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July 15, 2002


J'burg Summit on Sustainable Development; Global Promise; Judge '


Today in AgBioView - July 16, 2002

* Global Promise
* World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002
* GE Ought to be Judged on its Products
* GM Tomato Packs More Cancer-fighting Punch
* Deputy Administrator, Biotechnology Regulatory Services
* French Public Debate on GMO and Field Trials
* Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference
* The Great Race
* Insuring a Brighter Future: Hedging against tomorrow's environmental

Global Promise

- Tommy G. Thompson,The Daily Deal, July 16, 2002 (Via Katie Thrasher)

It is no exaggeration to say the biotechnology industry is defining
innovation in our time. Biotechnology is improving so many aspects of life
for people in every corner of the globe. The scientific data show that
biotechnology can result in healthier foods and be better for the
environment. Biotech foods could improve food yields by up to 25% in the
developing world and feed the more than 3 billion people to be born in the
next three decades.

This message of employing innovation to boost food security, nutrition and
sustainable agriculture is one of the key themes the U.S. is going to
bring to the World Summit on Sustainable Development later this summer in
Johannesburg. The field of biotechnology is a broad one. There are many
issues that challenge us and demand our best efforts in a public-private
partnership. I'd like to address three areas of particular and immediate
concern in the U.S. and to some extent to the entire globe: stem-cell
research, human cloning and some of the work we are doing in the Food and
Drug Administration.

When I was governor of Wisconsin, a University of Wisconsin researcher
named Dr. Jaime Thomson - no relation - conducted groundbreaking research
into embryonic stem cells. I worked hard to provide funding for his
research and was gratified when last year the president authorized
research on existing embryonic stem-cell lines.


Many in Europe are concerned with the issue of biotech foods. President
Bush and I oppose mandatory labeling of food products that contain
bio-engineered ingredients. Mandatory labeling would only frighten
consumers and play into the hands of those who exploit fear rather than
deal in fact.

The Bush administration believes mandating the labeling of foods that
contain bio-engineered ingredients will be costly both to industry and
consumers. It will not provide any useful safety or health information to
the public and might imply to some that bio-engineered ingredients are
unsafe. That's simply not the case.

Stem cells, human cloning and the changes in the FDA are some of the
larger items on the horizon of biotechnology and healthcare policy.

And in the context of sound ethics, biotechnology offers such enormous
promise it is hard to overstate it.
Tommy G. Thompson is U.S. health and human services secretary. This is
condensed from his remarks July 8 at a forum in Barcelona.


World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002


WHAT IS JOHANNESBURG SUMMIT 2002? Johannesburg Summit 2002 ŗ the World
Summit on Sustainable Development ŗ will bring together tens of thousands
of participants, including heads of State and Government, national
delegates and leaders from non-governmental organizations (NGOs),
businesses and other major groups to focus the world's attention and
direct action toward meeting difficult challenges, including improving
people's lives and conserving our natural resources in a world that is
growing in population, with ever-increasing demands for food, water,
shelter, sanitation, energy, health services and economic security.

WHY NOW? At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, the international community
adopted Agenda 21, an unprecedented global plan of action for sustainable
development. But the best strategies are only as good as their
implementation. Ten years later, the Johannesburg Summit presents an
exciting opportunity for today's leaders to adopt concrete steps and
identify quantifiable targets for better implementing Agenda 21.

WHEN & WHERE IS IT? The Summit will take place in Johannesburg, South
Africa from 26 August to 4 September 2002. The Summit will be held in the
Sandton Convention Centre, just outside Johannesburg. A non-governmental
forum will take place at the nearby Gallagher Estate.

WHO WILL BE GOING? Broad participation and inclusiveness are key to the
success of sustainable development. All sectors of society have a role to
play in building a future in which global resources are protected, and
prosperity and health are within reach for all of the world's citizens. In
addition to governments, there will be active participation by
representatives from business and industry, children and youth, farmers,
indigenous people, local authorities, non-governmental organizations,
scientific and technological communities, women and workers and trade
unions. These represent the Major Groups identified in Agenda 21.

GETTING INVOLVED. If your organization wants to participate at the
Johannesburg Summit or the global preparatory committee meetings
(PrepComs), it must first be accredited with the United Nations.
Individuals wishing to participate should be affiliated with an accredited
organization. Click here for more information on registration and
accreditation for Major Groups.


