clever.
This professionalization of corporate appeasement will grow at an alarming
rate if left unchecked. For one thing, salaries offered to these
protectors of the poor and downtrodden are apparently too high to be
resisted, and appeasement is too easy for midlevel managers charged with
silencing the opposition. This plan works against the interests of the CEO
with a fiduciary responsibility to his or her shareholders. It also harms
consumers, who must fund this extortion through limited product choice and
the inflated cost of goods and services. Scripted corporate surrender has
many fundamental flaws. It presumes the attacker is motivated by a local
grievance or passing difference of opinion. In reality, these groups are
not mere dutiful watchdogs. They are driven by a four-square opposition to
the fundamental mission of business itself - to grow, prosper and
introduce new products and services. These organizations are run by
extremists with an unalterable belief that the intelligent and moral
person is opposed to capitalism and corporate entities. Thus, long-term
appeasement cannot work, as it is the very existence of the corporation
that forms the raison díetre of the opposition of these organizations. The
flagrant ironies of their positions would be humorous if they were not so
damaging and dishonest. Since the 1960s, environmental NGOs and other
anti-prosperity agents have morphed into a multimillion dollar,
anti-corporate shakedown industry of their own. After reaching the
pinnacle of their success during the Age of Aquarius, these crusaders have
shifted into opportunistic, self-indulgent highs of sorting the world into
victim groups. Jesse Jackson increases his net worth by extorting
corporations over fabricated transgressions of racial etiquette, while the
urban poor continue to struggle to feed their families and educate their
children in failing schools. One of Jacksonís partners in the $ 176
million shakedown of Texaco showed up later to bring a $ 5 billion suit
against Microsoft at great expense to taxpayers and consumers.
Environmentalists waged a campaign against Mitsubishi that left unions and
womenís groups with millions of extra dollars jangling in their pockets.
And the beat goes on.
Antipathy To Capitalism
It is critical that company executives wake up and smell the shakedown.
They have the cash and the clout to face down people possessed of an
incoherent antipathy to capitalism and who are primarily interested in
perpetuating their own organizations while presenting themselves as
populist watchdogs. One Washington, D.C.-based crisis management firm,
Nichols-Dezenhall Communications, has taken this mission to heart and is
barnstorming the country alerting company executives to the true nature of
their critics. For 15 years, this group has been teaching execs how to
fight the encroachment of this destructive fringe. It will take others
following the lead of this prescient company to battle the self-serving
infrastructure and cash reserves of left-leaning, Gucci-wearing,
ideological holdovers from the ìLaugh-Inî era. Surrender indicates
weakness, and with appeasement will come copycat lawsuits and decreased
investment capital. Increased prices and job losses are first to appear
when businesses must send money elsewhere, and as always it will be
low-income citizens getting whacked the hardest. Ultimately it is up to
CEOs to remove corporate capitulation from their business plans -
hopefully before further attempts by these infiltrators to save us from
Kisan panel warn of civil disobedience
The Times of India
April 02, 2002
NEW DELHI: The heads of the Kisan Coordination Committee -- Sharad Joshi,
Bhupinder Singh Mann and others -- speaking for farmers from India's
cotton-growing states, gave a joint warning here on Monday of mass civil
disobedience if Tuesday's meeting of the Union government's Genetic
Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) did not open the legal door to
buying and sowing the genetically-modified seeds.
Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra and Punjab are the major cotton growing
states and a fourth of the world's cotton acreage is in India. If GEAC's
approval does come on Tuesday, pest-resistant transgenic cotton would be
the first genetically-modified crop approved for commercial use in India.
Bt cotton, as it is known, has been under field test-trials for four years
now and the KCC says its members are not prepared to wait any longer,
given Bt cotton's proven resistance to the bollworm, the cotton crop's
The issue took centrestage last year when yet another bollworm attack
wiped out much of the standing crop, save the Bt variety, which a
Gujarat-based firm had illegally got and sold. A government order to
uproot the standing crop of Bt cotton met with vigorous resistance from
the farmers; in addition, those who hadn?t planted it demanded they too
have access to it.
The government, note incensed KCC heads, has been testing for years,
without saying when these trials will end. By contrast, China has, over
the last six years, approved six Bt cotton seeds for commercial use. India
and China both got into biotechnology testing at the same time.
With the bollworm here yearly ravaging the sown crop, and the Bt variety
giving much higher yield, the farmers say they've had enough.
