Today in AgBioView: February 18, 2003
* African View: Technology is the Seed of 'Food for All'
* Philippines: Bishop's Gambit on GMOs
* Isn't There A Chemical Spray for Meacher Blight?
* Comments on Meacher by Livermore and Roush
* Britons and Vitalism
* UK: GM Farmer Denies Gun Threat to BBC
* The Chloroplast Transformation Story; and Media Song and Dance
* No One to Tell Our Tale
* Re: First Evidence of Horizontal Gene Transfer?
* New Educational Curriculum on Bt Crops
* The Worst Form of Violence
* Greenpeace USA Aims To Be A 'Credible Threat'
* GM Foods: Debating Biotechnology
* Dolly: Superstar Sheep Shuffle Off, Leaving Scientists Split
* Goodbye Dolly - You Leave The World A Better Place
Technology is the Seed of Food for All
- Sunday Times, Africa News Services, Feb 17, 2003
We have most of the toys but we don't want you to play with them. That
seemed to be the unspoken message from European opponents of biotechnology
at a two-day conference in Brussels recently.
To the European public, the men and women advocating biotechnology are
either arrogant and evil scientists tampering with nature, or plain
foolish - as one delegate put it, monkeys playing with matches.
Philippe Busquin, European commissioner for research, acknowledged that
scientists are suspected of having a secret agenda, but countered that
while science and technology move on, much of the world still lives in
poverty. He sketched the dilemma facing developing countries: if they
produce genetically modified products, such as sugar, they risk losing
European markets. If they don't, they risk being uncompetitive.
The recent experience of Zambia seems to indicate that developing
countries can't even accept GM food as a gift for fear of offending
European importers. But genetic modification is not about boosting
exports. What the developing world seeks is improved crops to feed people
- with foods they know.
At present, 12 crops provide 90% of mankind's diet. Biotechnology provides
the opportunity to develop a far wider range from nature, including local
crops favoured by indigenous peoples and of little interest to giant seed
companies and commercial producers.
The developing world owns the vast majority of the gene bank. But, as
Kenyan scientist Florence Wambugu pointed out, having the biological
diversity is of no use if you do not have the technology to unlock it. And
the First World has the technology. Maize, cotton, canola and soya are the
main commercial GM crops being grown at present, but a cassava plant that
is immune to pests, for instance, would benefit Central Africa, where it
is the staple food.
Plants can also be modified to increase their vitamin and mineral content
in order to reduce malnutrition. This is done by introducing a gene into a
plant - which could already have about 25 000 genes - in order to add
another characteristic. The hybridising of plants has done this over
centuries, now it can be done at once.
There are 3,500 varieties of cassava alone, and the entire botanical gene
pool is vast. Such biotechnology is seen as essential to feed the growing
population of the planet without destroying its resources, although all
agree it is just part of an agricultural programme that must include
traditional knowledge, soil conservation and organic farming.
Professor Ismael Serageldin, director of the library of Alexandria in
Egypt, pointed out that the world would need 40% more grain to feed itself
by 2020, and subSaharan Africa would need 10.5% more by the same date. As
organic peasant farming cannot meet the demand, the only way to achieve
this is through increased yields.
There is not much more arable land left on the planet - unless
biotechnology solves the problem of farming on acid soils, which make up
40% of the world's arable lands. If sugar cane became more resistant to
cold, far more could be grown to produce both food and ethanol as an
alternative to petrol.
But African and other delegates at the Brussels conference were adamant
that they set their own biotechnology agendas. The needs of ordinary
farmers, especially women, who produce 80% of Africa's food, must also be
taken into account.
There are already a number of African research projects like the
University of Cape Town's Professor Jennifer Thompson's drought-resistant
maize and Wambugu's work on virus- and weevil-resistant sweet potatoes.
And a number of diseases - such as Sigatoka disease in bananas, mosaic
disease in cassava and Aflatoxin mould on harvested maize - could have
devastating effects on food crops if no genetic "cure" is found for them.
But opponents of GM crops argue that there is no food shortage in the
world - only distribution problems.
Louise Fresco, of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, said that
although there was no convincing evidence of negative effects of GM
organisms on humans so far, that was not proof that there were none.
Scientific evaluation of risks all along the food chain was the only way
to win the public's acceptance.
But genetic modification is happening irrespective of whether Europe has a
moratorium on its products, and the Brussels conference only just avoided
descending into the European row that has been going on for two decades.
"We are using it, our governments are supporting it, we are here to ask
how you can help," an irritated Wambugu told delegates.
David McConnell, of Trinity College, Dublin, expressed the fear that
Europe's polarised debate was in danger of being exported to the rest of
the world. "We are going to be doing great damage to the developing
countries," he warned.
Biotechnology has yet to produce substantial results of interest to
developing countries, but this will change as they do their own research.
It is happening, Pandora's box is open.
Bishop's Gambit on GMOs
- Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 18, 2003
The Regional Forum on Biotechnology and Genetically Modified Organisms
(GMOs) that was held two days ago in Davao, jointly sponsored by Sen. Nene
Pimentel, the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), and the
Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines (BCP), was the fifth of its
kind. But it was the first time that one of the speakers was a cleric-and
a bishop at that.
