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August 14, 2002


UK Debates On; Assessing the Safety; EU Ratifies Cartagena;Scienc


Today in AgBioView: August 152, 2002:

* UK's Environment Minister Kick Starts Public Debate on GM
* Comment on Apel vs Snow.
* Re: Sustainablity
* Valiant Martyrdom or a Betrayal of the Needy by the Forces of Greed
* Biotechnology and Safety Assessment
* BioMalaysia 2002
* FAO Biotech News
* Plant Biotechnology Journal
* EU Ratifies Biosafety Protocol: ...will stifle innovation, hinder trade
* World Wrenched by Drought
* Science, Sustainability and the Human Prospect
* Are Risk Assessment and The Precautionary Principle Equivalent?

Environment Minister Kick Starts Public Debate on GM

- Michael Meacher, The Guardian, August 14, 2002

The development of genetically modified crops is one of the most dramatic
scientific innovations of our time. Supporters of this technology believe
that it could provide significant benefits for the economy, the
environment, and farmers in developing countries. Opponents have argued
that it will have significant negative effects on the environment and
perhaps human health, involving unjustifiable risks with the natural
environment. What does the public think?

Well, we hope to find out. The government has just launched proposals for
a public debate on GM. You may not have noticed. Did we sneak out the
report in a bid to evade public scrutiny? No, we published our response to
proposals for a public debate drawn up by the Agriculture and Environment
Biotechnology Commission (AEBC), our advisory group on the implications of
developments in biotechnology for agriculture and the environment.

This marks a turning point in the way in which GM issues have been
discussed in the UK. The government has endorsed the AEBC's proposal that
an independent steering group should lead the debate, but it is for the
independent steering group to take the final decision on how best to
engage the public. We have invited Malcolm Grant, chairman of AEBC, to
take charge and to appoint other members of the steering group.

This is a bold step for government. Letting go is never easy, as any
parent will tell you. But it is the right thing to do. I hope that the
debate will differ markedly from the often bitter and unproductive
exchanges to date. I do not anticipate that those with strong views will
cease to make representations, but I do urge all those involved to
participate, and to reflect on issues of public concern.

Contrary to media perception, the public is not overwhelmingly pro- or
anti-GM, as demonstrated by research on attitudes to GM in Europe. This
found that there is a major gap between actual public attitudes, and
perceptions of public attitudes among policymakers. Crucially, it found
that a powerful factor in determining public attitudes to GM is the
"behaviour of institutions responsible for development and regulation of
technological innovations and risks". I hope the public debate will be the
first step in tackling this issue.

The government has also announced two related studies. A review of the
scientific issues relating to GM will be led by the chief scientific
adviser, and a second study into the costs and benefits of GM led by the
strategy unit. We believe that these issues must be given full
consideration, and have wrestled hard over how to link these studies to
the public debate.

We are determined that there should be ample opportunity for public
engagement in these studies, and that the results should have integrity
with all stakeholders. The chief scientific adviser has made clear his
commitment to a process that is driven by public concerns, and involves
independent scientists. We have also proposed that representatives of
these studies should sit on the steering group to link these issues with
the public debate.

There will of course be discussion between government and the steering
group. After all, we have offered to provide £250,000 of public funds to
conduct the debate. No doubt there will be tensions along the way. But I
am hopeful that we will build trust and working relationships among all
those involved.

Sceptics have asked whether we will listen to the results. We will. I hope
that the steering group will lead a bold and innovative process that will
improve understanding on the sensitive issues involved among the general
public, stakeholders and government.


From: "Mark Tepfer"
Subject: Apel vs Snow

Comment on Apel vs Snow.

I wasn't at the Ecological Society of America meeting, where apparently
Allison Snow presented her group's results on the effect of a Bt gene on
fitness in wild sunflowers, so I do not know in what manner the results
were presented, yet it seems to me that Andrew Apel's criticism of their
experiment is pretty wide of the mark. As any scientist knows, all
experiments require positive and negative controls, which serve as
baseline for the comparison of the experimental conditions. In many cases,
a key question is indeed, what is the right control/baseline. Presumably,
in the Snow et al experiments, crosses were also made with an equivalent
sunflower cultivar lacking a Bt gene. Isn't that the right control? If
there were a "native" sunflower gene that also interferes with insects,
that would also be an appropriate control, but to the best of my
knowledge, such does not exist.

