Today in AgBioView: August 22, 2002:
* Naturally, Everyone Must Eat
* Response to 'Potential Risks and Allergens'
* US Rejects Concerns About Biotech Food Aid For Africa, Wants EU help
* And.... EU Declines US Call to Reassure Africa on GMO Food
* But..... WHO Seeks to Allay African GM Food Fears
* While Mugabe Says........Let Them Eat Dust
* But.....How Safe Are Food Products in Zambia Anyway?
* Global Warming and other Eco Myths:
- How the Environmental Movement Uses False Science to Scare Us to Death
* Pestering the Third World
* Biotechnology: The years 1996 - 2000 and the Transatlantic Trench
* Genetic Engineering No Bed of Roses
* Johannesburg Summit Petition: Put People and Freedom First!
* Globalization, Evolution and Science & Technology
* Food for the Few: Neoliberal Globalism and Agricultural Biotechnology in
Naturally, Everyone Must Eat
-Brian Fisher, Business Review Weekly (Australia), August 22, 2002
Brian Fisher,Executive Director Australian Bureau of Agricultural And
Late in the 19th century, fear and prejudice almost led some governments
to ban the pasteurisation of milk. Opponents of the process argued that it
was unnatural and would interfere with the "natural order". We now know
that pasteurisation has saved millions of people from sickness and death
and continues to do so.
Most would argue that at the start of the 21st century people are more
scientifically enlightened than at the beginning of last century. But
there is every reason to suspect that, when it comes to the application of
technology to food, we remain prone to irrationality. It is particularly
worrying that governments around the world are setting up overbearing
regulatory frameworks and bureaucracies that will stunt the market for
genetically modified products. Such products have the potential to
increase yields and reduce the incidence of serious diseases in the Third
One multi-country study has shown that for every 10% increase in
agricultural yields there is a reduction of almost 10% in the number of
poor people. There are also important links between increased agricultural
yields and reduced childhood malnutrition in developing countries.
Studies in the United States indicate average increases of 10-15% in
yields from using genetically modified crops. In the case of genetically
modified cotton, there is evidence of a 40% reduction in the amount of
pesticide required, leading to benefits for the environment. When genetic
modification results in increased herbicide resistance, the amount of time
farmers in developing countries need to spend on weeding is reduced,
thereby increasing their income potential. Additional gains have been
reported as a result of improved drought resistance, resistance to
salinity and disease, better nutritional characteristics, better capacity
for storage, and more consistent food quality.
There is no credible evidence to suggest that products from genetically
modified soy beans, canola or other genetically modified products, lead to
human health concerns. There is also no reason to believe that
herbicide-resistant crops obtained using age-old plant-breeding
technologies would be any different to herbicide-resistant crops obtained
through genetic modification.
When serious environmental and human health concerns are uncovered, there
is every reason to believe in the efficacy of light-handed regulation that
deals with the specific problem, as opposed to blanket regulations.
The potential for gene technologies in agriculture to alleviate human
the long term cannot be underestimated. But neither should we
underestimate the capacity for governments, particularly those with
already rich and well-fed constituents, to succumb to irrational fears and
For example, the European Union (EU) has already placed severe
restrictions on the importation of genetically modified products.
The EU is notorious for using every excuse it can muster to protect its
farmers from the pressures of world trade. There is every reason to
believe that consumer fear about genetically modified food products is
being used cynically by European regulators to further entrench trade
barriers. When leadership and education should have been the appropriate
response, regulators appear to have given into fear and narrow sectional
Paradoxically, justifications for restrictions on trade in genetically
modified food are generally couched in terms of protecting people, but
over the long term the very opposite may be true. Barriers to trade in
genetically modified food will stunt the development of these products and
their use in the field. Growth in agricultural yields will be reduced and
this will set back efforts to alleviate poverty and reduce the
environmental degradation of agricultural lands.
The role of agricultural research in assisting development strategies is
well understood, but research in agriculture relating to the needs of
developing countries is showing some disturbing trends, with slowing rates
of growth some parts of Africa, there has been a reduction in spending.
The key issue is how to persuade the private sector to focus more on the
needs of poor and small countries. There is a case for a complete re-think
of the role of the public sector in funding agricultural research at a
global, institutional and local level to ensure greater co-ordination
between public and private research efforts.
Over the past five years, the area planted for genetically modified crops
has increased 30-fold. Despite this huge growth, the total area is still
only a pinprick on the total agricultural land available. Over the next
century, the advancement of the human race will depend largely on the
successful application of gene technologies in agriculture is crucial that
this process is encouraged through robust research and development
policies and sensible regulation. The risk is that irrational fear and
cynicism will impede this vision. Contact * [
From: Andre de Kathen
Subject: Potential Risks and Allergens
Let me respond to Andrew Apel's contribution on potential risks and
Andrew Apel's "editorial" on the term 'potential' in connection to
allergies and risks is, with all due respect, not quite 'scientific'. It
appears to become a general strategy to make a strong statement, hoping
that this is consider more valuable than a weak proof. If I got it right,
Apel intends to convince us that something associated with the term
'potential' is not real - like monsters under your bed (who knows "Calvin
If, and I assume the author shares this view, RISK is a simple
mathematical equation (probability x harm or impact), it may not appear to
be logical to specifiy certain risks as 'potential', 'real' or
'perceived'. But is risk something of mathematical precision? Probably
not. Perception plays an important role. If I assume that there is a
rattlesnake in my mailbox, I won't open it or I will open it carefully:
risk zero. The question is, how do we validate what kind of information as
being helpful for the decision. What did we consider are the social costs
- for the damage to happen or the costs for assessment and management. And
of course we can manage a risk of a risk. It is just multiplying
In my view, the basic misconception in Apel's statement is that he
considers risk assessment being an exact science. If you review the
literature on risk and risk assessment you will easily recognise that this
is not the case. Risk, whether perceived, real, potential or whatsoever
has not been invented by modern biotechnology.
And potential allergens? Apel states that there are "Tests are available
which detect the presence of allergens in food." Of course, but is it
farfetched to assume that these "tests" are not 100% precise? Or in other
words, can be be sure that if the tests are negative the 'potential'
allergen disappears? Why do you test at all - because there is a potential
for a substance being allergenic? Or just for fun? So, was there an
'potential' allergen or an allergen and it disappears because of a test
result? So, only if the test is positive it is an allergen? And for whom?