GE Ought to be Judged on its Products

- David Saul, NZ Herald, July 16, 2002 (From Agnet)

David Saul, a senior lecturer in microbiology and biotechnology at the
University of Auckland, writes that one of the difficulties in following a
debate that has moved into politics is that hard facts are often replaced
by hyperbole. With genetic modification, objective information is
available but most of it is buried in technical journals and written in
incomprehensible jargon.

By necessity, everything we read is filtered through a third party
sometimes trying to remain unbiased, but sometimes plucking choice pieces
of information to bend the tone to suit their own opinions. One promising
shift is that the more credible parties on either side of the GM divide
are now taking more care validating their claims. And so it was with
despair that Saul says he heard the news that a colleague had teamed with
celebrities using their fame as a platform to air their views.

That Professor Garth Cooper holds opinions different from Saul's (and most
of his colleagues) is not the issue. Indeed, questioning accepted ideas is
healthy in a scientific environment. But to give credibility to the
cliches of the celebrities is an insult to the public Professor Cooper is
employed to educate. Over the past four years Saul has been involved in
many debates and public seminars on GM food. It is clear there is a hunger
for calm, reliable information. Sadly, this was not forthcoming from the
grandiosely named Sustainability Council.

One notable deficiency in the press conference of this lobby group was a
failure to recognise that GM can be judged only in the context of the
technology into which it was introduced. Comparisons must be made with
existing (and accepted) standard breeding techniques. But what are
standard breeding techniques? The term conveys a sense of being natural
and, hence, genetically non-invasive. It conjures pictures of a Victorian
vicar breeding roses by passing pollen from plant to plant with a

Nothing could be further from the truth. Modern breeding techniques
include a comprehensive range of aggressive manipulations. They include
mutagenesis, induced chromosomal rearrangements, cell fusion and forced
hybridisation. All these processes cause huge, unpredictable genetic
change and many have been used for nearly a century. These are the tools
that have created the fruit and vegetables in our supermarkets and organic
food stores. All were excluded from the terms of reference of the royal
commission and are accepted without question in every nation.

The key question is whether GM versus not-GM is a valid criterion for
judging safety. In part, our belief that it is valid results from a
perception that genetic modification is an easily defined science. In
reality, it is a nebulous assemblage of methods that overlap with
pre-existing procedures. To some extent the misconception can be blamed on
media reporting and pamphleteers who, like Sam Neill, focus only on
extreme examples. We define genetic modification by toad genes in
potatoes, fish genes in strawberries. Worse, by judging process rather
than product, some extraordinary anomalies can occur. There is no doubt
that with this technology you can visit new realms (such as with
transgenics) but in some instances GM is used purely as a more rapid way
of obtaining a genetic change that can already be achieved by a
conventional method.

Thus, we can have two identical foods where one is deemed safe and
requires no labelling or legislation, while the other requires an
Environmental Risk Management Authority permit and can be handled only in
strict containment. Surely concerns should focus less on the tools and
more on the results of their use? We should insist that all new foods and
crops are safe, not just a subset. The fact that GM can achieve such a
diverse range of outcomes means every case is unique. There is a belief
that if one GM crop is found to be deficient or dangerous, all become
tainted. GM opponents strive to prove that GM can produce dangerous foods.
This is unnecessary effort. It is an uncontested fact that GM can cause
unforeseen problems. But, surely, if we are to assume that all GM crops
are dangerous because brazil-nut genes in soy made it allergenic, we must
also accept that traditional breeding is dangerous because plant breeders
made a toxic potato and hyper-allergenic celery.

A particularly worrying belief that is often aired in public meetings and
in the anti-GM literature is that unnatural equals unsafe. While untrue,
this assertion is harmless in itself but not if the corollary is drawn
that natural is, therefore, safe. The organic movement is notably guilty
of this stance. By redefining the word "chemical" to mean synthetic,
claims can be made that organic foods contain no chemicals.

In reality, a natural toxin is no less toxic for it being natural. All
parties agree that the underlying philosophy of organic farming (greater
sustainability and less environmental impact) is laudable, but all methods
of farming have good and bad aspects. The issue is grey. If you are
presented with a wholly black or white portrayal, you are not being told
the whole truth. Clearly, we should be selective about the crops we choose
and reject those with little or no direct benefit. But legislation should
be consistent for all new crops, whether they are GM crops or those
created by other genetic means. To focus on only one small group is
potentially damaging and illogical.


