Today in AgBioView: June 5, 2003
* Malicious Virus and Mischief
* Do All EU Members States Have to Approve of a New GMO?
* G8 Leaders Endorse Science and Technology Action Plan
* Keep Open Mind on GM Crops
* World Agriculture - Towards 2015-2030
* Souped-Up Rice Goes Against Grain
* Wambugu Appointed to Bill Gate's Science Board
* Heart of the Opposition to Biotech: Concentration of the Control
* Economic Risks and Opportunities from the Release of GMOs in NZ
* Scientists Urge Philippine Support for Bt Maize
* From Bench to Boardroom: Promoting Brazilian Biotech
* Professional Luddite Grapples With Starvation
* None of Them Had to Die
* The Man They Love to Hate
* Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution
Malicious Virus and Deliberate Mischief
AgBioView readers please note that some one is deliberately faking
AgBioView messages and selectivly sending virus-infested email messages
with "AgBioView " subject line.
I urge those of you receiving such messages to be careful and not to open
the attached file. The issue is being investigated and a legal action
Do All EU Members States Have to Approve of a New GMO?
Re: AGBIOVIEW SPECIAL: THE ATTACK ON PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY
- Anders Buch Kristensen
I was very disapointed to read this chapter because you apperantly do not
know what you are talking about; one example: it is not true that all 15
member states have to aprove a new GMO, if one MS have objections to the
proposal it have to follow a procedure where in the end it will be adopted
unless there are a qualified majority of MS votes against the proposal.
- Kind regards, Anders Buch Kristensen, Ph.d.
>>THE ATTACK ON PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY - Gregory Conko and C.S. Prakash
>>'Chapter 7 in 'Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths', Ronald Bailey ed.
Response by Gregory Conko
Dear Dr. Kristensen,
Regarding your comment that all 15 member states do not have to approve a
new GMO: This point may be technically correct, but effectively incorrect.
The EU's own system has not worked as it is designed.
According to the EC's own description of the approval process, an
application for approval is first submitted to the competent national
authority of a member state, where the GMO is to be released. If that
national authority provides a favorable opinion on the application, it
then informs other member states. Only if there are NO (as in zero)
objections does the application become immediately approved. If there is
even a single objection from a single member state, then the decision is
taken at the community level.
At the community level, the European Commission first seeks the opinion of
the appropriate scientific committees, which render an advisory opinion.
If the decision is favorable, then the application is forwarded to the EC
political authorities (which are composed of representatives of the Member
States) for a final decision.
At this level, the application is first considered by the Regulatory
Committee. If that committee approves, the Commission is to adopt the
favorable decision. If that committee does not approve, the application is
forwarded to the Council of Ministers for adoption or rejection. (This
description of the approval process can be found at
If it is incorrect, you may take that up with the European Commission,
which as you say, apparently does not know what it is talking about.)
So far, so good. Right? Well, no, actually. The problem is that once a
single member state objects and the decision is taken at the community
level, it runs into the moratorium -- now approaching five years old. So,
a single member state can indeed prevent any other member state from
approving a new GMO. We have described what is actually happening in the
EU, not what the legal scheme that is being ignored says should happen. If
you have a problem with that, I suggest you take it up with your fellow
Yours, Gregory Conko
G8 Leaders Endorse Science and Technology Action Plan
- David Dickson SciDev.Net, June 3, 2003
The leaders of the G8 nations, prompted by President Jacques Chirac of
France and actively backed by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien of Canada, have
endorsed an 'action plan' on the use of science and technology to promote
sustainable development. The plan, which was approved on the final day of
the three-day G8 summit in Evian, France, will focus in particular on
promoting action in three areas: global observation; cleaner, more
efficient energy; and agriculture and biodiversity.
The G8 leaders have agreed to set up a high-level group of research
officials to promote research collaboration in these fields. And the
statement specifies that those G8 leaders whose countries have already
ratified the Kyoto Protocol on limiting global warming -- a group that
excludes the United States -- should "reaffirm their determination to see
it enter into force".
The adoption of the action plan follows a commitment made by Chirac at
last summer's World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). At that
meeting, Chirac said that there was a need to work with the business
sector "to develop systems that spare natural resources and produce little
waste and pollution". He described the concept of sustainable development
as a "fundamental advance", and said that scientific and technological
progress should made to work towards such a goal.