For everybody or only for some. Why do we think about better or more
sophisticated test systems. Why do we think about metabolic profiling,
chip-technology - just because some maniacs abuse the term 'potential'?
No, I suppose the reason is that with any progress in science we do not
only add answers, we also add questions. But complexity does not vanish
through ignorance. The more interesting question is perhaps even not a
scientific one and this is: what is enough - in quantitative and
qualitative terms. We could, with the same effort, discuss the term
'potential benefits'. Still, protagonists of this technology maintain the
statement that biotechnology has potential benefits for feeding a growing
population. Or is it already without doubt and this benefit is already
there? Or does it help if we just redefine risk and benefit as risk being
a potential harm? And a real harm has to materialise before it is
considered a harm - in exactly the same way as it was predicted (the same
would apply for allergen)- so the difference between harm and potential
harm (or allergen) is a question of temporal dimension?!
But perhaps it is worthwhile to reconsider our perspectives and
definitions every time we communicate - hopefully Andrew Apel's
contribution was helpful at least in this sense.
- Andre de Kathen
Andrew Apel Responds.....
There is a difference between risk and uncertainty. If one is playing a
card game with a standard deck of cards, every player knows the risks of
another play, since the standard deck only has so many cards, each
unique--even though no individual player knows what the next turn of a
card may mean.
Uncertainty is another thing altogether. It is like playing cards with a
deck that may be "stacked" in any number of ways, with the number of cards
in various categories completely unknown.
In the first case, risks can, and have been, quantified. In the second
case, the risks cannot be quantified because they are unknowable. But at
least you know
you're playing cards. In the case of the rattlesnake in the mailbox, it is
worse--one has to imagine a snake closing the door behind him, or worse,
some enemy stuffing the snake in there which will retaliate against the
next intruder with a venomous bite.
I would like to repeat that the notion of "potential allergen" is vacuous.
If a "potential allergen" creates symptoms in susceptible individuals,
it's not a "potential allergen." It is a flat-out, actual, real-world
allergen. And the real stuff is what we need tests for.
A test for "potential allergens" is what brought us the StarLink debacle.
Do we need better tests for "potential allergens" so that we can convulse
the food chain more often, for more products, on a ridiculous pretext? Of
course not. An accurate, dependable test for "potential allergens" would
by definition test for substances that do not produce symptoms--what's the
use of that? We need tests for allergens, period. Not for "potential
The symptoms of consuming "potential allergens" are as follows: an
irrational fear of food and paranoid suspicions that multinational
corporations are trying to take control of your pantry. Occasionally, it
may result in hoping anonymous black-skinned people die in order to keep
them from eating as well as North Americans.
As agricultural biotechnology proceeds, and as novel foods are shipped
around the planet to satisfy consumer needs for novelty on their jaded
palates, there is a legitimate interest in identifying allergens and
devising tests to detect them.
Potential allergens? If you worry about potential allergens, identify them
and feed 'em to the monster under your bed. No doubt the potential monster
might potentially go away and potentially bother you no more after such a
diet. Or potentially the potential monster might develop a taste for
potential allergens, potentially drawing the monster and his potential
friends back beneath your bed for repeated potential midnight snacks that
have the potential risk of including you on the menu.
It's a risk or it isn't. It's an allergen, or it isn't. You can't quantify
or address what you can't even prove exists in the first place. You can
address and avoid allergens and risks that are detectable. Focus on them,
the rest is imagination.
US Rejects Concerns About Biotech Food Aid For Africa, Wants EU help
- Agence France Presse, August 21, 2002
The United States dismissed concerns about genetically modified food aid
intended for drought-stricken southern Africa and called on the European
Union to help convince governments that the donations are safe.
The State Department said the concerns, which are stalling the delivery of
much-needed maize in about half of the recipient countries, are unfounded
and putting 13 million famine threatened people at greater risk of
starvation. "Despite the urgency of the need, misinformation about the
safety of agricultural biotechnology is preventing some US food assistance
from being distributed to those in need," deputy spokesman Philip Reeker
"The food, the same as that eaten by millions of Americans daily, is both
safe and wholesome and can make the difference between life and death for
millions of southern Africa's poorest people," he said in a statement.
Reeker said delivery of about 100,000 tonnes of genetically modified corn
had been delayed due to false fears that it may cause health problems and
harm countries' future maize exports.
Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe have all raised concerns about receiving
the corn, according to the UN's World Food Program (WFP), which has warned
that the stance is threatening their at-risk populations. Those three
countries have cited EU threats to bar their imports of agricultural
products if they accept the corn as the reason for refusing to distribute
it, according to a second State Department official who was highly
critical of the European Union.
"People are starving in Africa and the Europeans, with their penchant for
meddling in stupid things, have told the Africans that if they use any of
that high-tech corn from us, they will be forever shut out of exports to
Europe," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity. "They have also
told the Africans that there may be health problems associated with the
corn, so it's piling up," the official said.
"We want them to stop encouraging these unfounded concerns," the official
said, accusing the EU of playing politics with humanitarian relief to
protect European agricultural interests. Reeker insisted there was no
scientific evidence of safety problems with genetically modified corn and
denied that Washington was trying to dictate the agricultural regulations
of African nations.
"While the United States respects the right of governments to formulate
their national policies regarding food and farming, now is not the time to
turn away safe and desperately needed food," he said. The United States is
contributing half of the amount of food assistance that the WFP says is
needed in southern Africa.
The European Union is expected to be the second largest donor and Reeker,
using more diplomatic language then the second official, urged that EU
members intervene with the recipient countries to allay the false concerns
about the corn.
"We call upon the European Union to join us in assuring governments in the
region that food made from biotech crops is safe and should be distributed
immediately to those who so desperately need it," he said. The United
States and the European Union have quarreled frequently over the issue of
biotech food with some EU officials questioning the safety of genetically
EU Declines US Call to Reassure Africa on GMO Food
- Reuters, August 22, 2002 (Via Katie Thrasher)
BRUSSELS, Aug 22 (Reuters) - The European Union on Thursday rejected calls
from Washington for it to reassure African countries that genetically
modified (GM) food aid from the United States is safe.
