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December 27, 2002


Comparing Iowa to Oaxaca; Titans Clash While Africa Goes Hungry;


Today in AgBioView - December 28, 2002

* Compare Iowa to Oaxaca
* It's Time to End This GM Nonsense
* Amid a Heated U.S.- EU Clash On Biotech, Africa Goes Hungry
* The Odd Couple: Biotechnology and the Media
* Does the Media Adequately Cover Polarized Scientific Issues?
- Science Reporters Miss Nuance
- Science Reporting Needs to Consider the Social Context of Controversy
* Von Humboldt Honorees: Saving Hawaii's Papaya
* Let's Not Escalate the 'Frankenfood' War
* Trying to Stop Vampire Hysteria
* How Healthy is the World?

Compare Iowa to Oaxaca

- Andrew Apel , AgBioView, December 28, 2002

Colleagues, As you already know, the winner of the 2002 National Corn
Growers Association (NCGA) Corn Yield Contest is again Francis Childs of
Manchester, Iowa, USA who turned in a record yield of 442.14 bushels per
acre (27,633.75 kg/ha) using a Pioneer hybrid containing the YieldGard1
gene for resistance to European corn borer. See

Compare that to farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico, who may be the most admired of
all by the anti-biotech activist contingent. These farmers use organic
methods, native biodiverse landraces and ancestral wisdom to produce
around 200 kilograms of maize per hectare (that's about 3 bushels per
acre). The average poor Mexican eats (or would like to eat) some 200
kilograms of maize per year, equal to the entire output of one hectare
under 'traditional' cultivation. See

In 1995, Mexico had one acre (0.4 hectare) of arable land per capita. If
Mexico were to use only much-beloved 'traditional' methods to produce its
maize, Mexico's total arable land could only supply maize to 40 percent of
its population. And to do that, it would have to cultivate no other crops
and raise no animals. This simplistic hectare-per-person approach ignores,
however, the fact that only 25 percent of Mexico's arable land is actually
put to agricultural use. So feeding 40 percent of the population in this
primitive way would actually require a quadrupling of land put to the
plow. See http://ag.arizona.edu/arec/pubs/azson/chpt_3.pdf

Compare Iowa to Oaxaca. Compare modern to ancient technologies. It doesn't
look like using organic methods, native biodiverse landraces and ancestral
wisdom is doing Mexico any favors, nor are those who want Mexican
agriculture to be mired in primitivism.


It's Time to End This GM Nonsense

- New Zealand Herald December 28, 2002

There is, so the saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat. In the
Speech from the Throne in August, it was confirmed that the moratorium on
commercial releases of genetically modified organisms would not be
extended. At the same time, a review of the Environmental Risk Management
Authority, the body charged with approving GM trials, was announced. It
appeared little more than a sop to the Greens.

Now, however, it emerges that the authority is already looking at giving
more weight to Maori spiritual values when it considers genetic research
proposals. Scientists have good cause to be alarmed. This misguided notion
has the potential to stifle their work as effectively as any prohibition
on research.

The authority goes so far as to suggest that Maori spiritual concerns
about genetic research - even in the absence of physical or biological
risk - could be reason enough to reject research applications.
Essentially, that assets the dominance of spirituality over science,
modern thought and practice. Fear is granted a ranking above rational
thinking. Ephemera takes precedence over agricultural research that is
pivotal to this country's future well-being. It is nonsensical, and it is
a recipe for increased tension. Even the much-maligned Resource Management
Act does not deliver such privilege to one racial group.

It is also utterly unnecessary. Even now, the authority's procedures - for
both Maori and wider public involvement - are tipped heavily against the
scientific community. Case by case, opponents of genetic research can put
their view. So much is the process weighted towards public participation
that it can easily be hijacked by anti-GM groups.

The way is clear for filibustering through the presentation of thousands
of submissions on any one research application. Even if the application is
approved, the research may have been delayed to such an extent that New
Zealand's leadership in the field is lost.

Opponents of GM are apt to cite experiments gone wrong. Several such
claims were made to the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. When the
commission checked them out, they were either discredited or found not to
be the total truth. The commission arrived at sensible conclusions that,
while precautionary, did not involve it turning its back on science. Now,
the risk management authority is threatening to undo that good work. If
Maori spiritual values are given crucial weight, they will inevitably be
seized upon by the opponents of GM.

Already, Ngai Tahu, the only iwi to be given "interested persons" status
by the royal commission, appears to have a largely closed mind. A
spokesman claims the iwi does not have a blanket rule to disapprove of all
genetic research, and considers each application put before it. But it
speaks volumes when he could not recollect Ngai Tahu ever approving
genetic research.

Already, the iwi has declined relatively mundane research into paua and
lobster, bringing the application to a dead end. Maori must be consulted
if the intended research is into native species. But when a Canterbury
University scientist sought approval from them for genetic research into
endangered native frogs, some iwi did not even reply, presumably out of a
lack of interest. Thus that work was also abandoned.

The prospect is for authority hearings so protracted that the Waitangi
Tribunal will seem, by comparison, to work at the speed of light. Already,
some research, such as the stalled work on paua and lobster, has been lost
overseas, or will not be done at all.

Increasingly, young scientists are looking askance when they see work of
merit blocked by its lack of "responsiveness" to the Maori scheme of
things. Some will look for a more appropriate, and more responsive,
workplace overseas. The risk management authority should be relaxing its
existing rules, not extending them in such an irrational manner - for the
sake of Maori, and all New Zealanders.


Amid a Heated U.S.- EU Clash On Biotech, Africa Goes Hungry

- Roger Thurow, Brandon Mitchener And Scott Kilman, The Wall Street
Journal, Dec 26, 2002

'Tinkering With Banana Genes Could Save Ugandan Staple, but the Seeds Stay
in a Lab'

Ugandans devour more bananas than anyone else on earth -- about 500 pounds
per person per year. They eat banana pancakes, banana mash, banana chips,
banana bread. They season their beans with banana salt. They guzzle banana
beer and sip banana gin.