In their statement, the G8 leaders argue that the three areas chosen as
the focus of their efforts to promote sustainable development "present
great opportunities for progress". They add that to meet the objectives of
the WSSD, "developing countries and countries with economies in transition
need to build and strengthen their capacity to assimilate and generate
knowledge for sustainable development".
Co-operative scientific research on transformational technologies "offers
potential to improve public health by cutting pollution and reduce
greenhouse emissions to address the challenge of global climate change,"
the G8 leaders say. "Our countries must optimise the use of natural
resources including through recycling."
On agriculture and biodiversity, the leaders promise to support the
International Treaty of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
"by concluding negotiations over a standard material transfer agreement
that facilitates access to plant genetic resources for agricultural
research and development and equitable sharing of benefits arising from
They also say that they will support the "vital role" of the Consultative
Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in disseminating
agricultural research, as well as the Global Forum for Agricultural
Research and other regional and national agronomic research organisations
and North-South and South-South research partnerships;
Finally they promise to promote sustainable agricultural technologies and
practices, "including the safe use of biotechnologies" among interested
countries, that contribute to preventing famine, enhancing nutrition,
improving productivity, conserving water and other natural resources,
reducing the application of chemicals, improving human health and
The statement ends by saying that the G8 member countries "will work in
partnership with developing countries and relevant multilateral
organisations to facilitate utilisation in developing countries of the
results of relevant research and development in these technologies".
In particular, they promise to convene "senior G8 policy and research
officials and their research institutions" to compare and to link
programmes and priorities in research in the three areas. They add that
this group "should also consider ways to assist developing countries that
have their own research programmes in these three areas, inter alia by
examining the possibility of opening our research programmes to third
Keep Open Mind on GM Crops
- Express and Echo (UK), June 3, 2003
Farmers in Devon and the South West should keep an open mind on
genetically modified (GM) crops until they are proven to be a risk or not.
That's the view of Nicholas Smirnoff, a reader in plant biology at Exeter
University, who already uses genetically modified organisms in his
experiments. Mr Smirnoff's words come as the Government today launches its
own national debate on the controversial issue.
Since the late 1990s, when a series of GM crop trials were attacked by
green protesters in South Devon and Dorset, the region has been a hotbed
of opposition to so-called 'Frankenstein foods', but Mr Smirnoff believes
much of the opposition is based on illogical emotionalism and a distrust
of the big multi-national food combines promoting GM technology rather
than any cut and dried scientific evidence.
The GM issue is due to erupt again, however, when an independent working
group, commissioned to report back to Whitehall, holds a regional
conference in Taunton. Mr Smirnoff is hoping the region's agricultural
community will leave the door ajar to GM crops in the future. He said:
"Overall, what I would favour is to go ahead cautiously on GM crops.
"One of the most important things is to disentangle the GM question from
that of organic production. "The assertion that organic production cannot
be genetically modified is just that at the moment: only an assertion.
"To my knowledge, there is no evidence of harm being caused by GM crops,
despite many years of massive use in the USA. "It is apparent now that a
more measured and widely-informed debate is needed.
"Perhaps three points could provide food for thought. "Firstly, what is
the difference in the nature of crops produced by conventional breeding
and by GM methods (possibly very little), and why is transferring a fish
gene into a plant intrinsically dangerous (it probably isn't)? "Secondly,
why should organic farming and the use of GM crops be mutually exclusive?
"It is only been decided to be the case by the Soil Association, which
validates organic produce, in the absence of any defensible evidence or
"Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there are the concerns raised by
the relationship between GM crops and large agricultural biotechnology
"This has been a cause for criticism, often justifiably, but the issues
revolve round intensive industrial agriculture, which existed long before
the use of GM crops, and its dangers, and not the nature of the GM plants
themselves. I believe that GM crops will eventually become the ultimate
'organic' crops, as we learn to tailor plants to low fertiliser inputs and
to defend themselves against pests and diseases using the more
sophisticated approaches now in the pipeline. "This could benefit the
farming industry in Devon and, more importantly, the developing world.
