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Date:

May 7, 2002

Subject:

GM Acres Grow, National Geographic, Pesticides in Organic, Eggplant, India,

 

Today in AgBioView: May 8, 2002

* Number of biotech seed acres grows
* National Geographic Poll
* National Geographic Flash Presentation
* OPINION ON A REQUEST TO PLACE GENETICALLY MODIFIED SWEET MAIZE LINE BT11
ON THE MARKET
* Study: Pesticides in Some Organic Food
* GM parthenocarpic eggplant
* Agricultural Biotechnology in India
* Rice gene identification should lead to other grain gains
* Paranoid, Proud Of It

Number of biotech seed acres grows

Farm Industry News
May 6

Soybean seed varieties with genetically modified traits were the hot
sellers in the seed market this year. A USDA report estimates that 74% of
all the soybean seed sold for the 2002 crop was biotech seed. This is an
increase from last year when growers planted 68% of the soybean crop with
biotech seed. Based on the seed sales, biotech soybeans should cover 54
million acres. Genetically modified corn hybrids were not as popular, but
still increased in amount sold. About 32% of the corn crop covering 25.3
million acres will be biotech, up from 26% in 2001.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

National Geographic Poll

IF YOU KNEW that a food contained genetically engineered content, would
you buy it?

http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0205

(Scroll halfway down page, poll is on the right)
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

National Geographic Flash Presentation

Food: How Safe? How Altered?

http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0205/sights_n_sounds/media2.html
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

OPINION ON A REQUEST TO PLACE GENETICALLY MODIFIED SWEET MAIZE LINE BT11
ON THE MARKET

(EXPRESSED ON 17 APRIL 2002)
May 6, 2002
European Commission, Health and Consumer Protection
(Via Agnet)

The complete document can be downloaded from:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/sc/scf/out129_en.pdf
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Study: Pesticides in Some Organic Food

Associated Press
By PHILIP BRASHER
May 8, 2002

Think organic fruits and vegetables are free of pesticides? Think again.

Almost one-fourth of the organic produce in grocery stores could contain
traces of pesticides, including long-banned chemicals like DDT, scientists
say.

A Consumers Union-led study of government-collected data found pesticide
residue on 23 percent of organic fruits and vegetables and on nearly 75
percent of conventionally grown produce.

The findings don't mean that any of the produce is unsafe. The residues
are seldom even close to the limits set by the Environmental Protection
Agency. "Consumers who seek to reduce their exposure to pesticide residues
can do so reliably by choosing organic produce," the scientists wrote.
"However, none of the choices available on the market is completely free
of pesticide residues."

The study is being published Wednesday in the journal Food Additives and
Contaminants.

Much of the residues found in organic crops were of organochlorine
pesticides, chemicals including DDT and chlordane that plants can soak up
from the soil decades after the products were used. Other chemicals could
have been applied to the crops improperly or drifted onto the organic
fields from adjacent farms, the scientists said.

One sample of organic peaches contained 3.3 parts per million of the
pesticide phosmet, suggesting the crop was sprayed shortly before harvest,
the study said.

"You normally think that organic are the ones without the pesticides,"
said Vicki Kirkbride, an Arlington, Va., executive shopping Tuesday at a
Fresh Fields supermarket. A sign in the store said organic foods were
"grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, fungicides or
fertilizers."

"It's very difficult to keep the food from contamination ... but I still
say organic is a good idea," said Rodrigo Hurtado, a Washington physician

Although organic crops account for just 2 percent of U.S. fruit and
vegetable acreage, the industry has been growing rapidly. Sales of organic
foods reached $7.8 billion in 2000, a 20 percent increase from the year
earlier, according to Packaged Facts, a market research firm.

The study was based on sampling by the Agriculture Department and the
state of California as well as by the scientists themselves. It did not
take into account the many special pesticides that are approved for
organic crops, including sulfur and bacteria sprays.

Those products are generally considered less toxic than pesticides used by
conventional farms and government inspectors do not test for them.
However, one natural pesticide used by organic farmers, pyrethrum, may
cause cancer, and another is linked to neurotoxic effects in rats. The
study called for more research on those pesticides.

"Consumers need to recognize that organic production doesn't mean
pesticide-free production," said Carl Winter, a food toxicologist at the
University of California, Davis.

"The best thing consumers can do is to eat large amounts of fruits and
vegetables," he said. "Pesticides allow these to be produced in more
abundant manner, making them more affordable and offering consumers
greater variety."