GM crops win new friends
By Alex Kirby, Online's Environment Correspondent
April 2, 2002
India is the world's third largest producer of cotton, after China and the
US. But it has had to compete with them despite the handicap of low
productivity - something it hopes the GM strain will help to resolve.
Genetically modified (GM) crops have taken a big step towards wider public
acceptance this week.
India announced on 26 March that it had approved the use of a type of GM
cotton for commercial production.
The biotechnology industry believes it is poised to persuade consumers
that they have nothing to fear.
But the opponents of GM crops say they still have everything to fight for.
Last week's decision is important because India has been reluctant to
accept the new technology.
It is the world's third largest producer of cotton, after China and the
US. But it has had to compete with them despite the handicap of low
productivity - something it hopes the GM strain will help to resolve.
This year about 71% of the US cotton crop will come from GM plants, up 2%
In China the area of GM cotton sown rose from 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres)
in 1997 to around 700,000 hectares (1,700,000 acres) in 2000.
GM crops in the developing world
Although cotton is sometimes used for animal feed, it is not something
people eat - and anti-GM campaigners say that is a crucial difference
which should give the industry pause for thought.
Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, told BBC News Online: "It is not a
foregone conclusion that developing countries will accept GM varieties as
food crops, especially as they may not be as well adapted to local
conditions as existing strains.
"In any case, there's still huge opposition in India.
"Small cotton farmers there have been vociferous in saying no to GM crops
- they think it'll mean they're simply handed over to Monsanto and the
rest of the industry."
Another country which has hesitated over biotechnology is Brazil, but an
imminent court ruling there could open the way for the planting of GM soya
One of the proudest boasts of the industry is that it has found a way to
tackle world hunger. There is far more to ensuring that malnourished
people get fed than simply growing more food.
But there are those who say that GM technology looks much more attractive
if your stomach is empty, and that it may have a part to play.
Nigeria's Environment Minister, Hassan Adamu, says: "To deny desperate,
hungry people the means to control their futures by presuming to know what
is best for them is not only paternalistic but morally wrong."
A book published last year, Seeds of Contention: World hunger and the
global controversy over GM crops, develops the argument.
It was written by Dr Per Pinstrup-Andersen, director general of the
International Food Policy Research Institute (Ifpri), and Ebbe Schioler,
an agricultural development consultant.
They say: "Heated public debate threatens to drown out all serious
consideration of the important promise genetic engineering has for the
poor and hungry in developing countries."
They recognise that the biotechnology industry will need "some sort of
ownership protection" if it is to invest in research.
But they say this need not be "the form of blanket protection provided by
patents... some more limited arrangement such as the plant variety
protection regulations might suffice".
"Genetic Engineering and the Intrinsic Value and Integrity of Animals and
Wednesday 18th to Saturday 21st September 2002,
Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh
Full details at http://www.anth.org/ifgene/2002.htm
Genomic Approaches to Forest Tree Stress Tolerance
EU funded short course / advanced research workshop to be held on
September 16 - 27, 2002. For information contact Dr Andreas Doulis,
National Agricultural Research Foundation of Greece, PO Box 2229 ,
GR-71003, Iraclion, Crete, Greece. fax +30 810 245873 (email
You can also visit http://www.maich.gr/environment/news/genomics.html
INTERNATIONAL RICE GENOME PROJECT PROGRESSING AHEAD OF SCHEDULE
April 1, 2002
On April 4, 2000, Monsanto Company announced a major breakthrough in
decoding the genetic make-up of rice, and the company¼s commitment to
sharing its data with the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project
(IRGSP), a multi-country consortium of research institutes working to
publish the complete rice genome sequence. „The IRGSP has recently adopted
a new strategy aimed at completion of the rice genome by late 2002, six
years ahead of the original estimate of 2008,¾ according to a recent
progress report by the National Science and Technology Council¼s National
Plant Genome Initiative. „The new strategy takes advantage of the
availability of rough draft sequence from Monsanto.¾ This document is
available at http://www.ostp.gov/html/plantgenome/intro.html.