Genetically Modified Tomato Packs More Cancer-fighting Punch

- Cancer Weekly via NewsRx.com & NewsRx.net, July 15, 2002›

Forget the attack of the killer tomato, this is the attack of the healthy
tomato: A team of scientists has developed a tomato that contains as much
as three and a half time more of the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene.

It turns out that the antioxidant-rich tomato was a happy accident.
Scientists at Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's
Agricultural Research Service were working to develop tomatoes for food
processing that were of higher quality and would ripen later. They
accomplished that, but in the process they discovered that the new
tomatoes also had significantly more of the antioxidant than conventional

"We were quite pleasantly surprised to find the increase in lycopene,"
said Avtar Handa, professor of horticulture at Purdue. Although increasing
the nutritional value of foods is the goal of so-called second-generation
biotechnology products, there have been few success stories. ›"This is one
of the first examples of increasing the nutritional value of food through
biotechnology," Handa said. "In fact, it may be the first example of using
biotechnology to increase the nutritional value of a fruit."

Codiscoverer Autar Mattoo, who heads the USDA Vegetable Laboratory, said
the increase in lycopene occurred naturally in the genetically modified
tomatoes.››"The pattern for the accumulation was the same as in the
control tomatoes," he said."The lycopene levels increased two to 3.5 times
compared to the nonengineered tomatoes." The research was announced in the
journal Nature Biotechnology (June 2002).

A separate article on the research in Nature Biotechnology noted, "The
findings...remind us that in the 'rational' and quantitatively driven
postgenomic era, serendipity still has a large part to play." A U.S.
patent application has been filed on behalf of the joint owners USDA and
the Purdue Research Foundation. mThe Consortium for Plant Biotechnology
Research, Inc., a USDA funded program, funded the research.

Lycopene is a pigment that gives tomatoes their characteristic red
color.It is one of hundreds of carotenoids that color fruits and
vegetables red, orange or yellow.Of these pigments, the most familiar is
the beta-carotene, which is found in carrots. ›In the body these pigments
capture electrically charged oxygen molecules that can damage tissue.
Because of this they are called antioxidants.

Lycopene has been the focus of much attention since 1995, when a 6-year
study of nearly 48,000 men by Harvard University found that men who ate at
least 10 servings of foods per week containing tomato sauce or tomatoes
were 45% less likely to develop prostate cancer. ›The study also found
that those who ate four to seven servings per week were 20% less likely to
develop the cancer. That research was published in the Journal of the
National Cancer Institute.

Subsequent research has found that lycopene also reduces the amount of
oxidized low-density lipoprotein - the so-called bad cholesterol - and
therefore may reduce the risk of heart disease. As an antioxidant,
lycopene is able to capture twice as many oxygen ions in the body as is
beta-carotene. "This characteristic may be responsible for lycopene's
ability to mitigate epithelial cancers, such as breast cancer and prostate
cancer, and for its ability to mitigate coronary artery disease," Mattoo

Despite the apparent benefits, it's been difficult to increase the amount
of lycopene in the diet, said Randy Woodson, director of Agricultural
Research Programs at Purdue. Studies have found that taking purified
antioxidants as a dietary supplement doesn't work.›In fact, one study
found that giving beta-carotene to smokers actually increased their
chances of developing cancer. "When you just take lycopene as a drug it
doesn't have the same effect," Woodson said.››"There is still a lot of
biology to understand before we know why phytonutrients in food are so
much more effective than if they are given as supplements."

Another wrinkle is that when it comes to lycopene in tomatoes, cooked
tomato sauces are more effective than raw tomatoes. This may be because
cooking breaks the cell walls of the tomato, releasing more of the
lycopene. Or it may be that cooking oil allows the lycopene to move more
easily into the body. To develop the lycopene-rich tomato, the researchers
inserted a gene, derived from yeast, fused to a promoter gene into tomato
plants.›The promoter gene helps turn on the yeast gene in the tomato.

"The promoter gene is like a ZIP code that tells the yeast gene when and
where to turn on in tomato," Handa said.›"For high-lycopene tomatoes we
used a promoter that targeted expression of the introduced gene in fruits
only.The yeast gene itself produces an enzyme that affected the production
of growth substances in the plants called polyamines, which are known to
help prevent cell death.