Some scientists also have raised concerns about the occurrence of
mycotoxins on organic produce as well as the use of manure as fertilizer,
which could carry harmful bacteria if not prepared properly. Mycotoxins,
substances produced by fungi, can be prevented with the use of
conventional pesticides.

The Agriculture Department data that were examined in the Consumers Union
study showed residues on seven of 30 samples of organic fruit, and 22 of
97 samples of organic vegetables, or 23 percent of the total organic
produce tested. Nine of 19 samples of organic spinach had pesticide
traces, and four of 18 carrot samples.

By comparison, pesticides were found on 73 percent of the 26,571 samples
of conventional foods that were tested.

"Less is better. Fewer residues and lower levels of residues are better
than higher levels of residues and more residues," said Edward Groth, a
senior scientist for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.

The tests also included some samples of "green-labeled" foods - fruits and
vegetables that are sold with claims of reduced pesticide use. There were
pesticide residues on about half the samples of those products.

When the organochlorine chemicals were excluded from the analysis of
organic foods, 13 percent showed positive for conventional pesticides.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

From: "Giuseppe L. Rotino"
Subject: GM parthenocarpic eggplant
Date: Wed, 8 May 2002 12:56:20 +0200

Dear Sirs,

In the issue of AgBioView of May 7, 2002 it is reported the news:

GM PARTHENOCARPIC EGGPLANT

A recent article published by BMC Biotechnology reveals the results of a
collaborative research between Poland's Research Institute for Vegetable
Crops and the University of Verona in Italy on a GM parthenocarpic
eggplant..........(http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6750/2/4)

I would like inform you that the research was carried out by two Italian
groups: The Reserch Institute for Vegetable Crops and the University of
Verona.

Please, can you correct this mistake.

Sincerely

Rotino GL
______________________________________________________
Rotino Giuseppe Leonardo
Research Institute for vegetable Crops
via Paullese, 28
26836 Montanaso Lombardo (LO), Italy
tel +39 0371/ 68171 /68656
fax +39 0371 68172 - 02 700546921
@mail: pinuzzu@libero.it
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: Agricultural Biotechnology in India
Date: Tue, 7 May 2002 15:44:11 -0500

Today I am reading RELEVANCE OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED PLANTS TO INDIAN
AGRICULTURE (Tata Energy Research Institute [TERI], New Dehli, 2001). The
book is fascinating both for its information and for its insight into the
incredible scientific talent and efforts in agricultural biotechnology in
India. I desire to inform the AgBioView readers about one development
that simply astounded me.

On this list we have discussed Golden Rice several times. We have argued
back and forth about whether Golden Rice will be able to address Vitamin A
deficiency among the poor in the world. In light of that debate, much to
my amazement, I read the following in the TERI book (quotations from pp.
31-32):

"Another group at Monsanto reported the production of transgenic rapeseed
mustard with increased amounts of carotenoids in the seeds. The important
fact to note in mustard is that Beta carotene is already present at low
levels. Scientists have only tried to enhance its expression in the
seeds. ...

"Beta carotene is oil soluble and easily absorbed by the human body. The
amount of Beta carotene available in Brassica napus transgenic lines is
considerably higher than that what is present in any other vegetable
source. It is possible to obtain levels of 690-920 microgram of Beta
carotene per gram of oil. Therefore, one tablespoon of the transgenic oil
is good enough to take care of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A.
The importnat thing is that in mustard one can obtain high levels of
expression of Beta carotene, which is not possible in rice. ... We [TERI]
are planning to initiate work with vitamin A enhancement in mustard.
Mustard is the main oilseed crop after groundnut and it is consumed widely
in the northern and eastern parts of India. This initiative has been
sponsored by USAID with technology from Monsanto. ... If this technology
is successful in Brassica, one can address crops like cassava, sweet
potato, banana, wheat, maize, and grain-legumes."

Drew

Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law
Norman, Oklahoma 73019-5081 U.S.A.
Ph.: 1-405-325-4784
FAX: 1-405-325-0389
dkershen@ou.edu
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Rice gene identification should lead to other grain gains

Western Farm Press
May 06, 2002

Scientists in China, Seattle, Wash., and San Diego, Calif., have
successfully identified as many as 55,000 genes in the two major strains
of rice, a breakthrough that should lead to more rapid agronomic
improvement in not only rice, but the other major grains as well.

Genetic sequencing of rice does not come without controversy. The
announcement in the April 5 edition of Science, the Journal of the
American Association of Advancement of Science, once again ignites the
controversy over biotech food crops.

However, Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center,
University of California, Davis, said the first even genomic sequencing of
a crop plant would probably have a greater impact on traditional rice
breeding than in biotechnology. It will affect both.

"It will speed up the processing of taking beneficial characteristics from
one rice variety and putting into another," he said. "It will reduce the
time and therefore the expense of traditional breeding."

Although the 50,000-gene sequence of rice is larger than that of humans,
who have only 30,000 to 40,000 genes, rice has the smallest amount of DNA
compared to other crop grains, according to Bradford.

Gene similarities

Bradford said there is a certain "synteny" or similarity between rice
genes and wheat, barley and corn genes.

"Wheat has six chromosomes while rice has three. Wheat has a huge genome
that is very difficult to sequence. Based on what these scientists have
learned from rice, we will now have a lot of clues about what specific
genes do what in wheat and other grains," said Bradford.

Dr. Steve Briggs, president of the Syngenta Torrey Mesa Research Institute
where part of the gene sequencing was done, said researchers found that 98
percent of the known corn, wheat and barley genes are present in rice.

Together, wheat, barley, corn and rice represented two-thirds of all
calories consumed by people in developing countries, according to the U.N.
Food and Agriculture Organization.

With this genomic sequencing, plant breeders can now more quickly identify
desirable traits like cold tolerance and disease resistance to enhance
rice yields. For the consumer, it means the nutritional content can be
improved quicker.

University of California, Davis molecular biologist Pamela Ronald, who
isolated the first disease-resistant gene in rice, said global cereal
yield must increase 80 percent over the 1990 average in the next 20 years
just to keep pace with increases in global population.

Better understanding

With this study, plant researchers will now be better able to understand
how genes functions in crop plants and develop hardier and more productive
varieties by introducing genes with desirable traits using traditional
breeding or genetic engineering, she says.

There are more than 100,000 specimens of traditional rice varieties and
wild rice species maintained at the International Rice Research Institute
Genebank. The genome sequencing data will enable researchers to identify
genes from those seed specimens that have agricultural importance.

"This work has potentially huge benefits for California rice growers,"
said longtime Northern California UC farm advisor Jack Williams.

The scientific breakthrough elicits mixed emotions for rice growers who
obviously want to see improvements made in the rice varieties they
produce, but do not want the genomics sequencing announcement to raise
fears of genetically modified foods (GMO) rice reaching customers who do
not want it.

Tim Johnson, CEO of the California Rice Commission, said the negative
perception of GMO has subsided in the past year domestically, but Japan
and Turkey, both good California rice customers, do not want GMO rice.

California's rice industry does not want to repeat the mistakes of the
corn and soybean industries which mistakenly put GMO products on the
market, creating a market backlash.

Zeneca earlier announced it had decoded rice genes. Zeneca is now part of
Syngenta, one of the two entities announcing the gene sequencing.

Certification law

In the wake of the Zeneca announcement and the possibility of biotech rice
being developed, the state's rice industry pushed through the state
legislature in 2000 a rice certification law to keep rice varieties
separated to protect the state's $500 million per year rice industry from
a GMO fallout like corn experienced when taco shells were inadvertently
made with GMO corn not approved for human consumption.

Johnson said the industry is equipped to segregate and certify rice
varieties from harvest through processing and shipping.

Some viewed the certification law as anti-genetic modification. Johnson
said that is not true and he expects biotech rice varieties will be in
California within the next three to five years.

He said the gene sequencing announcement "portends great things to come"
in rice breeding, hopefully to overcome problems the watergrass herbicide
resistance producers are now battling.

Keep rice separate

"We are confident we can keep separate biotech rice for customers who want
that and non biotech rice for customers who prefer that. The California
rice industry is in a position to take advantage of this new technology
and at the same time meet our customers' demands."

The gene sequences were developed by competing private and public research
groups, a Syngenta biotechnology laboratory in San Diego and a team of
Chinese scientists working in Bejing and the University of Washington in
Seattle.

The Chinese mapped the genes for indica rice, the most common rice type
grown in China and other Asian Pacific regions. Work done at Syngenta's
Torrey Mesa Research Institute in San Diego was on japonica rice
varieties, the most common rice grown in California and in more arid
regions. The japonica genome is expected to reveal the gene responsible
for vitamin A production.

Science magazine editor Donald Kennedy said the joint public-private
represented a spirit of cooperation, it also spawned another controversy.

While the Chinese work will be deposited in a fully accessible online
forum called GenBank, the Syngenta work will not be posted there and will
be in a proprietary databank controlled by Syngenta. Normally, making such
genetic data freely available is a prerequisite for publication in a peer
review scientific journal.