The U.S. government has called on the EU to urge southern African states
like Zimbabwe, which are facing acute food shortages, not to reject GM
grains which are commonly consumed by millions of Americans, but are
banned in some countries. But the EU, which lets only a handful of GM
crops to be imported or grown on its territory, declined to intervene.
"We do not intend to get involved in what is a discussion between some of
the countries of southern Africa and the U.S.," said European Commission
spokesman Michael Curtis. "It is our position that they have to sort this
out for themselves," he told a news conference.
In June, the government of Zimbabwe rejected a U.S. maize consignment of
17,500 tonnes because it was not certified free of genetically modified
material. The government was concerned some of the grains would be planted
rather than eaten, thus releasing GM plants into the environment and
potentially jeopardising Zimbabwe's exports to countries which choose
Neighbouring Zambia, which also has a food shortage, has rejected GM maize
offered by the U.S. and the U.N. World Food Programme, citing health
concerns, and has turned to nearby countries to buy GM-free maize. The row
comes as the EU is finalising rules which would require U.S. farmers to
segregate GM crops from non-GM before exporting them to the 15-country
The United States is lobbying against the move, which would prove costly
for a farm sector where GM and non-GM are routinely mixed and treated no
differently from each other. Although there is no evidence to show GM
foods are unsafe, European consumers, shaken by a mad cow disease scare,
are concerned about possible as-yet unknown health and environmental risks
from GM plants which could occur in the future.
Washington argues its safety tests prove the crops are safe and that
populations on the verge of starvation should not be denied food deemed
acceptable for U.S. consumers. The United Nations estimates 12.8 million
people, mainly in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Swaziland and
Lesotho, will need 1.2 million tonnes of food aid between June 2002 and
WHO Seeks to Allay African GM Food Fears
- Financial Times (London) August 22, 2002
'Famine Relief Crisis Meeting To Address Concerns Over 'Dumping' And
Threat To Agricultural Trade'
The World Health Organisation has summoned African governments to a crisis
meeting in Zimbabwe to try to allay fears over genetically modified food
as emergency relief.
The meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, is an attempt by the
international agency to overcome the refusal of several famine-hit
countries to accept GM food as humanitarian aid The WHO, which is
stockpiling rejected grain and wants to distribute it as soon as possible,
warned that 300,000 people could die of hunger and disease in the next six
months. WHO officials said they would meet 10 southern African health
ministers in Harare on Monday to consider a response to the "acute and
large-scale crisis facing the region". Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO
director-general, will attend. The US has supplied GM maize as part of an
international effort to relieve the 14m people facing starvation in the
region. While Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland have accepted the GM aid,
Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique have rejected it.
They fear GM maize poses a threat to their agricultural trade and might
contaminate their locally produced grain, endangering exports. They have
also raised concerns that the food is unfit for human use and has been
"dumped" on them by the US. Yesterday, the US asked the European Union to
reassure African governments that EU trade with the region would not be
disrupted if they accepted donations of US GM grain. The US has offered to
meet almost half the emergency food needs of southern Africa this year.
The US and the UN's World Food Programme have urged southern African
countries to accept the aid rather than leave their people hungry. "The
food we are providing is exactly the same food eaten by millions of
Americans every day for over seven years," said a US official. "We have
found no scientific evidence to suggest that these crops represent a
danger for human consumption."
The Harare meeting is designed to focus attention on the famine in
southern Africa on the first day of the UN World Summit on Sustainable
Development in Johannesburg. US sources say they are worried the dispute
over GM food aid is being used as a way to open up a debate of GM crops
and biodiversity at the UN summit - which could hurt US commercial
interests. Six million Zimbabweans - half the population - face
starvation in one of the region's worst hit countries. The effects of
drought have been worsened by the disruption caused by President Robert
Mugabe's land reforms, under which farmers are being evicted from their
The World Bank has recommended that the lack of food security in Africa be
addressed as a top priority at Johannesburg.
Let Them Eat Dust
- Dennis Avery and Alex Avery, The Washington Times, August 21, 2002
Are European officials and prestigious science journals truly applauding
one of the world's bloodiest dictators for rejecting food aid for his
starving people just because some of the corn may be genetically modified?
We're talking about Robert Mugabe, the so-called president of Zimbabwe,
who used mobs to strong-arm his way to recent re-election and who has
virtually destroyed his nation's economy with graft and violence. Mr.
Mugabe was recently invited to bask in anti-biotech virtue, as though he
were protecting his people from real danger, by refusing donated U.S. corn
in the middle of a desperate southern African drought.
Millions of Zimbabweans are at risk of starvation from a combination of
drought and Mr. Mugabe's policies. The drought has dried up the
traditional farmers' staple corn crop, as it periodically does. Zimbabwe
cannot afford to buy imported corn, as it usually does, because Mr. Mugabe
turned loose mobs of "guerrilla veterans" to oust the white farmers from
Zimbabwe's commercial farms. The high-yield commercial farms (and their
tens of thousands of black employees) used to produce the high-quality
tobacco that earned most of the country's foreign exchange. This year,
Zimbabwe can neither grow corn nor buy it.
The U.S. corn being offered as food aid is the same corn that Americans
themselves have been eating in their corn flakes and tortilla chips with
no ill effects. The United States has no other corn to offer, because
America does not segregate biotech commodities from conventional ones.
(Three U.S. government agencies must be satisfied with the crops' safety
before the seeds can even be planted.)
America donates about two-thirds of the food aid offered in the world, and
is offering corn to Zimbabwe. It has also offered free grain to Zambia,
which is being urged to reject it by European activist groups. Malawi,
Lesotho and Swaziland accept U.S. corn with no apparent concern. Europe
has surplus grain, and allows its consumers to believe the mostly American
biotech commodities should be feared, even though no health or
environmental threat has ever been documented. Europe is not offering its
non-biotech wheat as food aid, nor has it offered to buy conventional corn
to save Africa from the supposed ravages of genetically engineered seeds.