In plant cells, polyamines help build new, beneficial compounds. "They may
stabilize membrane networks that involve longevity of physical structures
in the cells called chromoplasts," Mattoo said.›"Because lycopene
accumulates in chromoplasts in the tomato fruit cells, in this case the
polyamines seem to have a positive effect."›The polyamines share a
precursor with a plant hormone called ethylene that causes ripening in
many fruits.

The researchers thought that because ripening was delayed there must have
been a decrease in ethylene, but found the opposite was true›"That's not
how we started out thinking, but that's why we do experiments," Mattoo
said.›"Now we know the change - i.e., allowing the accumulation of
polyamines in the fruit - doesn't necessarily affect ethylene production,
but ethylene action.››We think the polyamines has changed the ethylene
receptors on the cell membranes, but we are looking into that."

Handa said the technique used in this research might also be used to
increase the amount of other antioxidants in foods "We are excited about
this approach, not only because it results in an increase in lycopene in
tomato, but because we think this approach could be used to increase the
phytonutrient content of other fruits and vegetables," he said. This
article was prepared by Cancer Weekly editors from staff and other


From: "Bob MacGregor"
Re: Tomatoes for Research and Nutrition

Although the unexpected jump in lycopene content may seem to be a
favourable outcome, I am surprised not to have seen this fortuitous result
used by the anti-GE crowd to bolster their contention that unexpected, and
potentially-dangerous, increases in plant chemicals might result from
genetic manipulation. Saying that the increase in lycopene output is
"totally unexpected by the researchers" (from the web site) might be
construed as undermining claims that GE is a more precise and predictable
technique for introducing new traits.

Of course, in this case, the hightened vigilance that GE products receive
means that the inevitable surprises (inevitable in any type of genetic
events including conventional breeding, mutation breeding, and gene
splicing) are more likely to be noticed and evaluated in the GE organisms
than is the case for the products of the so-called "conventional" genetic
manipulation technolgies. Supporters of GE technology need to foresee ways
that apparently positive results can be "spun" to attack (or undermine
public confidence in) the technology and be prepared to answer the
concerns-- a "forewarned is forearmed" approach.



Job Vacancy: Deputy Administrator, Biotechnology Regulatory Services
From: Bobby R. Acord, Administrator, Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service, USDA

Dear Colleague,

On June 17, 2002, Under Secretary Bill Hawks and I were pleased to
announce the establishment of a new Biotechnology Regulatory Services
(BRS) organization within the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
(APHIS). We envision BRS to become the "world's premier agricultural
biotechnology regulatory organization." This new organization will ensure
a rigorous and effective regulatory system that is fair and transparent
and that will earn and maintain the confidence of the American public.

To fulfill this vision, we are seeking an exceptional individual for the
position of Deputy Administrator for Biotechnology Regulatory Services. We
hope to attract outstanding candidates for this Senior Executive Service
position from a broad array of sources and organizations. The candidate
must have the technical background, management experience, and leadership
qualities to create a scientifically based regulatory unit that meets the
vision and expectations of USDA leadership. Because our ambitious
implementation schedule for BRS renders the selection of the Deputy
Administrator an immediate priority, we invite you or your colleagues to
review the official vacancy announcement at
http://jsearch.usajobs.opm.gov/ftva.asp?OPMControl=IF3940 or by entering
3940 in the Quick Search box at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/ and clicking
through the Deputy Administrator and View vacancy announcement links to
the full position description. We encourage you to apply by the closing
date of Monday, August 26, 2002.


Report Following the French Public Debate on GMO and Field Trials

Barbusiaux C; Le Deaut JY; Sicart D ; Testart J, July 15, 2002

According to this report, French citizens do not want to stop research on
genetically modified plants or field trials, they want the respect of the
precautionary principle and to be more involved in the decisions.

French ministries of Agriculture, Environment, Research, Health and
Consumer organized a two days public debate on genetically modified plants
(PGM) and field trials in order to answer to these questions: What
objectives does the society connect with PGM research? Why do we need
field trials? How should the potential benefits and problems related to
transgenic plants be evaluated? How could we improve both public
participation and public information? How to improve the consideration of
the public perception in decision-making processes?