Bishop Jesus Varela of Sorsogon, reputed to be among the more conservative
members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP),
surprised many of his 200-odd audience-which included Bishop Guillermo
Afable of Digos and Bishop Romulo Valles of Kidapawan-when he gave about
as enthusiastic an imprimatur to GMOs as can be expected from a
The good bishop wasn't buying the position of what he called the
Anti-Global Environmentalists (AGEs), which he described as one that looks
at all new technology as a new form of oppression, which considers its
products as motivated solely by profit for domination, and which regards
it as an undue tampering with the sacredness of nature.
Neither, however, would he support the stand of what he called the
Scientistic Utilitarians (SUs), which is diametrically opposed to that of
the AGEs, considering every new technogy as a sign of progress, and uphold
the supremacy of science and technology over nature.
Instead, Bishop Varela chooses Christian Environmentalism, a term he
coined to describe the ethical framework of analysis he adopts. The latter
advocates Custody (preserving the integrity of nature), Stewardship
(responsible use of material things) and Right Ordering (establishing
reasonable criteria and guidelines-emphasis on reasonable) for the
exercise of the first two. The guidelines include sustainable development;
thorough cost-benefit analysis; and keeping science at the service of man,
and not vice-versa.
Applying these to GMOs, the bishop concludes that indeed, GMOs can help
provide a humane solution to the global problem of hunger and
malnutrition. He points to indicators showing that GMOs can significantly
improve crop yields, offer an environmentally friendly alternative to
artificial pesticides, improve the nutritional properties of food, remove
allergies and toxins contained in conventional foods, as well as improve
quality. At the same time, says he, GMO products go through more safety
and health testing, before they are released, than any of the other foods
According to BCP president Benigno D.Peczon (a Chemistry Ph.D. from Purdue
University), the findings (two volumes of documents) of the Vatican's
Pontifical Academy for Life two-year study and discussion of genetic
modification bolster Varela's stance. An excerpt: "We are increasingly
encouraged that the advantages of genetically engineered plants and
animals are greater than the risks. The risks should be carefully followed
through with openness, analysis and control but with no sense of alarm. We
give it a prudent yes. We cannot agree with the position of some groups
that say it is against the will of God to meddle with the genetic makeup
of plants and animals."
However, the bishop's stand is not universally held by his CBCP peers.
Bishop Honesto Pacana of Malaybalay wrote a letter, read in the same
forum, listing several objections and reservations to GMO use. One doesn't
know how the two bishops in the audience reacted to the Varela position,
but at least some of the audience at the forum, and certainly some sectors
which Varela would categorize as AGEs, actively oppose GMOs.
Which is why Bishop Varela proposes "a top-level, open to the public,
dialogue between pro-GMO and anti-GMO scientists-bona fide scientists with
university credentials," which he hopes will "put the minds of the
worriers at rest and settle once and for all the question of the safety of
GMO foods, Bt-corn in particular."
In the meantime, though, the Philippines, after several fits and starts,
joined this year the 16 other countries that grow transgenic (genetically
modified) crops. Which may be a good move, because the growth of the
global area planted to these crops has been nothing short of
phenomenal-from 1.7 million hectares in 1996, when GMO crops were first
planted, to 58.7 million hectares in 2002, a 35-fold increase in that
seven-year period. The number of countries growing these crops rose from 6
in 1996, to 16 in 2002, with India joining last year. All six continents
of the world grow GMO crops-although Europe lags far behind the others.
Will taking the GMO road be economically beneficial to Filipino farmers?
It is too soon to find out, as the first harvest (Bt corn) will take place
only in about 90 days. But Agriculture Secretary Cito Lorenzo should take
heart from the experience of South African cotton farmers. Between the
adopters and the non-adopters, the latter's yield was 40 percent more than
the former's; the seed requirement was 19 percent lower, the yield per kg
of seed planted was 91 percent higher, the pesticide cost was 36 percent
lower. True, seed costs were 68 percent higher, but the bottom line shows
a gross margin that was 58 percent higher.
If we get anything like that with transgenic crops in this country, we
won't be eating the other countries' dust for long.
Isn't There A Chemical Spray for Meacher Blight?
- Mick Hume, The Times (UK,) Feb17, 2003 (Sent by Andrew Apel)
Crackpots declaring that "the end of the world is nigh" are nothing new.
But that notion is no longer the preserve of religious zealots or sci-fi
fantasists. It now seems to be the position of a government minister --
Michael Meacher. And the weapons of mass destruction that Mr Meacher is
most worried about are you and I.
While attention has focused elsewhere, the Environment Minister appears to
have launched an evangelical mission, preaching that we are in danger of
destroying our world through the advance of science and new technologies.
In a speech last week he speculated that man-made global warming could
"make our planet uninhabitable". "We are the virus" infecting the Earth's
body, he said, concluding that "this is the first time that a species has
been at risk of generating its own demise". In an interview to be
published today in the Ecologist magazine, Meacher says that genetically
modified (GM) crop technology could pose "totally unpredicted problems".
There is talk of Meacher resigning because of his isolation within the
Government. His recent statements certainly read like a suicide note for
our species, never mind for his career. Yet far from being, as he has
previously suggested, "a lone voice in the wilderness", the "very, very
cautious" Mr Meacher speaks for a powerful current of very, very cautious
opinion today. Its views are a man-made virus that, allowed to go
unchecked, could prove more destructive of civilised society than any
Take the question of GM technologies, now back in the news as the
Government tries to sponsor a wider debate. Although Britain's
controversial field-scale trials are supposed to be investigating the
impact of GM crops on insects, slugs, snails, weeds and the like, this
issue has never really been about those things. It is about humanity, and
how far we aspire to rise above that which crawls upon the earth.