So it's a national emergency when disease and pests devastate this staple
crop. "It's terrible," said farmer Moses Kato while wandering through a
thicket of banana plants in Magoggo, a village north of the capital of
Kampala. Many of the big floppy leaves have been rendered yellow and brown
by an airborne fungus called Black Sigatoka, denying the bananas the
photosynthetic energy they need to grow. "A solution to the disease should
be a top priority," he said. "There should be no delay."

The most promising solution, though, is bottled up in a test tube in the
world's foremost banana lab 4,000 miles away in Belgium. There, scientist
Rony Swennen has genetically modified banana cells to resist the leaf
disease. Since 1994 his creation has literally been on ice, in frozen
suspension, awaiting the chance to be planted in a test field in a
tropical country. His hopes soared three years ago when the Ugandan
government came to him for help. He was promised that legislation would
soon be enacted to bring his bio-engineered bananas into the country. He
is still waiting. Until Uganda constructs a legal framework, officials say
he can't proceed.

"It's outrageous when you have the tools to do the job but no one allows
you to do it," says Prof. Swennen, forlornly showing off his test-tube
creation. "I can't get it into the fields," he complains. "Everyone has
their own agendas."

What has happened on the way to a better banana plant is that Uganda's
urgent agenda has become pinned down in the heated crossfire between the
U.S. and Europe over the future of genetically modified foods. The U.S.
government and American biotech industry are pushing to bring genetically
modified, or GM, seeds to Africa. The European Union, where consumers are
deeply suspicious of the safety of lab-altered food, is trying to convince
the Africans to adopt their own go-slow approach to biotech.

The stakes are enormous. The U.S. biotechnology industry has nearly
saturated its major domestic markets with its first wave of plants. It is
hungry for new markets and, even more so, favorable publicity to counter
international fears that it is unleashing 'Frankenfoods' on the world. The
industry hopes to polish its image with examples of biotechnology helping
African farmers overcome pests, poor soil and drought.

For EU officials, the spread of biotechnology into Africa poses slippery
political problems. European consumers are so leery of the technology that
EU governments have had a de facto moratorium on new GM crops for four
years. European countries have hinted that imports from their former
colonies could be jeopardized if they switched to bio-engineered crops.
That would dent the already bruised economies of Africa, whose biggest
export customer is Europe.

Africa is once again caught in the middle, as it so often is in
geopolitical skirmishes fought by the world's developed nations. During
the Cold War, this continent was the proxy battleground between the
Western and Soviet blocs, with each backing various governments and rebel
movements to win over more "client states." Now, Africa, which desperately
needs to find a way out of its chronic food crises, is the proxy
battleground in the biotech struggle. It brings to life the popular
African proverb that says when two elephants fight it is the ants that get

"We didn't want to get into a war over bananas, but we've ended up getting
caught in the middle of something that's beyond us," says C. F. Mugoya,
the associate executive secretary of the Uganda National Council for
Science and Technology, the country's gatekeeper for GM projects. "If I
want to eat a biotech banana here, the U.S. shouldn't care and Europe
shouldn't care. If science offers us a solution, we should go for it if we

Push for Test-Tube Bananas. In 1999, the Ugandan government was moving
aggressively toward embracing biotech crops. The crisis in the banana
fields was so acute -- in parts of the country, some 80% of plants were
being crippled by Black Sigatoka -- that the government pledged to spend
$2.5 million over five years on the banana biotech project. It was the
first time the Ugandan government, one of the poorest in the world, had
put so much money into scientific research. The university dispatched a
student to work with Prof. Swennen in Belgium. Plans were made to transfer
his test-tube bananas to Uganda.

Then the contretemps over the safety of bio-engineered food between the
U.S. and the EU erupted in Uganda, and the fast-track progress hit the
brakes. Initially, scientists hoped that by the end of 2001 the government
would have approved legislation setting up the legal framework to allow
biotech experiments and GM seeds into the country. Now, with rumors
spreading that GM food can cause allergies, sterility and deformities, the
government has slowed its deliberations to let the public debate percolate
in open workshops and newspaper and television forums. The new law may not
be in place until the end of 2003. Until then, all field trials in Uganda
are on hold.

"Originally the politicians were 100% in support of us," says W.K.
Tushemereirwe, the leader of Uganda's national banana research program.
"Now, with the whole debate from abroad coming here, they are asking, 'are
you sure about this?' " "If you say 'biotech' here, all hell breaks
loose," says John Aluma, the deputy director general of Uganda's National
Agricultural Research Organization. He bemoans the emotions that have
ensnarled his science.

Economic risks also cloud African biotech efforts. When Ugandan scientists
considered an application by U.S. crop biotechnology giant Monsanto Co. to
test genetically modified cotton in Uganda, the country's cotton industry
lodged an urgent protest. The United Kingdom and other European countries,
it said, were threatening to stop imports of Ugandan cotton, worth $19
million a year, if its character was genetically altered.

This gave additional fuel to John Bigyemano, the executive director of the
Uganda Consumers' Protection Association and a leading antagonist of
biotechnology here. "For us to embrace GM now is shooting ourselves in the
foot," he says.

How the fight between the U.S. and Europe plays out could well determine
to what extent Africa will use biotechnology to tackle its most
intractable problems. Millions of tons of sweet potato, maize, bananas and
cassava, crops upon which Africa's poorest depend, are lost each year to
pests, disease and drought. Projects underway to give these plants the
genetic blueprints to resist assault from the elements could mean the
difference between life and death for many Africans. Other scientists are
exploring using biotech crops to deliver vaccines and vitamins that can
ward off human disease where medical care is scarce.

"We missed the Green Revolution. We don't want to miss the GM revolution,"
says Patrick Rubaihayo, professor of plant breeding and genetics at
Uganda's Makerere University who is overseeing students working on the
banana biotech project. "We're being fed by Europe, Asia and the U.S. If
we miss the GM revolution, then we're finished."

He shakes his head at the quandary. "Our government is asking us, 'Who's
telling the truth on GM? European organizations say it's not safe, the
U.S. says it is. Which way do we go?' "

The debate over genetically modified food is difficult because it turns on
fears of long-term consequences. The world's leading scientists say there
is no evidence whatsoever that biotech crops are harmful to humans and
that, if anything, they're probably safer to eat than conventional food
because of the additional regulation to which they're subjected.