Access disappointing

Syngenta pledges to make the information available to academia who pledge
not to use it commercially.

UC Davis biologist Ronald and others were disappointed that the access to
the Syngenta information will be limited. She said private company
collaborations can become stalled in legalese.

Kennedy acknowledged validity of the criticism of the magazine's decision
to compromise "accepted community standards" by allowing Syngenta to
withhold its information from the GenBank at the time of publication.
Syngenta has said it will work with public research institutions to
produce a finished version of the rice genome that is 99.99 percent
accurate. The finished version will be deposited in the GenBank, according
to the company.

Kennedy defended the National Academy of Sciences decision to allow
Sygenta propriety rights to the initial sequencing information, saying it
was too valuable to squabble over proprietary rights.

The academy made a similar concession with the historic publication of the
human genome sequence by a private company.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Paranoid, Proud Of It

Sydney Morning Herald
May 4, 2002
By Frank Furedi

(This Is An Edited Version of The Introduction To Culture of Fear (2nd
Edition), By Frank Furedi. Published By continuum, distributed in
australia by allen & unwin, $45.)

What was healthy and fun is now dangerous. What was meant to be dangerous
is now safe. Risk-free living, writes Frank Furedi, has become society's
Holy Grail. Just how did we become so scared?

Safety has become the fundamental value of our times. Passions that were
once devoted to a struggle to change the world (or to keep it the same)
are now invested in trying to ensure that we are safe. The label "safe"
gives new meaning to a wide range of human activities, endowing them with
unspoken qualities that are meant to merit our automatic approval. "Safe
sex", for example, is not just sex practised "healthily" - it implies an
entire attitude towards life.

Every public and private place is now assessed from a safety perspective.
Hospital security has emerged as a central concern of health
professionals. Concern for protecting newborn babies from potential
kidnappers indicates that a preoccupation with safety can never begin too
soon. In the United States, a scare about violent babysitters has led to a
massive expansion of the nursery security business. Nurseries in Britain
(and Australia) now allow parents to monitor their children from home or
the office through closed-circuit television (cctv) cameras installed in
the classroom. In 1999, a nursery in Manchester announced that it had
installed a Webcam to allow parents to keep an eye on their children via
the Internet. A camera fitted into a room at the nursery relays pictures
that can be accessed only by parents with individual passwords.

In schools, safety is a big issue. The comprehensive range of cameras,
swipe cards and other security measures that are now routine make many
schools look more like minimum-security prisons. Meanwhile, car phones are
sold as safety devices to protect women who fear violent attacks on
themselves or their vehicles, and the electronics industry speculates that
it is only a matter of time before cctv becomes a standard household item.

Products and services that are linked to risk avoidance are doing well.
Bottled water, for example: perfectly safe tap water is increasingly
regarded as being risky. The growing demand for organic food indicates
that the experience of eating is increasingly shaped by concerns about
health risks.

Risk avoidance has become an important theme in political debate and
social action. The issue of safety has become thoroughly politicised.
Governments and officials are routinely accused of covering up a variety
of hidden perils and of being complacent in the face of a variety of
threats to people's safety. This is the age of consumer activism.

The politics of fear has inspired campaigns and protests against the
apparent risks inflicted on society by big corporations, scientists and
officials. Consequently, it is almost impossible to find a leading
politician who will state that something is safe and that the risks
involved are well worth taking.

From the standpoint of the contemporary political imagination, it makes
more sense to take a "precautionary approach" than to reassure. "Better
safe than sorry" has become the fundamental principle of political life.
This orientation has come to dominate the trade unions. Unions rarely
organise industrial action over jobs or pay any more. Instead, the main
focus of their energies is lobbying management to improve safety at work
and protect their members from a variety of recently discovered
work-related diseases. Consequently, work has been recast as a risky
experience that threatens employees' health.

The politics of fear has all but vanquished the spirit of social activism.
This transformation of political life is most strikingly expressed on the
university campus. Once upon a time, students used to mobilise around
broad political and social issues. Today, this orientation has given way
to campaigning around the issue of safety. Even drug-taking has become
associated with the safety issue. Many now justify their preference for
Ecstasy on the grounds that it makes them feel safer. "It's safer than
alcohol" is a standard argument used to justify the smoking of cannabis.

