Today in AgBioView: August 27 (II), 2002:
* Europe's Forgotten Promise
* Sustaining Environmentalists
* 'Limits to Growth': A Dumb Theory That Refuses to Die
* WhatŪs an environmentalist to do?
* Environmentalist Laments Introduction of Electricity
* Ask the Experts: ABIC 2002 Conference Update: Saskatoon, Canada
* Spanish Language Website on AgBiotech
* AgBioForum - Latest Issue
* Biotechnology's Future Benefits: Prediction or Promise?
* The Global Innovation Divide
* How Much Will Feeding More and Wealthier People Encroach on Forests?
* Organic Markets Grow Consumer Resentment
* Coffee, and Justice, for All
Europe's Forgotten Promise
- Gregory Conko, TechCentral station, August 27, 2002
Delegates to this week's World Summit on Sustainable Development in
Johannesburg, South Africa, will have to confront several stark ironies.
Their lavish, $50 million soiree will be held in the shadow of 13 million
hungry drought victims in the continent's southern cone -- a problem made
all the more miserable by obstructionist policies in scores of countries
around the globe. What's more, all of this may have been avoided if only
these environmental activists and politicians had lived up to a promise
they made 10 years ago.
As recently as two years ago, southern African countries like Zambia and
Zimbabwe were highly productive agricultural producers and important
exporters of corn, beef and poultry to other countries in Africa and
Europe. Today, deep in the midst of a severe drought, denizens of these
and four other nations in southern Africa are struggling just to stay
alive. You'd think that their governments would be grateful to have nearly
$100 million worth of food aid from the United States. But even with some
2.3 million people at risk of starvation this year, some of them are
refusing to accept it because it consists of biotechnology-enhanced corn.
About a third of the U.S. corn crop is from biotech varieties, and the
harvested kernels are mixed into the commodity shipping stream with nearly
all the other corn grown in the United States. It is this same commodity
system from which the food aid for Africa has been drawn. Yet, even though
American consumers have been eating biotech corn for the past six years
without a hiccup or headache to show for it, lots of people around the
world have been convinced by environmental campaigners to reject the
fruits of biotechnology.
The politically powerful European environmental movement has raised such a
fuss, for example, that European Union countries have rejected U.S. corn
exports for more than three years. European food importers have instead
turned to other countries in southern Africa and South America for a
non-biotech corn supply.
Ironically, it is this newly privileged position of supplier to Europe,
and a fear of losing that important export market, that made the African
nations suspicious of U.S. aid. Harvested corn kernels can be planted to
grow new plants, and it is not uncommon for small portions of food aid to
be diverted to seed-stock by forward-thinking recipients. Unfortunately,
once the drought ends, the presence of biotech corn growing anywhere in
those countries would all but disqualify them from exporting harvested
corn or corn-fed livestock to western Europe.
Political leaders in Zambia and Zimbabwe have decided that protecting
tomorrow's export markets is more important than satisfying the dire need
for food today. What makes this situation all the more tragic, is that
political leaders and environmentalists in Europe have created the
regulatory apparatus that makes such a difficult choice necessary. And
they are doing next to nothing to make the result of that choice easier
for African people to tolerate. As Wellesley College biotech expert Robert
Paarlberg has noted, "Instead of helping Africa's hungry to grow more
food, European donors are helping them grow more regulations."
The fact that starving nations in southern Africa are turning away biotech
food is especially ironic this week, as negotiators in Johannesburg haggle
over sustainability. Few agricultural technologies would promote the goals
of sustainable development better than biotechnology. U.S. farmers who
grow biotech crops have already achieved many important environmental
benefits, including reduced pesticide and herbicide use, higher yields,
improved soil quality, less erosion and many others.
Farmers in less developed nations, like Argentina, China and South Africa,
have achieved similar benefits. And many other biotech varieties created
specifically for use in impoverished regions will soon be ready for
commercialization. Examples include insect-resistant rices for Asia,
virus-resistant sweet potatoes for Africa and virus-resistant papayas for
Caribbean nations. Still other crops, now in research labs around the
world, have been enhanced to grow in the poor soils and harsh climates
characteristic of these countries.
It is worth noting that the promise of environmental benefits like these
once convinced the green movement to support biotechnology. Ten years ago,
at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, delegates actually committed to foster the
introduction of advanced biotechnologies into less developed nations.
Two important agreements signed in Rio, the Convention on Biological
Diversity and Agenda 21, both acknowledge that biotechnology can be used
to improve food security, health care and environmental protection. By
signing them, member governments committed to "encourage international
agreement on the safe and environmentally responsible management of
biotechnology, to engender public trust and confidence, to promote the
development of sustainable applications of biotechnology and to establish
appropriate enabling mechanisms, especially within developing countries."
But for most of the past 10 years, signatories of those two agreements,
especially the EU nations, have done nothing but erect roadblocks against
biotech development. The United Nations' 2001 Human Development Report
found that "the opposition to yield-enhancing [biotech] crops in
industrial countries with food surpluses could block the development and
transfer of those crops to food-deficit countries." Restrictions and
regulations that are scientifically unjustified have jeopardized the
ability of the poorest nations to feed growing populations. So, to
continue blocking biotechnology, as these countries are doing, is a
violation of commitments they lobbied for in Rio.