In its first part, the report explains the debate organisation and
sequence. Some preliminary documents are available at the internet: an
inventory of fixtures written by the Ministry of Agriculture, a report
written by the "Commission du g»nie Biomol»culaire" (CGB) and the "Comit»
de Biovigilance", as well as the proceedings of a scientific meeting
organised by the AFSAA on December 17-18, 2001, (on Bio-Scope, in French,
click here).

Six round tables were organised (is this correct? It's just to bring the
reader back to the starting point). Three focussed on field trials (Do we
need field trials? Why? How are field trials organized, and what are the
(expected) results? How are decisions on field trials made, and how are
these trials controlled?) and the remaining three concentrated on general
problems (What are the benefits and the inconveniences of GM plants in
terms of health and environment? What are the socio-economic consequences
of research on GMP and their development? What are the expectations of the
French society? What about public participation and democratic regulation
of decision processes?

Following, the key elements of the answers brought by this debate are
The discussion revealed that up to now, GMP cultivated in France did not
show any benefit for the consumers, and made quite clear that this is not
expected for the near future. To french consumers, GMPs are strongly
suspicious, and thus they call for labelling and traceability.

The debate revealed that within in some stakeholder groups (e.g.
scientists or farmers) there are different opinions on GMP, while some
others (e.g. consumer associations) are in complete agreement. The public
is concerned e.g. upon possible negative effects of GMP on environment and
health, and has some doubts, e.g. whether there will be any economic
benefits of transgenesis. A quasi-consensus among all parties involved in
the debate exists on the need for public information. This means free
access to data and information concerning the authorised field trials and
the pending authorisations so that people are in a position to make up
their own mind about GMP. During the debate the lack of transparency was

The public fears about the global dimension of possibly negative impacts
of GMP, as they are already released and applied in large amounts
worldwide. These fears are not specifically linked to the existence of
potential - but not yet demonstrated - sanitary risks. It is more
generally a confidence crisis towards national and international
authorities due to recent food and/or agricultural scandals like BSE that
lead the public to doubt about innovations, the conditions of their use,
and the realization of necessary safety provisions when applicating them.

Another two opposite fears were pointed out during the public debate: they
link up with the loss of research on GMP in France on the one side, and
simultaneously with type of research done in France that is suspected to
have potential negative impacts. This is of special importance, as gaps in
the French authorization system have been identified (public information,
protection of organic farmers, study of environmental impacts in long-term
trials, control and exact characterisation of the transformation process
and the inserted DNA sequence, respectively). Studies and assessments both
on benefits and disadvantages of GMP should be promoted in an easy to
understand way.

In France, the authorisation process for GMP culture is too centralized,
public wants it to be canvassed. Four ways were suggested:

1. Provide a follow up to the public debates and citizen conferences,
2. Define the character "socially acceptable" (e.g. what can be or not
accepted from the social point of view) of a GMP,
3. The conditions of experiments involving transgenic plants and their
dissemination shall be democratically controlled, and
4. the mayor's prerogatives should be reinforced.

The scientific expertise in given research projects should be improved by
broadening the scientific subject allowing a multidisciplinary approach.
This should also contribute to ensure the independence of the experts,
thus changing the existing system. The transparency of decisions and
expertises is considered to be of high importance for true involvement of
the public. The public applies for the installation of a more strict
regulative procedure on genetically modified plants by the CGB to make
sure that as much information as possible has been gained from the
confined experiments.

The French citizens accept difficulties and accidental contaminations, as
they are perceived as a potential risk. However, the authorities are in
duty to take this reticence into account and to take appropriate measures
to limit such accidental contaminations and protect organic farming. The
debate participants also point out the problem of responsibility in cases
of negative effects of genetically engineered plants and ask for setting
up an insurance system for field trials with such plants.

In conclusion, French public do not want to stop the research on
transgenic plants but demand researchers and authorities to respect the
precautionary principle. Field trials should be allowed.

Published in March 2002. The full text report is available in French (PDF
file, 297Kb).
[1] Barbusiaux C, Le Deaut JY, Sicart D and Testart J (2002) Rapport ż la
suite du d»bat sur les OGM et les essais au champ. Ministňre FranŃais de
l'agriculture et de la pÕche.


Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference

- Saskatoon, Canada; Sept 15 -18, 2002 http://www.abic.net/index2.html

The 4th Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) returns
to. I invite you, on behalf of ABIC 2002 organizers and your official
host, Ag-West Biotech Inc., to join us for an exceptional four days.