World Agriculture - Towards 2015-2030
- An FAO Perspective. June 1, 2003
This report is FAO's latest assessment of the long-term outlook for the
world's food supplies, nutrition and agriculture. It presents the
projections and the main messages. The projections cover supply and demand
for the major agricultural commodities and sectors, including fisheries
and forestry. This analysis forms the basis for a more detailed
examination of other factors, such as nutrition and undernourishment, and
the implications for international trade. The report also investigates the
implications of future supply and demand for the natural resource base and
discusses how technology can contribute to more sustainable development.
One of the report's main findings is that, if no corrective action is
taken, the target set by the World Food Summit in 1996 (that of halving
the number of undernourished people by 2015) is not going to be met.
Nothing short of a massive effort at improving the overall development
performance will free the developing world of its most pressing food
insecurity problems. The progress made towards this target depends on many
factors, not least of which are political will and the mobilization of
additional resources. Past experience underlines the crucial role of
agriculture in the development process, particularly where the majority of
the population still depends on this sector for employment and income.
In recent years the growth rates of world agricultural production and crop
yields have slowed. This has raised fears that the world may not be able
to grow enough food and other commodities to ensure that future
populations are adequately fed. However, the slowdown has occurred not
because of shortages of land or water but rather because demand for
agricultural products has also slowed. This is mainly because world
population growth rates have been declining since the late 1960s, and
fairly high levels of food consumption per person are now being reached in
many countries, beyond which further rises will be limited. But it is also
the case that a stubbornly high share of the world 's population remains
in absolute poverty and so lacks the necessary income to translate its
needs into effective demand.
Souped-Up Rice Goes Against Grain
- Kristen Philipkoski, Wired, June 5, 2003 http://www.wired.com
The primary source of sustenance for 80 percent of the world's population
is rice, but rice alone is not enough. Many in this group suffer from
vitamin deficiencies that can sicken or even kill them. Researchers
studying the rice genome believe they can help by providing the
information needed to manipulate the nutritional content of rice so that
it contains those missing vitamins. Yet critics say there are better ways
to prevent malnutrition, like making it possible for people to eat a more
That debate is sure to rage on as researchers continue to map the genetic
terrain of rice, an effort that is gaining momentum. The group assigned to
decode chromosome 10 of the rice genome has completed its mission and
published its data in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
"This will be a major resource for rice biologists and rice breeders,"
said Robin Buell, head of the chromosome 10 project and the rice genome
sequencing team at The Institute for Genomic Research. "So right away it's
going to be able to accelerate their research."
The consortium finished mapping chromosomes 1 and 4 out of a total of 12
chromosomes. Each advance brings researchers closer to knowing the story
of every gene that makes rice grow. Two biotech companies completed draft
versions of the rice genome in the past few years: Monsanto in June 2000
and Syngenta followed with their own draft in 2001.
While researchers have limited access to these databases, this latest
effort, which is part of the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project
is available to anyone at no cost through the group's website. Groups like
Greenpeace, who express concern about efforts to modify the rice genome,
say they're not Luddites. They don't oppose genome research per se, and
agree that it can be valuable in guiding traditional breeders to grow
hardier and more nutritious plants. But they say the effect on the
environment of inserting foreign genes into plants is unknown, and the
possibilities are too risky.
"We think genomics is great, and we have no problem with genetic
engineering if it's used in a contained laboratory environment," said
Charles Margulis, a spokesman for Greenpeace. "What we have (a) problem
with is when you release these man-made life forms out of the lab into the
environment without having any idea what the environmental consequences
are going to be."
Critics are also skeptical about the claims of companies touting the
benefits of genetically modified foods. Golden Rice, a rice product
fortified with vitamin A, fueled a controversy when Monsanto introduced it
in 2001 (sic). The company said it created the rice as a humanitarian
gesture to help the million people who die each year from vitamin A
deficiency, as well as the 350,000 pre-school age children who go blind
from lack of vitamin A. (sic)
Opponents pegged that as a PR spin, saying Golden Rice can only provide up
to 15 percent of the recommended daily consumption of vitamin A -- enough
to prevent the most serious, but not all, health issues related to a
They also argued that a better way to address nutritional problems is to
promote a more diverse diet. Green leafy vegetables, a good source of
vitamin A, have practically disappeared from the diets of some people in
Asia, because they've switched to growing rice exclusively in order to
profit from selling it, Margulis said. But researchers like Buell and her
colleagues argue that it can't be bad to improve impoverished populations'
nutrition in any way possible. That includes modifying the genomes of rice
and other agricultural products.