Given results like these, one could be forgiven for thinking that this
week's Summit on Sustainable Development is premature. Instead of laying a
broad new plan to save the planet from humanity, perhaps negotiators
should be reminded that they already have unmet obligations to live up to?
Convincing the governments of countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe that they
won't be penalized for feeding their people would be a good start.
Gregory Conko is director of food safety policy at the Competitive
Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and a co-founder of the
AgBioWorld Foundation in Auburn, Ala.
- Philip Stott, The Wall Street Journal, August 27, 2002 (courtesy:
For the first Earth Day in 1970, overpopulation guru Paul Ehrlich wrote a
fictitious report for the Progressive presenting an eco-gloomster's
portrait of the U.S. in 2000. The population had fallen to 22.6 million,
8% of the current population, and the diet was less than the daily
calorific intake of an African. By 1974, Mr. Ehrlich and his wife, Anne,
worried that "global cooling" would diminish agricultural output -- that
the world was becoming unsustainable.
Fret About Fat. As they say, the more things change: In America these
days, we fret about "global warming," not "global cooling," and are more
concerned about fat than about general starvation. Grain production has
increased 53% since the 1970s when Mr. Ehrlich wrote his treatise. But no
matter, in Johannesburg yesterday, some 40,000 arrived for the World
Summit on Sustainable Development 2002. As Nitin Desai, the summit's
Secretary-General declared last week: "Development is now as sexy as the
For 40 years, environmentalists have peddled disaster story after disaster
story. Since the publication of "Silent Spring," Rachel Carson's book on
environmental pollutants in the early 1960s, the eco community has aimed
to usurp the primacy of economics by the imperative of an ecological veto.
In the late-'80s, global warming and biodiversity became catchphrases,
morphing, in the '90s, to enhanced holisitic concepts like "ecosystem
services" and "gaia."
They have all been shown to be false prophets. Why on earth should we
believe them any more?
This concept of sustainability has become enshrined in the
environmentalist litany, becoming a dominant feature of international
diplomacy at the World Commission on Environment and Development -- the
Brundtland Commission -- in 1987. Soon after, "sustainability" gave form
to the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992 at
Rio de Janeiro. There, sustainability was furthered by "Agenda 21" in
which compost heaps were meant to flourish in forgotten corners of every
"Sustainability" is an empty word: It can be filled by the user with
whatever sense provides advantage. For academics, it invariably translates
as cash for research to save the planet; for politicians, your Al Gore
vote; for business, it is powerful PR and so-called ethical investment. No
wonder Enron was a big player in trading wind power.
But for many environmentalists, it is the same old story. It signifies
either a complete ecological veto over growth, with a return to the
gingham dress of Dorothy's Kansas, or development that is approved of by
an eco-elite: biotech crops, no, organic crops, yes; nuclear power, no,
solar energy, yes. (Despite the fact that most photovoltaic cells take
more energy to produce than they will ever generate in their lifetime.)
Sustainability has become a catch-all word for a block on growth and
development, inferring that change should always be such that it achieves
harmony, balance and equilibrium, whatever they are.
But we do not live in a "sustainable" environment. Volcanoes erupt and
earthquakes quake -- unpredictably; climates change with or without human
assistance; pests and diseases prick our human complacency; and the
biodiversity of the stock market moves from bulls to bears at the flicker
of a screen. Harmony, balance and "sustainability" are unachievable goals
in an innately, non-equilibrium world. What is required is flexible
development, the basic characteristic of all strong economies, so that we
can adapt to whatever comes, hot, wet, cold or dry, earthquake, fire or
Instead of a litany of gloom, we should remember that economic development
through growth has been widening our options and opportunities since the
first farmer planted a crop and the first miller ground corn. Development
is not the wicked witch of the West, and "sustainability" is no yellow
"The Earth Summit 2002" is potentially dangerous for the developing world.
Developing countries are more aware of this than we credit them and they
have rightly tried to turn the focus away from the neurotic eco-chondria
of the rich countries to the desperate need for trade, growth and
measurable economic development. At the opening ceremony on Monday, South
African President Thabo Mbeki above all called for solidarity with the
President Bush has no plans to attend the summit. With 106 heads of
government, 10,000 officials, 6,000 journalists, 20 U.N. bodies, and
12,000 lobbyists signed up for a parallel meeting, there is no guarantee
he would be heard above the doleful brouhaha.
Utopian Enviros. But, whatever he does, Mr. Bush will need to step up in
the near future and create a hard line that the U.S. will support growth,
trade and development and will not cave to the PR vetos of utopian
environmentalists. Unattainable agendas, like the Kyoto Protocol on
climate change will do nothing to help the poor and the afflicted and,
even more galling, will do even less to manage chaotic and unpredictable
climate. Such well-meaning and ill-judged protocols cost billions of
dollars that could be far better spent on genuine problems, such as the
provision of safe drinking water for all.
Sustainability will always fail because it does not take change and
dynamism as the norm. It seeks to curb evolutionary growth in the face of
chaotic change. This was well understood by America's greatest poet, Emily
Dickinson. In 1859, the very year of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species,"
from her private room, in the small, intense world of Amherst, Mass., she
What if the poles should frisk about
And stand upon their heads!
I hope I'm ready for 'the worst' --
Whatever prank betides!