ABIC 2002 will highlight the convergence of agricultural biotechnology
with life sciences, bioinformatics, health care and nutrition. It will
showcase the industryŪs growing strengths and exciting new directions in
bioproducts, as well as present insights on the importance of global
stewardship and benefit sharing.

Meet your peers from around the world! We anticipate over 800 attendees,
including scientific researchers, investors, industry leaders and
policy-makers. ABIC 2002 will bring together world-renowned scientists
with business leaders who can invest in the science and take it to
commercial development. It will also provide a tremendous opportunity to
learn about the latest life sciences technology in the post genomics era.

As of November 2001, keynote speakers include Dr. Ralph Hardy (USA),
President of the National Agricultural Biotechnology Council; Dr. C.S.
Prakash (USA), Director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research,
Tuskegee University; Dr. Vivian Moses (UK), Emeritus Professor, KingŪs
College, London, Coordinator of the Educating The European Public About
Biotechnology project; Dr. Anatole Krattiger (USA), former Executive
Director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech
Applications and founder of bioDevelopments LLC, a company working to
transfer the benefits of biotechnology to the developing world; and Dr.
Hubert Zandstra (Peru), Director General of the International Potato
Center (CPI).


The Great Race

- Vijay Vaitheeswaran, The Economist, (SURVEY: THE GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT)
July 4 2002
Full Text at

Growth need not be the enemy of greenery. But much more effort is required
to make the two compatible, says Vijay Vaitheeswaran

SUSTAINABLE development is a dangerously slippery concept. Who could
possibly be against something that invokes such alluring images of
untouched wildernesses and happy creatures? The difficulty comes in trying
to reconcile the ždevelopmentÓ with the žsustainableÓ bit: look more
closely, and you will notice that there are no people in the picture.

That seems unlikely to stop a contingent of some 60,000 world leaders,
businessmen, activists, bureaucrats and journalists from travelling to
South Africa next month for the UN-sponsored World Summit on Sustainable
Development in Johannesburg. Whether the summit achieves anything remains
to be seen, but at least it is asking the right questions. This survey
will argue that sustainable development cuts to the heart of mankind's
relationship with natureůor, as Paul Portney of Resources for the Future,
an American think-tank, puts it, žthe great race between development and
degradationÓ. It will also explain why there is reason for hope about the
planet's future.

The best way known to help the poor todayůeconomic growthůhas to be
handled with care, or it can leave a degraded or even devastated natural
environment for the future. That explains why ecologists and economists
have long held diametrically opposed views on development. The difficult
part is to work out what we owe future generations, and how to reconcile
that moral obligation with what we owe the poorest among us today.

It is worth recalling some of the arguments fielded in the run-up to the
big Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro a decade ago. A publication from
UNESCO, a United Nations agency, offered the following vision of the
future: žEvery generation should leave water, air and soil resources as
pure and unpolluted as when it came on earth. Each generation should leave
undiminished all the species of animals it found existing on earth.Ó Man,
that suggests, is but a strand in the web of life, and the natural order
is fixed and supreme. Put earth first, it seems to say.

Robert Solow, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
replied at the time that this was žfundamentally the wrong way to goÓ,
arguing that the obligation to the future is žnot to leave the world as we
found it in detail, but rather to leave the option or the capacity to be
as well off as we are.Ó Implicit in that argument is the seemingly
hard-hearted notion of žfungibilityÓ: that natural resources, whether
petroleum or giant pandas, are substitutable.
Rio's fatal flaw

Champions of development and defenders of the environment have been locked
in battle ever since a UN summit in Stockholm launched the
sustainable-development debate three decades ago. Over the years, this
debate often pitted indignant politicians and social activists from the
poor world against equally indignant politicians and greens from the rich
world. But by the time the Rio summit came along, it seemed they had
reached a truce. With the help of a committee of grandees led by Gro
Harlem Brundtland, a former Norwegian prime minister, the interested
parties struck a deal in 1987: development and the environment, they
declared, were inextricably linked. That compromise generated a good deal
of euphoria. Green groups grew concerned over poverty, and development
charities waxed lyrical about greenery. Even the World Bank joined in. Its
World Development Report in 1992 gushed about žwin-winÓ strategies, such
as ending environmentally harmful subsidies, that would help both the
economy and the environment.