From my modest knowledge of the literature, there was indeed reason to
hypothesize that an insect resistance gene could confer a fitness
advantage. Consider for instance that insects are used as biological
control agents against certain weeds. However, it should be pointed out
that a fitness advantage (apparently shown by the Snow et al experiments)
is not the equivalent to weediness. Increased weediness in addition
requires that the fitness advantage overcomes a factor that limits the
population size/density of the organism. If, to invent a purely
hypothetical case, the essential factor limiting the population density of
wild sunflower is slugs grazing wild sunflowers down to a density of 2/m2,
then an increase in fitness as measured experimentally by Snow et al,
would have no effect on population density, and thus on weediness of the
wild sunflower.

What I hope will be done next will be to study the possible effects of the
Bt gene on wild sunflower population size and density. In terms of
assessment of the impact of gene flow of a Bt gene to wild sunflower, that
seems to me to be the right way to study the question. Although I haven't
talked with folks at USDA-APHIS about this, this point of view seems to me
to be in accordance with their practice. For instance, Bt cotton was not
authorized in areas of Florida where wild cotton grows, in order to avoid
the question of potential impact from gene flow. In either case, once we
know what is the potential impact of gene flow, then we can explore ways
to alleviate the problem, and consider whether the advantages are so great
that it would make sense to accept the gene flow problem in any case. Need
I point out that finding ways to solve or manage a potential problem can't
be developed unless we have an experimental system to study it? I would
humbly suggest that the results of Snow et al, if properly used, could
constitute the first step in that direction.

Andrew Apel rightly points out that the Losey experiment was
misused/misinterpreted in grotesque fashion by opponents to GMOs. Yet I
hardly think he's serving proponents of GM by trashing Snow et al. Getting
out of the highly irrational GM controversy requires restraint from all.
Let's stick to careful scrutiny of whether experiments are done properly,
since this is how the quality of research will be established and
maintained. But we also need to exert care to assure that the necessary
restraint was used when results are interpreted.

- Mark Tepfer , Laboratoire de Biologie Cellulaire INRA-Versailles 78026
Versailles cedex France http://www-biocel.versailles.inra.fr


From: "Gordon Couger"
Re: Sustainablity

If people what food production with the least impact on the environment
modern science is the only hope they have. GM crops are only on part of
the puzzle. Precision agriculture, research into better cropping
practices, importation of natural predators, increased yields and most
important of all education of farmers and others in agriculture are our
best hope. While non of these methods are closed to the critics of modern
agriculture it appears that their minds are most assuredly closed.
Championing the precautionary principal requiring anything new to be
proved save effectively assures that nothing new can will used until it is
nearly obsolete if not obsolete.

It is obvious that the opponents of modern agriculture don't spend any
time actually looking at crops growing in the field under various methods
of production or they would see that no till does and it would impress
them more than it does. As a farmer just seeing a cotton crop planted in a
mat of weeds that turns out better than the perfectly manicured farm next
to it immediately shows me the huge savings in soil erosion and CO2
emissions that on technology that a hand full of seeds and a page of
instructions can be passed on to any farmer.

Farmers in India and Africa are managing to do with out much instructions
on Bt cotton. I have been personally involved in methods that identify the
areas of a field that need more fertile and those that need less letting
us cut the application of nitrogen by as much as a third and holding the
yield constant. We used the same technology on a weed sprayer to reduce
the amount of herbicide use by half but still get the same kill on the
weeds. I am old enough to have farmed with what are now called organic
methods. My yield and problems then agree exactly with the problems that
organic farmers report today. The things that the organic farmers fail to
point out is how much more soil erosion is cause to produce the same
amount of crop and wild life habitat that to the third or more of the farm
in a legume rotation trying to build up enough nitrogen to make half to
two thirds the yield of modern farming.

We didn't leave the old ways of farming because a chemical company held a
gun to our head we left it because we found higher yielding methods that
let us farm with less energy and protect the soil much better. Making a
better life for our families and being able to take better care of the
soil so we could be sure of having a place to farm 50 years in the future.
When it comes to sustainability the farmer is more aware of it than the
guy in a 3 piece suit preaching the evils of modern farming Instead of
ignoring organic farming as a bunch of harmless crack pots we should have
made them prove their baseless claims from day one.

- Gordon Couger, http://www.couger.com/gcouger


Valiant Martyrdom or a Betrayal of the Needy by the Forces of Greed

- From: Andrew Apel

It appears no one in "the debate" over GM cares about the fate of poor
Africans. The rich Africans don't care, as long as their export
opportunities to Europe are preserved. The activists don't care, if that's
the cost of opposing GMOs. Europe doesn't care, because they've got their
hands full with weekly food crises of their own. Americans don't care,
they're busy fighting the obesity epidemic. The biotech corporations don't
care, preferring to remain silent even though their products are at the
heart of a debate that has now turned deadly.