Meacher puts the case for an, err, sluggish approach to human progress in
his Ecologist interview. Arguing that, for the past quarter million years,
"we have been feeding ourselves perfectly adequately since overcoming
problems of hunger in our early existence", he concludes "GM is not
necessary". Which, indeed, it is not. By the same token, of course, steam
engines, electric lights, aircraft, television and the internet were "not
necessary" for us to carry on "feeding ourselves perfectly adequately" in
our cosy caves and hovels.
Not satisfied with lowering our expectations of scientific and social
progress, the fashionable doctrine espoused by Meacher the preacher also
threatens to degrade democracy. In his interview, he implies that his
colleague, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, Under Secretary for Science and
Innovation, cannot be trusted to be objective about GM since he has links
with the biotech industries (that is, he knows something about the stuff).
Yet Meacher and his allies have been keen to subject policy on GM to the
influence of other unelected, unaccountable interests -- the
environmental and consumer lobby groups.
The director of one anti-GM group, GeneWatch, recently expressed the hope
that new Labour's openness to consulting such organisations might "change
the way we do democracy". Indeed it might "do democracy" altogether, by
giving the casting vote to parasitical eco-groups.
What motivates the Meacherites (like just about every protest movement
today) is the obsession with avoiding risk. It remains to be seen whether
the Government will stand up to them. Let us hope this is a battle Tony
Blair is prepared to fight with the determination he seems to reserve for
If the doom-mongers get their way, the end of the world will not be nigh,
but it might just feel as though it is.
Meacher Interview with the Ecologist
A little background on politics and the environment in the UK: Re:
Interview with Michael Meacher, UK environment minister, published in the
latest edition of the Ecologist (posted to AgBioView yesterday). Meacher
has eminently green credentials and has served as environment minister for
a number of years. He was previously advised by Stephen Tyndale, currently
head of Greenpeace UK.
Despite Meacher's known sympathies, he has carefully toed the government
line on crop biotechnology in public. However, this interview has led to
suggestions that he might resign and influence the debate from the back
benches, where he would be free to speak his mind. This has been denied,
but such a clear statement puts him at odds with official government
policy (in spirit if not in precise wording), and such a position would
normally be a resigning matter.
Of course, politicians have personal opinions, which do not always
coincide with official policy. If the Environment minister was someone who
made it clear he supported biotechnology, most readers of this newsletter
would be pleased, but a vocal minority of the UK public would be very
unhappy indeed. It therefore suits the government to have Meacher in
place, as long as he doesn't rock the boat too much. He will probably stay
in place until the government makes a decision on an environmental issue
which he finds intolerable. Interestingly, the government is in the
process of dropping its previous commitment to a target for renewable
energy generation, and I'm not aware of any public criticism from Meacher.
This may all sound rather parochial, but I thought it would be interesting
for at least the non-European readers to see the political context of this
issue in the UK.
From: "Rick Roush"
Dear All: One cannot help but comment on the appearance in one article
after the other of "British Environment Minister Meacher Attacks GM Crops"
and "GM Sugar 'Could Save Jobs'". Meacher reckons that "biotechnology was
not "necessary" to feed the world", and in so saying seems to ignore that
the main benefits to date have been in reducing pesticide use and
production costs, as also suggested in the BBC's piece on GM sugar.
However, why should we worry if Meacher is successful at keeping GM sugar
out of the UK? Perhaps it will take the losses of a few thousand jobs for
the benefits to be clearer in the UK. In the meantime, Australia and the
US use less herbicide anyway in sugar production, and can use the extra
jobs. Go Meacher!
Britons and Vitalism
- Andrew Apel , AgBioView, Feb 18, 2003.
I suspect that British consumers are vitalists, i.e., believers in the
notion that food is nutritious because it conveys a "life force" from a
living (or formerly living) food source to the consumer.
A survey conducted by Britain's Food Standards Agency (FSA), with results
released today, shows that concerns about GM foods continue to rank below
most other concerns--which confirms what I've been saying about the EU's
disingenuous claims about consumer concerns.
In a ranking of eleven food concerns, GM food came in at seventh place,
after (in this order): food poisoning, mad cow disease, the use of
pesticides, the use of food additives, the feed given to livestock and the
conditions under which food animals are raised. Then comes GM food.
These concerns were ranked higher than antibiotics in meat, "healthy
eating," food allergies and irradiated food.
Looking at things scientifically, the notion that GM food would rank lower
than animal welfare invites the notion that concern about GM is minuscule.
After all, when one eats a steak, is it valid to worry if the animal was
happy and had tasty meals?
But looking overall at the whole array of concerns, the presence of animal
welfare in the middle of the mix seems odd. One way to account for the
presence at all of these two factors in the top 11 food worries is that
British consumers ascribe to vitalism at some level. Why else would it be
there? Does happy animals + tasty animal food = nutritious consumer food?
Has anyone ever studied the prevalence of vitalistic notions among British
If you go to http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/cas2002uk.pdf and
thence to page 62 you'll see the data I'm referring to.
UK: GM Farmer Denies Gun Threat to BBC
- Frank Urquhart, Scotsman, feb 18, 2003
The farmer at the centre of Scotland's controversial genetically modified
crop trials yesterday denied threatening to shoot a BBC cameraman planning
to film the latest protest damage at her remote farm. Shirley Harrison
admitted that she had erected a sign warning Danger - Lady Farmer on her
land and told a BBC news executive she had guns under a cupboard and that
she was "out of control".