Monsanto completed its transfer of raw draft data and research materials
from its rice genome sequencing project to the IRGSP in August 2000, and
Monsanto scientists continue to assist the IRGSP with physical map
information. According to the IRGSP, the information shared by Monsanto
currently supports approximately 30 percent of the publicly available rice
genomic sequence data. This percentage continues to grow as the project
nears completion. „Since Monsanto's genome sequencing data was made
available nearly two years ago, there has been an enormous increase in the
amount of sequence data being deposited in public databases,¾ said Ben
Burr, co-lead of the IRGSP. „The result is an expanded knowledge base for
the community of scientists working on rice and related crops.¾
This new body of information has provided countries and research
institutions with the ability to accelerate development of improved types
of rice, including rice with better nutritional value, greater yields, and
rice that is more adaptable to seasons, climates and soils. "Monsanto
shared its draft rice genome data with the global scientific community
because we understand the importance of rice as both a major global food
source and as a model crop for agriculture and plant research,¾ said Robb
Fraley, Ph.D., Chief Technology Officer of Monsanto. In addition to
sharing its data with IRGSP, Monsanto established a rice genome database
at www.rice-research.org, which makes the data available at no charge to
publicly funded researchers.
Since the database was established, more than 760 researchers, many
located in developing countries, have obtained access to Monsanto¼s rice
genome sequence data. Researchers at Kansas State University (KSU) are
using the database in a project to study how rice and other plants resist
disease. By identifying markers for disease and pest genes for resistance
in rice, scientists may one day develop rice that can better resist pests
and disease, thereby increasing yields and enhancing food security in
developing countries. „Access to Monsanto¼s rice genome database has
provided our team with valuable resources that we otherwise would not be
able to attain,¾ said Frank White, Professor of Plant Pathology at KSU. „I
believe our work will ultimately have the greatest impact in the
developing world where rice is a staple source of nourishment.¾ „We are
extremely pleased that, in such a short period of time, our data has
helped enhance and speed scientific research on rice, and we look forward
to more discoveries that improve agriculture and the environment, and
particularly those that enhance food security and nutritional needs
throughout the developing world,¾ said Monsanto¼s Fraley.
Monsanto¼s sharing of the rice genome sequence data reflects the New
Monsanto Pledge and its commitment to sharing of knowledge and technology
with public institutions to advance science and understanding, improve
agriculture and the environment, improve subsistence crops, and help
smallholder farmers in developing countries. In 2001, the company shared
important genetic information with the United Soybean Board to help
accelerate the board¼s goal of developing a soybean with improved oils and
protein for U.S. producers, and to provide consumers with healthier soy
products in the future. Last year Monsanto also donated a Simple Sequence
Repeat (SSR) genetic marker to the Better Bean Initiative to help further
the Better Bean Initiative¼s goal of developing soybean lower in saturated
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN ANALYST SAYS MORE FARMERS TURNING TO BIOTECH CROPS
April 2, 2002
By Deborah Kades
The Wisconsin State Journal David Fischer, UW-Extension crops agent for
Dane County, was cited as saying the financial advantages that genetically
modified corn and soybeans offer are prompting farmers in the state and
across the nation to plant more biotech crops. The story says that State
farmers expect that 25 percent of the corn crop here will be planted with
biotech seed varieties, up from 18 percent in 2001, according to the
Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service, which surveyed farms statewide
in March. Nationally, 32 percent of the corn crop is expected to be
planted with biotech seeds. The entry into Wisconsin of the European corn
borer, which bores into the plant's stalk, has increased the appeal of
corn containing bacillus thuringiensis, more commonly known as Bt, which
kills the pest, said. In 2002, 71 percent of the state's soybean acres
will be planted with herbicide-resistant seed, up from 63 percent last
year, but lower than the 74 percent expected nationally.
N. Indian farmers to miss Bt cotton bus
Hindu Business Line
April 02, 2002
By Harish Damodaran
NEW DELHI, April 1. FARMERS in North India- Punjab, Haryana and northern
Rajasthan - who have pinned all their hopes on the Maharashtra Hybrid
Seeds Company Ltd's (Mahyco) Bt cotton hybrids to tackle the American
bollworm menace, are in for a major disappointment. The transgenic
hybrids, genetically engineered to confer 'in-built' resistance to the
dreaded insect pest, cannot be planted in the entire northern belt during
the current kharif season!
The reason: the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), which, in
June 2001, was asked to conduct detailed open field evaluation trials of
Mahyco's Bt cotton hybrids under the All-India Coordinated Cotton
Improvement Project (AICCIP), confined its investigations to just South
and Central zones. The northern States were excluded in last year's field
trials, which means that the wonder hybrids technically cannot be
commercially cultivated this year in the region.