When Saddam Hussein gassed his own people, it was a big deal. When Mugabe
starves his own people, nobody cares. Except the activists, of course --
who are not abashed in the least by being complicit in starvation. Maybe
some methods of killing are more acceptable than others. Maybe some
victims are less important than others.

Or maybe it's something worse than that. Maybe the notion of poor Africans
laying down their lives for the sake of saving the environment and the
food chain from the ravages of "genetic pollution" is actually palatable.
The activists think so, and as disgusting as it seems, they may be right.

If famine strikes Africa because it will not accept GM food aid, history
will record one of two things: the valiant martyrdom of the native
environmentalists, or a betrayal of the needy by the forces of greed, who
were abetted by activists who proved once and for all that "deep ecology"
is just as inhumane as Hitler's vision of the master race.

>> US Comes Under Attack Over GMOs
>>THE United States yesterday came under severe attack from Zambians for
insisting that
>> government must accept genetically modified foods (GMFs) if it has to
>be granted a US $50 million loan.

Biotechnology and Safety Assessment

The Third edition of "Biotechnology and Safety Assessment" edited by John
A. Thomas and Roy L. Fuchs provides a comprehensive treatise on new
developments in biotechnology. This expanded and updated edition is
authored by internationally recognized molecular biologists, plant
agronomists, microbiologists, toxicologists, nutritionists and regulatory
authorities. The text provides coverage on topics of agricultural
biotechnology including recent progress in biotech crop safety and the
role of biotechnology in the development of new food products, ecological
topics related to biotech crops and the global regulatory issues related
to biotech crops. The book also covers biotherapeutics and presents an
update of newer developments in therapeutic agents. (August 2002, Hardback
400 pp., $99.95 Academic Press, ISBN: 0-12-688721-7)

To order contact Academic Press at: 800-545-2522 (Phone) or 800-568-5136
(FAX) or visit the web site at: http://www.apcatalog.com


BioMalaysia 2002

- October 1-4 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,

The four-day BioMalaysia 2002 symposium is a global event that will
generate interest, business opportunites and awareness on biotechnology in
not only Malaysia, but also in the Asia-Pacific region. The symposium will
take participants through an invaluable learning experience on today's
technology and the sharing of global perspectives in biotechnology. The
symposium covers various topics of interest, with special emphasis on
agriculture, biodiversity, medicine, convergence of new sciences and
platform technologies. Special symposium sessions dedicated to the
development of biotechnology clusters, strategic alliances and the
commercialisation of biotechnology are also included. The symposium's
guest-of-honour, The Hon. Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato Seri Dr.
Mahathir Mohamad, will launch the symposium with a special Premier Address
focusing on biotechnology for Malaysia's Vision 2020.

Our invited international keynote speakers will impress and inspire you
with the great potential and dynamic development of biotechnology.
Professor Arthur Kornberg, a Nobel Laureate, and Emeritus Professor of
Biochemistry from Stanford University School of Medicine, will lead the
keynote addresses. the symposium boasts an impressive list of
distinguished national and international speakers. Besides the above
prominent personalities, three other notable keynote speakers are Sir
Brian Heap, Vice President of the Royal Society and Master of St. Edmund's
College, Cambridge, (U.K.), Dr. Roger N. Beachy of Donald Danforth Plant
Sciences Center, St. Louis, (U.S.A.) and Professor A.H. Zakri, Director,
Institute of Advanced Studies, United Nations University, (Japan).



- http://www.fao.org August 13, 2002

- ISNAR-FAO workshop on biosafety An expert workshop on "Policy Planning
and Decision Support: the Case of Biosafety" took place at FAO
Headquarters, Rome, Italy on 14-16 May 2002. The workshop was organised by
the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR - one
of the 16 Future Harvest centres supported by the CGIAR) and FAO, and
discussion centred on a web-based decision-support system, developed
jointly by ISNAR and FAO, that is being designed to assist national
policy-makers and research directors to formulate policy and regulatory
frameworks to respond to safety issues regarding applications of modern
biotechnology in food and agriculture. This workshop, dealing with
biosafety, is the first in a series focusing on specific issues and aiming
to help FAO member countries meet international and regional obligations
concerning agricultural biotechnology. About 40 participants, including
representatives from UNEP, GEF and UNIDO as well as national experts,
attended the workshop. See http://www.isnar.cgiar.org/ibs/biosafety.htm
for a brief summary of the workshop or contact hoan.le@fao.org or
isnar-biotech@cgiar.org for more information.

- GMOs and food processing in ASEAN member countries A report on
"Biosafety policy options and capacity building related to genetically
modified organisms in the food processing industry of ASEAN" by Sakarindr
Bhumiratana, dated June 2002, is now available on the web. This report is
the result of a project initiated under the auspices of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Committee on Science and Technology and
was prepared with support from UNIDO and ISAAA. See
ilding.pdf (PDF, 412 KB, 45 pages) or contact webmaster@binas.unido.org
for more information.

