Today in AgBioView: May 24, 2003
* Better Late Than Never: Filing the WTO Complaint
* The Evolution of Technology
* Biotechnology, Iraq and the Shape of Tomorrow's World
* NPR Analysis: Continued Debate over genetically modified foods
* Don't Rule Out Technology
* Hundreds of Scientists Offer More Support for AgBiotech
* PUBLIC-GOOD PLANT BREEDING WEBCAST
* Consequences of the Shifting Balance from Public to Private
* Acumen Journal of Science
* Senseless Starvation
* Frederic Bastiat Prize for Journalism
* HighWire: Library of the Sciences and Medicine
* TO YOUR HEALTH / Doing your part to combat diabetes
* Biotechnology a Hot Career Choice for the 21st Century
Better Late Than Never: Filing the WTO Complaint
- Dean Kleckner, agweb.com
The war in Iraq is over, and so a fight with Europe may finally begin. As
the Roman historian Livy said 2,000 years ago: "Potius sero quam numquam."
In plain English, that means "Better late than never."
To the uninitiated, reading the rules of the World Trade Organization can
be like reading Latin: It's an arcane language that almost nobody speaks.
And yet it's possible to translate WTO regulations into plain English and
apply them to real-world situations--and that's what our government is now
trying to do in an attempt to address what may be the highest profile
agricultural trade dispute in the world right now.
In October 1998, the European Union imposed a moratorium on approving new
biotech crops. Last week, the United States and a dozen other countries at
last reached their wits end over this protectionist policy and filed a
formal complaint with the WTO.
We've been patient with Europe for nearly five years. In that time, the
EU's politicians and bureaucrats have refused to recognize what everybody
who has studied the matter knows beyond any reasonable doubt, biotech food
is perfectly safe. Even the French Academy of Medicine and Pharmacy and
the French Academy of Sciences hold this view.
If our WTO complaint is successful--and just about every observer believes
it will be--then the United States will gain the right to retaliate
against Europe products. That's not a great outcome, because we should be
doing everything possible to encourage international trade. Yet it's a
tool we must now use to pry open a European market that's been unfairly
closed to us for so long.
The Bush administration had planned to file the WTO complaint several
months ago. News stories in January indicated that the step was imminent.
But then preparations for the war in Iraq took over and everything else
went on hold. Officials once had hoped that Europe would support the
policy of regime change in Iraq, and didn't want a trade dispute to
complicate their diplomacy.
That was an understandable decision, and perhaps it eased the way for some
countries to join the effort against Saddam Hussein. The big prizes of
France and Germany, of course, refused to aid the war effort at all.
Yet we haven't had much trouble assembling a coalition against the EU in
the biotech trade war. Argentina, Canada, and Egypt have joined the United
States in the complaint, and nine other countries have signed on as third
parties: Australia, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, New
Zealand, Peru, and Uruguay.
Much of the developing world is counting on us to win, too.
"Biotech food helps nourish the world's hungry population, offers
tremendous opportunities for better health and nutrition, and protects the
environment by reducing soil erosion and pesticide use," said U.S. trade
representative Robert Zoellick as he filed the complaint last week.
"In places where food is scarce or climates can be harsh," he added,
"increased agricultural productivity through biotechnology can spell the
difference between life and death, between health and disease, for
millions of the world's poorest people."
In recent months, we've seen southern African countries with millions of
starving people make the remarkable decision of rejecting U.S. food aid
comprised partially of biotech crops. They're worried that the EU will
punish them by shutting down their export markets in future years.
This is madness. Americans have been eating biotech foods without
hesitation or worry for years. The EU, however, is so determined to
protect a few special interests at home that it will bully poor people
abroad into malnourishment and death.
For many of those now suffering, the WTO won't provide relief soon enough.
It encourages countries to settle their disagreements through
negotiations, and over the next two months the United States is supposed
to consult with the EU. If there's no resolution after this period--and
there won't be, because there hasn't been a resolution for almost five
years--then the matter moves before a panel that will hear arguments in a
process that typically lasts about 18 months.
That's a long time from now, but at least we know the end is in sight.
Repeat after me: Potius sero quam numquam.
Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org) is a national
grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA formed by farmers in
support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology.
The Evolution of Technology
- Chet Raymo, Boston Globe, May 20, 2003
Fourteen years ago, Bill McKibben jolted our environmental awareness with
a splendid little book, "The End of Nature," that cataloged the ways human
economic activities are rending the fabric of nature. In particular, he
drew our attention to changes in the atmosphere, and to the possibility of
The book was translated into 20 languages and may be the most effective
call to environmental action since Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" in
Now McKibben is back with his book "Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered
Age." This time it is the end of human nature he laments. He foresees a
future, perhaps not so far away, when children have become consumer
products, like genetically modified tomatoes or ears of corn.
Do you want a child who is smart, athletic, tall, male, blue- eyed? Well,
put in your order; the genetic engineers will give you what you want.
Human germline genetic engineering - tinkering with genes that can be
transmitted to successive generations - is illegal in this country and
elsewhere. But such bans are fragile and easily nibbled away by eager
genetic engineers. Stop now, says McKibben, before we lose the essence of
He writes: "The first child whose genes come in part from some corporate
lab, the first child who has been "enhanced" from what came before -
that's the first child who will glance back over his shoulder and see a
gap between himself and human history."