ICAR was given the mandate to supervise the open field trials of the Bt
cotton hybrids only in mid-June, with the official directive to the
Project Coordinator of AICCIP being received on June 21, 2001. By then, it
was too late to conduct trials in the North because cotton is sown there
during April-May. And since we were supplied only the seeds of Mech-162,
Mech-184 and Mech-12, our exercise was limited to these hybrids and to the
Central and South zones (where sowing extends from late-June to August),
Dr Mangala Rai, Deputy Director-General (Crop Sciences), ICAR, told
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), in its March 26
meeting, approved the commercial release of Mahyco's these three Bt cotton
hybrids - Mech-12, Mech-162 and Mech-184. The company had also sought
clearance for a fourth hybrid (Mech-915), but it was not granted since
ICAR had not carried out field trials in this case. Mech-915 was seen as a
potential Bt hybrid suitable for the northern region.
The issue of approval for Mech-195 does not arise because we were never
supplied its seeds in the first place. We were asked to only evaluate the
other three Bt hybrids, said Dr Rai
The field experiments were conducted in six locations in the Central zone-
Khandwa (Madhya Pradesh), Akola and Nanded (Maharashtra) and Surat and
Junagarh (Gujarat) - and four in the South Zone, namely Dharwad
(Karnataka), Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu) and Guntur and Nandyal (Andhra
Pradesh). The trials evaluated Mahyco's three Bt cotton hybrids vis-a-vis
their non-Bt counterparts, as well as the existing best-performing
national and local 'check' hybrids as NHH-44.
Dr Rai said the Bt hybrids were tested for their relative performance on
the agronomic, growth, seed yields and fibre quality fronts, apart from
their resistance to bollworm and sucking pests under protected and
Nobody can raise a question on the authenticity and comprehensiveness of
our field investigations, which indicate the yield superiority of the Bt
hybrids and their high tolerance to bollworm damage in the Central and
South zones, he asserted.
But, this is certainly not welcome news for farmers in Punjab, Haryana and
Rajasthan, who together produce nearly a quarter of the country's cotton.
Cotton is largely grown in the geographically contiguous tract of
South-West Punjab (Bhatinda, Muktsar, Mansa and Ferozepur), western
Haryana (Bhiwani, Jind, Hissar, Sirsa and Fatehabad) and northern
Rajasthan (Ganganagar and Hanumangarh), covering an area of around 18 lakh
Last year, the overall crop damage caused by the American bollworm in the
three States was estimated at 15.50 lakh bales (of 170 kg each), of which
the share of Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan worked out to 7.78 lakh bales,
4.33 lakh bales and 3.39 lakh bales, respectively. The affected area was
assessed at 4.53 lakh hectares in Punjab, 3.55 lakh hectares in Haryana
and 2.85 lakh hectares in Rajasthan.
Considering the sheer extent of crop losses suffered (officially valued at
Rs 1,363.61 crore), a lot of hope and hype has been generated over Bt
cotton amongst the region's beleaguered cotton growers. This enthusiasm
has also been echoed by politicians and policymakers, keen to divert
surplus paddy growing area in Punjab and Haryana to less water-guzzling
kharif crops. But even these heightened expectations are now set to be
Dr Rai admitted that if the credibility of the official machinery
regulating the release of genetically modified organisms is to be
safeguarded, it would be necessary to conduct the same set of trials for
the North zone this year. He, however, added that we have not been given
any instructions so far in this regard.
The big question now is whether the Chief Ministers of Punjab and Haryana,
having already promised deliverance to their farmers through Bt cotton,
would tolerate one more year of open field trials.
Most Adults In UK Expect The Impossible From Science
The Science Media Centre
A new public opinion poll in the UK from Market and Opinion Research
International (MORI) shows that over 60% of British adults expect the
impossible from science. The MORI poll, commissioned to mark the opening
of the new Science Media Centre (SMC) today, shows that 71% of the public
look to scientists to give an "agreed view" about science issues and 61%
expect science to provide 100% guarantees about the safety of medicines.
Yet most scientists insist that science cannot and should not deliver
Dr. Mark Peplow, Science Information Officer at the SMC says:
ìThe publicís expectations of what science can deliver are wide of the
mark. Disagreement is a fundamental part of scientific enquiry -‚ it makes
science stronger by weeding out the weaker theories. And although
scientists are always striving for knowledge, they can rarely provide
cast-iron certainty about safety.î
However, the blame for the publicís misconception may rest with scientists
themselves. A staggering 85% of the public feel that scientists need to
improve the way they communicate their research findings to the public
through the media.
The poll also confirms the importance of the media in informing and
influencing public opinion on science. Nine out of ten people rely on the
media for at least some of their information about science, with
television news cited as the main source (68%).