"I think is it absolutely irresponsible, unless they put their money where
their mouth is and come up with non-GM food," said one aid official who
asked not to be named. "I don't have the nerve, heart or soul to deny, as
a precautionary principle, food to people who are hungry right here, right
When African people are starving, here and now, can the journal Nature
truly be claiming that America is betraying them by offering the same food
we eat? Are the activists truly willing to work in favor of mass
starvation for others over the "precautionary principle" that says we
should never permit any new technology henceforth, because no scientist
can ever prove that any technology is so safe it won't cause even a skin
Why should we expect anti-science activists to develop qualms of
conscience now, just because a few million women and children are starving
before their eyes? After all, millions of Africans and Asians have been
dying of malaria for decades, while many of the same activists blocked the
safe and cost-effective indoor use of DDT to repel and kill the
The activists tried to block biotech Golden Rice, developed to save
millions of Third World kids from death or blindness due to Vitamin A
deficiency. Animal rights campaigners continue to destroy medical research
facilities and researchers' lives, endangering tens of millions of people
in the long term to "protect' a few white rats who are alive solely for
research use. (No labs, no white rats get fed.)
Zimbabwe proves again that the activists don't care about real people
losing real lives to real food shortages. They cannot be entrusted with a
Dennis Avery is a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute in Indianapolis
and a former senior agricultural analyst for the State Department. Alex
Avery is research director of Hudson's Center for Global Food Issues.
How Safe Are Food Products in Zambia?
- Charles Chabala, The Post/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX, August
ZAMBIA has taken the safe decision by rejecting Genetically Modified Foods
(GMFs). It must be re-emphasised that any artificial food or food that is
altered from its natural origin has an effect on the human body. The human
system was made to consume naturally occurring products with minimum
change from their original state - of course apart from cooking,
fermenting or cleaning it. Europe and America know this, that is why there
are willing to pay twice or more to buy organically (naturally) produced
fruits and vegetables.
It is also a fact that fatty chickens raised on growth hormones and
vitamins in America are largely consumed by America's poorer communities.
Like genetically modified crops, these chickens grow fast and are sold
cheaply. It is equally a fact that beef produced on almost natural
pastures in Texas can only be afforded by the rich people. It is,
therefore, extremely irresponsible for a Zambian Scientist to claim that
GMFs have no effect on human health. Any food modified from its original
nature or made to grow at a rate which is quicker than its normal rate has
an effect on the well being of human beings. Just like many synthetic
drugs have a long term effect on humans - hence the attraction to plant
based medicines and natural therapies.
But the GMO issue has been extensively debated, I don't intend to belabour
the point any more, my real concern is the general handling of food
products in Zambia. If we are worried about the long term effect of GMFs,
shouldn't we be worried about the long term health effect of some of the
foods sold in our markets and shops? Shouldn't we be worried about
chemicals applied when growing some of the vegetables sold in shops and
markets? Who is monitoring the quality of these vegetables and many other
such agricultural products sold freely in shops and markets?
Take bread for instance, despite existence of laws which stipulate how
bread should be handled, bread is transported on the floors or seats of
open vans or minibuses with absolutely no cover. Every morning you will
see men, women and children carrying bread or buns uncovered on the their
heads. The last attempt to inspect bakeries revealed frightening
revelations - the state of the bakeries, the equipment and the general
cleanliness of these bakeries was to say the least worrying.
Go to the City Market (the famous Soweto market) in Lusaka, or any other
market, and see the conditions under which fresh fish and other meat
products are handled - pathetic. The surprising thing is that you will see
many people including those who look like they have some basic idea on
hygiene buying these products without any reservations. For some strange
reasons a lot of our people seem to believe that the dirtier the
environment under which a particular product is sold the cheaper the
product. The other way around also seems to be true, many of our people
seem to believe that the cleaner the environment the more expensive the
Just observe how many people cloud street vendors buying products
displayed on roads or corridors. These are corridors and roads stepped on
by all kinds of dirty shoes and feet, not to mention that during the night
(sometimes even during the day), these corridors and roads are also used
as toilets. All kinds of products are on display, fish (dry and fresh),
sausages, vegetables, vitumbuwas (fritters), bananas, apples etc. Again
you will see well dressed men and women buying and some even eating the
products there and then without any hygienic concern at all.
Another area of concern is the manner in which meat is transported to
numerous makeshift unhygienic butcheries all over Lusaka. After visiting
the famous Mwanamainda open air slaughter house in Kafue, I resolved never
to buy meat from there. Animals are killed in the most rudimentary manner
and skinned with absolutely no regards to basic hygienic requirements. The
story does not end there - then comes transportation to town. Big pieces
of meat are thrown into the back of some dirt van and later covered with
branches - usually the only indication that these vans are carrying meat
will be swarms of flies following, the usually, slow moving vans and horns
protruding from branches covering the meat.
Visit any of the numerous make shift restaurants at town centre in Lusaka
or any of our big cities - disgusting. At Lusaka city centre, food is
cooked and sold just a few metres away from stinking public toilets. As
the make shift cooks and waiters carry on their business you will see them
visit these public "inconveniences" called toilets, come back and continue
with their duties with no evidence that their hands were washed after
using the toilets. Even if you don't use these toilets a mere entry into
them is enough to warrant washing your whole body and even change clothes
- washing one's hands, therefore, is the barest minimum one can do.
Have you noticed the manner in which opaque beer is transported - not that
I care about beer. In fact if I had my way I would ban beer brewing and
drinking all together - beer is one contributing factor to destitution and
hunger in our country. From the way opaque beer is transported in those
dirty plastic containers or open drums covered by dirt old sacks or
plastics one can easily deduce how the state of hygiene in brewing
factories is. A visiting foreign professional colleague asked me what was
being transported in "those dirty" drums - I was maulesi.
So, if we are genuinely worried about the long term health effects of GMFs
why are we not equally worried about how food is sold and handled? We have
all kinds of laws and by-laws which regulate how sensitive products should
be packaged and sold, but obviously no one cares about enforcing them.
Just where are the health inspectors and the Zambia Bureau of Standards?