- "Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable
Development". 26 August - 4 September 2002, Johannesburg, South Africa.
This is one of the major parallel events to the World Summit on
Sustainable Development and is organised by the South African Department
of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, the International Council for
Science, the Third World Academy of Science and the World Federation of
Engineering Organizations. Currently, details on 28 different sessions are
available, including "The role of biotechnology and biodiversity in
sustainable development: A dialogue between government, industry,
international organisations and scientists" (31 August) and "Food security
in Africa" (30 August). See the programme at
http://www.scienceforum.co.za/programme.html or contact
programme@scienceforum.co.za for more details.


Plant Biotechnology Journal


The aim of the new Plant Biotechnology Journal to be launched in January
2003 is to publish substantial, world-class primary research articles in
applied plant science, involving applications of plant biotechnology and
plant biology across all industrial sectors.

Publishing original research, Plant Biotechnology Journal will report on
significant new contributions to the field, providing a forum for the best
papers in applied plant science. Published articles will report novel and
exciting findings in strategic research in plant biotechnology, combining
curiosity-driven studies with the potential for application.

Applications may involve agriculture, horticulture, food and
food-processing, paper, pulp and timber, pharmaceuticals, medical,
phytoremediation, marine applications, non-food uses of plants and
industrial crops. With the rapid developments in genomic sequencing and
analysis, and availability of new technologies to analyse functional
genomics and proteomics, the combined powers of genetics, biochemistry and
cell biology are leading to the very rapid production of new information.
Plant Biotechnology Journal welcomes the results of these programmes when
the outcome is likely to enhance the application of plant science to the
above industries.


EU Ratifies Biosafety Protocol: Global regulatory scheme will stifle
innovation, hinder trade

- Gregory Conko and Henry I. Miller, Environment & Climate News, August

The European Union took yet another step away from the rational regulation
of genetically modified crop plants and foods in late June, when it became
the 22nd party to formally ratify the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

Although heralded by the European Commission as providing a sound
mechanism for the regulation of GM organisms, the Protocol will do no such
thing. What it will do is establish a global regulatory apparatus that
will stifle innovation, hinder trade, and focus on the wrong risks. Once
the agreement is ratified by 50 signatories and becomes effectiveÚexpected
to take place by early next yearÚit will make parties worse off, not

Two and a half years ago, when the agreement commonly known as the
Biosafety Protocol was negotiated in Montreal, it was heralded as a
landmark of global cooperation. The Protocol requires member nations to
establish strict controls over nearly every aspect of research and
development on GM crops, animals, and microorganisms.

"No clear purpose" The Biosafety Protocol was the culmination of an effort
begun in 1993, when few people had ever even heard of GMOs, and when the
first GM crops had not yet been planted commercially. But it was doomed
from the start. A scientific panel established by the United Nations«
Environment Program earlier that year to review the need for such an
agreement advised that "a protocol would, for no clear purpose: (i) divert
scientific and administrative resources from higher priority needs; and
(ii) delay the diffusion of techniques beneficial to biological diversity,
and essential to the progress of human health and sustainable
agriculture." Nevertheless, politicians were intent on creating an
agreement, whether or not one was needed. The Biosafety Protocol was never
intended to be the scientifically driven regulatory apparatus its
supporters so often claim. No scientific organization would have devised a
Protocol that covers all GM plants, animals, and microorganisms, and only
GM organisms, with a one-size-fits-all standard of regulatory oversight.

Ever since the methods of gene-splicing were invented in 1973, dozens of
major scientific organizations- including the UK's Royal Society, the
World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the U.S.
National Academy of Science - have investigated the potential risks of GM
organisms and reached remarkably similar conclusions. The process of
genetic modification is not inherently risky, they found, and genetically
modified organisms do not pose new or unique risks compared to unmodified
organisms or organisms modified in more conventional ways.

Risks neither new nor unique For example, some critics have suggested GM
crops could become invasive weeds or have other unintended environmental
impacts, such as harming insects or other wildlife. But so, too, have
numerous conventionally bred plants been shown to pose exactly the same
kinds of environmental risks.

Others worry about GM foods introducing new toxins or allergens into the
food supply. Here too, though, conventionally bred foods pose exactly the
same risks. Food-grade potatoes and tomatoes, for example, are routinely
mated with wild varieties toxic to human beings.

What explains the safety of our food supply? Over time, and relying upon
vast experience with a wide array of techniques for the modification of
plants and animals, scientists, breeders, and farmers have developed
methods for keeping unsafe products off the marketÚmethods that are more
than adequate for ensuring the safety of GM crops and foods.