But some scientists worry that moving genes from an unrelated species into
a plant could upset some delicate balance, perhaps igniting a chain
reaction that causes the host to produce deadly amounts of a toxin that it
normally only makes in small amounts. Transplanting genes between plants
could also make it harder for consumers to avoid crops to which they are
allergic. Many environmentalists fear that genetically modified crops
could harm nature; for instance, there are worries that U.S. corn plants
genetically modified to make their own insecticide could be hurting the
American Monarch butterfly, a beneficial bug.

Prof. Swennen and the Uganda scientists say bananas should be the least
worrisome biotech plant of all. Bananas don't produce pollen, eliminating
the greatest environmental fear that they would run wild in the open.
Because the genetic engineering is in the leaf and stem it doesn't affect
the fruit itself, so nothing would be expected to change for the consumer.
And since Ugandans eat or drink all of the bananas they grow, there is no
export market to worry about.

Still, the project is engulfed in the fear that is creeping down from
Europe, where protesters have destroyed biotech test fields and activists
pump out position papers over the Internet. Mr. Mugoya, of the Uganda
National Council for Science and Technology, says Ugandans ask: If
Europeans are concerned, shouldn't we be, too? To quell the doubters, his
council is overseeing the task of writing biosafety regulations, many of
which likely will be similar to those in force in Europe.

Mr. Tushemereirwe, of the national banana research program, frets over the
lost time. "The Europeans have the luxury to delay, they have enough to
eat," he says. "But we Africans don't."

The building food crisis in southern Africa has brought the biotech battle
to a fevered pitch. The government of Zambia turned away about 20,000
metric tons of U.S. food aid in October, saying the shipments contained
genetically modified corn that was unsafe, capable of polluting the
country's seed stock and, thus, jeopardizing its export markets,
particularly to Europe. This raised suspicions in many African countries,
including Uganda, where Mr. Bigyemano and others questioned whether the
U.S. was more interested in helping American biotech farmers than hungry

Bush administration officials were outraged, and called on the EU to
clearly assure African governments that American corn was good to eat. At
a Brussels press conference, Grant Aldonas, the U.S. undersecretary of
commerce for international trade, reacted with fury when a reporter
repeated statements from anonymous European Commission officials to the
effect that the U.S. was using Africa as a guinea pig to prove biotech is
safe. "We provide food aid to starving Africans and that's a cynical act?"
he asked. "That's frightening."

A spokesman for the European Commission, the EU's executive agency, hedged
when questioned about whether the EU considers the American corn safe.
"The EU position as far as food is that it's safe," said spokesman Michael
Curtis, adding that "the environmental aspect is a completely different
ball game."

The U.S. government, for its part, is spending about $12 million annually
on African biotechnology. It has funded scientists in America and Africa
to genetically engineer potatoes and sweet potatoes to resist attack by
disease and pest. Dennis Gonsalves, a plant pathologist from Hawaii who
saved that state's papaya harvest from ringspot virus with a genetically
modified plant, has received $200,000 from the U.S. Agency for
International Development to do the same for Uganda's crop. He hopes to
have a papaya plant ready for launch in Uganda within three years.

That is, if the country has passed its GM rules by then. USAID, in
addition to putting money into the banana project, is funding a consultant
to help with drafting Uganda's biosafety framework. Alarmed by the
American push, the development aid arms of various EU governments are
countering with their own biosafety and regulatory funding in Uganda and
the East African region.

Funding, Protest Worries. In the Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement
at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, just outside Brussels,
Prof. Swennen nervously bides his time, surrounded by 1,000 varieties of
bananas and their cousin, the plantain. He fears that any rash move by him
to plant his test-tube creation in Uganda or anywhere else in the tropics
would trigger protests and jeopardize any prospect of biotech bananas
being planted. He also worries that the lab's $2.5 million in funding,
which began before the biotech controversy arose, would be threatened.
"I'd have to close up," he says. "I'm scared I'd run out of money."

While he waits for a green light from Uganda, he is beginning work on
developing a plant resistant to the nematodes that eat away at the roots
of banana plants, even those in his own lab hothouses. The Ugandans say
they could use that engineered plant, too.

In Uganda, the banana lab of the National Agricultural Research
Organization is getting a fresh coat of paint and deliveries of new
laboratory equipment. The scientists, while waiting for the national
debate to subside, are busy isolating DNA samples and preparing cell
suspensions of the local banana varieties for the day when they might be
able to match them with Prof. Swennen's creations.

Out in the banana groves, the farmers are trying to cope with calamity.
The root-eating nematodes are toppling plants so fast that new fields are
being planted every couple of years, instead of every couple of decades.
To strengthen the plants against the Black Sigatoka fungus and weevils
that bore into the stem, they have begun cooking up a homebrew of
nutrients to add to the soil around each plant: cow manure, cow urine, hot
peppers, tobacco leaves, banana peels and local herbs all boiled and
fermented together.

This concoction, the farmers say, has helped improve the banana production
somewhat, so most of them have a few bunches left over to sell at the
market each week. Moses Kato says some of his fellow farmers are using the
extra money to buy proper school uniforms for their children. One man, he
says, bought a television. Mr. Kato built a latrine for his family.

Priver Namanya, one of the Ugandan scientists, tells the villagers that
biotech bananas would boost production, and incomes, even more. "I'll like
that," says farmer Yusufu Konyogo, "as long as the bananas will taste the


The Odd Couple: Biotechnology and the Media

- AgBiotech Buzz, Vol. 2 Issue 11 Dec 20, 2002

It's been said that biotechnology isn't rocket science - it's actually
more difficult.

Reporting on biotechnology also poses unique challenges. Because
agricultural biotechnology is a controversial and evolving science, the
"story" often changes from one week to the next. For example, in the fall
of 2000 a paper about biotech corn contaminating the native corn species
in Mexico was published in the journal Nature, only to be disavowed by the
publication a few months later.

While it's rare for prestigious journals to retract a peer-reviewed
article, the situation highlights how difficult it is to produce quality
news stories in an environment where science provokes attention from
activists and politicians. Making matters more difficult is that
biotechnology isn't one clear-cut issue and every new technique and
organism presents different scientific and social issues. One thing that
everybody agrees on, however, is that the stories must be told.