Is it realistic to suppose that children can be engineered with the same
marketability as, say, dishwashing detergent? Absolutely. Is McKibben's
passionate call for caution necessary? You better believe it. This is a
valuable book that should make us think long and hard about where we are
But I take issue with one of McKibben's implicit premises. Like many other
environmentalists, he identifies nature - and the good - with some
supposedly more felicitous epoch in the planet's past. His "enough" flies
in the face of cosmic evolution, which is based on inevitable, unstoppable
Evolution on Earth has led inexorably, by natural selection, to ever more
complex creatures with ever-bigger brains. It need not have been us who
emerged as the planet's dominant species, but sooner of later something
like human consciousness and cunning were probably inevitable. With
consciousness and cunning came science and technology, which - in the
cosmic scheme of things - are as natural as respiration, sex,
multicellularity, or backbones.
McKibben does not reject the possibility that some things might change for
the better, only the ominous specter of germline genetic tinkering. But
one gets the impression he might have been equally happy to have said
"enough!" on the eve of the Agricultural Revolution, the Scientific
Revolution, or the Industrial Revolution.
All of these steps in human evolution have been fraught with ominous
possibilities. But I suspect very few people today would vote to turn back
the clock, and I suspect that a hundred years from now you could say the
Our proper agenda is not to stop the clock but to ensure that an
ever-larger proportion of the human population enjoys the fruits of
scientific and technological progress: good health, education, freedom
from tyranny and superstition, and a healthy and diverse natural
It may well be that we want to hold the line on germline genetic
engineering, but decisions about appropriate uses of technology should be
based on what is good for our collective future, not on what was "natural"
in the past. Sometimes McKibben's argument reminds me of the Roman
Catholic Church's contention that the use of condoms (even in AIDS-ridden
Africa!) violates the "natural law" and is therefore wrong.
Like it or not, the future Earth is going to be a human artifact, and I
suspect it will not be as grim a place as the doomsayers predict. In any
case, there's no going back to "the good old days," which were never as
good as we like to imagine. This much is certain: Whatever the future
brings, it won't be "the end of nature." It will be entirely and
Chet Raymo teaches at Stonehill College. His most recent book is "The
Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe."
Photo Caption: Cyborgs, like those in the 1982 film "Blade Runner," play
on our fears of technology.
Biotechnology, Iraq and the Shape of Tomorrow's World
- Dennis Avery, Center for Global Food Issues, May 23, 2003
The United States has, finally, filed a World Trade Organization suit
against the European Union over its ban on biotech foods. Urban columnists
quickly came to the EU's defense, endorsing consumers' right to choose
whether to eat biotech foods or not.
Consumers have the non-biotech choice of buying organic, and there's
nothing preventing stores from labeling foods "biotech free." But this is
far more than a food fight.
In a very real sense, it's the same struggle recently demonstrated in Iraq
between Old Europe's short-sighted, protect-our-corrupt-contracts approach
to world issues and America's hopeful tradition that problems can be
resolved, through such growth engines as research, knowledge, democracy,
and free trade.
The biotech industry's latest achievement is a revolutionary new drug to
prevent (not treat, but prevent) severe asthma attacks. It could eliminate
the severe, breath-robbing asthma bouts that make about 3 million
Americans frequently fear for their very lives.
The speed of biotech is helping our flu vaccines keep up with that
ever-changing and periodically deadly virus. Biotech potatoes, papayas,
and bananas represent humanity's first major victories over food-robbing
crop viruses. Biotech may also conquer such awful diseases as viral
pneumonia, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer.
Golden rice, bio-engineered to help millions of rice-culture kids avoid
blindness from severe deficiencies of Vitamin A, is still blocked from
distribution because of "safety concerns." Meanwhile, researchers are
working on newer strains of golden rice that will deliver even more
Vitamin A potential.
Biotech researchers have learned to remove the natural allergens from such
risky-but-nutritious foods as peanuts and soybeans, which cause millions
of allergy attacks per years. Thus, our foods are becoming safer because
of biotech; so much for anti-biotech crowd's "biotech will poison you"
In fact, the EU Commission and the EU Health Commissioner, David Byrne,
say biotech foods are probably safer than conventional foods because of
the precision of the transformations, and the extensive testing they've
Selfish financial reasons appear to be the only remaining logical reason
the EU governments and the organic food industry have lashed themselves to
the antibiotech campaign.
Banning biotech imports (or any imports) protects Europe's artificially
high farm prices. For fifteen years, the EU has banned beef growth
hormones that permit farmers to produce more lean meat per animal with
less feed. The hormones would have aggravated the EU beef surplus. The
rest of the world has since used the approved hormones with no health
problems -- and has been rewarded by lower-cost and heart-healthier meat.
The organic food industry has created its whole high-price market niche by
rejecting virtually every agricultural research breakthrough of the past
century -- except irradiated seeds. For some reason, the organic industry
has had no problem with planting crop varieties developed by bombarding
seeds with mutagenic gamma rays, including the barley for one of Britain's
most popular organic beers! Talk about Frankenfoods!
Both Europe and the organic food industry fundamentally oppose the
high-tech farming that has enabled the world to feed six billion people
today on the same cropland that fed one billion people 50 years ago. (In
1999, the Bichel Committee, a Danish government high-level technical
committee, reported that an organic mandate for Denmark's agriculture
would cut its human food production by 47 percent.)
America, in contrast, has been pioneering agricultural research since
Abraham Lincoln created the land-grant colleges and their agricultural
research stations in 1862. Americans created the first hybrid seeds, the
first mechanical reaper, lightweight gasoline tractors (releasing 30
million acres of draft horse pasture for human food crops), and many of
the pesticides that protect the world's food supplies from destructive and
wasteful insects, weeds, bacteria, and fungi.
Americans founded what's now the FutureHarvest network of international
agricultural research stations for the Third World. Their research has
saved billions of people from starving over the past 30 years.