It's not about "sustainability." It's about growing and adapting to the
world's inevitable pranks.
Mr. Stott is a professor emeritus of biogeography at the University of
'Limits to Growth': A Dumb Theory That Refuses to Die
- George Melloan, The Wall Street Journal - Global View, August 27, 2002
Thirty years ago, a group of academic theorists came up with a document
almost as subversive as "Das Kapital" or Mao's little red book, for much
the same reasons. It was called, "The Limits to Growth: A Report for the
Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind."
Like Marx and Mao, the "Limits to Growth" authors had a modest goal:
forcing all of us stupid earthlings to become better people. One, Donella
Meadows, conceded that saving the earth would require "a fundamental
revision of human behavior and, by implication the entire fabric of
The need for humankind to become more frugal, less concupiscent and more
observant of the rights of small creatures was based on the Club's
conclusion that people are ruining the planet. The warning got attention
because we had not long before seen the first view of our blue orb from a
camera in outer space. It looked awfully small from that distance. As
Jeremiah proved many centuries ago, prophecies of doom wake up the
Jimmy Carter, having read "Limits to Growth," went on TV dressed in a
sweater in the late '70s to tell Americans that the energy scarcity they
were then enduring was good for the soul. They didn't buy it. Ronald
Reagan, espousing deregulation of energy and policies to restore economic
growth, sent Mr. Carter into retirement in 1980. Research by serious
economists, demographers and earth scientists debunked the Club of Rome's
theories, finding that there is no danger of the world running out of such
essentials as energy or water, and that economic and technological
development is good, not bad.
"Limits to Growth" faded into obscurity, but its fundamental premises
metastasized, creating a host of organizations demanding regulations to
control a whole range of "problems." The dangers they perceived derived
mostly from mankind's baser instincts, such as a fondness for cars, sex
and central heating. They wanted regulators to start shutting down
factories and destroying jobs to head off "global warming." A United
Nations-sponsored ban on Freon cost huge sums for retrofitting
refrigerators and air conditioners, even though the science behind it was
about as flimsy as that for global warming. Some edicts, such as laws
banning the thinning of trees in "wilderness areas," have brought
forest-fire disaster to large areas of the U.S.
The bureaucrats in "environmental protection" agencies, the U.N. and such
multilateral institutions as the World Bank have found that fulfilling
demands for official interventions serves as their jobs program. Running
the world also can be a pretty heady experience, particularly if you are
cloaked in regulatory anonymity and don't have to take responsibility for
colossal mistakes like raging forest fires. You can also count on the
benefit of the doubt from the chattering classes, who feed on predictions
of imminent doom and are yet to be convinced that would-be savers of the
planet could ever do anyone any harm. Even if the motives of these
paragons are suspect, their facts wrong and their judgment flawed, they
have purity of purpose.
All of this is preliminary to explaining the vast U.N.-sponsored
hootenanny that began in Johannesburg yesterday and will drone on until a
week from tomorrow. At some considerable expense for a government that is
hardly flush with cash, South Africa will play host to 100 heads of state
and 60,000 delegates attending the "World Summit on Sustainable
Development." The U.N. began these environmental dog-and-pony shows in Rio
10 years ago and boasts that this one will be the grandest of all.
If you think that JoBurg is about economic development, however, guess
again. It is about "sustainable" development -- economic development
constrained by Club of Rome "Limits to Growth" considerations. According
to a World Bank press release, the summiteers will try to "reach agreement
on steps that can be taken now to ensure that poverty-reducing growth does
not come at great cost to future generations." In other words, they will
try to dream up more restrictions on human efforts to make a living. If
you are a poor Sowetan, don't expect help from these guys, unless someone
wants a shoeshine.
This meeting has been preceded by the usual U.N. propaganda taking
advantage of the media thirst for dire warnings, tempered by some
awareness that "global warming" is fluttering a bit. That U.N. invention
of some years back was embraced by many reporters because it allowed them
to breathlessly warn readers of a new "crisis." But there is fun to be had
with a 100-year weather prediction, and comedians are beginning to make it
the butt of jokes, which usually means the end is near. So the U.N., World
Bank, et al. had to come up with a new crisis for the JoBurg meeting. Now
we're running out of water, cry the scaremongers.
Well, we're not running out of water. Seventy percent of the planet is
covered with water, and it will be with us as long as the planet itself
lasts, since water doesn't evaporate into outer space. To be sure, some
regions have water problems (in Central Europe's case recently, too much
of it) as weather patterns change, as they do frequently without
requesting U.N. permission. But even for dry areas, desalinization is now
a viable option. Water could be saved if government farm supports didn't
encourage widespread irrigation, but that is a problem of too much state
intervention, not laissez faire.
The world and its people seem to have fared reasonably well in the 30
years since the Club of Rome burst on the scene with its alarums, mainly
because man's natural instinct is to choose free enterprise and free
markets over the dirigiste theories of the leisure class. Food production
has outstripped population growth, which has brought significant gains in
health and nutrition in developing countries. The globalization of
industry and finance has created millions of productive jobs.
George W. Bush, by the way, chose to give JoBurg a miss, which earned him
a stern lecture from the New York Times.