Recent panics about genetically modified food led some observers to ask a
few questions about the contemporary obsession with the alleged risks
facing society. But even those who react sceptically to a particular panic
tend to underestimate the breadth of safety concerns. Public concern about
the health risks supposedly linked with mobile phone towers or electricity
cables are only the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, such panics often have
little to do with the issues involved. They are made possible by the way
in which a safety consciousness has been institutionalised in every aspect
of life.

Once a preoccupation with safety has been made routine and banal, no area
of human endeavour can be immune from its influence. Activities that were
hitherto seen as healthy and fun - such as enjoying the sun - are now
declared to be major health risks. Some local councils in Britain are
worried that children might get injured through conkering the age-old
custom of playing with chestnuts. Consequently, local councils have
implemented the policy of "tree management" - cutting down trees - to make
horse-chestnut trees less accessible to children (The same practice has
occurred in Australia).

Moreover, even activities that have been pursued precisely because they
are risky (eg rockclimbing) are now recast from the perspective of safety
consciousness. The fact that young people who choose to climb mountains
might not want to be denied the frisson of risk does not enter into the
calculations of the safety-conscious professional, concerned to protect us
from ourselves.

Risk has become big business. Thousands of consultants provide advice on
"risk analysis", "risk management" and "risk communications". The media
too have become increasingly interested in the subject. There may be
different interpretations about the intensity and quality of different
threats to our safety, but there is a definite, anxious consensus that we
must all be at risk in one way or another.

Being at risk has become a permanent condition that exists separately from
any particular problem. Risks hover over human beings. They seem to have
an independent existence. That is why we can talk in such sweeping terms
about the risk of being in school or at work or at home. By turning risk
into an autonomous, omnipresent force in this way, we transform every
human experience into a safety situation.

Most serious commentators have to accept that in real terms people live
longer than before, and that they are more healthy and better off than in
previous times. But many argue that the social, economic and scientific
advances which made these improvements possible have only created new and
bigger problems. Influential writers and thinkers argue that new
technological hazards have given risk a boundless character. They suggest
that it is no longer possible to calculate the dangers involved in
scientific developments. Because of the fast pace of events today and the
global forces that are at work, it is argued, human actions have more
far-reaching and incalculable consequences than ever before. Consequently,
it is not just a question of not knowing. The outcome is not knowable.

From this perspective, where every new technological process is suspected
of causing unseen damage to the environment, the experts and academics
insist that a heightened consciousness of risk is a rational response to
the dangers of modern living.

Disasters such as the nuclear accident at Chernobyl or the oil tanker
spillages of recent years are said to have helped alert the public to the
dangers around us. Many theorists of risk regard the heightened public
concern with safety as a sign of a responsible citizenry, newly and
personally aware of the problems of pollution and environmental damage.
According to Ulrich Beck, author of the widely discussed Risk Society
(1992), "damage to and destruction of nature no longer occur outside
personal experience in the sphere of chemical, physical or biological
chains of effect; instead they strike more clearly our eyes, ears and
noses."

The emphasis on the dangers now posed by technology and science is
surprisingly narrow in its focus. In reality, public perceptions of and
anxieties about risk today cannot be understood as reactions to a
particular incident or technology. Nor does such anxiety have much to do
with the real scale and intensity of the danger. For example, far more
people die from an inadequate diet than from the widely publicised
presence of toxic residues in food. Clearly, the risks that kill you are
not necessarily the ones that provoke and frighten you.

Disasters and catastrophes have happened throughout history. But the
reaction to these events has varied according to the mood that prevailed
in society at the time. The different public reaction to the destruction
of the first Apollo spacecraft in January 1967, and of the space shuttle
Challenger, 19 years later, is instructive in this respect. When Apollo
caught fire and three astronauts were killed, the US was shocked and
horrified. However, despite widespread anguish and concern about the
incident, the future of the prestigious moon project was not put to
serious question. In contrast, the response to the destruction of
Challenger turned into a full-scale panic that led to a loss of nerve. For
many, this tragedy was proof that technology was out of control. NASA was
itself so badly traumatised that it took almost three years to launch
another space shuttle.

Two comparable tragedies, two very different reactions. Why? Because
public perception and response to any event are subject to influences that
are specific to the time and place. Such responses are likely to be shaped
not so much by the disaster itself, as by a deeper consciousness which
prevails in society as a whole at that moment.

So, how to account for the worship of safety? It is generally acknowledged
that we are living through insecure times and that as a result people are
more anxious and predisposed towards fearing risks. Insecurity is bound up
with a strong, conservative sense of caution.