But she vehemently refuted claims that she had warned the man from the BBC
she was not to be trusted and that she had guns and would use them. Mrs
Harrison told Aberdeen Sheriff Court her remarks had been nothing more
than a "childish and theatrical bluff".
And she spoke of her fear when, later that day, two men claiming to be
police officers arrived at her Aberdeenshire home and removed an arsenal
of weapons and ammunition, stored in a cupboard under her stairs. Included
in the haul was .22 rifle and its silencer, a .243 rifle with a telescopic
sight, and two double-barrelled shotguns. Mrs Harrison, 56, of Newcraig
Farm, Daviot, near Oldmeldrum was giving evidence at the first day of her
civil action against Grampian Police to secure the return of her weapons
and her firearms and shotgun certificates.
She explained that her farm had been attacked on a number of occasions and
crops destroyed by GM protesters after she started a series of field
trials on genetically modified oil seed rape on her farm in April 2000.
Mrs Harrison, who agreed she was a staunch advocate of the use of
genetically modified crops, told Sheriff Colin Harris she had regular
dealings with the media because of the repeated attacks on her crops and
had been contacted by Sandy Bremner, the news editor of the BBC in
Aberdeen, following an incident on 5 October last year in which oil seed
rape had been damaged by protesters.
Full story at http://www.thescotsman.co.uk/index.cfm?id=204412003
The Chloroplast Transformation Story; and Media Song and Dance
- Tawanda Zidenga , AgBioView, Feb 18, 2003
Following the publication of the research by Huang, Ayliffe and Timmis in
Nature recently concerning the direct measurement of the transfer rate of
chloroplast DNA into the nucleus, there has been the expected hogwash from
scientifically illiterate media on the implications of the research to the
GMO debate. Gene jumping from the chloroplast to the nucleus has been
known to occur in biology, so the research does not suggest that "genes
can move from the plant cell's chloroplast into the nucleus." Those of us
who have been closely following biology already knew of the possibility.
What the researchers did was to "measure the rate in real time of bits of
DNA moving into the nucleus." Indeed the frequency turns out to be higher
An article in The Age of Australia on 6 February was entitled "New fears
raised about GM plants." Really? There are certainly new things raised
from the study, but the writer of the article in The Age would have to
tell us which ones of those are fears. It is inaccurate for The Age to
claim that the research shows that a hoped-for method of preventing
"superweeds" does not work. In reaching this "conclusion" (please note
that in science conclusions are based on available data), the writer of
TheAge article deliberately ignored critial aspects of the work done by
Timmis and coworkers. Indeed Dr. Timmis was right when he said it is hard
for the public to intepret such complex science. But in science people who
do not understand ask questions rather than break into song and dance.
The writer forgot to write that one of the genes was being expressed in a
heritable manner in one in 16 000 seedlings because it had been
deliberately equipped with a nuclear-specific promoter. He forgot to
mention that the other gene inserted, which had a chloroplast-specific
promoter, was not expressed in the nucleus. That is why Timmis and team
wrote in their abstract that "DNA transfer without functionality is
presumably more frequent." Not that we expected any good from someone who
thinks a foreign gene "infects" a seed. But there should be better
confirmation of details in our newsrooms. Yet another article on the 6th
of February talked about "secreting genes in cell subcompartment." I'm
still learning science, but are gene really "secreted" into the
choloroplast or anywhere for that matter? This writer also mentioned
matter-of-factly that "chloroplast DNA is not passed on during plant sex."
I think I have to revisit my lectures on maternal inheritance. Meanwhile,
we hope that there will be honest reporting of science in our newsrooms,
and that discussions about GMOs will not be a mindless banter of science
I think there is enough excitement about chloroplast transformation to
keep it in the playfield, if not for transgene containment then for the
high expression levels characteristic of chloroplast transformation, and
the fact that bacterial genes are expressed better in the chloroplast than
in the nucleus.
I think, too, that chloroplast transformation is still a reasonable method
of controlling or minimising gene flow from GM to non-GM plants (called
genetic pollution in activism language). It was never meant to a "magic
bullet" as some are now claiming.
Plant Biotechnology research student, Crop Science Department, University
No One to Tell Our Tale
- Gordon Couger
One hundred years ago science was news worthy and covered in news papers.
Many amateurs made substantial contributions to science and press and
literate population was reasonably well educated on scientific matters of
I can remember a time when science was covered with a great deal more
accuracy and knowledge than it is today. Today there is no source of
consistently good scientific journalism available to the public. Without
one we have no chance of combating the gross distortions that are
presented unchallenged to the public.
We can preach to choir on lists like this and in our journals with no
effect on the public at all. We need to put our views before the people of
world in a professional journalistic manner every day of the week. If
there is a grain of truth to big business having any interest in promoting
GM crops and other good science they need to put their money where their
mouth is and create a blind trust to fund a scientific news paper for the
public that isn't controlled by a green editorial staff and tell our
It seems to be working for FOX news winning the audience from the media
that was afraid to take a stand on the right of issues. I believe it will
work for science as well.
The only way truth can triumph over lies is for the truth to be told. As
far as I can see there are very few telling our tale in the United States
let alone the EU. The only tale being told is what gets in the news paper
and we don't make news.
It is not just genetically modified food. An ever larger number of
teenagers are vegetarians and every year we have fewer of the best
students going into science and engineering. We aren't going to just have
a problem with food we may have a problem maintaining a civilization for
our grand children if we let those that want to oppose technology win.