Global Warming and other Eco Myths: How the Environmental Movement Uses
False Science to Scare Us to Death
- Ronald Bailey (Ed), Competitive Enterprise Institute; Publisher: Prima
Communications, Inc. Format: Hardcover, 320pp. ISBN: 0761536604
http://www.amazon.com - Price $17.47
The modern environmentalist movement began with the publication of three
seminal works: Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Paul Ehrlich's The
Population Bomb, and the Club of Rome's The Limits of Growth. These books'
dismal vision of a poisoned, overpopulated, polluted, resource-depleted
world spiraling downward toward environmental collapse are today's
conventional wisdom. According to a number of respected scientists,
however, leaders of the environmental movement are guilty of twisting -
and sometimes manufacturing - acts in an effort to frighten people into
joining their cause.
In this eye-opening book, some of the most respected researchers in the
country explode the myths behind much of the doom and gloom of today's
environmental movement. You will discover how the hysteria about global
warming overpopulation, mass extinctions, coming food shortages,
biotechnology, energy shortages, and more are grounded not in reason but
in false science and fear of progress. Ultimately, the book will show that
uniting much of the environmental movement is an agenda that is not so
much antipollution as it is antihuman.
Pestering the Third World
- Jan Bowman, Spiked, July 9, 2002
Many environmental activists and food experts are keen to ban pesticides
from British farming and to convert the whole country to organic
In spring 2002, members of parliament debated a Private Members' Bill
calling for 30 percent of British farming to be organic by 2010.
Campaigners have persuaded Marks and Spencer and the Co-Op to ban a range
of pesticides from the food they sell (1) - and the top five supermarkets
are under pressure to follow suit.
But pesticides have actually helped to improve Britain's diet. Until the
1900s, the only weapons against animal and insect pests were the ancient,
unreliable techniques of rotating crops, breeding tougher plant varieties
and adjusting sowing dates. None of these was very effective, and farmers
often faced the risk of severe infestation, or loss, of their entire
When synthetic pesticides - inexpensive, efficient and easy to use - were
introduced in 1947, farmers saw them as a godsend. With millions
threatened by starvation and Europe in postwar ruins, that's exactly what
they were. Yet in 2002, we still can't stop rats and mice from laying to
waste a fifth of the global grain harvest every year. Forty-three percent
of the world's food crops will be wiped out by insects, fungal infections,
viruses and animal pests this year. Plant and animal diseases are a
permanent, and worsening, threat to world food supply (2). World pesticide
use is up to several million kilograms yearly. In the West, 1500 new
pesticide formulas are developed every year. This might seem like a lot,
but bacteria and insect pests develop resistance to chemicals at great
If anyone should fear pesticides, it isn't Western consumers but
third-world farmers. In the 1970s the World Health Organisation estimated
that 500,000 people were being poisoned by pesticides annually, with 5000
dying each year. Although 80 percent of the world's pesticides are used to
protect crops in the West, 99 percent of pesticide poisoning occurs in the
South. The most modern pesticide formulas are safer and more effective
than the old ones, but the developing world still has to buy its
pesticides as cheaply as possible - and that usually means chemicals
banned or severely restricted in the West (3).
Some want to ban pesticides, but loathe the technology that could do away
with themSome anti-pesticide campaigners recognise that the main danger of
such chemicals is to those in the third world. So they argue that third
world farmers would be better off forgetting about hi-tech, manmade
solutions and should convert to organic instead. This would help them
avoid harmful pesticides, and they would no longer be in thrall to
multinationals. But to conclude that the only solution for third world
farmers is less technology and a back-to-basics approach to farming
seriously underestimates the difficulties facing the third world.
It is true that soybeans, maize and cotton - cash crops grown mainly in
the world's temperate zones - were the first plants to be genetically
transformed. Tropical subsistence plants such as cassava or millet have so
far been largely ignored by the companies leading GM development, since
subsistence farmers have no money. But like the Green Revolution of the
1970s, technology risks being blamed for the failures of policymakers.
Despite those failures, Green Revolution crops helped double rice
production in Asia between 1967 and 1992, averting famine in many
countries (4). Indian rice productivity increased so much that it did away
with the country's dependence on food imports (5).
Anti-GM non-governmental organisations (NGOs) often flag up images of
farmers from India to Scotland demonstrating against GM crops. But that is
only part of the story. Brazil's flourishing anti-GM consumer movement
demonstrated against Monsanto when it bought up five of the country's
largest seed companies and in one year acquired 82 percent of the domestic
hybrid maize industry. But farmers in Brazil's Rio Grand de Sul have been
smuggling in banned GM maize from Argentina for several years, because it
is 17 percent cheaper to grow than the conventional sort, and involves
less work (6).
It is true that organic techniques eliminate the risk of pesticide
poisoning, but they are extremely labour intensive, relying on monotonous,
exhausting tasks like hand weeding. Because organic farming substitutes
manual toil for manmade chemicals, it condemns poor third world families
to back-breaking work all year round. By contrast, since modern
agriculture uses far less labour than the traditional kind, only two
percent of American citizens today have to work in farming (7).
Unfortunately, many of the Western NGOs who want to ban pesticides also
loathe the technology that could do away with the need for such poisons in
the first place.
Genetic engineering has already freed farmers from using much more toxic
chemicals. Glyphosate, the basis for Monsanto's Roundup, is a common
pesticide, produced by various companies. British gardeners dose their
weeds with it every summer. The US Environmental Protection Agency has
given glyphosate its lowest toxicity rating, and notes that where GM
cotton is grown it has made 16 more harmful pesticides redundant.
According to the Dutch Centre for Agriculture and Environment, between
1995 and 1998 the use of glyphosate fell 10 percent in US fields growing
Monsanto's RoundupReady soybeans - equivalent to 2.9million kg (8). The UN
Development Programme has criticised environmentalists for
scaremongeringIn China, the introduction of cotton with the Bt gene has
meant a 70 percent drop in pesticide use in 1999/2000 (9). Only five
percent of Chinese farmers growing Bt cotton have reported health problems
from it, compared with 22 percent of farmers growing the conventional sort
For these farmers, GM holds out the hope of higher yields, less labour,
and nutritionally superior plants - and fewer pesticides. Yet poor
countries are being pressured to reject GM technology for fear they won't
be able to sell their crops abroad. Despite the potential benefits of GM
to the less developed world, environmental activists have the ear of
government and have successfully created a climate of hostility towards GM
We don't get data, we get opinion', says Margaret Karembu from Kenyatta
University's Department of Environmental Sciences, of the pressure on
Africa to convert to organic farming. 'We find that when we talk to
farmers, they've already been poisoned [with propaganda] about the dangers
of biotechnology. Because there's so much negative publicity about
biotechnology, even tissue culture is confused with genetic engineering.'