George Melloan is the Journal's Deputy Editor, International. He began
writing "Global View" in 1990, when he took over responsibilities for the
overseas pages after 17 years as deputy editor in New York. During the
first five years of his present assignment he was based in Brussels,
traveling extensively from there to write about such events as the fall of
the Berlin Wall, the break-up of the Soviet empire and the collapse of the
Japan's stock market and real estate bubble. He returned to New York in
WhatŪs an environmentalist to do?
One of the most promising benefits of biotech food production is its
potential to reduce the use of added pesticides -- many crops are now
genetically improved to produce their own bug-killers instead. But if
weighing the relative ževilsÓ of agricultural chemicals and
žFranken-cropsÓ gives most environmentalists a headache, they might need a
serious reality check following the latest news from Great Britain.
The BBC is reporting that rice plants engineered to produce higher yields
also produce less methane. You see, methane is a greenhouse gas, lamented
by modern environmental zealots as being žresponsible for about 20 percent
of global warming.Ó This means that if global-warming enthusiastsŪ
theories are correct, their best course of action just might entail
throwing their support behind genetically engineered rice production.
Researchers in the Netherlands, Germany, and the Philippines collaborated
on the discovery and wrote in a recent issue of The Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences that food technology will soon be able to
žmitigate methane emissions by optimizing rice productivity.Ó
That sound you hear just might be the ice cracking beneath anti-biotech
protestersŪ collective feet. And the rattling of an aspirin bottle over at
Environmentalist Laments Introduction of Electricity
- CNS News, July 26, 2002
žThere is a lot of quality to be had in poverty,Ó and the introduction of
electricity is ždestroyingÓ the cultures of the world's poor, according to
a U.S. environmentalist, who commented on the eve of the United Nations
Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa. But a pioneer of the
environmental movement who left it because he viewed it as too radical,
called the anti-electricity views an example of the žeco-imperialismÓ of
the white upper-middle class who think it's žneat to have Africans with no
Gar Smith, editor of the Earth Island Institute's online magazine The
Edge, spoke about what he considers the virtues of poverty during an
interview with CNSNews.com. Earth Island Institute, the San
Francisco-based environmental group, once popular with millions of school
children for its efforts to save Keiko, the killer whale that starred in
the movie Free Willy, sent representatives to this week's Earth Summit.
žThe idea that people are poor doesn't mean that they are not living good
lives,Ó Smith said. Smith called the developing world's poverty žrelativeÓ
and explained žyou can't really have poverty unless you have wealthy
people on the scene.Ó Smith decried the introduction of electricity to the
poor residents of the developing world. žI don't think a lot of
electricity is a good thing. It is the fuel that powers a lot of
multi-national imagery,Ó Smith said. According to Smith, electricity can
wreak havoc on cultures. žI have seen villages in Africa that had vibrant
culture and great communities that were disrupted and destroyed by the
introduction of electricity,Ó he said.
With the introduction of electricity, the African villagers spent too much
time watching television and listening to the radio, allowing their more
primitive traditional ways to fade away, according to Smith. Smith
lamented that žpeople who used to spend their days and evenings in the
streets playing music on their own instruments and sewing clothing for
their neighbors on foot peddle powered sewing machinesÓ lost their culture
with the advent of electricity. žIf there is going to be electricity, I
would like it to be decentralized, small, solar-powered,Ó Smith said.
Smith challenged Americans to give up their own modern conveniences. žThe
real question is what personal conveniences and self indulgences are you
willing to give up in order to stop destroying the planet?Ó he asked
rhetorically. The U.S. is not a model for the rest of the world to follow
because žthe level at which Americans consume is unsustainable,Ó according
to Smith. He projected that if the rest of the world consumed at rates
similar to the U.S., the environmental degradation would require žthree
extra planets to exploit.Ó He called the notion that the U.S. needs to
export the žAmerican wayÓ of life nothing more than žmyth makingÓ and
revealed that many of his friends have already voluntarily given up
automobiles in favor of bicycles and mass transit.
Smith used the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union as an
example of how to solve ecological problems. žThere is a solution to
climate change and pollution. We saw it happen to Russia when their
economy collapsed. Their industrial plants closed down, the skies got
clear. Their air is a lot cleaner now,Ó Smith said.
'Eco-Imperialism at its Worst'
Patrick Moore, head of the environmental advocacy group Greenspirit, and a
former founding member of Greenpeace, called Smith's views
žeco-imperialism at its worst.Ó Moore left Greenpeace in the 1980s after
becoming disillusioned with what he considered the group's radical
approach to environmental concerns. žIt's that kind of arrogance that is
coming from a movement that is basically white upper-middle class and is
saying that it's neat to have Africans with no electricity,Ó Moore told
CNSNews.com. žIt is the same tendency that has caused Europeans to conquer
the whole planet in the first place,Ó explained Moore.
Moore said Smith's views represent a žnaive vision of returning to some
kind of Garden of Eden, which was actually not that great because the
average life span was 35.Ó žWhat a terrible thing to say. It's just so
obviously stupid -- this romanticization of poverty, where people can't
afford to fix their teeth, can't afford decent nutrition, can't afford
proper health care, can't afford education,Ó stated Moore. žWhat does he
think -- that some illiterate with her teeth falling out in the mountains
is a good thing?Ó asked Moore.