The aim of the EU biotech ban is not consumer choice but government
decision-making. The aim of today's activists is to take away individual
choices, and replace them with politicized decisions they can control. The
shape of tomorrow's world is at stake.
Analysis: Continued Debate over genetically modified foods
- NPR: Talk of the Nation, National Public Radio, May 22, 2003
NEAL CONAN, host: Now we move on to one very specific part of the
environment, farms and the crops that grow on them. As if the United
States and Europe do not have enough disagreements already, now there's a
fight over food. Last week the United States filed a complaint with the
World Trade Organization accusing the European Union of violating free
trade rules by blocking American exports of genetically engineered food.
Yesterday President Bush escalated the rhetoric in a speech at the Coast
Guard Academy. He said genetic engineering of crops is a way to grow more
food and feed more people, especially in Africa.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Yet our partners in Europe are impeding this
effort. They have blocked all new biocrops because of unfounded,
unscientific fears. This has caused many African nations to avoid
investing in biotechnologies for fear that their products will be shut out
of European markets. European governments should join, not hinder, the
great cause of ending hunger in Africa.
CONAN: President Bush speaking yesterday in a commencement address at the
US Coast Guard Academy in New London. If you have opinions or information
or questions about international agricultural marketing and genetically
engineered food, its relationship to the starvation crisis in Africa and
international marketing, give us a phone call. Our number is (800)
989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. Or you can send us e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
And joining us now to talk about all this intercontinental bickering is
Dan Charles, the author of "Lords of the Harvest: Biotech and Big Money
and the Future of Food." He's with us here in Studio 3A. And, Dan, good to
Mr. DAN CHARLES (Author, "Lords of the Harvest"): It's nice to be back in
CONAN: Dan, what crops are the Europeans objecting to?
Mr. CHARLES: So we're talking about corn and soybeans for the most part.
Actually, by now, most of the soybeans grown in this country are
genetically engineered. They've been altered to tolerate a particular kind
of herbicide that makes it easier for the farmers to control weeds in
their fields. And a good chunk of the corn that's grown is also
genetically engineered mainly to protect itself against insects that
otherwise would eat it.
CONAN: And is these crops grown by--or produced these seeds by big
Mr. CHARLES: Right. And that is a big part of the story. These genetically
altered crops and engineered crops have been brought to market for the
most part by big chemical companies and most of them by one particular big
chemical company called Monsanto.
CONAN: Now is it that European consumers don't like the taste of these,
don't want to eat them, are frightened by them? And are these crops
illegal in Europe?
Mr. CHARLES: Here you get into sort of a complicated mess because some are
legal and some aren't. The soybeans are actually legal to be sold, to be
exported to Europe, but there's been a lot of consumer resistance. And
then you get into motivations. Now part of it actually, you know, has to
do with the fact that these are big chemical companies bringing this to
market and environmentalists have a history of, as we've heard in the
previous half-hour, fighting with big chemical companies. And so why
should we trust what they've brought on this occasion? There were broader
fears about meddling with nature. And above all, I mean, the consumer saw
no benefit from all of this, and so if given a choice...
CONAN: Oh, so these crops weren't cheaper.
Mr. CHARLES: No, they weren't cheaper, they were just mixed in with the
general stream of soy oil and soy meal and, to a lesser extent, corn
products because most corn is fed to animals coming to Europe. And so the
European consumers, led by kind of a hard-core band of environmental
activists, mobilized against this, forced labels on some of these crops
when they appeared on store shelves and eventually shutdown the approval
process so that now even though soybeans are legal, the imports have been
restricted just because of this consumer resistance.
And corn, many varieties grown in the United States are now not approved
in Europe, and so basically all whole grain corn exports to Europe have
been stopped--and this is an interesting point, and this for the Bush
administration--even though the scientific approval panels in Europe have
CONAN: We'll talk more about international agricultural marketing and how
all of this applies to the issue of starvation in Africa, which was part
of the president's charge in his address yesterday at the Coast Guard
Academy.. Today we're talking about genetically modified food which is
causing another bitter debate between the Bush administration and many
countries in Europe. Our guest is Dan Charles. He's the author of "Lords
of the Harvest: Biotech and Big Money and the Future of Food."
And again, yesterday President Bush said that this objection by Europe is
perpetuating starvation in Africa. Some African countries, Dan, have
refused to accept food aid?
Mr. CHARLES: Zimbabwe, Zambia and one other country--temporarily Uganda,
but there was one other one that I've forgotten at the moment--refuse to
accept American food aid. Zambia took the hardest line and basically said,
`We have no proof and our scientists are not convinced that this is safe.'
So you had this bizarre situation of food from the United States sitting
in warehouses in Zambia, where people were starving, and couldn't be
distributed. Some people actually took measures into their own hands,
broke into the warehouses and carted it off, even, you know, while
well-fed Americans back in North America were eating the stuff by the
CONAN: Our next caller is Kathleen, who joins us on the line from
KATHLEEN (Caller): Hi. How are you, Neal? And hello, Mr. Charles. One of
my concerns is in the way this is being framed. It's as though the EU is
holding Africa hostage. That's an interesting framing. But one of the
issues that's really not being discussed is things like intellectual
property rights and unfair competition, exploitation of local consumers,
whether the transgenic product development--whether people in Africa and
other places will share the benefits and the new varieties replacing the
local ones. You know, these are the issues that are really on the table,
and the way this is being framed is, you know, look at these crazy African
people who aren't eating the food, you know, etc. But you have to really
go--we just got off the Terminator seeds and these kinds of issues of
using food even as weapons. And we haven't signed a treaty. So I think we
need to get on this radio and talk a little bit more about that than just
framing it as though it's GMO food or starve for Africa.