Re: First Evidence of Horizontal Gene Transfer?
- From Rick Roush (email@example.com)
Dear All: Why is it that so many interesting scientific discoveries are
now to be seen though the lens of supposed relevance to GM? This paper is
another example. Wolbachia are very unusual parasites, often causing
distortions of sex ratios (including all female parthenogenesis in some
wasps, which can sometimes be cured with antibiotic treatments) and
reproductive incompatbilities between different populations of the same
They often seem closely associated with ovaries and eggs, so are in close
proximity to germ cells. One might not be surprised to see horizontal
transfer here, but it seems to me to be a stretch to link this to GM
Some citations :
* Zchori-Fein, E., R. T. Roush, and M. Hunter. 1992. Male production
induced by antibiotic treatment in Encarsia formosa, an asexual species.
Experientia 48: 102-105.
* Zchori-Fein, E., D. Rosen, and R. T. Roush. 1994. Microorganisms
associated with thelytoky in Aphytis lingnanensis Compere (Hymenoptera:
Aphelinidae). Int. J. of Insect Morphology and Embryology 23: 169-172.
* Zchori-Fein, E., R. T. Roush and D. Rosen. 1998. Distribution of
parthenogenesis-inducing symbionts in ovaries and eggs of Aphytis
(Hymenoptera: Aphelinidae). Current Microbiology 36: 1-8.
>> Japanese researches may have found substantial evidence of horizontal
gene transfer from bacteria to eucaryotes. In an article published in the
PNAS science journal in October 2002, they reported the finding of
Wolbachia specific DNA sequences - a beetle parasitic bacterium in the
adzuki bean beetle...... Against the background of the increasing use of
transgenic plants for human consumption, these findings may raise new
questions about the biosafety of transgenic plants.
ISU Provides New Educational Curriculum on Bt Crops
- News Release, Iowa State University Office of Biotechnology; 2-17-03
(Forwarded by Andrew Apel)
AMES, Iowa -- Teachers, extension specialists and anyone else interested
in Bt crops have a new educational resource prepared by Iowa State
University's Office of Biotechnology and published by ISU Extension. The
set of curriculum materials is titled "Bacillus thuringiensis: Sharing Its
Natural Talent With Crops." Genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus
thuringiensis (Bt) have been genetically engineered into crops to provide
insect resistance. Different proteins produced by Bt genes target specific
insect pests, such as
European corn borers in corn and bollworms in cotton. The curriculum's
four modules help high school students and extension youth and adult
audiences: - Explore the science behind Bt crops. - Learn more about the
crops that incorporate Bt. - Examine the agricultural production issues
for Bt crops. - Develop a framework for evaluating ethical, social and
legal questions associated with controversial technologies and issues.
Each curriculum module is designed to be used independently or with the
other modules. For educators, each module contains background information,
lesson plans geared to the National Science Education Standards and 4-H
skills, Internet resources and overhead transparency masters.
Informational handouts and activity handouts that can be photocopied for
students are included.
The curriculum was funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to
Iowa State and eight other institutions in Minnesota, North Dakota, South
Dakota and Wisconsin that are studying the social, economic, and ethical
aspects of biotechnology. To obtain a free compact disc (CD) of the
curriculum, educators in Iowa should contact the Office of Biotechnology,
(515) 294-9818, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone is welcome to
download a free copy of the curriculum from the Internet at
CDs or printed versions of the 324-page curriculum that are
three-hole-punched and ready to be placed in a notebook also can be
purchased from Extension Distribution, 119 Printing and Publications
Building, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011-3171, (515) 294-5247,
fax (515) 294-2945, or e-mail email@example.com. The publication number
is 4H 0949CD for the CD and 4H 0949P for the printed version. Current
prices are 95 cents for a CD and $13.45 for a printed copy, plus shipping
The Worst Form of Violence
- Pete Geddes, Tech Central Station, Feb 17, 2003 (Sent by Andrew Apel)
Poverty is the worst form of violence; this notion comes from the pacifist
philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. The United Nations estimates that to avoid
famine some 13 million of the poorest of the poor in countries across
southern Africa will soon need 1.2 million tons of food aid. Drought,
corruption, dysfunctional political institutions, and war are contributing
Incredibly, nations on the brink of famine are being advised by European
anti-biotechnology groups (e.g., Greenpeace) to reject U.S. food aid. We
see ideologically inspired pseudo-science trumping compassion.
Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa says he's been told that donated American
corn is "poison" because it is genetically engineered (GE). Since 1995,
millions of Americans have consumed food containing GE corn with no
adverse effects. And this is the same food that Europeans eat when they
visit the United States. This misinformation has life-and-death
Nigeria's minister of agriculture and rural development, Hassan Adamu,
recently wrote in the Washington Post: "To deny desperate, hungry people
the means to control their futures by presuming to know what is best for
them is not only paternalistic but morally wrong."
The National Academy of Sciences recently pronounced the GE foods
currently on the market to be as safe as conventional foods. They don't
claim that biotech foods are "risk-free." They simply state the obvious:
"Foods from GE plants can potentially contain allergens or toxins. ...
These risks are not unique to GE foods. People have consumed foods
containing allergens and toxins ... throughout history."
Despite this, radical Greens continue to demand that new technologies not
be adopted until tested for unexpected or unknown risks. But invoking this
"precautionary principle" is paralyzing. It forbids every imaginable
action. This position is logically flawed -- one can't prove a negative.