Yet other surveys have shown that only 7% of scientists spontaneously
think of the media as an important group to communicate with and
two-thirds of scientists admit to not having spoken to the media in the
The MORI poll findings confirm a clear role for the new Science Media
Centre that opens today with the aim of helping to renew public trust in
science by encouraging more scientists to engage with the media.
The Centre, housed within the Royal Institution, has been set up by
scientists who acknowledge that their traditional reluctance to deal with
the media has contributed to declining levels of public support and could
threaten the future of scientific progress.
Fiona Fox, Head of the Science Media Centre, said:
ìOn the one hand we have a public with an apparently poor grasp of the way
science works and on the other hand we have many scientists who are
equally poor at engaging with the media. This poll shows why we need
something like the Science Media Centre to bring the two together.
ìGiven the major decisions that society will have to make over the coming
years about issues like cloning, genetically modified foods, global
warming and so on, this poll should be a wake up call for all those who
want a well informed debate about scientific development.î
In some good news for scientists, the poll findings suggest that bruising
encounters such as the BSE crisis and the controversies over GM foods and
the MMR vaccine have not affected overall support for science: 87% of the
public agree that on the whole, science has had a positive impact on
society -- and only 3% disagree.
But thereís further bad news for the Government. The poll shows that only
1% of the public trust politicians the most to give accurate and balanced
information about the combined MMR vaccine and its safety for children.
The poll confirms that doctors are the group most trusted on MMR (69%) and
that scientists who are funded by the Government are less likely to be
trusted than those funded by academia (7% compared to 26%).
Vivienne Parry, member of the SMC Board and former Tomorrowís World
ìThe results of this poll show clearly why the governmentís MMR message
failed. The question parents ask of doctors is ëIf you were me what would
you do?í but what they ask of scientists is, ëCan you guarantee this is
100% safe?í And since science canít deliver this answer, of course the
publicís trust in science will evaporate. It shows how the Science Media
Centre needs to focus not just on what science does but also how it works
and what the public should expect from it.î
Science and the Media is a survey conducted by MORI on behalf of the
Science Media Centre. Questions were placed on the MORI omnibus, the
regular MORI survey among the general public. A nationally representative
quota sample of 1,987 adults was interviewed across 193 constituency-based
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Science organization wants tests on new meat substitute
03 Apr 2002
WASHINGTON - A group of scientists in the United States is warning
consumers about a new type of vegetarian product approved for sale this
The Center for Science in the Public Interest says the product, sold under
the name "Quorn," hasn't gone through adequate testing. The CSPI also
finds fault with the way the product is being marketed.
Quorn is a fungus-based meat substitute. It's the leading meat substitute
in Europe and has been popular since it hit grocery shelves 17 years ago.
Quorn racks up $150 million U.S. a year in sales in the European Union.
Quorn can be sautÈed, grilled, stir-fried, broiled or used in a variety of
dishes requiring meat.
The manufacturer bills it as "mushroom in origin." The CSPI says there are
no mushrooms in Quorn.
Quorn is a fungus, known as Fusarium venenatum, and is fermented in vats
where it produces mycoprotein. It is then mixed with egg whites, flavoured
and shaped into foods resembling poultry and meat products.
Although the fungus comes from nature, the CSPI says the company can not
claim Quorn to be "made from natural ingredients."
"A fungusÖhas quietly found its way into grocery stores, without the kind
of government scrutiny a new food deserves," says CSPI executive director
Michael F. Jacobson.
"Despite the deceptive labeling, QuornÖhas nothing to do with mushrooms.
It is a fungus and should be labelled as such."
Company reports 90 adverse reactions a year
Jacobson says the protein is in fact created through a fermentation
process, it is an engineered food that could cause a number of allergic
He says the company has reported 90 adverse reactions a year.
"The manufacturer of these products clearly has a marketing problem, but
that is no excuse to deceive consumers," says Jacobson.
Quorn representatives say the criticism is unwarranted.
"The adverse reaction rates are infinitesimally low, about 1 in 146,000
people ó much lower than soy protein, which is about 1 in 35,000," notes
David Wilson, vice-president of Quorn Foods Inc.
Quorn products, an eight-item line of frozen and refrigerated chicken and
beef substitutes, are being rolled out in specialized supermarkets and
health food stores across the U.S.
Canadians can order the product ó online ó from a health food store. The
company is considering introducing its products to Canada based on the
response it gets in the U.S.