"This is potentially revolutionary stuff the public has a right and need
to know, and the press plays a big role," says Washington Post reporter
Marc Kaufman, who has covered the biotechnology beat. "The science is
hard, but you can boil it down." He points out that a number of science
reporters actually "do a good job." To most journalists, doing a good job
means supplying people with information. But the process of getting
information to people is fraught with complications, including how and
where stories are told, who is telling them and how the tellers are

Among the more intractable issues is how the media balances stories about
controversial and complex science. Traditionally, to the media, balance
means pitting one voice against another. The problem with that approach is
that sometimes a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who bases his or her
statements on years of painstaking research can be countered by an
activist who may have a strong opinion, but is far less knowledgeable,
says Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of the University of California
Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education Program. Contrasting
opposing voices also can tend to emphasize extreme viewpoints rather than
more moderate, perhaps less "newsworthy," but nevertheless interesting
voices, she adds.

Compounding the problem is the fact that scientists often don't want to
comment on hot-button issues. Cory Dean, science editor for the New York
Times, points out that many academic researchers are reluctant to speak
out because they believe it could jeopardize their chances for tenure if
their superiors consider press coverage as self-promotion. In addition,
some researchers are reluctant to speak with the press because they fear
being misquoted or having what they say taken out of context.
Nevertheless, it's imperative that they do, says Newell-McGloughlin. "We
can't not speak," she says. "We can't take the position 'We're the
experts: trust us.' That's patronizing." Newell-McGloughlin also
acknowledges that activists do play an important role in the media
process. "There's quite a lot of very good questions that need to be
answered," she says.

Another facet in the debate over whether "the media" adequately cover
biotechnology is the fact that the media itself is not monolithic. Media
coverage varies widely from television to magazines to newspapers to the
Internet. Even within individual media forms, such as newspapers, biotech
stories may be presented in a spectrum ranging from short non-bylined news
pieces to long, exhaustive series that include graphics and explanatory
sidebar stories. Radio and television also handle science stories with
varying degrees of thoroughness.

Some of the best science reporting being done today is on television,"
says Alex Jones, Director of Harvard University's Joan Shorenstein Center
on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy. "It's on programs like NOVA,
not the local or national news. Television news just doesn't have the time
or is unwilling to devote the resources needed to cover science well." And
that is a problem, Jones says, because most people get their news from TV.
"There has been a proliferation of quasi-reporting on local news via video
news releases that are usually produced by major drug companies [and
amount to little more than a commercial]," Jones says. "Television has a
huge potential for reporting science, but the medium is easy to abuse." He
notes the Internet is a powerful source for science reporting and exchange
of information, but it has no quality control so people searching for
science information need to be wary.

And while it's difficult to generalize about "the media," there do appear
to be some biotechnology coverage differences between the U.S. and
European outlets, says Newell-McGloughlin (who is originally from
Ireland). In Europe, she says, the tabloids are seen as a primary news
source by a large part of the public, instead of as secondary, more
sensationalistic outlets, as they are generally viewed in the U.S. As a
result, the majority of written news coverage of biotechnology in the U.S.
tends to come from higher-quality publications and is more balanced, she
says. Others aren't quite so sure, however, and say the U.S. media has
tipped too far in favor of the biotechnologists.

"The bottom line is that the voices promoting (biotechnology) are more
prominent than those that object," says Susanna Priest, who monitors media
coverage of biotechnology at Texas A&M University. Her finding contradicts
an assumption by many scientists that activists get more play than
scientists, she says. "It's really about trust in institutions," Priest
notes. "The U.S. has an enormous faith in industry, but not in
environmental groups." Priest believes the reason that environmental
concerns in Europe are voiced louder than in the U.S. is that Americans
place more trust in institutions like government, regulators and industry.
Europeans, on the other hand, have lived through a number of food crises
and tend to have less faith in regulators, she notes.

There is also a tendency for some media, and those involved in these
issues, to cast players in over-simplified roles, says Priest. For
instance, some scientists insist that the only people who object to
biotech are those who are not informed about science. Priest says her
studies indicated even knowledgeable people sometimes raise concerns about
the technology. Another difference in biotechnology coverage in America,
according to Newell-McGloughlin is how medical biotechnology stories are
told, versus agricultural biotechnology. "Medical science stories are
covered in terms of hope, while quite often food is covered in terms of
warning," she says.

That difference points to the key to what gets a story printed or
broadcast in the first place: telling a story that interests the public.
Bill Lambrecht, a reporter for the St. Louis Post Dispatch and author of
the book 'Dining at The New Gene Cafe', says that's the yardstick against
which every story is measured, and lately very few biotechnology stories
make the cut. "After 9/11, genetically-modified organisms became one of
those many issues that was submerged," says Lambrecht. It's not just that
terrorism and international politics are taking up the space on pages and
airtime on radio and television, he says. "I think that in the aftermath,
the public went through a redefinition of risk. A lot of people have only
so much capacity for concern over the threats that are out there. Many
lesser threats have diminished in the minds of people."

Still, the Post's Kaufman believes the issues are important enough that
the stories will still be told. And, for better or worse, the media is how
most people get their information. As a result, he believes the media
shoulders a great responsibility for getting those stories out.


Debate: Does the Popular Media Adequately Cover Highly Polarized
Scientific Issues?

'Science Reporters Miss Nuance'

- Jim Aidala, http://pewagbiotech.org/buzz/display.php3?StoryID=88
(President, AgroChemical/Biotech, JSC, Inc.)

Does the media adequately cover science? Jim Aidala has a one-word answer:
No. Aidala, a former Environmental Protection Agency Assistant
Administrator believes there are two reasons the media is currently
failing the public. "First, the media has a strong desire to get the
Űother side of the story' even though it may not represent the thinking of
most people in the scientific field," Aidala says.

The inclination to present conflicting sides of an issue makes great copy,
Aidala notes, but it can muddy rather than clarify an issue. He points out
that this is a particular problem when reporters look for a counter
opinion for scientific elements of a controversy ˇ some of which have
risen to the level of consensus. In those cases, you can end up with a
number of well-informed, well-regarded scientists being countered by a
communications spokesperson for an activist group, he says. "In some ways,
it's an easy and lazy way to cover a controversial story."