It attacks the fundamental premise of science.
Modern agriculture enables us to feed the world's 6.2 billion inhabitants.
Indeed, when the global population was much lower, and world agriculture
was dominated by "traditional" methods, famine was common. And progress
continues. In 2000, two-and-a-half acres worked by Iowa's most productive
farmer provided food for 80 people versus just four people in 1900.
The 20th Century was marked by agricultural innovations, including
tractors, chemicals, hybrid seeds, and efficient irrigation. Together with
timely information on weather and prices and better-organized markets,
this raised crop yields. This fed billions more without clearing
If present population trends continue, global population will likely peak
in the 8 to 10 billion range around the middle of this century.
Unfortunately, almost all of the projected growth is predicted to take
place in the already poor, overpopulated regions of Asia, Africa, and
Improving economic conditions in China and India will increase the demand
for more food, especially animal products, e.g., eggs, milk, and meat. In
order to spare the further conversion of native ecosystems, surely a
worthy goal, we must increase productivity on land already under
Consider this: If wheat yields in India fell back to their 1960 levels,
sustaining the present harvest would require clearing an additional area
equal to Montana and half of Idaho. If, however, by the last third of this
century, the world's farmers reach the average yield of today's U.S. corn
grower, the estimated 10 billion people will need only half of today's
cropland. This requires farmers having access to modern technology,
including GE crops.
Ironically, just when plant biotechnology is making significant
contributions to food productivity and environmental safety, it has become
the target of well-coordinated and sustained attacks by many environmental
and self-appointed watchdog groups.
The president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Gordon Conway, is a
distinguished plant ecologist. He strongly believes GE crops can help
solve Africa's food security problems. He's been highly critical of
"terminator" genes, which force farmers to buy fresh seeds every year
instead of saving seeds from the previous growing season. But Conway
understands the real enemy - it's not biotechnology, but rather poverty
The radical Green anti-biotech movement is best understood as a religious
crusade. In an effort to impose "truth," the Crusaders of the 10th and
11th centuries killed many thousands, deliberately annihilating entire
populations. We must stop the modern anti-biotech crusade. For if
successful, it is likely to kill more.
Pete Geddes is Program Director of the Foundation for Research on
Economics and the Environment (FREE) and Gallatin Writers. Both are based
in Bozeman, Montana.
Greenpeace USA Aims To Be A 'Credible Threat'
- Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb 17, 2003 (Sent by Andrew Apel)
In John Passacantando's world, environmentalism comes with a loud
heartbeat. The executive director of Greenpeace USA, in Pittsburgh earlier
this month to lecture at Chatham College, is passionate about his
32-year-old organization, which made its name getting between whales and
"There are many organizations out there that value credibility, but I want
Greenpeace first and foremost to be a credible threat," Passacantando
said, his lanky frame perched on the edge of a chair in a Shadyside
restaurant. "Of course we have to be credible and use good science, but if
we can be a credible threat then we can do better things.
"To paraphrase Thoreau, I regret only our good behavior."
The modern environmental movement, he argued, has become institutionalized
and has lost some of its vigor. "The movement itself isn't lost. It's
embedded in our culture now, but that makes it easy to let aspects of it
wither," he said. "Students have an understanding of environmental issues
and science -- they have big heads for the ideas, but there is atrophy in
Rachel Carson, the Chatham grad whose book "Silent Spring" spawned the
environmental movement 40 years ago, was famous for taking scientific
research and distilling it into "lay language." But Passacantando said her
biggest accomplishment as a writer was maintaining a sense of wonder.
"A lot of environmentalists today haven't spent any time in the woods," he
said. "And if they don't love being on the rivers or in the forests, they
might become lax in their defense." Lax is not a word that remotely
describes the wavy-haired, 41-year-old Passacantando, a former economist
and investment analyst, who has positioned Greenpeace USA to continue its
provocative, audacious, confrontational but nonviolent role as chief
jester and all-too-serious conscience of the environmental movement.
Since Passacantando took over as Greenpeace executive director 2 1/2 years
ago, its activists have installed mock oil rigs in the Capitol reflecting
pool in Washington, D.C., to protest big oil's influence on the nation's
energy debate. They have delivered an ice sculpture depicting a melting
nuclear reactor to a Washington conference of nuclear power industry
officials, and occupied British military vehicles as part of an ongoing
campaign against war with Iraq.
Last month, Passacantando and residents of Bhopal, India, site of the 1984
industrial explosion and gas leak that killed 8,000 people and injured
500,000, dumped seven barrels of contaminated soil from Bhopal at the
Amsterdam headquarters of Dow Chemical in an effort to get the company to
clean up the site.
Dow bought Union Carbide, which left India after the accident, leaving
behind contaminated soil and water that has caused continued death -- the
toll is now up to 20,000 -- illness and birth defects. Passacantando, one
of 15 activists arrested at the Dow protest, calls it "mobilizing shame."
"Greenpeace is a global organization and we can put pressure on
corporations around the world," he said. "They have to operate within a
social contract. If citizens don't like what the corporations are doing
and say they won't buy their stuff, Wall Street and the bankers take
His penchant for direct actions was under wraps for most of the last
decade. In the early 1990s, he served as executive director of the
Florence and John Schumann Foundation, helping focus its grant-making
programs on grassroots democracy, campaign finance reform and
In 1993 he co-founded Ozone Action, an organization that was originally
aimed at strengthening the international effort to halt depletion of the
ozone layer and later changed its focus to stop global warming. At
Greenpeace, he's mounted campaigns against genetically engineered food,
persistent organic pollutants and plans to cut rainforests in Africa,
South America and Canada.