By nearly universal agreement, those grand aspirations have fallen flat in
the decade since that summit. Little headway has been made with
environmental problems such as climate change and loss of biodiversity.
Such progress as has been achieved has been largely due to three factors
that this survey will explore in later sections: more decision-making at
local level, technological innovation, and the rise of market forces in
environmental matters.

The main explanation for the disappointmentůand the chief lesson for those
about to gather in South Africaůis that Rio overreached itself. Its
participants were so anxious to reach a political consensus that they
agreed to the Brundtland definition of sustainable development, which
Daniel Esty of Yale University thinks has turned into ža buzz-word largely
devoid of contentÓ. The biggest mistake, he reckons, is that it slides
over the difficult trade-offs between environment and development in the
real world. He is careful to note that there are plenty of cases where
those goals are linkedůbut also many where they are not: žEnvironmental
and economic policy goals are distinct, and the actions needed to achieve
them are not the same.Ó
No such thing as win-win

To insist that the two are žimpossible to separateÓ, as the Brundtland
commission claimed, is nonsense. Even the World Bank now accepts that its
much-trumpeted 1992 report was much too optimistic. Kristalina Georgieva,
the Bank's director for the environment, echoes comments from various
colleagues when she says: žI've never seen a real win-win in my life.
There's always somebody, usually an elite group grabbing rents, that
loses. And we've learned in the past decade that those losers fight hard
to make sure that technically elegant win-win policies do not get very

So would it be better to ditch the concept of sustainable development
altogether? Probably not. Even people with their feet firmly planted on
the ground think one aspect of it is worth salvaging: the emphasis on the

Nobody would accuse John Graham of jumping on green bandwagons. As an
official in President George Bush's Office of Management and Budget, and
previously as head of Harvard University's Centre for Risk Analysis, he
has built a reputation for evidence-based policymaking. Yet he insists
sustainable development is a worthwhile concept: žIt's good therapy for
the tunnel vision common in government ministries, as it forces integrated
policymaking. In practical terms, it means that you have to take economic
cost-benefit trade-offs into account in environmental laws, and keep
environmental trade-offs in mind with economic development.Ó

Jose Maria Figueres, a former president of Costa Rica, takes a similar
view. žAs a politician, I saw at first hand how often policies were
dictated by short-term considerations such as elections or partisan
pressure. Sustainability is a useful template to align short-term policies
with medium- to long-term goals.Ó

It is not only politicians who see value in saving the sensible aspects of
sustainable development. Achim Steiner, head of the International Union
for the Conservation of Nature, the world's biggest conservation group,
puts it this way: žLet's be honest: greens and businesses do not have the
same objective, but they can find common ground. We look for pragmatic
ways to save species. From our own work on the ground on poverty, our
membersůbe they bird watchers or passionate ecologistsůhave learned that
Žsustainable use' is a better way to conserve.Ó

Sir Robert Wilson, boss of Rio Tinto, a mining giant, agrees. He and other
business leaders say it forces hard choices about the future out into the
open: žI like this concept because it frames the trade-offs inherent in a
business like ours. It means that single-issue activism is simply not as

Kenneth Arrow and Larry Goulder, two economists at Stanford University,
suggest that the old ideological enemies are converging: žMany economists
now accept the idea that natural capital has to be valued, and that we
need to account for ecosystem services. Many ecologists now accept that
prohibiting everything in the name of protecting nature is not useful, and
so are being selective.Ó They think the debate is narrowing to the more
empirical question of how far it is possible to substitute natural capital
with the man-made sort, and specific forms of natural capital for one

If Gandhi were alive today, he might look at China next door and find that
the country, once as poor as India, has been transformed beyond
recognition by two decades of roaring economic growth. Vast numbers of
people have been lifted out of poverty and into middle-class comfort. That
could prompt him to reframe his question: how many planets will it take to
satisfy China's needs if it ever achieves profligate America's affluence?

Full Text and other articles in the series at


Insuring a Brighter Future: How to hedge against tomorrow's environmental

- The Economist, (SURVEY: THE GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT) July 4 2002

SO WHAT do we owe the future? A precise definition for sustainable
development is likely to remain elusive but, as this survey has argued,
the hazy outline of a useful one is emerging from the experience of the
past decade.