"Almost every crop is manipulated through natural genetic breeding," she
said. "This is a way to address food needs for the growing world. If
anyone looks at the predicted population growth and the arable land
available -- on top of the fact that transgenic crops can reduce the
amount of pesticide used -- I think (genetic modification) should be
viewed as favorable."
Buell and her colleagues found more genes than they suspected in
chromosome 10 of the rice genome -- twice the number -- bringing the total
number of estimated genes to 3,500 in chromosome 10. Researchers predict
the entire genome has up to 63,000 genes. "Now we can quickly target genes
to make transgenic plants and also modify the genes that are present,"
Access to the genomic information is another issue. While genomics
researchers can use data from the Rice Genome Sequencing Project without
constraints, small portions of data from the previous two studies done by
Monsanto and Syngenta are only being released gradually, according to
"Without this information our efforts will be compromised and
significantly slowed," said Peggy Lemaux, professor of plant and microbial
biology at the University of California at Berkeley. "And this doesn't
just mean for creating genetically engineered crops, but also the use of
the information to speed classical breeding efforts to improve disease
resistance, nutrition and yield."
Wambugu Appointed to Bill Gate's Science Board
- A Harvest Biotech Foundation http://www.ahbfi.org
The Chief Executive Director of A Harvest Biotech Foundation
International, Dr. Florence Wambugu, has been appointed to the Science
Board of the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, a new
initiative of the Bill & Melissa Gates Foundation.
The initiative will identify critical scientific challenges in global
health and increase research on diseases that cause millions of deaths in
the developing world. Nobel Laureate, Dr. Harold Varmus, President of the
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and former Director of
the National Institutes of Health, will chair a board of pre-eminent
scientists who will guide and direct the initiative.
The scientific board will identify and publish a focused set of critical
problems, or "grand challenges", in global health, that -- if solved --
could lead to important advances against diseases of the developing world.
The initiative will then provide competitive grants to teams of scientists
around the world to search for solutions to each of the challenges.
In accepting the appointment, Dr. Wambugu said: "Although we live in an
era of incredible innovation in science and technology about 200 million
Africans and many others in the developing world live a life of abject
poverty, are hungry and malnourished".
"There is consensus that what‚s needed now is major funding to support
scientists to articulate and prioritize great scientific challenges.
Africa must be part of the novel research approaches to address global
problems related to health and nutrition," said Dr. Wambugu.
Meanwhile, Dr. Wambugu has called on African scientists, science-based
institutions and NGO to respond in to the first 'call for ideas' from the
Science Board. Information is available at
http://www.gatesfoundation.org; All submissions are due June 15, 2003.
Heart of the Opposition to Biotechnology: Concentration of the Control
- Jerry Cayford , AgBioView, June 4, 2003
The GM debate is such an interesting mixture of close attention to details
and wild misinformation on the big picture. Dave Wood (AgBioView 29 May)
says concentration in the seed industry predates GM patenting. Here is
USDA's Economic Research Service: "A remarkable trend in the U.S.
commercial seed industry in the 1990's was rapid consolidation as smaller
seed companies and plant-breeding operations were purchased by large
agricultural concerns." ("Concentration and Technology in Agricultural
Input Industries," http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aib763/) There are
dozens of academic reports on the seed industry consolidation of the past
ten to fifteen years, which has been, I believe (I don't have a citation
handy), one of the fastest consolidations of any industry ever. No doubt
its causes are complex, but no one seriously questions that consolidation
happened mainly after utility patents became available on plants, nor the
importance of those patents to industry behavior.
Behind the misinformation in the GM debate is an unhelpful method of
investigation, which we might call "analysis by rumor." Wood's view of
concentration is a good example. He says, "RAFI reported with concern that
10 companies control 30% of the world's seed supply. For most people that
shows extremely healthy competition rather than monopoly." Aside from the
detail of its being five companies, not ten (Monsanto, Dow, Dupont,
Aventis, and Syngenta), the important question is why snap judgments about
what constitutes competition or monopoly are passed around so freely among
biotech proponents as facts. We all know that statistics can be tricky,
and there are lots of complications here. To an economist, an industry
structure that was "healthy competition" for cars could be monopoly
control for seeds.