The growing influence of the precautionary principle is significant in
this respect. This principle, which emerged in the sphere of environmental
management, has gradually extended into other areas of social experience.
From monitoring the water we drink to carefully checking the label on a
can of food, we follow the principle of caution.

The importance of the so-called precautionary principle suggests that we
are not merely concerned about risks but are also suspicious of finding
solutions to our predicament. According to the precautionary principle, it
is best not to take a new risk unless its outcome can be understood in
advance. Under this principle, which is now widely accepted as sound
practice in the sphere of environmental management, the onus of proof
rests with those who propose change. Since the full consequences of change
are never known in advance, the full implementation of this principle
would prevent any form of scientific or social experimentation. By
institutionalising caution, the precautionary principle imposes a doctrine
of limits. It offers security, but in exchange for lowering expectations,
limiting growth and preventing experimentation and change.

Consequently, safety and the attitude of caution are now treated as
inherently positive values across the entire political spectrum. According
to today's ethos of safety, avoiding injury is an end in itself. Our
risk-averse culture even tries to banish the term "accident" out of
existence.

Safety experts and the health promotion activists dislike the word
"accident". Public health officials often claim that most injuries
suffered by people are preventable and that to attribute such an event to
an accident is irresponsible. The US emergency medicine establishment has
been in the forefront of the campaign to remove the word "accident" from
its vocabulary.

Now the British Medical Journal has signed up to the crusade against the
"A" word. In a recent editorial, the BMJ declared that it has decided to
ban the word accident from its pages. It argued that, since "most injuries
and their precipitating events are predictable and preventable", the word
accident should not be used to refer to "injuries or the events that
produce them". The editorial reluctantly acknowledges that some
injury-producing events may possibly be attributable to bad luck or acts
of God.

However, it claims that even in such cases earthquake or avalanches
prediction is often possible and therefore "preventive steps can be taken
by avoiding dangerous places at times of risk". So the injuries caused by
flying debris during a hurricane are caused not by an accident but by the
failure to adopt the correct precautionary strategy.

Since religion can rarely excite the imagination of many of us, misfortune
can no longer be attributed to a morally purposeful act of a god. So how
do we assign meaning to acts that were once attributed to chance? Usually,
by blaming somebody or some institution for our predicament.

Cleansing the term accident from our cultural narrative inexorably leads
to a relentless search for someone to blame. This is where the legal
profession takes over and provides the injured with an obvious target for
a compensation claim.

Human beings have always required a vocabulary that helped them to make
sense of unexpected events, particularly those that caused pain and
suffering. Today, this demand for an explanation almost always contains
the implication that someone ought to be blamed. Our litigious culture has
helped foster a climate where adverse experience is readily blamed on
someone else's negligence. The corollary of this blame-game is a feeble
sense of personal responsibility for one's predicament. The statement "It
wasn't my fault" conveys a refusal to take responsibility for the
disagreeable experiences that afflict our lives. That is why people who
trip and fall on the pavement feel that they are entitled to sue their
local authority for compensation.

Preventing injuries is, of course, a worthwhile objective. But not all
injuries can be prevented. Nor should we seek to employ all measures
available to prevent all the injuries that are preventable. An enlightened
society recognises that human beings need to take risks and that in so
doing they will sometimes experience an adverse outcome. Risk is part of
life and a society that adopts the view that preventing injury is an end
in itself will have to ban a variety of creative and challenging
activities.

The celebration of safety alongside the continuous warning about risks
constitutes a profoundly anti-human intellectual and ideological regime.
It continually invites society and its individual members to constrain
their aspirations and to limit their actions. The call for restraint can
now be heard everywhere, be it in discussions on science, school results
or living standards. Such continuous lowering of expectations can be
justified through an exaggerated presentation of the destructive side of
science, or through the projection of people as fragile individuals who
cannot be expected to cope.

The advocacy of safety and the rejection of risk-taking has important
implications for the future. If experimentation is discredited, society
effectively acknowledges its inability to tackle - never mind to solve -
the problems which confront it. The restrictions being placed on
experimentation, in the name of protecting us and our children from risk,
actually represent the dissipation of human potential.

The fear of taking risks is creating a society that celebrates victimhood
rather than heroism. We are all expected to compete, like guests on a
television program, to prove that we are the most put-upon and pathetic
people in the house, the most deserving of counselling and compensation.
The virtues held up to be followed are passivity rather than activism,
safety rather than boldness. And the rather diminished individual that
emerges is indulged on the grounds that, in a world awash with conditions
and crises and impending catastrophe, he or she is doing a good job just
by surviving.