Still, supporters of the Biosafety Protocol have argued a layer of formal
government regulation must exist to catch unanticipated problems. If this
truly is the case, then why voluntarily blinder regulators so they miss
the arguably greater risks of conventional plant breeding and the
introduction of exotic species into new environments?

The total lack of interest by negotiators in these mundane, but more
significant, sources of environmental and human health risk reveals the
true motivation behind ratification of the Biosafety Protocol is merely

It's all about the politics Politics also explains why, more than two
years after the agreement was supposedly finalized, there remains a
considerable amount of dispute about how it will be implemented.

GM pharmaceuticals were excluded from the document finalized in Montreal,
because pharmaceuticals are already regulated by another multilateral
agreement. Now, several less-developed nations want to bring them back
into the Protocol's regulatory framework so they will have financial
leverage over European and North American drug manufacturers.

The Protocol's section on GM labeling requires only that bulk shipments of
commodity grains be labeled if they "may contain GMOs". Now, the European
Union is seeking to alter that provision so it correlates more closely
with the EU's proposed traceability regulation and gives the EU protection
against a World Trade Organization challenge to its own dubious labeling

Perhaps the most problematic issue is how the Protocol's reference to a
"Precautionary Approach" in regulatory standard-setting should be
interpreted. Although the large agricultural exporting nations
specifically opposed including the words "precautionary principle" in the
final text, the European Union now argues for a strong reading of the
precautionary language that would give it leeway to ban imports on the
basis of little more than speculation about potential health or
environmental risks.

Precaution stymies innovation Although numerous critiques of the
precautionary principle have been written, its shortcomings are no more
evident than in the case of GMO regulation.

The principle has been invoked to support unwarranted restrictions on some
of the safest, most well-studied food products in human history. It is
simultaneously being applied inconsistently, as European cheeses, wines,
and beers made with GM enzymes have escaped the EU's regulatory maze. It
has distracted regulators and the public from more significant sources of
risk. And, by handicapping the development of GM crops intended for
less-developed nations, it has kept researchers in those countries from
trying innovative ways of combating hunger and poverty.

What is needed globally is a set of policies that make scientific sense
and protect consumer choice. This is sorely lacking in the Biosafety
Protocol. The only winners from its rules will be government regulators,
who will enjoy additional power and resources, and anti-science
extremists, who have succeeded in erecting yet another barrier to GM

The losers will be consumers everywhere, who will once again be denied
access to safer, more nutritious, and affordable products.
Gregory Conko is director of food safety policy at the Competitive
Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. Henry I. Miller, a medical doctor,
is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution


World Wrenched by Drought

- Stanley Theodore, The Statesman http://www.thestatesman.net August 14,

Drought deceives the eye until it fully manifests itself by tightening its
grip like cancer, writes STANLEY THEODORE.

Today, every continent is shoring up its local administration to tackle
this scourge, while scientists and environmentalists are trying to figure
out if this widespread recurrence is manmade or a natural calamity Unlike
all natural disasters, it's only drought that is poorly perceived. There
are no shattered homes as with cyclones and floods nor flattened buildings
as in earthquakes. This is one natural calamity that is a gradual
phenomenon that deceives the eye until it fully manifests itself and
tightens its grip, like cancer.

With the growing competition for water from other sectors and the strongly
increased costs in the development of new water sources, it is estimated
that only 12 per cent more water can be made available for agriculture,'
FAO Assistant Director-General Louise Fresco said. The real global
challenge, therefore, would be to produce more food with lesser water. To
focus on this, the FAO has dedicated a teleconference centred in
Washington on 16 October, World Food Day, to the theme, 'Water: Source of
Food Security' where government representatives and civil organisations in
FAO member-countries would come together to find solutions to water
scarcity and food security.

Biotechnology's role could be innovative and mitigating wherein it would
identify drought-resistant characteristics and other drought
characteristics for rain-fed crop. But technological improvement in human
history has rarely been welcomed with open arms. Zimbabwe objected to the
distribution of genetically modified food which dramatically averts the
impact of drought on human lives. While there is no prevention to talk
about, the only way out is optimum management of water, nature's greatest
resource and perhaps biotechnology, among man's best-delivered skills.