The seed market is really hundreds of small, local markets, and dozens of
different crops. Imagine the following seed industry structure (this is
just imaginary!), which would be consistent with the structure Wood calls
"extremely healthy competition": suppose 70 percent of the seed supply is
in remote locations for local production (one local supplier per
location); so all major commercial production (the remaining 30 percent)
is controlled by those 10 companies. Now suppose those companies
concentrate on certain crops so there is no duplication of offerings: one
company has all corn, one has all wheat, one has all beans, one has all
rice, and so on. In this imaginary structure, the commercially available
supply of seeds for each crop would be 100 percent controlled by one
company. Perfect monopoly in every crop. But still the overall market
could be summarized as "10 companies control 30% of the world's seed
I would urge biotech scientists to read the experts in other fields,
rather than spreading rumors and snap judgments around. Read economists on
industry structure. On patents, the leading patent law professors like
John Barton, Rebecca Eisenberg, and Robert Merges write a lot about
biotechnology. And on resistance to biotechnology, read the critics. Here
is RAFI (the Rural Advancement Foundation International, now ETC Group):
"RAFI is not fundamentally opposed to biotechnology, but we have profound
concerns about the way it is being foisted upon the world.... For RAFI,
the fundamental issue is control." ("Monsanto's Submarine Patent Torpedoes
Ag Biotech," http://www.etcgroup.org)
Read any of the leading critics of biotechnology (Institute for
Agriculture and Trade Policy, say, or Oxfam), and it is clear that their
concerns are not the technology or its safety but its social effects.
Among the social effects of most concern to critics are damage to the
interests and food security of developing countries. The issues are well
laid out in a recent report by the Commission on Intellectual Property
Rights (UK) called "Integrating Intellectual Property Rights and
Sure, the general public may be worried about safety, but the general
public is not the same thing as biotech critics. And neither is
Greenpeace. (Biotech proponents spend too much attention on Greenpeace.)
If this were a football game, the general public would be the audience in
the stands and Greenpeace would be the cheerleading squad, but neither one
is the real opposing team. Instead of playing the game against the biotech
critics, proponents of biotechnology spend their energy complaining about
the cheerleading squad's outfits and slogans. Playing the game requires
addressing concerns about patents and food security economics in
developing countries. These are the concerns that motivate biotech
critics. It is proponents, not critics, of biotechnology who have insisted
on focusing on safety, rather than on social issues. This is clear from
the US position in trade negotiations, where the US adamantly refuses to
recognize any basis for GM regulation except health and environmental
Understanding that patents (utility patents on plants) are the main
problem behind resistance to GM food is only the beginning. As Wood
correctly observes, the public domain is a diverse and complex thing. But
this in no way implies that concern to protect the public domain from
privatization cannot be the basis of resistance to biotechnology. And he
is also correct that the "public domain is under threat on a wide front."
But this does not make all threats equal. We have to make sensible
judgments about what is an important cause and what is a secondary
The industry push to extend utility patents to plants and animals, and
then to force developing countries to implement patent systems under
threat of trade sanctions, these are the driving forces. In response, many
countries and people tried to soften the blow to the public domain by
creating the Seed Treaty. It has weaknesses, widely recognized even among
its supporters, including ETC Group (formerly RAFI) who represented civil
society in the treaty negotiations and says, "the convoluted text can't be
read without recourse to the Rosetta Stone." (Wood's worries about the
terrible consequences of Article 15.1.a should, accordingly, be taken with
a grain of salt.) The Seed Treaty may fail to implement a perfect public
domain. But its problems are its impotence against the patent tide, not
some powerful and sinister anti-public agenda of its own.
And speaking of sinister agendas, I hardly know what to say to Wood's
"suspicion that highly subsidized exporters in GM countries want to block
competition from the growth of GM in tropical competitors." This theory
that northern agribusiness is secretly promoting anti-GM resistance, in
order to keep biotechnology out of the hands of developing countries, is
certainly daring. But that such a theory could even make it into the
discussion is, again, a manifestation of this "analysis by rumor" tendency
and the lack of discipline it fosters.