Mr. CHARLES: Those are good points, and I think we should talk about them.
I think those are important reasons why in Europe the movement against
genetically engineered food really got going early on. I mean, the really
new and different thing about these crops is actually the legal and
commercial arrangements that surrounded them as they came to market...
KATHLEEN: Thank you.
Mr. CHARLES: ...and that they were protected by a series of patents and
contracts with farmers. They changed the rules of the game in agriculture
and it ruffled a lot of the feathers and got a lot of people upset for
political and philosophical reasons. But you can't get a mass movement
organized around those--those motivations a lot of the time. And so you
got around to arguments about food safety. And they were very powerful
arguments, particularly in Europe, where they'd had a series of food
And here's where I get kind of angry actually, because to my mind, having
looked at the evidence, the food safety arguments do not hold up. And so
you have arguments that work, but they're not true. And, you know, that's
where you have the Africans getting caught when they're saying, `Well, but
the Europeans are telling us that this is not safe.' Now...
KATHLEEN: But what about the arguments that are true that may not work but
that we--you can't sweep that under the rug in terms of some of these
issues, because if some of these people buy into accepting this, then some
of the local crops--I mean, you see it in clothing, you see it in all
these various and sundry things, to the detriment of the local people who
manufacture clothes and food and all these other cultural ways that go by
Mr. CHARLES: Right. No, I agree that we need to talk about the things that
are real. You know, just to provide some balance to the argument--I don't
know if I should just sort of run on like this, Neal, but, you know, there
are some equally shameful arguments being put forward on the other side
about GMOs. You played that clip from President Bush where, you know, to
use the phrase of our caller here, the argument is being framed as one in
which, you know, these genetically engineered crops are going to help
starving people in Africa. And that's not why they were developed. They
were brought to market because they offered a popular product that farmers
would buy, pay more money for and earn the companies profits. You know,
and so to say that GMOs, these genetically engineered crops, are the key
to solving hunger in Africa is really, you know, sort of propaganda.
And, you know, just sort of as an example, OK, you know, this initiative
to fight African hunger that Bush introduced yesterday is being funded,
say, $35 million a year. The US spends roughly a thousand times that much
subsidizing its own farmers. And you say, `Well, OK, they're American
farmers,' but that has an impact on African farmers. It subsidizes
increased production, drives down the world price of food and drives
African farmers out of business.
CONAN: We have an e-mail question that comes in from Howard Park, also in
Washington. `My impression is that genetically modified food has been
around for a while. Have there been bad effects?'
Mr. CHARLES: Bad effects. Well, what kind of bad effects? No. In terms of
human health, there is no documented case, no convincing case of any harm
to humans from eating genetically engineered crops.
CONAN: OK. Let's go to Daniel, who joins us from Conway, Arkansas.
DANIEL (Caller): Hi. I live in Arkansas, and my family farms rice and
soybeans, and that's actually paying for my college education right now.
But I go to a liberal arts school and I took a class last year called
environmental biology, and we talked a lot about GMOs. And one of the
things we studied was the genetic modification of the Roundup Ready
soybean. They said on this video we watched that there's actually a gene
put into the seeds or something like that that produces Roundup, which
kills weeds and stuff like that. So my question is: Should we be worried
that we're producing plants that produce poison? Like, I don't mean to
sound, like, generically hippie in that way, but it just seems kind of
fundamentally wrong that we're producing plants like that. It seems like
that could have long-term, environmentally speaking, disastrous effects.
Mr. CHARLES: Yeah, Daniel, you might want to go back and look at your
class notes again. Just to briefly summarize what the Roundup Ready crops
have in them, there's this gene--it's actually a fascinating story--that
they found in the muck of a Roundup factory, you know, because the
bacteria living there had to survive in the presence of Roundup. And so
it's selected for this particular gene in there. Essentially that
gene--although it was rewritten a bit to make it work in plants, that gene
was inserted into the plants and it produces a slightly different version
of a protein in the plant.
Mr. CHARLES: And this slightly different version manages to sort of slip
loose from the clutches of the Roundup molecule that comes in and
otherwise would kill the plant.
CONAN: The Roundup molecule would come in when you apply the pesticide in
Mr. CHARLES: When you spray the pesticide on the field, normally that
Roundup chemical would go in and lock onto this crucial protein within the
plant and basically, you know, shut down the plant's ability to feed
itself. This slightly differently shaped version of the protein is now in
the plant. It carries out the same sort of biological task within the
plant, but it's immune to the Roundup. That's what's in the genetically
CONAN: So there are no plants that come with a built-in poisons.
Mr. CHARLES: Actually...
CONAN: Well, there are, but...
Mr. CHARLES: There are lots of plants with built-in poisons.
Mr. CHARLES: But the genetically engineered gene does not produce a
CONAN: OK. Daniel, thanks very much for the call. And good luck with your
DANIEL: Thank you.
CONAN: OK. And before we leave Dan Charles, you've said that these plants
are less expensive, that this is--What is the advantage? I know the
company involved, Monsanto, says one of the advantages is you get to use
Mr. CHARLES: Well, in reality, you get to use a different pesticide. So
the Roundup Ready plants work very nicely with Roundup, which is a cheap
pesticide and convenient to apply. So the farmer gets to buy Monsanto's
pesticide, which is cheap, and so it's a savings to the farmer.
CONAN: I see.
Mr. CHARLES: That's the main advantage. And in the case of the corn, which
is insect protected, in some cases you have to spray less, but most of the
time it's kind of an insurance policy. You know, if there's lots of bugs
that year, your corn isn't going to get eaten to bits.
CONAN: So as we often find out, it's a little bit more complicated a story
than we thought. Dan Charles, thanks very much for coming in today.