It's been ages since it was said that future wars would be fought over
water. It is high time to fully discover whether water or technology or
spirituality or a combination of all of these would avert such wars in the
coming generations. (The author is The Statesman's Hyderabad-based Special
Representative.) Full story at


Science, Sustainability and the Human Prospect

- Peter H. Raven, AAAS PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS. Science Magazine Excerpts
below. Full Text at

When we set out the theme for the 2002 American Association for the
Advancement of Science (AAAS) Meeting, "Science in a Connected World," we
thought of the ways in which the fates of nations were intertwined as
never before and of the role of science in shaping communication. I was
mindful of the enormous challenges that faced a world that had grown so
rapidly in population, individual consumption levels, and changing
technologies. In the months that followed, the shock delivered by the
September 11th events brought home with unimagined force the ways in which
our collective neglect of these relationships had helped to bring about
the dangerous and unstable state of the world in which we find ourselves.
The problems we face seem cruelly compounded, but their root causes remain

The challenges that we face are enormous and deeply rooted in
relationships neglected for far too long. We must find new ways to provide
for a human society that presently has outstripped the limits of global
sustainability. New ways of thinking--an integrated multidimensional
approach to the problems of global sustainability--have long been needed,
and it is now up to us to decide whether the especially difficult
challenges that we are facing today will jolt us into finding and
accepting them.

The State of the World. Over 400 generations (10,000 years), our human
population has grown from several million people to approximately 6.1
billion. During this time, villages, towns, cities, and nations formed and
became the homes of poets, philosophers, lawyers, builders, religious
leaders, and tool makers. We continue to depend on a series of ancient,
genetically and socially determined habits and attitudes, many of which
seem to have been more suitable for our hunter-gatherer ancestors. We must
adopt new ways of thinking that will serve our descendants well in a world
that is crowded beyond imagining, a world in which we shall always be the
major ecological force; unless, of course, we destroy ourselves.

During the 1790s, the global population amounted to about 800 million
people. Despite the Reverend Thomas Malthus' dire prediction that
population growth would outstrip food production, we did limit the extent
of starvation during the 19th and 20th centuries, in large part because of
the steam engine and its successors. We manufactured increasingly toxic
pesticides with which we now douse our agricultural lands at the rate of 3
million metric tons per year, worldwide. We are fixing nitrogen with an
output that exceeds natural processes. Cultivated lands have grown to
comprise an area about the size of South America. Rangelands occupying
about a fifth of the world's land surface support 3.3 billion cattle,
sheep, and goats. Two-thirds of the world's fisheries are being harvested
beyond sustainability.

The Central Role of Science and Technology. It is generally accepted that
advances in science and technology power the world's economy and economic
progress. In America, leading economists and government policy-makers
uniformly agree that the nation's extraordinary capabilities in science,
technology, and health are among its strongest assets. U.S. investment in
basic scientific, engineering, and medical research produces a rate of
return of between 20 to 50% per year.

What are the specific contributions that science and engineering can make
to the development of a sustainable society? Contemporary efforts to build
the science of sustainability as an accessible, integrating discipline are
well summarized in the National Research Council study Our Common Journey.
A Transition Toward Sustainability
(http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/297/5583/954#ref11#ref11 ).
Noting that many trends and conditions undermine efforts to achieve
sustainability, the report concludes that an overall transition could be
attained in the next two generations without the development of miraculous
technologies or drastic transformations of human societies. The report
stressed, however, that significant advances in basic knowledge, in the
social capacity and technological ability to use it, and in the political
will to turn this knowledge into action will be necessary to achieve this

The problem of transferring technologies to and building capacities in
countries throughout the world in such a way that they can contribute
adequately to sustainable development is a difficult one, but one that we
must confront fully (
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/297/5583/954#ref15#ref15 ).
Ismail Serageldin (
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/297/5583/954#ref16#ref16 ) has
presented an argument for the cooperative development of science
throughout the world that is both moving and compelling, stressing also
the role of the scientific attitude in bringing people together on a
rational basis.

Many of us look forward with trepidation to the World Summit on
Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, to be held this
September, because the continued deterioration of the environment over the
past 10 years has been so obvious and the signs of progress so limited.
Nonetheless, there have been some outstanding efforts to refocus and renew
commitments there
(http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/297/5583/954#ref17#ref1 ).
There also is growing evidence that corporations are increasingly
realizing that understanding and working with the conditions of
sustainable development are necessary prerequisites for success in the
corporate world of the future (
<http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/297/5583/954#ref18#ref18 ).
John Browne, chief executive officer of BP-Amoco, for example, set his
company on a course that will embrace alternative energy sources and
energy conservation, reasoning that in the face of global warming, they
must do this if they are to continue to be a profitable energy company in
the future.