The dire poverty that exists in the developing countries, especially in
Africa and Latin America are a žkind of poverty that no one would wish on
anyone,Ó according to Moore. But Moore said many of the poverty stricken
residents of the developing world do seem optimistic despite their
conditions. žIt is amazing that hope springs eternal and people with their
teeth falling out who are dying of malnutrition, still laugh during the
day. But that doesn't mean it's good,Ó Moore said.
Moore now views the environmental movement as having lost its original
mission of ecological protection and is now occupied with encouraging
class envy and anti-capitalist rhetoric. žThe environmentalists try to
inject guilt into people for consuming, as if consuming by itself causes
destruction to the environment. There is no truth to that. You have the
wealthiest countries on earth with the best looked after environmentÓ he
explained. Poverty, not wealth, is one of the biggest threats to the
Earth's ecological health, according to Moore. žLook at the environmental
destruction caused by poverty. They have no money left to reforest, they
have no money left to prevent soil erosion, there is no money to clean
their water after they make it dirty,Ó he said.
Moore does not have much regard for the environmentalists attending the
Earth Summit. žThey are mainly political activists with not very much
actual science background who are using the rhetoric of environmentalism
to push agendas that are more political than they are ecological,Ó Moore
ABIC 2002 Conference Update: Saskatoon, Canada
'Everything you wanted to know about agricultural biotechnology but were
afraid to ask.'
Here comes your chance. Ask the Experts is a public forum to be held
Sunday, September 15, as a part of the 4th Agricultural Biotechnology
International Conference (ABIC 2002), agbiotech: cultivating convergence,
in Saskatoon, Canada.
John Gormley of CKOM News Talk Radio will moderate what promises to be a
lively exchange between the audience and five international biotechnology
experts. "While there is so much information available on this subject,
misunderstandings abound. This forum will be a great opportunity to
exchange views and to learn," says Gormley.
Panelists will offer a range of expertise and perspective:
* Roy Button, M.Sc., P.Ag., is Executive Director of the Saskatchewan
Canola Development Commission (SCDC), whose mandate is to enhance canola
producers' competitiveness and profitability
* Jennifer Hillard is National Vice President for Issues and Policy of the
Consumers' Association of Canada (CAC)
* Brewster Kneen has produced public affairs programs for CBC Radio,
worked as a consultant on issues of social and economic justice, and has
authored Farmageddon: Food and the Culture of Biotechnology
* Channapatna S. Prakash, Ph.D., is a Professor of Plant Molecular
Genetics and Director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at
Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama
* Hubert George Zandstra, Ph.D., is Director General of the International
Potato Center (CIP)
ABIC 2002 will feature a world-class program with more than 60 national
and international speakers, a poster session, tours, satellite sessions,
and exhibits. ABIC is targeted primarily to scientists, researchers,
investors, industry leaders, and policy-makers.
More details on ABIC 2002 program, registration, sponsor, and exhibitor
information can be found at http://www.abic.net
The latest issue of AgBioForum is now available online at
Below is the table of contents for the issue.
1. Benefits from Bt Cotton Use by Smallholder Farmers in South Africa
Yousouf Ismael, Richard Bennett, and Stephen Morse
2. Focus Group Reactions to Genetically Modified Food Labels Mario F.
Teisl, Lynn Halverson, Kelly O'Brien, Brian Roe, Nancy Ross, and Mike
3. Efficiency of Alternative Technologies and Cultural Practices for
Cotton in Georgia
Clayton W. Ward, Archie Flanders, Olga Isengildina, and Fred C. White
4. A Tale of Two Mergers: What We Can Learn from Agricultural
Biotechnology Event Studies
John L. King, Norbert Wilson, and Anwar Naseem
5. Biotechnology's Future Benefits: Prediction or Promise? Jeffrey
Burkhardt (See below)
6. Economic Impacts Associated with Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST)
Willard C. Losinger
7. Economic Impacts Associated with Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST)
Stephen L. Ott and C. Matthew Rendleman
Biotechnology's Future Benefits: Prediction or Promise?
- Jeffrey Burkhardt (University of Florida), (2002). Biotechnology's
future benefits: prediction or promise? AgBioForum, 5(1), 20-24.
http://www.agbioforum.org. (Excerpts below)
Much current research and development (R&D) in agricultural biotechnology
is focused on the so-called "next generation" of biotech. There is an
assumption that this work is ethically justifiable because the expected
outcomes are ethically sound. However, people in the agricultural
biotechnology enterprise must prove that the "promise of biotechnology"
justifies their efforts.
This paper addresses the ethics of the so-called "next generation" of
genetically modified organisms - bioengineered nutriceuticals, so-called
"functional foods," biofuels, and biomaterials (see Pew Initiative, 2001).
Most of the standard ethical concerns about food and environmental safety,
and socioeconomic concerns such as corporate power over the food system,
will probably apply to what we can call "future biotech." However, in this
paper, the focus is on a different kind of concern associated with the
ethics of these products - namely, the basic ethical legitimacy of
engaging in R&D of future biotech. Is work on future biotech ethically
justifiable? People should not assume that it is. Rather, people in the
biotechnology establishment will have to accept the ethical responsibility
to prove that it is.
Conclusion: Keeping the Promise of Biotechnology
A shift from reliance on the predictions embodied in the FBA as a
justification for future biotech, to the notion that scientists oblige
themselves to try to make future benefits become a reality, is both
practically and ethically profound. Ethically, it signals a move away from
a simple utilitarian-consequentialist approach to either a
rule-utilitarian or even deontological or virtue ethics.