If we look at the big picture, there is no need to resort to wild
speculation. There is nothing weird or irrational going on in the biotech
debate. The critics have reasonable concerns about patent monopolies on
food. Industry has every incentive to ignore those concerns, and none to
address or even acknowledge them. So communication stays blocked, but that
won't make the worries go away: the issue is utility patents (not plant
patents); utility patents on crops are new with GM; these patents have
already created enormous concentration of control of the food supply in
the hands of five corporations (and the process has just begun); and this
is the heart of the opposition to biotechnology.
Economic Risks and Opportunities from the Release of GMOs in New Zealand
- New Zealand Ministry for the Environment and the Treasury. 1-77. April
"The report confirms the government's cautious, case-by-case approach
based on preserving opportunities," Marian Hobbs said. "The research shows
that the most likely economic impact from the careful and considered
release of GMOs would be a small increase in GDP over 10 years, compared
to a small decrease from forgoing GMO releases.
"The report also confirms that the most beneficial way ahead is to
actively manage the potential risks and enhance the potential benefits.
The government is doing this through its response to the Royal Commission
report and in its safe sensible approach to GM."
Scientists Urge Philippine Support for Bt Maize
- Agrow World Crop Protection News. No 425, p 21. May 30, 2003.
Scientists urge Philippine support for Bt maize: The US-based AgBioWorld
Foundation, which provides scientific information on agricultural
biotechnology, has urged the Philippine government to maintain its support
for the development of genetically modified crops in the country. The move
follows protests from Philippine environmentalist groups against the
government's approval of Monsanto's YieldGard Bt maize (Agrow No 414, p
In a letter to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, AgBioWorld president Dr
Channapatna Prakash highlights the organisation's new international
declaration attesting to the safety of Bt maize. "As the first major
season of planting Bt maize gets under way in the Philippines, it is
important to ensure that dialogue based on sound science continues,
instead of unsubstantiated and misleading information," he says.
From Bench to Boardroom: Promoting Brazilian Biotech
- Alessandro Greco, Science,
The dynamo behind Brazil's sequencing of a crop killer is now calling the
shots for the country's biggest biotech venture capital fund
Sao Paulo - Brazilian biologist Fernando de Castro Reinach remembers
exactly when his nation decided to become a global player in genomics. It
was during a 1 May 1997 phone call with Jose Fernando Perez, scientific
director of the State of São Paulo Research Foundation (Fapesp), the
country's third-largest science and technology funding agency. "Let's
sequence a genome," Reinach told Perez, who had recently visited several
prominent U.S. labs and come away depressed about the state of molecular
biology in Brazil. Perez didn't hesitate. "Good. Send me a proposal," he
Three-plus years later, the work that Reinach and his colleagues performed
landed on the cover of Nature (13 July 2000). The scientists had completed
the full sequence of Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium that destroys $100
million worth of Brazilian citrus every year. In addition to putting
Brazilian genomics on the world scientific map, the achievement
highlighted Reinach's pivotal role in efforts to apply modern molecular
techniques to one of the country's most important economic sectors.
A 47-year-old professor at the University of São Paulo (USP), Reinach has
for more than a decade led a double life as a scientist and
entrepreneur--a rarity in Brazil. Last year, he picked up the pace,
becoming general partner for life sciences at one of the country's largest
venture capital funds, Votorantim Ventures. Reinach hopes his scientific
acumen, political savvy, and disarming smile will help nurture his
nation's nascent biotechnology industry. "Brazilian agriculture is already
very competitive," he says. "We want to make it even better."
Full Story at
Professional Luddite Grapples With Starvation
http://www.consumerfreedom.com/ June 4, 2003
Not content with telling Americans what to eat, Luddite
intellectual-in-chief Jeremy Rifkin subjects the British to his rantings
in a regular opinion column for the Guardian newspaper. In this week's
installment of anti-American technophobia, Rifkin attacks U.S. plans to
combat the European Union's moratorium on genetically enhanced crops.