If the United States can become more international, if we can all learn to
deal with the conditions of the world as they really are, much more
closely than we have done before, we can begin to think about the contours
of the sort of world that we want to build for the future. To the extent
that we do that, the operations of our individual institutions will be
successful, and we will be making a worthy contribution to the kind of a
world where our grandchildren would like to live. Being optimistic about
the future by wearing rose-colored glasses and engaging in wishful
thinking in a moral vacuum constitutes a crime against our posterity;
being optimistic because of a determination on the part of each to
contribute what he or she can to make the world a better place is, in the
words of Kai Lee
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/297/5583/954#ref24#ref24 ,
engaging in a "search for a life good enough to warrant our comforts." As
scientists, we should understand this, and we must contribute what we can
to improve the world and to learn to respect one another. I am confident
that we will do this and determined that the AAAS will help in important
ways in achieving this all-important goal.


Are Risk Assessment and The Precautionary Principle Equivalent?

- Andrew Apel, Editor, AgBiotech Reporter, Cedar Falls, Iowa;
http://www.cei.org/gencon/027,03162.cfm ›

EDITOR«S NOTE: The following paper was prepared for the June 20-21, 2002
International Society of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology workshop
on the Precautionary Principle, held in Arlington, Virginia.›The paper is
reproduced here with the author's›permission. ›

Good afternoon. I'm the editor of AgBiotech Reporter,[1] a business
publication focusing on biotechnology in agriculture. As many of you know,
differences of opinion over the application of the precautionary
principle[2] in this field have been controversial to the point of
violence.[3] ›

The question I've been posed is whether the precautionary principle is
equivalent to risk assessment. My answer is: No. To explain that answer,
I'm going argue that risk assessment plays a central role in the
imperative to maximize benefits, while the precautionary principle
violates it. To do that, I'll borrow from classical risk analysis, quality
management and ethics. › In a consultation on risk communication by the
United Nations FAO and WHO, "risk assessment« was defined as "the process
that is used to quantitatively or qualitatively estimate and characterize
risk."[4] ›

This begs a big question: why bother? Humans are naturally risk-averse.
Once a risk is identified, why not avoid it altogether? However, that
would ignore a basic feature of the human approach to risk. There is only
one good reason to take a risk, and that's in order to achieve a
benefit.[4] › Do we then blindly accept there are risks and grasp
unthinkingly for a benefit? No, because we«re still risk-averse. Once a
risk is assessed, it must be managed. Depending on circumstances, anything
less than managing risk could be legally negligent, morally wrong or just
plain stupid. In the consultation I quoted from above, "Risk management«
was defined as the weighing and selecting of options and implementing
controls as appropriate to assure an appropriate level of protection."[6]

After we've assessed a risk and placed it under control, what have we
done? Something both remarkable and responsible. We've improved the value
of a product by reducing the risks associated with its benefits. › Anyone
familiar with the role of quality improvement or quality management can
probably see where I'm going with this. Risks differ only from defects
according to the degree of their severity, and risk assessment and risk
management are product quality issues. ›

After all, what is a risk? The dictionary defines it as "A factor, thing,
element, or course involving uncertain danger; a hazard."[7]› What is a
defect? The dictionary defines it as "An imperfection that causes
inadequacy or failure; a shortcoming." [8]› What is quality? According to
Edward Deming, "Quality is a predictable degree of uniformity and
dependability, at low cost and suited to the market." [9] ›

So in risk assessment and risk management, I submit we're doing the same
thing that quality professionals do, for the same purposes. The
fundamentals of quality as a discipline are attributed to two people -
Walter Shewhart, who was a statistician at the Western Electric Hawthorne
plant in the 1930's and his prot»g», Edward Deming.[10]›

In the system Shewhart eventually developed, defects could be reduced by
applying a PLAN - DO - CHECK - ACT system. To reduce defects, the quality
analyst must PLANÚdecide what action might reduce defects, DO-try out the
idea, CHECK-determine that the idea was effective in reducing defects, and
finally, ACT to implement the idea. ›

Some defects may be more dangerous to consumers than others, but whether
it«s risk assessment and risk management, or plan-do-check-act, the whole
point of the process is to maximize benefits. › Why maximize benefits? The
answer is found in the definition of the word - benefit:« "Something that
promotes or enhances well-being; an advantage:"[11]› Benefits being
synonymous with good, it's apparent that there's an imperative behind
maximizing benefits. If new or improved products or services can offer new
or improved benefits, then they should be offered to those who want, and
most especially, to those who need them. If the risks of those beneficial
products or services can be reduced, then they should be reduced, and both
efforts require innovation. This notion has been nicknamed the
"technological imperative" and criticized as turning Immanuel Kant's old
dictum, :"Ought implies can," on its head, making it "Can implies ought."
[12]› That's not a sound criticism, because the dictum is perfectly
capable of standing on its head. In fact, it does. We«re supposed to
maximize our mutual well-being, and this has corollaries in law, religion
and ethics. When a discovery discloses a way to increase benefits or
reduce the risks of achieving them, a choice must be made. To innovate, or
not to innovate, that is the question. ›