For a start, we cannot hope to turn back the clock and return nature to a
pristine state. Nor must we freeze nature in the state it is today, for
that gift to the future would impose an unacceptable burden on the poorest
alive today. Besides, we cannot forecast the tastes, demands or concerns
of future generations. Recall that the overwhelming pollution problem a
century ago was horse manure clogging up city streets: a century hence,
many of today's problems will surely seem equally irrelevant. We should
therefore think of our debt to the future as including not just natural
resources but also technology, institutions and especially the capacity to
innovate. Robert Solow got it mostly right a decade ago: the most
important thing to leave future generations, he said, is the capacity to
live as well as we do today.

However, as the past decade has made clear, there is a limit to that
argument. If we really care about the žsustainableÓ part of sustainable
development, we must be much more watchful about environmental problems
with critical thresholds. Most local problems are reversible and hence no
cause for alarm. Not all, however: the depletion of aquifers and the loss
of topsoil could trigger irreversible changes that would leave future
generations worse off. And global or long-term threats, where victims are
far removed in time and space, are easy to brush aside.

In areas such as biodiversity, where there is little evidence of a
sustainability problem, a voluntary approach is best. Those in the rich
world who wish to preserve pandas, or hunt for miracle drugs in the
rainforest, should pay for their predilections. However, where there are
strong scientific indications of unsustainability, we must act on behalf
of the futureůeven at the price of today's development. That may be
expensive, so it is prudent to try to minimise those risks in the first

A riskier world

Human ingenuity and a bit of luck have helped mankind stay a few steps
ahead of the forces degrading the environment this past century, the first
full one in which the planet has been exposed to industrialisation. In the
century ahead, the great race between development and degradation could
well become a closer call.

On one hand, the demands of development seem sure to grow at a cracking
pace in the next few decades as the Chinas, Indias and Brazils of this
world grow wealthy enough to start enjoying not only the necessities but
also some of the luxuries of life. On the other hand, we seem to be
entering a period of huge technological advances in emerging fields such
as biotechnology that could greatly increase resource productivity and
more than offset the effect of growth on the environment. The trouble is,
nobody knows for sure.

Since uncertainty will define the coming era, it makes sense to invest in
ways that reduce that risk at relatively low cost. Governments must think
seriously about the future implications of today's policies. Their best
bet is to encourage the three powerful forces for sustainability outlined
in this survey: the empowerment of local people to manage local resources
and adapt to environmental change; the encouragement of science and
technology, especially innovations that reduce the ecological footprint of
consumption; and the greening of markets to get prices right.

To advocate these interventions is not to call for a return to the hubris
of yesteryear's central planners. These measures would merely give
individuals the power to make greener choices if they care to. In
practice, argues Chris Heady of the OECD, this may still not add up to
sustainability žbecause we might still decide to be greedy, and leave less
for our children.Ó

Happily, there are signs of an emerging bottom-up push for greenery. Even
such icons of western consumerism as Unilever and Procter & Gamble now
sing the virtues of žsustainable consumption.Ó Unilever has vowed that by
2005 it will be buying fish only from sustainable sources, and P&G is
coming up with innovative products such as detergents that require less
water, heat and packaging. It would be naive to label such actions as
expressions of žcorporate social responsibilityÓ: in the long run, firms
will embrace greenery only if they see profit in it. And that, in turn,
will depend on choices made by individuals.

Such interventions should really be thought of as a kind of insurance that
tilts the odds of winning that great race just a little in humanity's
favour. Indeed, even some of the world's most conservative insurance firms
increasingly see things this way. As losses from weather-related disasters
have risen of late (see chart 8), the industry is getting more involved in
policy debates on long-term environmental issues such as climate change.

Bruno Porro, chief risk officer at Swiss Re, argues that: žThe world is
entering a future in which risks are more concentrated and more complex.
That is why we are pressing for policies that reduce those risks through
preparation, adaptation and mitigation. That will be cheaper than covering
tomorrow's losses after disaster strikes.Ó

Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University agrees: žWhen you think about the
scale of risk that the world faces, it is clear that we grossly
underinvest in knowledge...we have enough income to live very comfortably
in the developed world and to prevent dire need in the developing world.
So we should have the confidence to invest in longer-term issues like the
environment. Let's help insure the sustainability of this wonderful

He is right. After all, we have only one planet, now and in the future. We
need to think harder about how to use it wisely.