Rule-utilitarianism was the ethical strategy Mill (1863/1957) outlined for
avoiding decision paralysis. Rather than have to decide if every action
would produce beneficial outcomes, we instead decide to follow certain
rules that, if followed, would produce net benefits. "Keep one's promises"
is an example of such a rule: on balance, if everyone generally keeps
promises, the benefits will far outweigh any costs associated with keeping
them (see Rawls, 1955, for the classic treatment). Promising to do
everything in one's power to help realize the benefits of biotech may
indeed be such a utilitarian-justified rule.
Alternatively, the shift to promise-keeping may signal a recognition that
making and keeping promises of this type is a duty that any reasonable
person in a similar situation would find acceptable. This would imply that
a deontological justification is being invoked for R&D on future biotech,
an idea that is not inconsistent with, for example, obligations that human
subjects or animal care committees impose on researchers to minimize harms
and respect dignity.
Still another ethical consideration is that of virtues: it may be, for
example, one measure of a good scientist (administrator, regulator, and so
on) that he or she commit themselves to doing the most in their power to
make sure beneficial results flow from his or her work. The promise in
this case is implied in the "profess" part of the learned "professions."
As profound as any of these alternative ethical-philosophical
understandings of the making of promises, the practical shift from
prediction to promise is even more so. One thing it practically means is
that rather than addressing the ethical justification of science or
biotechnology in general terms, we now must address the ethical
justification of the individual actions of scientists and others involved
in the processes of science as it delivers technology. In other words,
ethical appraisal of science depends on the justifiability of decisions
and choices made by those who are in the position to "do science" and
bring technologies to reality.
The idea of scientists' (and others') commitment to at least trying to
achieve positive outcomes also may have the effect of introducing more
self-policing at every level. It would be a small price to pay to ensure
ethical justifiability to have peer review of work include assessments of
likely social benefit, even if the expected benefits were only
hypothetical scenarios that might play out given the nature of the
research being conducted. Moreover, science administrators in both the
public and private sectors have long noted that they need to be better
about stewarding potentially beneficial biotechnologies from the
laboratory to the marketplace (see Busch et al., 1991). Furthermore,
corporations involved in agricultural biotechnology appear poised to
address the promise of biotechnology in more than public-relations terms.
Indeed, avoiding public-relations disasters and seeking that higher
ethical ground appear to be motivations for pursuing more clearly socially
beneficial technologies, such as nutriceuticals and other foods for health
(Mackey, 2002). The idea of an ethical commitment to try to bring forth as
much benefit from agricultural biotech as is possible seems, in short, a
potential paradigm shift for the biotechnology establishment and science
in general (see Burkhardt, 1999).
In the end, however, promises or commitments are only as good as their
being carried out. The ethical question that everyone involved in the
biotechnology enterprise should ask him- or herself is this: "What should
I do to guarantee that benefits result from my work in this enterprise?"
This may appear to be a scientific questionÚe.g., "What will make this
plant species exhibit this trait?" Úand this is certainly relevant. But it
really implies more direct actions, such as reflecting on one's ethical
responsibility, communicating with other scientists and lay persons about
the ethics of one's work, and supporting larger institutional measures
(e.g., thorough and long-term tests for safety). Moreover, consideration
of institutional or historical or economic conditions must be relevant as
well, for the benefits of future biotechnology products cannot be fully
realized so long as there remain unjust political-economic conditions
that, for example, prevent new foods and other biotech products from being
available to the people that need them most. Some may believe that asking
this is outside the province of science. The response is the province of
those who are entrusted to provide solutions to these very kinds of
More than forty years ago Indian Prime Minister Jawarahal Nehru (as cited
in Sorell, 1991) wrote that "It is science alone that can solve the
problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of
superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running
to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people. Who indeed could
afford to ignore science today? At every turn we seek its aid.... (p. 2)"
The power of science and especially genetic engineering, and their
capacity to solve basic and very real human problems, establishes a
noblesse oblige that we are not entitled to ignore or leave to othersÚor
to impersonal market forcesÚto carry out. If this appears to overstep the
so-called ethical neutrality of science (i.e., the presumed ethical
neutrality of those in the scientific establishment), so be it. If
scienceÚand now specifically genetic engineeringÚwants to be judged
positively by the fruits of its labors, science cannot simply cast the
fruit on the market, or to the public, and expect that it will necessarily
confer positive results. Rather, scientists and others in the
science/biotechnology establishment must tend the fruit, watch it, and
carefully guide it so that we can, in the future, say that this work was
indeed ethically justified. It is presently justifiable only if we try to
do our duty.
The Global Innovation Divide
- Jeffrey Sachs, Aug 19, 2002 http://www.scidev.net/
Public-sector support for science and technology ů and the financing of
this support by donors ů is essential for the worldŪs poorest countries if
they are to meet the challenges of economic and social development,
according to Jeffrey Sachs, the recently appointed director of the Earth
Institute at Columbia University, New York.