But, Aidala sees an even more important reason why scientific
controversies get short shrift in the modern media: scientific
controversies are rarely just about science.

"The most tricky science questions have a lot of nuance ˇ a lot of which
isn't strictly scientific," Aidala notes. "If there are 15 key things in a
given controversy, it is difficult to reflect all that complicated reality
into a 10 column inch story or 2 minute news piece."

"When I hear the words Űscientific controversy,' I automatically think
there is some kind of policy implication for a particular scientific
finding," Aidala says. "In other words, people are seeing some finding as
relevant to their lives. And there are human judgments involved in
figuring out what to do about that finding."

The problem is, Aidala notes, most reporters don't understand what goes
into making those human judgments and, as a result, don't adequately
convey those realities to the public.

"For many important health issues the whole concept of risk is lost in the
story because journalists often didn't pay attention in their statistics
class," Aidala notes. "To me, that is one of the underlying reasons why
scientific controversy is so poorly covered in the media. Tough science
issues are difficult to understand and many reporters are ill-equipped to
translate these stories into the modern media format."

Aidala admits that this problem is abating as more specialized journalism
programs have been established. Unfortunately, these specialized programs
don't solve the problem because many scientific controversies contain
considerable political elements that remain unreported.

"Scientific journalists may feel they are on safer turf or are more
personally interested in the science of the story," Aidala says. "One of
the really interesting things about regulating science-based issues [as
opposed to some other issues] is the extent to which Congress dumps these
problems in the lap of the bureaucracy. That is a story which is rarely


'Science Reporting Needs to Consider the Social Context of Controversy'

- Sheila Jasanoff, http://pewagbiotech.org/buzz/display.php3?StoryID=88

When Sheila Jasanoff considers whether modern media are equipped to handle
scientific controversy, she finds herself first considering the definition
of a scientific controversy.

"I believe there is a difference between a scientific controversy which
occurs in the lab among active scientists in a particular field and a
social controversy with substantial scientific content," Jasanoff says.
"If we are really considering a social controversy with scientific
content, then the scientific dispute is often the surrogate for
controversy over socially relevant and deep-seated value differences."

The inherent problem, as Jasanoff sees it, is that media reporting tends
to present a distorted image of science. "These Űscientific controversies'
are often reported as binary problems and that oversimplifies what are
usually very complex situations," she points out.

By focusing on one part of the problem ˇ the scientific content of an
issue such as genetically modified foods, reporters end up ignoring a host
of socially important aspects, such as intellectual property protections,
wealth and knowledge disparities, and the ethics of the technology. As a
result, many of these important facets of the debate aren't adequately
reflected in the media.

In addition, she sees the media convention of providing two opposing views
ˇ often times presenting them with equal weight ˇ as a disservice to the
public. "I believe that the media has improved," she notes. "And, that
much more is being done to show the full range of opinions and where they
are coming from, but there is still more that could be done."

Jasanoff also notes that Americans tend to be skeptical about experts and
often don't trust them to analyze data without bias. Jasanoff believes
that by ignoring the complexities of many so-called scientific debates,
modern media deprive the public of the total context in which science is
produced, exacerbating the public's general skepticism.

Jasanoff notes that science has become important enough that people study
the scientific enterprise itself. She thinks that reporters should look to
the people who study the social and historical aspects of science to
provide a more comprehensive picture of the issues at stake in a so-called
scientific controversy.

"In any area of science there is a diversity of scientific practice and
standards that change over time," she notes. "Even the most eminent
scientists will tell you that their findings are always provisional. For
reporters to lose sight of this does a real disservice and overlooks the
infinitely rich and very human context in which science is done."

(Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Harvard
University's John F. Kennedy School of Government)


Von Humboldt Honorees: Saving Hawaii's Papaya

- AgBiotech Buzz, Vol. 2, #11, Dec 20, 2002

It's a long cold journey from the Big Island of Hawaii to Cornell
University in Ithaca, New York. It's also hard to imagine saving one of
your home state 's industries from 6,000 miles away. But, that's exactly
what Dennis Gonsalves, now director of the USDA's Pacific Basin
Agricultural Research Center, did.

Gonsalves spearheaded a team that created a genetically-engineered papaya
that was resistant to a virus that had been devastating Hawaii's papaya
industry. For this, the team was awarded the 2002 Alexander von Humboldt
Award for Agriculture. The von Humboldt award is presented annually to the
person judged to have made the most significant contribution to American
agriculture during the previous five years. The von Humboldt Foundation
was founded by Alfred Toepfer (1894-1993), a German grain merchant and
philanthropist, and named in honor of Alexander von Humboldt, the
19th-century German naturalist and geographer.

Fellow honorees include University of Hawaii's Richard M. Manshardt;
Maureen Fitch, an Agricultural Research Service co-investigator based in
Oahu; and Jerry Slightom of Pharmacia Company, who is based in Kalamazoo,
Mich. "This is a really satisfying story," Gonsalves says. "It really
shows the impact of what biotechnology can do."

The islands of Hawaii provide fertile soil for a host of tropical
delicacies such as mango, pineapple, macadamia nuts, and coffee.
Especially prized is the Hawaiian papaya █ a small, golden creamy fruit of
such exceptional quality that it commands a premium in export markets and
represents the state's second largest fruit crop. In the 1940's, the
papaya crop in Oahu was devastated by a new insect-born virus █ the papaya
ring spot virus (PRSV). Once a mature plant was infected with PRSV, its
leaves began to wilt and it produced fruit with little sugar and a mottled
skin. When PRSV infects a young plant, it kills it.

The virus slowly spreads until all of the papaya are infected," Manshardt
says. "In Hawaii, that meant the papaya industry moved [to different]
islands. Today, the industry is based on the Big Island of Hawaii in the
Puna district." The problem was, even the island of Hawaii proved only a
temporary respite from PRSV. In the late 1970s, the first PRSV was
detected on the Big Island. The area was 19 miles away from the papaya
fields in the Puna district; however, Hawaii was beginning to develop
rapidly and physical distance wouldn't long be a barrier to PRSV.