Mr. CHARLES: Nice to be here.
CONAN: Dan Charles is the author of "Lords of the Harvest: Biotech and Big
Money and the Future of Food." He was here with us in Studio 3A.
Don't Rule Out Technology
- Justin Kastner and Douglas Powell, Food Safety Network, May 20, 2003
With the the transatlantic debate over genetically engineered foods
approaching fever pitch, food-trade commentaries have reached a crescendo
that unfortunately lacks an historical tune. Worse, the continuing debate
regarding GE foods distracts attention and resources from actual
food-related health risks, and more bizarrely, what most commentators fail
to realize that the World Trade Organization is not the omnipotent power
portrayed by activists.
North America's and Europe's disagreement over genetically engineered (GE)
foods has, in recent years, been a regular item on the transatlantic trade
agenda. However, the issue has come to a head with a formal request, made
by Argentina, Canada, Egypt, and the United States, for World Trade
Organization (WTO) consultations with the European Union over its
restrictions on agricultural biotechnology, the very technology used to
produce GE foods. The four countries'' request for consultations is a
first step toward, but not a guarantee of, an international court case
testing the WTO-compliance of Europe's five-year-old moratorium on the
approval of GE foods.
The spectre of a WTO court battle over GE foods raises questions about the
future of agricultural biotechnology itself. The request for consultations
was lodged largely to check the global extension of EU-style policies with
which a number of nations disagree. For the EU, the modern technology of
GE is viewed as potentially injurious to food safety and the environment;
Canada and its partners disagree, citing GE's environmental and
The debate over the future of GE foods is heating up as regulators,
activist groups, food scientists, and trade lawyers join the dialogue.
Predictably, arguments for and against GE technology vary from a
technological hubris, which wrongly presumes that biotechnology is the
panacea for world hunger, to a Luddite-mindedness, which myopically writes
of biotechnology as an evil of modern corporate argriculture.
Absent from this milieu is century-old historical perspectives for why GE
technology should, at a minimum, remain available to farmers. History
shows that producing and preparing safe food is a complex enterprise
requiring human intervention -- intervention that often relies upon new
technologies, such as GE. Innovation and investment in technology
sometimes actually help resolve food-trade problems.
For example, refrigeration technologies helped resolve a trade dispute in
the late 1800s. Then, a sizeable transatlantic trade had developed in live
cattle, and North American animals were regularly shipped to a hungry
Britain, where they were imported and slaughtered for meat. When animal
diseases were discovered in an 1879 shipment, British veterinary
authorities required that American cattle be slaughtered at ports of
entry. However, animal welfare problems remained; while en route, the
animals still suffered brutalities in the stagnant bottoms of listing
Britain was not going to limit its appetite for the welfare of a few
animals. Britain's Humanitarian League recognized this in an 1894
publication that, rather than protesting the existence of the
transatlantic meat trade, articulated hope for the development of
refrigeration technologies and their application to the trade.
Many people -- from veterinary regulators to food scientists to animal
welfare activists -- viewed refrigeration as a possible solution to both
the spread of animal diseases and the mistreatment of animals. If only
businesses could perfect this preservation technology, animals could be
slaughtered in North America and shipped as meat to Britain, thereby
preventing animal disease spread and as well as the mid-ocean horrors
faced by livestock. To realize this vision, however, the Humanitarian
League knew that investment and technological creativity were needed.
The Humanitarian League's suggestions were already in the works at the
time of their publication. Ten years before the League's publication,
regulators saw the dead-meat trade as the panacea for the diseased-cattle
trade dispute. Britain's chief veterinary official was optimistic that
America could provide an ample supply of meat, but only if it were
properly refrigerated. Public health officials in Liverpool, where
American cattle were landed, were equally optimistic.
While refrigeration technologies were used on transatlantic steamships as
early as 1875, chilling and freezing machinery was still in its infancy.
Innovation and investment were still needed. One British veterinarian, Dr.
John Gamgee, decided to stake his career on the refrigeration cause.
Getting out of veterinary medicine and into thermodynamics, Gamgee devoted
his attention to the improvement of meat refrigeration and transportation
(Gamgee also built an ice rink in London).
Gamgee would be joined by other scientists seeking to develop more and
better ways of preserving chilled meat. Largely due to London's stock
market and investment culture, many Britons would come to invest in
transatlantic food systems, including refrigeration technologies for the
meat trade. Because of this investment infrastructure, capital was devoted
to the much-needed technology of refrigeration.
By 1887, the secretary of Britain's Central Chamber of Agriculture could
announce a significant growth of the meat trade. In his report, he noted
that Britain's consumption of foreign meat had grown four-fold over twenty
years. Over that time, meat from live animal imports had doubled, but meat
arriving in preserved or chilled form had grown six-fold. Application of
refrigeration to transatlantic steamships was increasingly perfected, and
by the 1890s the live cattle trade became less important to both American
and British traders. Animal welfare activists, like the Humanitarian
League, were pleased with the new technology.
The story of meat refrigeration offers lessons for today's GE trade
debate. Many decry new technologies, such as genetic engineering, yet that
same technology can help deliver the safe, bountiful food supply we've
grown acustomed to. And while we're focused on the theoretical risks, the
recent cases of SARS and the continual burden of foodborne illness remind
us of the basic sanitation measures -- wash our hands.
Justin Kastner is a PhD candidate and Douglas Powell is scientific
director with the Food Safety Network at the University of Guelph.