Her concerns were borne out in June 2002 when the Zimbabwean government
refused to accept emergency US food aid for 10 million of its people
facing starvation, because the corn couldn't be guaranteed GM-free (11).
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has also criticised European
environmentalists for scaremongering about GM. 'The developing world needs
these technologies as soon as possible and European countries and
campaigners are slowing everything up', says Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, author of
the UNDP's 2001 Human Development Report. 'I think that first world
environmental groups should put on the hat and shoes of farmers in Mali
who are faced with repeated crop failure. Biotech has enormous potential
for agriculture, to address the problems of hunger and malnutrition and
food and security in Africa and other areas of the world, and its
potential should not be underestimated.'
People in the developed world have been living with the benefits of
pesticides for two generations. We have never been so fit and healthy. By
contrast, GM crops have been planted commercially for less than 10 years.
By rejecting both technologies in favour of a romanticised, far more
laborious form of farming, environmental campaigners risk condemning many
in the third world to a primitive existence.
(1) Reuters, 15 March 2002 (2) Public health risks associated with
pesticides and natural toxins in foods, David Pimentel et al (3) Quoted in
Environmental Benefits of Genetically Modified Crops: Global and European
Perspectives on Their Ability to Reduce Pesticide Use, RH Phipps and JR
Park, Journal of Animal and Feed Sciences, 2002 Vol 11, p1-18 (4) Gurdev
Singh Khush: masterminding a new rice revolution, interview by Ethirajan
Anbarasan, UNESCO Courier (5) The Politics of Precaution, Robert L
Paarlberg, Johns Hopkins Press, 2001. Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or
Amazon (USA) (6) The Politics of Precaution, Robert L Paarlberg, Johns
Hopkins Press, 2001, p 81. Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)
(7) See Trends in US agriculture, US department of agriculture; and
Timeline of farming in the US (8) Environmental Benefits of Genetically
Modified Crops: Global and European Perspectives on Their Ability to
Reduce Pesticide Use, RH Phipps and JR Park, Journal of Animal and Feed
Sciences, 2002 Vol 11, p1-18 (9) Biotechnology as an Alternative to
Chemical Pesticide Use: Lessons from Bt Cotton in China, Jikun Huang,
Fangbin Qiao, Chinese Center for Agricultural Policy; Impact of Bt Cotton
in China (.pdf), forthcoming in World Development May 2001 issue (Vol 29,
No 5) (10) Science, vol 295, p 674 (11) Financial Times, 1 June 2002
Biotechnology: The years 1996 - 2000 and the Transatlantic Trench
(Torgersen H) Bio-Scope Newsletter
Abstract: George Gaskell and Martin W. Bauer from the Institute for Social
Psychology and Research Methodology at the London School of Economics
analyzed the development of public opinion and judgement to issues of
genetic engineering in agriculture and medicine between 1996 - 2000. The
study was published in the book "Biotechnology in the years of
controversy: a social scientific perspective" in December 2001 and
reviewed by Helge Torgersen from the Institute of Technology Assessment in
Genetic Engineering No Bed of Roses
- Ian Warden, The Canberra Times, August 21, 2002
Modern youngsters have heaps of self-esteem, so yesterday Year 9 students
of Alfred Deakin High School did not even flinch when told they had less
genetic complexity than a bowl of Weeties. Indeed, they were so unscathed
that minutes later, taking part in an Australian Science Festival workshop
on Designer Genes, they were all loudly asserting their conflicting
opinions about whether or not it was a fine thing or a stupid thing to try
to use genetic engineering to make blue roses.
At yesterday's workshop at the CSIRO's Discovery Centre, scientist Kath
Kovac steered the students through a discussion on genetic modification
and then steered them into a laboratory where they donned lab coats and
used the latest procedures to extract DNA from peas. Ms Kovac, using
exciting images projected on to the wall beside her, told the children
that when the scientists of the Human Genome Project went to work on a
map, a blueprint of all of the genes that are involved in making up a
human, they found it took about 30,000.
'Now they were pretty amazed when they found this out, because people like
to think that they're pretty important and better than anything else on
the planet ... They knew that a lot of insects and simple plants only had
about 20,000 to 30,000 genes ... so they figured humans would have heaps
more ... [But] even something like wheat has got about 100,00 genes, so
your bowl of Weeties you eat in the morning is more genetically complex
than you are.'
Ms Kovac brandished an eerily realistic (but fake) blue rose and reported
that a Melbourne company was trying to make a real blue rose by putting a
petunia gene into a rose to make its petals blue. She'd heard that some
people in Japan were ready to pay $1000 a bloom for blue roses, and there
was already a purple carnation made by adding a petunia gene to a
carnation. She projected a picture of a purple carnation, the size and
shape of a mammoth cabbage, on to the wall beside her.
But she wondered if the children thought this was a good, bad or stupid
use of genetic engineering. A turbulent debate ensued, some thinking it
would be wonderful to make a huge amount of money from such a thing while
others thought it represented the unacceptable face of capitalism and was
a waste of expertise. The Designer Genes workshops continue at the
Discovery Centre until Friday afternoon.
Johannesburg Summit Petition: Put People and Freedom First!
To sign this petition, please go to http://www.sdnetwork.net/petition.htm.
Please forward widely!
We the undersigned call on world leaders and others gathered at the World
Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August
2002, to recognise that true sustainable development can only occur when
people are free, both economically and politically.
For this to occur, the following fundamental human rights must be
respected in all nations:
* The right to own and exchange property without bureaucratic intervention
* The right to associate and to contract freely with others * The right to
freedom of speech * The right to legal remedies when harm is inflicted on
person or property * The right to equitable treatment by courts of law
In addition, governments must decentralise ownership and control of
natural resources and other assets. Decentralised ownership, when combined
with respect for private property and the rule of law, will encourage
entrepreneurship and environmental protection. The result will be
sustained economic growth and environmental improvement. As economies
grow, people will be able to afford better technologies, clean water,
superior energy sources, better healthcare, and insurance. The result will
be sustainable development.