Gonsalves, a plant virologist, heard of the problem on Hawaii when he was
home visiting from Cornell, where he was then teaching. "The dean [at the
University of Hawaii] asked me to start working on the papaya ring spot
virus," Gonsalves says. "I wanted to do it because if the virus got into
the fields at Puna, that would be the end of the industry."

Gonsalves set about trying to create a mild strain of the virus that
wouldn' t kill the plant. The hope was to inoculate the papaya with the
mild strain and prevent the devastating strain from infecting and killing
the plant. When a new virus breaks out, the first thing plant breeders do
is try to find resistant plants and see if a hybrid can tolerate the
infection or fend it off. Researchers in Florida even managed to develop
such a strain of hybrid. Unfortunately, it produced very little fruit and
didn't taste very good.

Richard Manshardt, who admits "no one starts out wanting to be a papaya
breeder," joined the University of Hawaii in 1983 and began to widely
cross wild papaya with Hawaiian papaya varieties to develop a resistant
plant. "Everything I tried resulted in sterile plants," Manshardt said.
"This problem really couldn't be addressed with conventional plant
breeding." Gonsalves initially had better luck. He managed to create a
mild virus that resulted in only about a 20 percent reduction and yield,
but still produced a fruit that was acceptable to the farmers. It didn't
offer complete protection from PRSV and it required all seedlings to be
inoculated by hand before transplanting into the field █ a very
labor-intensive process.

Nevertheless, growers used the method for several years. In the mid 1980s,
Jerry Slightom was working for Upjohn (now a part of Pharmacia and soon to
become a part of Pfizer) to characterize the PRSV coat protein. PRSV
infects not only papaya but all cucurbits: plants like watermelon,
cucumber, zucchini and winter squashes. Slightom's goal was to develop
genetically engineered cucumber, squash and melon. Gonsalves saw that he,
Slightom, Manshardt and Manshardt's graduate student Maureen Fitch █ a
specialist in plant tissue culture █ had the skills needed to solve the
PRSV problem. "We had a very good range of expertise," Gonsalves said. "We
were very, very pragmatic about our approach. And we were very motivated
because instead of waiting for the problem to happen, we had a potential
problem that we were going to avert."

The team was going to attempt to use "pathogen-derived resistance" to
protect the papaya from PRSV. In other words, they intended to insert
viral genes into the papaya which would prevent the virus from infecting
the plant, creating a sort of immunization. They decided to insert one of
the viral coat proteins into the papaya genome. "The dogma was you had to
have the plant produce the protein in order to get resistance," Gonsalves
said. A colleague at Cornell, John Sanford, worked with the gene gun, and
the group "shot" the viral DNA into young embryos from papaya seeds of the
commercial Hawaiian solo cultivar 'Sunset.' In 1991, the group identified
a papaya strain that was resistant to PRSV. "We had thought that the
resistant plants would produce [large quantities] of virus protein," says
Gonsalves. "Instead, we found that even the plants with very, very low
concentrations of the protein still had protection from PRSV."

The team had discovered a natural plant mechanism that recognized the
messages from foreign DNA to produce foreign protein and destroyed those
messages before the protein could be made. Gonsalves says the foreign DNA
in the transgenic papaya set this "immunity" mechanism into play. "Two
critical things happened in 1992," says Gonsalves. "First, we started a
small-scale field study in April. By December, all of the control papaya
plants had died while the transgenic papaya was resistant to PRSV, and the
fruit quality was high."

Things on the Big Island weren't going so well, however. By 1994, PRSV had
invaded the Puna district and began to decimate the Hawaiian papaya
industry. In 1994, the team began a larger field trial to test the
transgenic papaya (called SunUp) and a hybrid of the transgenic papaya and
the dominant Hawaiian cultivar Kapoho. The hybrid was known as Rainbow.
The field trial showed that all the control plants became infected after
11 months while none of the transgenic plants were infected even after 35
months. "The problem now became how could the transgenic papaya [be
permitted onto the market] before Hawaii's papaya industry was lost,"
Gonsalves said. The team began the consultation with regulators in 1995.
The effort required that the team also clear all licensing and
commercialization issues. By May 1998, Hawaiian growers were planting
SunUp and Rainbow.

"This was kind of a race to solve this problem," Gonsalves says. "The
growers are very satisfied with the transgenic papaya." SunUp and Rainbow
are only on the market in the United States. Japan still hasn't allowed
the papaya to be marketed although both Gonsalves and Manshardt believe
such an approval is forthcoming. For more information, visit the USDA


Let's Not Escalate the 'Frankenfood' War

- Julia A. Moore & Gilbert Winham, The Christian Science Monitor, December
20, 2002

While Washington is obsessed with the prospect of invading Iraq, a less
frightening - but economically and politically costly - battle is shaping
up between the US and Europe. In the next few weeks, the White House is
due to decide whether to take legal action against the European Union (EU)
in the World Trade Organization (WTO) over agricultural biotechnology.

The issue is genetically modified (GM) food. In the US, genetic
engineering is used to grow more food using less labor, tilling, and
pesticides. Sixty percent of the world's soybeans and 20 percent of its
corn are GM crops, grown mostly in the US and Argentina. The European
public calls GM products "Frankenstein food." They're afraid it could pose
a health threat, or create an environmental disaster where genes jump from
GM crops to wild plants and reduce biodiversity or create superweeds. For
four years, Europe has held up new approvals of US exports of
"Frankenfood." Europe's parliament voted in July to require extensive
labeling and traceability of food containing genetically modified
organisms - even if no remnants of genetic modification are detectable.

The Washington rumor mill contends that US Trade Representative Robert
Zoellick will file a WTO case against Europe in early 2003 - even though
the Europeans have agreed to no immediate retaliation on US steel
protections and foreign corporate tax credits. Bets are that a WTO case
will ignite a trade war - jeopardizing $ 16.6 billion annually in
US-European agricultural trade, endangering efforts to liberalize world
trade, and further straining relations with European allies.