Hundreds of Scientists Offer More Support for Agricultural Biotechnology
- Betterhumans, Tuesday, May 20, 2003, 1:00:33 PM CT
More than 200 scientists from around the world have signed a new
declaration attesting to the safety and benefits of agricultural
biotechnology, support that comes on top of an earlier declaration signed
The declaration was sent to Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
and praised the country's research, development and commercialization of
genetically modified crops. Called "Sound Science -- Not Silence," the
declaration details facts about agricultural biotechnology's positive
environmental, economic and health potential, especially insect-resistant
Bt corn that the Philippines approved for planting last December.
"The reality is that crops developed through plant biotechnology are among
the most well-tested, well-characterized, and well-regulated food and
fiber products ever developed," the declaration reads. "This is the
overwhelming consensus of the international scientific community,
including the Royal Society, National Academy of Sciences, the World
Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations, the European Commission, the French Academy of Medicine, and the
American Medical Association."
An earlier, broader declaration was signed by more than 3,500 scientists,
including 20 Nobel laureates, from 60 countries. "As the first major
season of planting Bt corn gets underway in the Philippines, it is
important to ensure that dialogue based on sound science continues,
instead of unsubstantiated and misleading information," says C.S. Prakash,
president of AgBioWorld Foundation, which collected endorsements for the
declarations in its efforts to support the use of biotechnology to improve
agriculture in the developing world.
PUBLIC-GOOD PLANT BREEDING WEBCAST
To view the webcast: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/darwincentre/live/live.htm
You are warmly invited to view a webcast of a meeting that took place at
the Natural History Museum (London, UK) on 22nd May, where Professors MS
Swaminathan, Peter Raven and Phil Dale will launch an international
discussion entitled Public-Good Plant Breeding: what are the international
As the Green Revolution reaches its limits, there is a pressing need for
international debate about the current challenges and opportunities for
plant breeding. Growing pressures on the global food supply are creating
further demands on land for food and animal feed production. While some
regions over-produce, others remain unable to grow what they need. The
meeting, will address the need for international debate about the current
challenges and opportunities for plant breeding and aims to look beyond
the confines of narrow arguments about some techniques and beyond what
appears currently possible to fund or commercialise.
This meeting is just the start. Over the next six months there will be an
ongoing discussion on the John Innes website
(http://www.jic.bbsrc.ac.uk/senseaboutscience) with plant breeders,
development experts, scientists and other interested groups from around
the world. The contributions to this discussion will be written up and
published in October 2003, for international circulation to all bodies
involved in funding and policy for plant science.
To watch the web cast live please go to
To contribute a written comment on any aspect of the debate, please send
in Word format by email to Tbrown@senseaboutscience.org.
- Kind regards, Ellen Raphael, Sense About Science
eForum: Agricultural R&D : Consequences of the Shifting Balance from
Public to Private
I invite your participation in the discussion forum "Agricultural Research
and Development: Consequences of the Shifting Balance from Public to
Private" to be held on the global public goods Network
(http://www.gpgNet.net) platform from 26 May to 9 June 2003.
You may subscribe to the discussion forum by sending a blank email to
In agricultural R&D, there is an increasing shift towards private
financing, and away from public financing. The poor, along with their
other vulnerabilities, have low incomes. So they lack the purchasing power
to pull private R&D initiatives towards their problems and concerns. The
question is: "Who will undertake R&D that addresses the challenges of the
poor in developing countries?"
What could be done to change the current incentive structures within
developing country governments and their international partners, and to
augment public and private support for agricultural R&D that addresses the
problems of the poor?
Could we explore where, and to what extent, the interests of the poor
overlap with the interests of richer population groups, and even with the
interests of private corporations involved in agricultural R&D? Could we,
in other words, appeal to objective mutual interests among these groups?
The global public good lens can help us explore this possibility. If such
overlapping interests do indeed exist, then investment in agricultural R&D
dealing with the poor in developing countries need no longer be justified
on a foreign aid rationale. Instead, such investment becomes a matter of
providing a global public good that also has utility for the richer
elements in the world's population.
Please join us for this debate and share with us -and the global public-
your observations on this topic. The complete background paper to the
discussion is available at http://www.gpgnet.net/topic03.php
Inge Kaul, Director, Office of Development Studies
Vikas Nath, gpgNet.net Forum Manager
United Nations Development Programme, 336 East 45th Street, Uganda House
New York, NY 10017, USA; email@example.com; http://www.gpgnet.net
Acumen Journal of Science
The mission of the Acumen Journal is to analyze discoveries, innovations,
and challenges in the life sciences and explain their commercial,
economic, and policy implications for senior decision makers in business,
academia, and government.
While peer-reviewed publications like Science and Nature present new
findings, and more popular magazines like The New Scientist explain such
discoveries for a lay audience, no periodical besides the Acumen Journal
of Sciences exclusively analyzes the business of life sciences.
Through its publisher, Acumen Sciences, the Acumen Journal enjoys
unparalleled access to the scientists who have created the biotech
revolution: Paul Berg, the father of biotechnology and gene splicing;
Steven Chu, the physical scientist who developed tools to observe
interactions between single biomolecules; and George Poste, the U.S.
president's most valued adviser on bioterrorism, are only a few.
Using Acumen Sciences' unique network of entrepreneurial, venture capital,
and investment-banking communities, the Acumen Journal will be the first
publication to describe the economic opportunities afforded by new
discoveries in the life sciences.
- Simon Smith, Betterhumans.com, November 15, 2002
'Irrationality and political maneuvering could kill millions of African
people, along with biotechnology's promise to the poor.'
The call for help came this May. "I make a passionate appeal to the
international community to assist us in this time of need," said Levy
Mwanawasa, president of Zambia.
The country was in bad shape -- one of six southern African nations with
severe food shortages thanks to floods, drought and economic policies,
Zambia faced widespread starvation.