There is a risk, however, that sustainable development could be undermined
by green imperialism. International environmental treaties, especially
those predicated on the precautionary principle, such as the Stockholm
Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and the Biosafety Protocol, are supposed to
improve human health and the natural environment. In reality, these
treaties pander to vested interests in the rich world. If they were to
enter into force, they would act as restraints on open, rules-based trade,
and keep poor people poor.
We call on you to reject any attempt to ratify these and other
international treaties that are predicated on the precautionary principle,
which is antiscientific and blocks vital new technologies that can improve
the lives of billions of people.
We also implore leaders to end other forms of neo-imperialism, especially
those promoted by the World Bank, the IMF and bilateral aid agencies. For
far too long these agencies have implemented inappropriate and unworkable
policies at great cost to taxpayers around the world, and have supported
and sustained governments that abuse basic human rights.
We urge you to recognise that true prosperity can only be achieved when
individual freedoms are guaranteed. Environmental treaties and global
agencies that undermine these freedoms in favour of neo imperialism and
centralised power will only perpetuate poverty and environmental
Globalization, Evolution and Science & Technology
- Yinliang Liu, , Institute of Advanced Studies, UN
From the perspective of evolutionary theory, globalization is a process of
social evolution, in which science and technology are necessary elements.
This essay explores the role of science and technology in globalization by
referring to the implications of biological evolution for social
Generally speaking, because of the great success of DarwinÝs Theory of
Evolution in interpreting many mysteries of life, evolutionary theory
itself has been evolving into an epistemological paradigm applicable also
to social evolution ˝ social phenomena or processes that are thought to be
evolutionary. Globalization is such an instance of social evolution.
Historically, multiple writers in various disciplines have described the
evolutionary property of human knowledge, e.g., among others, Hegel in
philosophy, Hayek in economics, Peirce in social ideas, Dawkins in
culture, and Polanyi in knowledge research. However, for evolutionary
theory to be applied to social evolution, further investigation is needed
of both biological and social evolution.
According to the theory of biological evolution developed by Darwin and
his modern followers, there are four essential elements in biological
(species) evolution: (1) genetic variations or mutations as background
materials for natural selection and evolution; (2) natural selection as
the pressure/drive of evolution; (3) maximization of gene frequency as the
end at the gene level, or survival of the fittest as the result at the
individual or species level; and (4) wide use of ýevolutionary stable
What are the implications of these elements of biological evolution on
social evolution? Which element(s) shall act as the ývariations or
mutationsţ for social selection? What does the ýsurvival of the fittestţ
or ýmaximization of (gene) frequencyţ mean in this context? What is the
standard of social selection? Furthermore, is there any ESS in social
This essay argues that, for social evolution and its corresponding social
selection, (1) science and technology, among others, act as the main
ývariations or mutationsţ for social selection; (2) social selection is
the pressure or driving force of social evolution; (3) ýmaximization of
profitţ is the standard of social selection; and (4) ESS is extensive in
social evolution. These elements are interlinked with each other.
Here one can see harmonization of evolutionary thinking with economic
theory, which has ýmaximization of profit (under certain restrictions)ţ as
one of its basic postulates. This suggests that biological and social
evolutionary theory may have identical, or at least similar grounding
principles. This is understandable, since each process relates to
competition for limited resources by self-concerned individuals.
As an evolutionary process, globalization involves many aspects, such as
science, technology, language, culture, trade (business), environmental
protection, economic institution, democracy and the rule of law. However,
admittedly, within these many and complicated aspects, trade (business) is
one of the primary determinants in pushing forward the process of
globalization. In other words, trade is at the frontier of globalization.
Meanwhile, as said above, science and technology provide selective
materials for social evolution in general and globalization in particular.
Therefore, logic suggests that science and technology must be
interconnected closely with trade in the process of globalization. What is
the relationship between them?
According to the postulates of social evolution listed above, social
selection of ývariationsţ supplied by science and technology shall aim at
the ýmaximization of profitţ. This is necessary and fundamental for social
evolution. Consequently, for creators and promoters of science and
technology, primarily companies and academic institutes (including
universities), maximization of profit is vital for existence and
sustainable development (though academic institutes may derive their major
funding from public channels). This implies that the science and
technology activities must be cost-effective.
In detail, from the perspective of evolutionary theory, as two of the
major elements of globalization, science and technology: (1) are in fact
locally clustered activities within legal entities, even though they may
appear national or international in scope, requiring widespread
cooperation; and (2) are activities whose rationality can be justified
only by cost-benefit calculations, which are relevant to ýmaximization of
profitţ. Such calculations are the basis of both R&D and investment
procedures. Accordingly, through ýmaximization of profitţ, the standard of
social selection, science and technology have inter alia threaded together
multiple elements of globalization, from R&D, trade and investment
(including foreign direct investment), to financial markets (including
venture capital) and human resources.
Moreover, science and technology need regulations to govern their own and
related activities. Governance of science and technology includes both
national and international instruments. To enable these instruments, basic
institutions are needed, e.g., a free market mechanism (for production,
information and technology) and an independent legal/judicial system. Such
institutions guarantee that the evolutionary process remains as stable as
possible. This can be described in economic terms as ýsocial cost
control,ţ and in fact it constitutes what is known as ESS in the context
described above, of evolution of globalization.
Understandably, inconsistency and conflicts exist between different
standards of governance of science and technology. For example, even
within the UN system, different instruments may be out of harmony with
each other, like the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Agreement
on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Actually, cooperation and contests among different aspects or elements of
social evolution have historically formed the environment in which social
selection is rooted and on which social evolution is based.
However, this essay also emphasizes that the ýmaximization of profitţ is
not a unique standard of social selection, because moral/ethical
assessment has remained an important, if not the ultimate criterion for
human behaviors. This reminds us that the theory of ýsocial evolutionţ
described above does not always apply.
In short, by adapting the theory of biological evolution, we can
understand more clearly what role science and technology play in the
evolution of globalization.