Innovation means novel technology. Sometimes that technology will reduce
risks. Sometimes that technology will offer novel benefits. Ideally, it
will do both. The value of delivering novel benefits with novel technology
is almost obvious by definition, but it's also been quantified. In his
speech accepting the 1987 Nobel prize in economics, Robert Solow noted
that "[g]ross output per hour of work in the U. S. economy doubled between
1909 and 1949; and some seven-eighths of that increase could be attributed
to "technical change in the broadest sense" and only the remaining eighth
could be attributed to conventional increase in capital intensity. Thus
technology remains the dominant engine of growth, with human capital
investment in second place." [13] ›

There are also risks in novel technology, and they represent novel risks,
risks that the imperative to maximize benefits requires us to assess and
manage. › But that begs another big question: how do we know something is
novel? There's no need to go to the dictionary for the answer. When
something is novel, that means it's different, compared to what is
familiar. The closer the comparison, the less novel it will be. There's
probably an epistemological mandate to find the closest comparison, but I
won't go into that now. › Anyhow, the OECD summed up the notion of novelty
nicely in what is known as the doctrine of substantial equivalence: "For
foods and food components from organisms developed by the application of
modern biotechnology, the most practical approach to the determination is
to consider whether they are substantially equivalent to analogous food
product(s) if such exist....The concept of substantial equivalence
embodies the idea that existing organisms used as foods, or as a source of
food, can be used as the basis for comparison when assessing the safety of
human consumption of a food or food component that has been modified or is
new."[14] ›

When it comes to novel risks, things aren't entirely as simple as this
statement of the doctrine implies, not only because some things are more
novel than others, but also because there are different kinds of "risks."
And here again, notions of quality converge with risk assessment and risk
management in the process of maximizing benefits. › First, there are
actual risks--as defined earlier, "A factor, thing, element, or course
involving uncertain danger; a hazard." Like defects, risks have names, and
determinable frequencies of occurrence. The uncertainty can be
quantified,[15] such as the likelihood that you will die as you drive to
the grocery store in search of food. Or that your car will die on the way,
due to poor maintenance or a manufacturer's defect. This is where you PLAN
and ACT to reduce risks. You assess the risks and manage them. And you
only bother doing this if you know in advance that there's a benefit to be
had. ›

Then there are hypothetical risks--sometimes called "potential risks."
These are not risks that have been shown to exist, but rather risks that
may plausibly exist. Being hypotheses, they can be tested scientifically.
This is where you check to see if the hypothetical risk exists. And act to
reduce the risk, if it's shown to exist. In other words, quality
improvement. Or maximizing benefits. This is also the crux of innovation.
It takes innovation to hypothesize a risk, verify it, and act to reduce
it, just as it does to hypothesize the benefit of a new product, verify
the benefit, and act to produce it. ›

In the final category are found speculative risks.[16]› Sometimes they are
called "unknown risks," or "unknown effects." They exist in the region
that lies beyond scientific knowledge or informed imagination. This is the
point where the precautionary principle steps in. According to its
Wingspread version, before using a new technology, process, or chemical,
or starting a new activity, precautionary measures should be taken. The
principle says these measures should be taken even if some cause and
effect relationships are not fully established scientifically, but the
sole pretext is novelty.› If a risk can't be hypothesized, it can't be
tested. If it can't be tested, it can't be assessed. This means, of
course, that the precautionary principle cannot be risk assessment;
rather, it's an assessment in the absence of any demonstrable or
hypothetical risk. For this reason, the precautionary principle cannot
serve the imperative to maximize benefits. › In fact, it violates the
imperative to maximize benefits.

The precautionary principle demands precautionary measures whenever
unknown risks prove impossible to assess, which of course they always are.
There is only one possible precaution to take against the unknown,
unassessable risks of innovative benefits, and that is to refuse the
benefits. › So, to recap: are the precautionary principle and risk
assessment equivalent? No. Risk assessment is a fundamental part of
improving quality, be it the quality of products or the quality of life,
and plays a central role in the innovation required to maximize benefits.
The only virtue of the precautionary principle is the avoidance of risks
that are impossible to assess. Its vice is that these risks, which may not
even exist, can only be avoided by refusing to improve quality, be it
product quality or the quality of life. ›

Finally, consider the reasonableness of the reverse of the Wingspread
version of the precautionary principle: "When an activity has the
potential to benefit human health or the environment, it should be
implemented with due caution, knowing that some cause and effect
relationships cannot be fully established scientifically. In this context
the opponent of the activity, rather than the public, should bear the
burden of proof." Doesn't that sound more reasonable? ›