In a paper delivered to a conference organised by the National Bureau of
Economic Research, Sachs, who is also an adviser to UN Secretary General
Kofi Annan, argues that žthe challenges of economic development are not
going to be addressed properly until we better integrate issues of science
and technology into the basic economic development strategies of
He urges international donors to support much greater efforts on the
scientific issues facing developing countries in health, environment,
agriculture, energy and other areas, particularly those in which the
poorest of the poor face distinctive ecological challenges.
And Sachs also warns that the tightening up of intellectual property
rights ů for example in the field of biotechnology ů žmay slow the
diffusion of technology to the worldŪs poorest countries that has
traditionally come through copying and reverse engineeringÓ.
Link to Sach's opinion article at http://www.scidev.net ; Source: National
Bureau of Economic Research
How Much Will Feeding More and Wealthier People Encroach on Forests?
- Paul E. Waggoner and Jesse H. Ausubel, Population And Development Review
27(2):239-257 (June 2001). Download the complete pdf document at
Abstract: Forests have recently expanded in many countries. The success of
the world, including both rich and poor, in following this trend depends
on future changes in population, income per capita, appetite, and crop
yields. Extended to the year 2050, the strengths of these forces,
estimated from experience, project cropland shrinking by nearly 200
million hectares, more than three times the land area of France. Changes
in some of these forces, with crop yield the most manageable, could double
the shrinkage. Reasonable assumptions about the forces can also make the
distribution of spared land between rich and poor countries roughly equal.
Although the encroachment factor translating cropland change into forest
land change varies greatly, one-third or more of the cropland spared could
In recent decades some 50 countries have reported increases in the volume
or area of their forests (UN ECE/FAO 2000). These increases, mainly in
industrial countries, encourage the vision of a great restoration of
nature in the form of a spreading forest canopy. The reforestation
supports such a vision even while population continues to grow, albeit at
a slowing rate, and the human condition improves. Geographers have dated
the onset of reforestation in some areas as early as the nineteenth
century and have called it the forest transition (Mather, Fairbairn, and
Needle 1999). The realization of the vision of course depends upon many
factors, including how people prosper and eat, how farmers till, and how
each change of cropland encroaches on forests. Here we examine population
and economic growth, eating, and tilling to answer the question: How much
will growing crops to feed more and wealthier people encroach on forests
between now and 2050?
To many, the prospect is dire and the proscription of farming is clear.
For example, Ayres (1999) wrote in a millennial issue of Time magazine,
"Agriculture is the world's biggest cause of deforestation, and increasing
demand for meat is the biggest force in the expansion of agriculture." A
bird's eye view of the landscape confirms that farming has historically
transformed the most acreage, and so we shall concentrate on it, while
recognizing that climate change, urban sprawl, and other forces can also
change land use and land cover......
Concluding words: "We do not rashly believe that the future we have
outlined here will come true by itself. The gains in yields during the
past 50 years, for example, were won by investment, experiment, and
exertion combined with the belief that science can improve the human
condition. With continuation of similar efforts, farmers and all those who
work with them need not passively let croplands encroach on forests. They
can, instead, become the best friends of the forest."
Organic Markets Grow Consumer Resentment
- Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft, The Boston Herald, August 25, 2002
Of all the faith-based organizations in the United States, organic
supermarkets are the least likely to receive financial aid from the Bush
administration. Perhaps they need it the least, since organic food sales
are growing faster than any other sector of the U.S. food industry.
Customers want food grown without pesticides, preferably from companies
that treat their workers well - painless produce - and this phenomenon
reaches from Austin, Texas, to Berkeley, Calif., to Cambridge, where I
recently worked for an organic supermarket. From behind the cheese counter
I watched customers select products free from taint by problems associated
with the industrialized farm. Perhaps most important, these products were
free from guilt. There is nothing inherently religious about this; it is
our attitude that turns the organic market into church. Health nuts are
notoriously sanctimonious about eating the right things; vegans seem to
shoot accusation toward their carnivorous neighbors. Yet the affection for
the organic market goes further, invoking a complicated alchemy of
political correctness, environmentalism and the desire to make shopping
into a good deed.
The people running the big organic chains know how to seize an
opportunity, emblazoning products with vines, doves, pictures of the globe
- sometimes regardless of whether the product is actually organic. What
matters is that customers make the association between the product and the
whole organic phenomenon - the choice to buy organic has become an
affirmative act of faith and a statement of trust in your local priest.
The organic markets began with employee-owned cooperatives of the 1960s
and '70s. At that point, boycotts and protests connected consumption with
political activism: Remember the grape boycotts of the '70s and the
unionization of farm workers? A lifestyle consideration often accompanied
politics: a desire for organic vegetarian food, or food without the fats
and preservatives in which American life is suspended.
But political climates change, and it seems as if lifestyle concerns have
overtaken political concerns - style replaces substance. Even if some of
us are as political as our parents were in the '70s, there is less
activism and more personal gratification floating in the cultural air.
I endorse the goals of eating healthily, protecting our environment and
treating workers well. I simply grew curious about customers' motivations.
I have become convinced that the dynamic is that familiar one from the
Bible: sin and redemption. Guilt comes with knowledge of the conventional
food industry. A huge percentage of our food is produced by means that are
not sustainable. That guilt only can be expiated through certain buying
patterns. Bet your bottom (green!) dollar that somewhere in the corporate
boardrooms, some executive is counting on the guilt tradition, which is
our blessing and our burden.