Last month, Greenpeace blocked ExxonMobil tankers from docking in
Australia and mounted a world-wide boycott of the oil company because it
continues to produce, ship and sell shale oil, one of the dirtiest fossil
Greenpeace also helps local environmental efforts when invited and is
considering involvement in campaigns to block new oil and gas well
drilling in the Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania,
and against PPG chemical operations in Louisiana. This spring, he said,
Greenpeace will campaign to stop timbering in the Tongass National Forest
"It's the last temperate rainforest and several big chunks are on the
chopping block," Passacantando said. "We'll use planes, ships, scuba
divers, whatever we can to put a blockade around it to prevent the
"We will have our commandos out. Such actions are important as a tactic
and to inspire our peers an re-inspire ourselves."
Genetically Modified Foods: Debating Biotechnology
- Ed: Michael Ruse and David Castle, Prometheus Books, Paperback 350 pp;
Amazon.com price $14 http://www.prometheusbooks.com/site/index.html
The rapidly advancing field of biotechnology is developing powerful
techniques for manipulating the fundamentals of life, including the food
we eat. These developments are hailed by some as welcome new methods of
improving the nutritional value of our food and of ensuring that it is
protected from disease and pests. Others are vehemently opposed to this
scientific tampering with nature in its pristine state and fear that dire
consequences, like unforeseen new diseases or environmental catastrophes,
will result from the creation of "Franken-foods."
This lively collection of authoritative articles encompasses the many
points of contention in the debate. The editors set the context by
organizing the essays to deal first with the history and the science of
genetically modified foods. The next section focuses on the morality of
modifying organisms for human use. What factors should be considered in
making value judgments about this technology? Succeeding sections include
articles discussing religious attitudes toward genetically modified food,
legal issues involving patenting and environmental damage, risk
assessment, and possible environmental threats and benefits.
Complete with a glossary and suggestions for further reading, this
outstanding collection of recently published and brand new articles serves
as a comprehensive introduction and a very useful reference work to an
important technology with worldwide social consequences.
Michael Ruse (Tallahassee, FL) is Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of
Philosophy at Florida State University, and is the author and editor of
many books, including Taking Darwin Seriously, But Is It Science?, and
David Castle (Guelph, Ontario, Canada) is assistant professor of
philosophy at the University of Guelph.
Superstar Sheep Shuffle Off, Leaving Scientists Split
Leigh Dayton, The Australian, Feb 18, 2003
>>(Forwarded by Andrew Apel: Prakash: I'm sending these in because they're
the most balanced articles I've seen on the demise of Dolly; the majority
of news coverage has been biased rubbish.)
The deaths of celebrity sheep Dolly and Matilda have reignited the debate
about cloning, reports science writer Leigh Dayton
Dolly was special and she knew it. As a lamb she refused to share food
with the other sheep in her pen. She was moved to a private stall. When
visitors arrived, the woolly prima donna would bleat excitedly, race to
the front of her pen, jump up -- front feet on the railing -- and pose for
the cameras. There were plenty of cameras, of course, because Dolly was a
scientific sensation. She was the first mammal cloned from the cell of a
mature animal. It was an udder cell, hence Dolly, as in Dolly Parton.
"Dolly was a media hog," quipped veterinary scientist Ian Lewis, of
Australia's Co-operative Research Centre for Innovative Dairy Products,
and leader of the team that produced Suzi and Mayzi, Australia's first
Now Dolly is dead, put down by her veterinary team because she was
suffering from a progressive lung disease. In a troubling twist, Dolly's
death comes only weeks after Australia's first cloned sheep, Matilda, was
found dead in her paddock in South Australia, cause of death unknown.
The death of these celebrity sheep promises to re-ignite the debate about
the safety of cloning. Griffith University's Kristen Lyons, for example,
is a specialist in science and society. She says the deaths raise a red
flag. "We don't know what the short and long-term implications of this
technology are," she says. Others will challenge the practicality of
cloning, in part because both animals died prematurely. Dolly was 6 1/2
and Matilda was just two months shy of her third birthday.
The question here is simple: Did cloning cause their early demise? The
answer is complex. For starters, although pastured sheep may live to 11 or
12, those like Dolly who are kept indoors often develop lung infections
and other conditions that predispose them to an earlier death. Further,
the natural lifespan of sheep is poorly studied. As Dolly's creator,
veterinary scientist Ian Wilmut, told the New York Times: "Nine months and
then we eat them."
There is concern too that the cloning process produces unhealthy animals,
prone to premature death. Since Dolly's birth on July 5, 1996, hundreds of
animals have been cloned worldwide: sheep, cattle, pigs, goats, mice,
monkeys, endangered animals such as the ox-like gaur and even a cat.
Australian scientists are focusing on cattle and sheep, and they're doing
remarkably well. Simon Walker of the South Australian Research Institute
(SARDI) led the team that produced Matilda, the first animal cloned
outside Dolly's home, the Roslin Institute in Scotland.
Yet for every animal successfully cloned there are many attempts and many
failures. Unknown numbers of animals have died prior to birth or as a
consequence of congenital defects in their organs, bones and cells. "We're
the first to admit that in this area we have to find out a lot more," says
SARDI executive director Rob Lewis, adding that the losses are hard for
researchers keen to improve the quality of life for animals, not shorten
or worsen it.