The world responded, including the US, which sent tons of maize (corn, a
staple of the Zambian diet.). But despite millions of his citizens facing
death, Mwanawasa rejected the US aid in mid-August. The reason? It
contained genetically modified organisms.
So now, while millions of Zambians are at risk of starvation, according to
the United Nations World Food Program, food wastes away in a Mozambican
port. While a sad development in itself, the situation is a worrying sign
that anti-biotech forces are winning the battle to make Africa GMO-free.
While these forces might celebrate, scientifically minded humanitarians
can only shake their head as biotech's promise for the continent takes
And for no good reason: This has nothing to do with health, environmental
or social concerns, and everything to do with irrationality and political
Yes, there are health issues with genetically modified crops. The two main
issues are the effects of allergens and the effects of toxins. But they've
been addressed for years.
Allergens are a concern because genes from one food -- say peanuts --
could cause a reaction if inserted in a non-allergenic food without
warning consumers. But food safety programs, such as those in most
countries, can deal with this the same way they deal with food
ingredients: By forcing manufacturers to disclose information about a
product's contents. Not only that, genetic modification could actually
lead to more allergy-free foods, not less, since allergens can be
engineered out of such foods as peanuts.
Toxins are the second major concern. Plants produce them naturally, and
genetic manipulation could lead to increased amounts. Potatoes, for
example, produce a nerve toxin called solanine. Some potato modifications
could therefore lead to toxic French fries (more so than usual). Again,
however, food safety programs can prevent this. In the US, for example,
the Food and Drug Administration must review data on novel products before
they go to market. This process takes several months, during which any
toxic effects become apparent.
Overall, scientists say that GMO foods are as safe or safer -- due to
added regulations and more precise crop manipulation -- than non-GMO
foods. Among others, experts from the US National Academy of Sciences, the
Royal Society of London, the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, the Chinese
Academy of Sciences, the Indian National Science Academy, the Mexican
Academy of Sciences and the Third World Academy of Sciences have concluded
that genetic engineering can create foods that are more nutritious, more
stable in storage and more health-promoting than conventional methods of
food alteration. Vigilance needed
Yes, there are environmental, social and economic concerns. Genetically
modified organisms could alter ecosystems by spreading their modifications
through pollen to other non-modified organisms, and companies could engage
in nefarious modifications (such as "Terminator technology") that
undermine traditional farming practices or even entire agrarian-based
We do have to be vigilant. That's why we have geneticists and ecologists
around the world looking into the environmental issue. They've helped
develop environmental impact assessments that are mandatory in most
countries. Most assessments include determining the frequency and possible
impact of gene flow by pollination, the potential effects on non-target
organisms and the consideration of effects on wildlife biodiversity.
And I'm not aware of anyone, on either side of the biotechnology debate,
who wants to see Big Business manipulate farmers. Again, vigilance is
essential to ensure that biotechnology is used to increase human health
and happiness, not just increase corporate profit. Harmful opposition But
is increasing human health and happiness a goal shared by opponents of
biotechnology? Actions related to Africa indicate that the answer is no.
Take the fight over Golden Rice. This engineered grain could address a
vitamin deficiency that blinds and kills millions of Africans every year
as it contains bacterial and daffodil genes that enable it to make a
nutrient the body converts to vitamin A.
Its inventors signed a deal that would see Third World farmers get the
grain for free. Nevertheless, critics denounced the distribution of Golden
Rice as a ploy for establishing biotech crops in impoverished nations --
an accusation that angered the scientist who led the rice's creation. "It
is not so much the concern about the environment, or the health of the
consumer, or help for the poor and disadvantaged. It is a radical fight
against a technology and for political success," Ingo Potrykus has said of
biotech opponents. The opposition "has to be held responsible for the
foreseeable unnecessary death and blindness of millions of poor every
Can we hold the opposition responsible for deaths in Zambia? Arguably,
yes. Thanks to public opinion on GMOs in Europe, the European Commission
has decided to slap labels on substances that contain even 0.1% modified
organisms -- a move that effectively amounts to protectionism, since few
farmers in GMO-producing nations can guarantee 100% purity and few
European consumers will buy GMO products.
Which brings us back to Zambia, and the real reason why people there will
continue to starve: Fear of diminished trade with Europe. "We stand firm
in our rejection of the maize for fear of losing our export market that is
doing well currently," said Zambia's agricultural minister in a telephone
interview this week.
For the sake of a protected market that serves irrational consumers, good
food will rot while hungry people die? GMO opponents can say what they
like, but Frankenfoods aren't the real monsters of this story.
Simon Smith is the founder and editor-in-chief of Betterhumans. You can
reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PN's 2003 Frederic Bastiat Prize for Journalism: $10,000 for Free-Market
International Policy Network developed the FrÈdÈric Bastiat Prize for
Journalism in order to recognize and reward writers and journalists whose
published works promote the institutions of a free society. In October
2003, IPN will award $10,000 in prize money at a ceremony in New York
This year's judges for the prize include Nobel Prize-winning economists
James Buchanan and Milton Friedman; Hernando de Soto ; and Robert Bartley,
The deadline for entries is 30 June, 2003. Rules about the contest, and
further details, can be found at
HighWire: Library of the Sciences and Medicine
* More than 12 million searchable journal articles
* World's largest collection of free full-text articles
* 6 different search tools to locate what you need
* Online archives of Plant Physiology and The Plant Cell, plus more than
350 other journals covering the sciences and medicine
Find what you need at Stanford University's http://www.highwire.org
(Source - ASPB News http://www.aspb.org)
TO YOUR HEALTH / Doing your part to combat diabetes
- Ann Endo, The Daily Yomiuri (Japan)
Full Story at http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/newse/20030524woc1.htm
Jack had been tall and slim in his youth, captain of his high school
basketball team. However, the years had taken their toll. Long working
hours meant sleeping through the weekends--walking to the refrigerator was
his greatest exercise--and his weight crept up.