But the real harm of organic markets has nothing to do with people
genuflecting as they exit the "bulk granola" aisle. Organic markets may
create elites based on gourmet-ism, health and eco-friendliness, but these
are hardly problems on the scale of global warming.
More frightening is the impact on lower-income families when organic
superstores displace conventional, cheaper markets. This has happened at
least once in my hometown of Cambridge. Some years ago, my neighborhood
watched as an organic market replaced a supermarket next to a housing
project. Residents began taking the subway from the project to cheaper
supermarkets. Gentrification is a big, slippery word, but the introduction
of white-collar lifestyles into working-class areas ought to bring
opportunity, not force people out of their neighborhoods to search for
something to eat.
Here is the real irony in the transition from politically motivated
organic supermarkets to corporate organic markets. We - I say "we"
because I shopped at organic markets long before I worked at one - usually
have the best of intentions. But our taste for painlessly grown food is
sometimes driven by the aesthetic appeal of the word "organic," by its
promise to improve our health and quality of living - and, of course, by
our desire to escape guilt.
If organic food becomes nothing more than an aesthetic choice, like buying
handcrafted Italian shoes instead of Nikes, then it is no better than any
other elitism. My concern is that this elitism could obscure the way our
shopping affects the shape and character of our communities.
Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft of Cambridge is a graduate student at the
University of California at Berkeley.
Coffee politics: Lovin' Cups; Coffee, and Justice, for All
- The Economist, Aug 22, 2002
BERKELEY is the birthplace of People's Park and of American coffee
snobbery. So it seems fitting that the city's peace-loving, caffeine-wired
citizens are embracing a way to combine their politics with their drug of
choice (or one of them, anyway). "Sec C" - short for Socially and/or
Environmentally Consciously Cultivated Coffee (and pronounced "sexy", of
course) - is a proposal to limit the kinds of coffee sold in Berkeley, and
is up for discussion on the November ballot.
America's speciality-coffee revolution kicked off in the late 1960s in
Berkeley, where Alfred Peet, a Dutch immigrant and founder of Peet's
Coffee, trained the men who would later start Starbucks in Seattle.
Nowadays caf»s line most of Berkeley's main streets, and people discuss
coffee blends with the passion of wine-tasters. Yet no one can agree on
The initiative is the hobby-horse of Rick Young, a lawyer fresh from the
University of California at Berkeley's law school. After successfully
persuading the owner of the law-school caf» to switch to more
politically-correct coffee, Mr Young decided to take the matter to the
streets. Having collected over 3,000 signatures, he is now in a position
to appeal to the university town's 80,000-odd voters.
If passed, only coffee beans that are certified as organic, fair-trade or
shade-grown could be sold. To brew regular Joe would be an offence
punishable by up to six months in jail and a $100 fine. "People should pay
a price for their coffee that reflects the larger costs, like polluting
water and cutting trees," Mr Young says. "Prices now are artificially low
because they don't take into account all the externalities."
Basic coffee is trading at record low prices, averaging less than 50 cents
per lb on the New York Coffee, Sugar, and Cocoa Exchange. Fair-trade
coffees, by contrast, are selling at around $1.25 per lb for regular and
around $1.40 per lb for certified organic beans. To receive fair-trade
certification, coffee growers must be included in the International Fair
Trade Coffee Register, which guarantees a "fair-trade price" and credit
against future sales. Organic coffee is grown without pesticides,
herbicides and fungicides, while "shade-grown" means grown under a canopy
of trees, thereby protecting wildlife habitats.
Mr Young hopes to win voters on the strength of his environmental
argument. Migratory birds which fly south to Central America each year, he
points out, live in forests that are increasingly threatened by
large-scale coffee growers, who cut down trees to replace shade-grown
coffee with heartier new varieties that thrive in the open air. Moreover,
the birds often return carrying pesticides, pollutants and fertilisers
from non-organic plantations, potentially wreaking ecological havoc up
The denizens of Berkeley are used to paying a bit more for quality Java,
and the idea of politically-correct coffee is not new. TransFair USA, the
only organisation responsible for fair-trade certification in America, is
based in neighbouring Oakland; and in 1999, Berkeley's mayor, Shirley
Dean, sponsored a regulation stipulating that all coffee purchased by the
city government must be fair-trade. Recently, though, she has expressed
doubts about Mr Young's initiative, noting the enforcement difficulties if
it is passed.
Coffee sellers, too, have mixed feelings. "He wants to make this
punishable with six months in prison. I resent paying taxes for this kind
of enforcement," says Ayal Amzel, owner of Yali's Caf», near the
university."We have 13 people working here. We will be hurt. It will take
Despite the reaction of shopkeepers such as Mr Amzel (not to mention hate
e-mails from across the country), Mr Young seems to have struck something
of a chord. A subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee
held discussions on the coffee crisis last month. Californian politicians
have also weighed in. Congressman Sam Farr has recommended that
individuals and institutional consumers purchase "sustainable" or
fair-trade coffees. Pete Stark, another Democratic member of the House,
has introduced a resolution that all branches of the federal government
purchase only certified fair-trade coffees.
The Berkeley initiative may not pass this year. Nevertheless, the search
has begun for what Thanksgiving Coffee of California, a leader in the
gourmet coffee industry, refers to as "Not just a cup, but a just cup."