The fundamental reason for the low success rate is that cloning is a new
science, says Ian Lewis -- no relation to Rob Lewis. "It's basic
research," he notes. Although the procedure has been refined since Dolly
and Matilda's day, the basic steps remain. A cell is taken from an animal
and "de-programmed" back to an unspecialised state. The cell is then
inserted into an egg from another animal, emptied of its DNA. The cell and
egg are fused together and allowed to develop into an embryo. Finally, the
embryo is implanted into a surrogate mother.
So like Dolly and Matilda, the offspring have three different mothers: a
genetic mother, an egg donor and a surrogate mum who carries the baby to
It sounds straightforward, but it's not yet clear just what is going on
biologically. There is, for instance, conflicting evidence about how
cloning affects telomeres. These bits of DNA protect the ends of
gene-carrying chromosomes. The fate of telomeres is relevant because they
act like molecular clocks, controlling the process of ageing in cells.
Dolly had short telomeres, as do some other cloned animals.
Was cloning the cause? There is circumstantial evidence for and against.
Last year researchers with Japan's National Institute of Infectious
Diseases found that cloned mice had shorter life spans than ordinary mice.
But Robert Lanza of the US firm Advanced Cell Technology has reported the
opposite. In fact, at a talk in Sydney last year for the Australian
Museum, he said that for some reason cloning makes telomeres longer -- and
therefore younger -- than they were before cloning.
Clearly, cloning has a long way to go before outcomes become routine and
predictable. Still, scientists claim that by unravelling the mechanics of
cloning they will gain insights into basic cellular biology, insights that
could benefit people as well as animals.
Other experts promise better and healthier farm animals, vaccines and
medicines produced in cow's milk and improved competitiveness for
Australia's multi-billion-dollar livestock industry.
Perhaps. Richard Hindmarsh of the University of Queensland is sceptical. A
specialist in science and society, he asks whether we need cloning at all.
"The death of Dolly makes me ask, what's wrong with nature as is? Is this
complex technology really worth the risk and expense. I think we must
debate these issues now," he says.
True, but Dolly's gone. She was a character and a superstar. She will be
missed. "The fact that she isn't there any more will be brought home to us
when we go near that barn and she's not there," says Wilmut. "She was a
very friendly animal that was part of a big scientific breakthrough."
Goodbye Dolly - You Leave The World A Better Place
- Robin McKie, The Observer (UK), Feb 16, 2003
It was, I decided , a most unlikely tip-off. According to my contact, UK
scientists had created a clone of a sheep. They had scraped a few cells
off her udder and turned one into a living lamb, a genetic doppleganger of
the original sheep.
This was patently absurd. The complexities of mammalian biology, as then
understood, simply precluded notions of switching on dormant genes
involved in embryonic development. Yet my friend insisted. So I made some
calls and found, to my astonishment, that the story was true. Thus, on 23
February 1997, The Observer told a startled world of the existence of
Dolly the Sheep. In my story, I described the creation of Dolly, who died
last week, as ' a landmark in biological research and a triumph for UK
science'. I also predicted the news would cause ' some ethical alarm'.
Little did I know.
Within days, pundits were foaming with hysteria. The world would soon be
trampled underfoot by armies of cloned Saddams; human individuality was
now under direct attack; while future male involvement in reproduction
would be unnecessary (said feminists). Dolly's ' creator', Ian Wilmut, of
Scotland's Roslin Institute, was equally stunned. (He later told me he
blamed much of this reaction on The Observer , a Sunday newspaper and,
therefore, an unsuitable, sensational vehicle for revealing scientific
truths. I could only apologise.)
Of course, all those fears about cloned armies were daft, although typical
of our chattering classes who also think GM foods are dangerous because
they contain DNA, who believe horoscopes tell the truth, and who value
media studies above an education in science.
And that, of course, was the most disturbing aspect of the story of Dolly.
She exposed just how lamentably ill-equipped our society is when dealing
with scientific advances, a field of endeavour that attracts our best
brains but remains closed to most individuals, no matter how hard we
science scribblers try to interest them. Certainly, Dolly will not be the
last scientific surprise to spoil an Islington dinner party. And serve
them right too.
In the end, Dolly, who is survived by six lambs, produced the customary
way, with a ram, suffered a serious lung infection, having already
contracted a bad bout of arthritis, and was put down by vets. Had the
world's first cloned mammal been a hill farmer's animal, she would have
been dealt with long ago, Wilmut admitted last week. So much for the
danger she poses to society.
On the other hand, the science of cloning is not necessarily doomed.
Normal adult sheep often get lung ailments, particularly if kept indoors.
And given that we usually eat them nine months after birth, it is not
surprising we are badly informed about their prospects of longevity. From
a sample of one, we simply cannot say if Dolly's vulnerability was the
result of inheriting already aged genes or was merely happenstance. Her
postmortem is therefore being awaited with interest.
But the stakes have nothing to do with cloning people. That was always a
far-off prospect, despite Clonaid's claims, which have as much chance of
verification as the story of Gary Glitter's comeback. No, the real
interest lies with the prospects of therapeutic cloning, by which balls of
cloned cells will be tapped for stem cells that would then be used to
generate tissues and organs that match the original donor of the cell.
Thus, it may one day be possible to generate rejection-free organs for
people with diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer's and other illnesses. With
luck, and post-mortems permitting, that may still be the real legacy of
Dolly, the ' friendly face of science', as Wilmut rather endearingly
describes his creation.