Dawkins, R. (1989). The Selfish Gene (2nd Edition). Oxford, UK: Oxford
University Press.; Hayek, F.A. (1989). 'The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of
Socialism'. Chicago, Illinois, USA: University of Chicago Press.; Popper,
K.R. (1986). 'The Poverty of Historicism'. London, UK: Routledge.
Food for the Few: Neoliberal Globalism and Agricultural Biotechnology in
Call For Papers For Biotech Book; Invitation for paper submissions for an
edited volume. Publisher: Zed Books (London and New York); Editors:
Gerardo Otero, Yolanda Massieu, and Manuel Poitras
Latin America's agriculture has been one of the most negatively affected
sectors in the era of neoliberal globalism. In most countries, a broad
program of agricultural liberalization of agriculture was launched under
pressure from the United States and suprastate organizations.
Liberalization generally included the unilateral lifting of protectionist
policies, the opening of agricultural markets by lowering or eliminating
tariffs and quotas, the privatization and/or dismantling of government
corporations for rural credit, infrastructure, commercialization, and
technical assistance, the end or even reversal of land reform policies,
and the radicalization or reorientation towards an export based
agricultural economy. These extensive reforms had profound, often
negative, consequences for the agricultural sectors of Latin American
countries and for a high proportion of agricultural producers. This is
compounded by the fact that the reforms in Latin America were not
accompanied by a corresponding liberalization of agricultural trade and
production in advanced capitalist countries, which continue to subsidize
and protect their farm sector with billions of dollars, thus placing Latin
American producers at a competitive disadvantage.
The biotechnology revolution of the 1990s, which has inundated the
countryside of some countries and supermarkets around the world with
transgenic crops and other new products, was superimposed on the reforms
of neoliberal globalism. From their beginnings at the laboratory stage in
the 1980s, agricultural biotechnologies generally and genetic engineering
in particular were described as potent tools for sustainable development
and for ending famine, food insecurity and malnutrition. It is well known
that such problems are disproportionately concentrated in developing
countries, which also happen to have large proportions of their population
engaged in agriculture. Because modern agriculture has focused mostly on
enhancing the productivity of large, specialized, capital-intensive farms,
most developing-country peasants have been considered "inefficient",
excluded as producers from the new agricultural policies, and in some
cases transformed instead into subjects of populist welfare programs. Yet,
these farmers are directly responsible for preserving vast amounts of
plant biological diversity. In fact, given the vagaries of nature,
developing countries possess the largest plant biological diversity on
earth, as well as the largest problems of soil depletion and environmental
degradation. Adding agricultural biotechnology to this scenario could
either help solve these socioeconomic and environmental problems or
The first wave of studies about socioeconomic and environmental
implications of agricultural biotechnologies used a prospective approach.
By the turn of the 21st century, however, a multiplicity of agricultural
biotechnologies has been implemented in farms around the world, with a
high concentration in the Americas, North and South. Simultaneously,
social movements have proliferated in opposition to biotechnology, with
varying degrees of intensity and success. It is thus now time to move
beyond the prospective mode of inquiry. We are now required to make our
assessments on the basis of available empirical evidence.
Our purpose, then, is to offer the public a solid collection of
empirically-based studies, written by social scientists, about the
concrete socioeconomic and environmental impacts of agricultural
biotechnologies (mainly genetic engineering) in Latin America. It will
capture both the problems and promises that have materialized with the
application of genetic engineering and related technologies to
agriculture. Our interest is to address a variety of national experiences,
from widespread adoption in countries such as Argentina, or somewhat
restricted adoption as in Mexico, to the creation of a zone free of
genetically modified organisms in Brazil. There is a wide multiplicity of
problems, many of which are specific to developing countries. This book
will address such specificities, with particular attention to Latin
America. We are not looking for journalistic accounts, or predominantly
normative or prospective approaches. Rather, papers should be firmly based
on empirical evidence and emphasize interdisciplinary socioeconomic
In particular, we welcome contributions that address at least one of the
following themes, all in relation to Latin American countries and regions:
-- Social forces shaping biotechnology policy and product development; --
Socioeconomic impacts to this point: on employment, social structure
polarization, domestic food security, international competitiveness,
and/or indigenous knowledge and practices, etc.; -- Government policies
and reaction to the diverse sources of pressure; -- Adequacy of the legal
and institutional frameworks in Latin America in dealing with the
biotechnology revolution; -- Agricultural, intellectual property,
scientific and technology development policies shaping domestic
biotechnology developments; -- The role of transnational
agro-biotechnology corporations, their strategies, and their control of
global, local or regional food commodity chains and producers; --
Distribution of benefits to local cultivators, scientists, industries,
and/or consumers; -- Environmental repercussions, e.g. on the use of
agrochemical inputs, plant biological diversity, and germplasm
conservation; -- Emergence of social movements challenging biotechnology
(specific demands, tactics, strategies, accomplishments, etc.); --
Alternatives to genetic engineering benefiting rural and sustainable
development, such as agroecological innovations and bottom-up,
participatory technology development practices.
Please send a 250-words abstract of your proposed chapter and a 1-2 page
resume or C.V. by September 16, 2002. Authors will be notified of our
deliberation by September 23, 2002. In case the abstract is selected,
authors will be asked to submit the entire paper, which should not exceed
8,000 words, by December 2, 2002. Submitted papers will be subjected to an
external review process on the basis of which final selection will be made
by March 1, 2003. Abstracts and papers may be submitted in English,
French, Spanish or Portuguese, with the understanding that selected papers
will have to be delivered in English.
Please send your proposals to the three editors by e-mail, in
virus-scanned Word or PDF documents:
Gerardo Otero, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Simon Fraser
University Canada. email@example.com. Otero is the author of Farewell to the
Peasantry? Political Class Formation in Rural Mexico (Westview Press,
Yolanda Massieu, Departamento de Sociolog╠a, Universidad Aut█noma
Metropolitana-Azcapotzalco, Avenida San Pablo M╚xico.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Massieu is the author of Biotecnolog╠a y empleo en
la floricultura mexicana (Universidad Aut█noma Metropolitana-Azcapotzalco,
Manuel Poitras, Center for Developing Area Studies, McGill University
email@example.com. Poitras is completing a doctoral dissertation titled
Engineering Genomes, Engineering Societies? Genetic Imperialism and the
Politics of Biotechnology in Mexico.