Responding to the Bush Administration's case that the moratorium
exacerbates Africa's hunger pangs, Rifkin trots out this classic non
Today, 21 percent of the food grown in the developing world is destined
for animal consumption. In many developing countries, more than a third of
the grain is now being grown for livestock. The animals, in turn, will be
eaten by the world's wealthiest consumers in the northern industrial
countries. The result is that the world's richest consumers eat a diet
high in animal protein, while the poorest people on earth are left with
little land to grow food grain for their own families.
If only Belgians and Canadians would "go veg," Rifkin suggests, there'd be
enough food for everybody. Hooray!
Unsurprisingly, Rifkin fails to mention that African nations sell
livestock for hard cash, which is perhaps the single most helpful
commodity in the developing world. More to the point, much of the land
used to grow grain for animal consumption is unfit to grow food for human
consumption. And greater per-acre yields -- the promise of biotech crops
-- would mean more food for both animals and people. While Africans
starve, Rifkin dreams the impossible dream of forcing a vegan diet on
First- and Third-Worlders.
In truth, Rifkin's claim is just the latest variation on the theme that
the problem of famine is one of distribution, not supply. There is plenty
of food, the argument goes, but undernourished children just aren't
getting it. And that's a political problem, not a technological one.
Like much of what Rifkin writes, this is only half true. Starvation in
Africa is in large measure a problem of distribution and politics. At the
same time, if there's more to distribute in the first place, fewer people
will go hungry.
It's a point so obvious that one doubts Jeremy Rifkin has missed it. He
just finds it an inconvenient truth, and therefore chooses to ignore it in
his quest to abolish biotech crops. At least he hasn't missed the fact
that there's a hunger problem. Other zealots in the campaign to rid the
world of biotechnology have gone as far as denying that Africans are
hungry at all.
None of Them Had to Die
- Boston Globe, Special Feature. boston.com
Yesterday, 24,000 people worldwide could have been saved with basic care.
The same number could have been saved the day before, and the day before
that. In all, over the last year, 8.8 million lives were lost needlessly
to preventable diseases, infections, and childbirth complications.
The number of deaths is so vast, so unthinkable, that it seems to make
sense only between the covers of a report by the World Health
Organization, which issued the estimate. Perhaps it helps to note that the
figure is roughly the population of New York City, or the population of
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine combined.
But what makes the number real is to see someone die, and to know that
this man, woman, or child would have survived in the United States or in
much of the world. The Globe undertook to become witness to some of these
deaths. Only as a witness could we tell the stories of people who were
dying by the thousands -- of how they died and why, and how they could
have been saved if there had not been such maddening barriers to simple
For several weeks last fall, eight reporters and photographers traveled
around the world -- to Cambodia, Malawi, Russia, Guatemala, and Zambia.
They found obstacles to health care that could be overcome. The people
they met could have lived.....
Read the rest and many related articles including an 'Interactive
Overview' at http://www.boston.com/liveslost
The Man They Love to Hate
- Jim Giles, Nature v.23, p216-218; May 15, 2003
Bjørn Lomborg is reviled by green activists and has come under ferocious
attack from many environmental scientists. Just why does he provoke such
strong reactions, and how influential might his opinions become? Jim Giles
Since the publication in 2001 of his book The Skeptical Environmentalist,
Bjørn Lomborg has been the target of vitriolic criticism and has even been
accused of pandering to the pro-business lobby. But he maintains that his
views are based purely on a dispassionate analysis of available data.
Meeting Bjørn Lomborg for the first time, it's hard to understand what all
the fuss is about. For his upbeat assessment of the state of the world's
environment, Lomborg has become the bogeyman of the green movement, has
been accused of scientific misconduct, and has even been likened in the
pages of Nature to those who deny the Holocaust.
Yet, in person, Lomborg is far from the ogre that this publicity might
suggest. He is calm, friendly and utterly charming. He runs a new
environmental research institute in Copenhagen that is disarmingly
informal---as I arrived, a member of staff ambled down a corridor,
brushing her teeth. Clad in jeans and a T-shirt, Lomborg seems to have
more in common with the political liberals that he has so incensed than
with the conservative establishment that has eagerly embraced his message.
Lomborg's notoriety stems from his 2001 book The Skeptical
Environmentalist, a data-heavy assessment of the state of the planet that
paints an extremely optimistic picture. The storm that the book generated
has been well documented, but just why did the debate become so heated?