The US has a real grievance. With European public confidence in food
safety badly shaken by foot-and-mouth and mad- cow disease, no new GM
products have been authorized for use in Europe since 1998. European Union
officials admit this is likely illegal under WTO rules and hurts largely
US farm exporters. In an effort to restart the approval process by
addressing public concerns over consumer choice and environmental
protection, the EU in 2001 proposed burdensome new rules for biotech food
and animal feed labeling and for "farm-to-fork" traceability measures on

Mr. Zoellick says these labeling and traceability proposals go "far beyond
health protections for consumers" and create "onerous and impractical
regulatory barriers." The US position is that GM food is safe. It cleared
all regulatory hurdles set by the Food and Drug Administration, the
Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, and
international health and safety bodies.

Even Zoellick's European counterpart, Pascal Lamy, concedes that European
research suggests GM foods present little risk. Given that polls show 95
percent of Europe's consumers are wary of GM food and strongly favor
labeling, it's certain the EU wouldn't implement a WTO decision favoring
the US. The US could retaliate, but it could backfire.

A WTO case would play into the hands of European environmental
organizations, consumer groups, and politicians who portray the US as the
world's fast-food superpower trying to force an unwelcome technology down
European throats. It also would be a setback for European scientists and
leaders working for a more reasoned public debate over biotechnology.

The crux of the problem is that in a free world economy where the consumer
is king, Europe's consumers don't want GM food. It's possible this problem
can be surmounted, but it largely must be done by Europeans themselves. A
WTO case by the US would only make a bad situation worse.
* Julia A. Moore is public policy scholar at the Wilson Center in
Washington. Gilbert Winham is the Eric Dennis memorial professor of
government and political science at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Novia


Trying to Stop Vampire Hysteria

- Reuters, December 23, http://news.excite.com/ (Sent by Andrew Apel)

Blantyre - A bizarre rumor that Malawi's government is colluding with
vampires to collect human blood for international aid agencies in exchange
for food has led to a rash of vigilante violence. President Bakili Muluzi
accused unnamed opposition politicians on Sunday of spreading the vampire
stories to try to undermine his government, already hit by political
protests and widespread food shortages.

Vampire paranoia has sparked several attacks on suspected bloodsuckers,
despite official efforts to kill the rumor. Last week a man accused of
helping vampires was stoned to death and three Roman Catholic priests were
beaten up by villagers who suspected them of being bloodsuckers. Both
attacks happened in the southern tea-growing district of Thyolo.

Muluzi told a news conference on Sunday the vampire stories were malicious
and irresponsible. "No government can go about sucking blood of its own
people," he said. "That's thuggery." The rumors have increased political
tensions in the country, one of the 10 poorest in the world, where
protests have already broken out over Muluzi's efforts to stay in office
for another five years.

Muluzi said the rumors were also affecting economic activity in four
southern districts as agricultural workers stayed indoors.


How Healthy is the World?

- Bj»rn Lomborg, 1462 British Medical Journal Vol. 325, December 21-28
2002; bmj.com
(sent by Antonio Gaspari )

Summary: Life expectancy and prosperity have risen in developed and
developing countries over the past 50 years and are expected to continue
to rise Food production should keep up with population growth without
greatly encroaching on forest area Available energy resources are
increasing Pollution is likely to fall as countries become wealthier The
Kyoto agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will have little effect
on global warming Troubled planet (Danish Environmental Assessment
Institute, Linn╚sgade 18, DK - 1361 Copenhagen K, Denmark; Bj»rn Lomborg
- Director; bjorn@lomborg.com)

We are often told that we are destroying our environment and that living
conditions are deteriorating. The author of The Skeptical Environmentalist
looks at global data and comes up with a more optimistic view In The
Skeptical Environmentalist I set out to describe the entire state of the
world in a single book.

This was by no means easy, and so I was a bit hesitant when the BMJ asked
me to do the same againşonly this time in 1500 words. So how can the true
state of the world be reduced to 1500 words? Of course, it cannot be. But
by relying on official statistics, global trends, and long term tendencies
(what I usually refer to as fundamentals), we can draw a reasonably good
picture. However, not everything can be fitted into this picture, and this
article will focus on human welfare. Measuring human welfare is complex
because it consists of a myriad of interrelated subjective and objective

I will therefore focus on international acknowledged objective indicators
of human welfare such as life expectancy, prosperity, and the fulfillment
of basic needs. Life expectancy One of the central aspects of human
welfare is life itself. Life expectancy is a proxy for the general state
of health, but it also possesses an intrinsic value. Figure 1 shows the
remarkable increase in life expectancy for the developing world over the
past 50 years, from 41 years in 1950 to 64.7 years in 2002. For the
developed world, the progress has been more modest because life expectancy
had already soared at the beginning of the last century. The current life
expectancy for countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD) is 76.8 years.

Figure 1 also shows the expected development in life expectancy over the
next 50 years, incorporating the adverse effects of AIDS and HIV. By 2020,
life expectancy in the developing world will pass the 70 years barrier,
causing the world's life expectancy to continue to climb. The United
Nations' populations division projects that in 2080, the world's life
expectancy will be more than 80 years.

Prosperity Income is a good indicator of welfare because it expands the
range of opportunities open to people and allows them to live a better
life. Although wealth might not always make you happier, it at least
ensures freedom from famine and material deprivationşissuesthat play a
huge part in many people's lives. The gross domestic product per capita
(in 1985 power purchase parity dollars) has increased by over 200% for
both the developed world and the developing world over the past 50 years
(fig 2). The increase in gross domestic product per capita has been
accompanied by a fall in worldwide poverty. According to the United
Nations, 'in the past 50 years, poverty has fallen more than in the
previous 500.'

Whether inequality has also fallen is more debatable, since inequality is
highly sensitive to the choice of population quintiles and the method of
comparison. As for the future, all official international organisations
predict an exponential rise in worldwide income and decreasing inequality
as the growth rates of developing countries outpace those of
industrialized countries in next 50 years. 5-7 General increase in welfare
Other improvements in welfare during the past 50 years include heightened
educational levels and literacy, more political and civil rights, and
increased accessibility to technological innovations such as the vacuum
cleaner, radio, television, computers, and the Internet. In general,
humankind has had an unprecedented increase in welfare. And not only that.
Every single region has experienced an increase in welfare. Of the more
than 100 countries that are included in the United Nations Development
Programme's human development report, only one (Zambia) experienced a drop
in human development from 1975 to 1999.