Like most other company employees in Japan, he was required to have a
yearly physical examination. His doctor had cautioned him for years about
gaining weight, but this time he said Jack's fasting blood sugar was also
very high. Jack was now diabetic.
The cost of diabetes, in terms of both money and human suffering, is
staggering. It plays a role in about 50 percent of heart attacks and 75
percent of strokes, is the leading cause of blindness in industrialized
nations, a major factor in kidney disease, and because of damage to
peripheral circulation, amputations. Four million deaths annually can be
attributed to diabetes.
In 1985, the World Health Organization estimated that about 30 million
people suffered from diabetes worldwide. WHO's calculation today is now
over 177 million (6.8 million in Japan), and it anticipates the total
incidence by 2030 to be around 370 million, almost 9 million in Japan. Why
the sudden upsurge? It can't be said too often--you are what you eat.
And the newest of the news: the National Institute of Agrobioligical
Sciences and colleagues have developed a genetically modified rice which
they claim will encourage the pancreas to produce insulin. A serving of
such rice at each meal, they say, is enough to control Type 2 diabetes.
The catch is that Japan is reluctant to grow genetically modified plants,
and that this rice might have to be grown abroad and imported. Importing
rice is also problematic.
Biotechnology a Hot Career Choice for the 21st Century
'Expert predicts 400,000 people will be employed in biotech industry by
Biotechnology has been called the cutting-edge industry of the new
century. But you can see the potential of a career in biotechnology in
something as simple, old and traditional as rice, one of the world's first
"The future of agriculture will be navigated using the rice genome map,"
says Stephen Goff, a geneticist at Syngenta Biotechnology. Goff was part
of a team that in 2002 finished mapping the complete genetic structure, or
genome, of rice — a breakthrough scientists say will lead to varieties of
rice (and other cereal crops) that taste better, provide more nutrition
and are easier to grow.
In The Coming Biotech Age, Richard Oliver of Vanderbilt University
estimates that already 100 million people have been directly helped by
biotechnology, such as farmers who are able to grow more and ordinary
people who have more to eat. Biotechnology will impact even more lives
when innovations like edible vaccines and cancer-fighting tomatoes reach
For people who enjoy the challenge of working with the innovative and the
new — and the satisfaction of tackling real-life problems like hunger,
malnutrition and disease — it's a promising time to enter the field. One
consulting firm specializing in biotechnology expects that by 2011 there
will be 400,000 people employed by biotech companies and another 350,000
in related businesses (compared to 250,000 and 150,000 today). 1
That growth is reflected in regional biotech centers like the Boston area.
"Right now, we're at 2,700 jobs and 60 companies in the region which
reportedly generate around $320 million a year in revenues," said Kevin
O'Sullivan, vice president for business development at the Massachusetts
Biotechnology Research Park, in an interview with bizsites.com. "We think
by 2010, we're going to be at 10,000 jobs and that about 100 companies
will be located here." 2
Most of these jobs are in the medical field. A February 2003 study by Bio
Economic Research Associates said that of the 1,200 biotechnology
companies in the United States, only about 10 percent specialize in plant
or animal agriculture. 3 Including universities and government agencies,
there are about 180 organizations engaged in agricultural biotech research
and development. 4
Increasingly, states, cities — even countries — are competing to attract
these high-skill, high-paying jobs. Currently there are nine biotech "hot
spots" on the east and west coasts, with Boston, San Francisco and North
Carolina's Research Triangle among the largest, but other areas are
pushing to catch up. Michigan, for example, is investing $1 billion over
20 years to nurture a life sciences and biotechnology corridor from
Detroit to Grand Rapids. 5
Moreover, it's an industry that's investing heavily for future growth.
Biotech companies on average invest about 35 percent of their profits in
developing new products like these, according to Oliver, more than double
of any other industry. The five largest companies spent an average of
$89,000 per employee in 2000 alone on research and development. 6
Bringing a new biotech plant variety to market can take between six and 12
years and can cost between $50 million and $300 million, according to Bio
Economic Research Associates. 7
There are several career paths into this growing industry:
Research and development: R&D generates and tests the ideas that become
new biotechnologies. There are more jobs in this area than any other,
according to Canada's Biotechnology Human Resource Council, 8 but many
positions require an advanced degree. *
Clinical research: Scientists in clinical research get the ideas generated
by R&D and take them into the field for "real world" tests and
Quality control: Because biotech foods directly affect human health, high
standards are critical during their development. Quality control ensures
products are developed and tested safely in accordance with law. *
Sales and marketing: There's a strong need for sales and marketing pros
with a science backgrounds who can communicate effectively with
researchers and customers alike. *
Regulatory: Regulatory affairs workers play a key role in getting products
approved, by ensuring the company is in compliance with all government
regulations for new products.
While a large share of the research and development is being carried out
by biotech companies like those that make up the Council for Biotechnology
Information, 12 of the top 35 organizations that conduct biotech research
are universities. 9
The following are several links to help you get started in this
challenging, high-opportunity field.
University programs in biotechnology
A number of universities offer courses of study in biotechnology. The
following are among the institutions that have been identified as in the
top 35 organizations in agricultural biotechnology. For a more complete
list of the educational opportunities available, visit Cato Research's
Biotechnology Information Directory:
Visit http://www.whybiotech.com/index.asp?id=2983 for links to ..