All other countries had improved Fig 1 Life expectancy for industrialised
countries, developing countries, sub-Saharan Africa, and entire world 1950
- 2050. Predictions from 2000 incorporate effects of HIV and AIDS 1 Fig 2
Gross domestic product per capita for the developed and developing world
in 1985 power purchase parity dollars, 1950 - 95 1 Fig 3 Daily energy
intake (MJ) per capita in industrial and developing countries and world,
1961 - 2030. 1 Predicted values from 1998 onwards human development, and
the developing countries had by far the largest increase. Although most
indicators show that humankind's lot has vastly improved, this does not
mean that everything is good enough.

Can the development continue? The interesting question is whether this
development can continue. As I noted above, the main official
international organisations predict that welfare will improve in all

Yet, many people believe that we live on borrowed time and that everything
is getting worse. Let us examine the two major concerns of todayş whether
we can feed a future population and the consequences of our use of energy.
Will we have enough food in future? One major concern is whether the world
will be capable of feeding a growing population. Firstly, it is important
to emphasise that the rate of population growth has fallen to 1.26% in
2000, down from the record high of 2.17% in 1964.

Even the absolute number of people added to the world peaked in 1990 at 87
million; it is now 76 million a year and still falling. Secondly, there is
no reason to expect that food production will not keep up with future
population growth as it has done in the past. Figure 3 shows the
development of worldwide energy intake per capita from the 1960s and
depicts the positive trend up to 2030. Some argue that satisfying our need
for food could turn the earth into a giant human feedlot.

However, according to estimates from the Food and Agriculture
Organization, we are currently using about 11% of the global land surface
area for agriculture, and in 2030 we will be feeding more than 8 billion
people better than now (13 MJ/day compared with about 11.8 MJ today) by
using 12% of the land surface.

Thus, there is reason to believe that the increase in cropland areas will
be minimalşjust as it has been in the past 40 years. The world's forest
cover is therefore likely to remain stable into the future, just as it has
done over the past 50 years (fig 4). In fact, almost all the UN climate
panel scenarios predict that it will increase in the future.

Use of energy The worries we have about the world's energy consumption
have changed in recent years. Previously, we worried about running out of
energy, but these concerns turned out to have little merit. Not only has
the availability of oil, coal, and natural gases increased throughout this
century, but we also leave the Fig 5 World's known oil reserves and world
oil production 1920 - 2000. Total reserves until 1944 are for America only
and after 1944 for entire world 1 Fig 4 UN Food and Agriculture
Organization estimates of global forest cover: forest and woodlands, 1948
- 94 (from FAO Production Yearbook) and 1961 - 94 (from FAO database),
closed forest for 1980 - 95, and new unified forest definition 1990 - 2000

Fig 6 Connection between gross domestic product (1985 purchasing power
parity dollars) and particle pollution and sulphur dioxide concentrations
in 48 cities in 31 countries, 1972 and 1986 generation of tomorrow with
many more sources of energy (including renewables). In short, we are not
running out but rather leaving the world with ever more energy. Figure 5
shows the increase in the world's oil reserves from 1850 until now. The
picture is the same for vital minerals (non - energy resources) such as
copper, zinc, aluminium, and iron.

In both cases, the reason for the increased availability is that we have
improved our ability to find more resources, to use them more efficiently,
and eventually to substitute other and more efficient sources. Ecological
consequences Concern has therefore shifted towards the ecological
consequences of our energy use. As Greenpeace put it: "We are in the a
second world oil - crisis. But in the 1970s the problem was a shortage of
oil. This time round the problem is that we have too much."

The use of fossil fuels leads to air pollution, which constitutes a health
hazard to residents of large industrialised cities. The infamous London
smog is an example of extreme air pollution. Empirical evidence suggests,
however, that air pollution is more correlated with income than with
energy consumption. As income rises beyond a certain point, the
concentrations of major air pollutants fall rapidly despite an increase in
energy consumption (fig 6). Also note that pollution for all levels of
income has fallen from 1972 to 1986, which can be ascribed to the
technological advances combined with increased political action to reduce
pollution. Thus, in richer cities, smog is a thing of the past as almost
every type of air pollution has fallen significantly. This is evident in
London, where smoke pollution today is the lowest for 450 years (fig 7).
Other energy problems There are other problems with the use of energy,
however. One important problem is that the emission of carbon dioxide
causes global warming. With renewable energy taking over before 2100, the
UN Climate Panel estimates a temperature increase of 2-3âC.

Global warming is not expected to have a severe impact on human welfare as
a whole. The total cost of global warming for the next 100 years is
estimated at $5 trillion, which compares with a total expected income of
$800 - $900 trillion in the same period.

However, the rise in temperature is projected to have little net impact on
the industrialised world but a fairly severe impact on the developing
world. Countries agreeing to the Kyoto protocol have promised to cut
industrialised carbon emissions by 30% of the expected level in 2010. The
global costs will be large: the estimates from all macroeconomic cost -
benefit models show a cost of $150 - $350bn every year.

Yet, the benefits will be marginal. The climate models show that the Kyoto
protocol will affect temperature imperceptibly even 100 years from now,
postponing the temperature rise a mere six years from 2100 to 2106.

If our goal is to improve welfare, especially in the developing world,
reducing carbon emissions is not the most effective way. For the same
amount of money that the Kyoto protocol will cost just the European Union
every year, the UN estimates that we could provide every person in the
world with access to basic health, education, family planning, and water
and sanitation services.

Access to clean drinking water and sanitation alone would save nearly two
million lives each year and prevent half a billion diseases annually.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of the
Danish Environmental Institute.

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Figure 6 is reproduced by kind permission of Oxford University Press.
Competing interests: BL has received fees for speaking at meetings ranging
from the oil industry through university environmental programmes to
debates with Greenpeace and WWF, all organisations which are likely to be
affected by the outcomes of the debate.

Fig 7 Average concentrations of sulphur dioxide and smoke in London, 1585
- 1995. Data for 1585 - 1935 are estimated from coal imports and have been
adjusted to the average of measured data