Will the book, and Lomborg's continuing work, have any lasting influence?
And what lessons does the Lomborg affair hold for those who want to
promote informed public and political debate about environmental science?
The roots of The Skeptical Environmentalist lie in the work of another man
whom the greens love to hate: the late free-market economist Julian Simon
of the University of Maryland at College Park. In 1997, Lomborg, then a
lecturer applying statistics to problems in political science at the
University of Aarhus in Denmark, came across a magazine article in which
Simon rebutted many of the doomsday predictions that environmentalists
have made about the planet. "When I read the article I thought 'hell,
no'," Lomborg recalls. "I thought that obviously the environment is
getting worse. But Simon said one irritating thing: go check the facts."
Challenging task. Lomborg formed a study group among his students to take
up Simon's challenge. Describing himself as having a left-wing frame of
mind, Lomborg says he assumed that it would be easy to debunk Simon's
views as merely the product of conservative American thinking. "We all
thought it would just be a matter of how much fun we would have showing he
was wrong," he says. But Lomborg says the study group ended up agreeing
with many of Simon's claims. Excited by what he was finding, Lomborg
persuaded Politiken, a left-leaning Danish daily newspaper, to publish
four essays summarizing his findings. Those essays evolved into a book
that was released in Denmark in 1998 and eventually published in English
by Cambridge University Press as The Skeptical Environmentalist.
Lomborg's approach was to use a mass of statistics on issues from species
extinction to air pollution, taken from authoritative sources such as
United Nations agencies, to gauge the state of the global environment. He
concluded that things are not as bad as environmentalists have led us to
believe. And although he was careful to say that we must continue to work
to protect our environment, he also raised questions about whether current
initiatives, such as the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, are the most
cost-effective way to do so.
This call of 'crisis, what crisis?' resonated with elements of the
conservative media: favourable reviews soon appeared in The Economist, The
Wall Street Journal and British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. Not
surprisingly, the environmental movement reacted with outrage. The World
Resources Institute, an environmental research and policy group based in
Washington DC, published a list of "Nine things journalists should know
about The Skeptical Environmentalist" -- arguing, among other things, that
Lomborg was selective in the studies that he cited, and lacked the
credentials to carry out his analysis correctly. Campaigners in Oxford,
UK, set up an anti-Lomborg website to bring together the burgeoning mass
of critical comments. And in September 2001, before a debate at an Oxford
bookstore, one activist pushed a pie into his face. "I was stunned," says
Lomborg. "But at least the pie tasted good."
Environmental scientists also weighed in against Lomborg. In January 2002,
Scientific American carried sharply critical articles by four
environmental researchers. An accompanying editorial note described the
book as a "failure". Nature had earlier published a scathing review by
Stuart Pimm, a conservation biologist at Columbia University in New York,
and Jeff Harvey, an ecologist at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology in
Heteren, accusing Lomborg of ignoring research that failed to support his
view and of referring to secondary sources, rather than the primary
literature (S. Pimm & J. Harvey Nature 414, 149-150; 2001).
Some of Lomborg's critics entered into a series of rebuttals and
counter-rebuttals that soon became bogged down in a mire of statistics.
"Some discussions have got lost in the details of the details," says
Michael Grubb, a specialist on climate change and energy policy at
Imperial College, London. But, like many observers, Grubb believes the
real weakness of Lomborg's book lies not in sloppy statistics but in his
selection and interpretation of data. "The book is strong on numbers but
weak on analysis," Grubb says.
In the chapter on climate change, for example, Lomborg chooses to cite
Henrik Svensmark at the Danish Space Research Institute in Copenhagen,
whose research suggests that variation in solar activity could have a
greater influence on the Earth's climate than has previously been
acknowledged. Lomborg argues that the warming influence of greenhouse
gases may therefore have been exaggerated. Svensmark is widely respected,
but his provocative ideas are not seen as well established. "It wasn't a
balanced account," says Grubb. "Lomborg chose to highlight one end of the
Perhaps the most significant criticisms of The Skeptical Environmentalist
come from those who ought to support Lomborg's statistics-driven approach.
Dan Esty, an expert in environmental law at Yale University in New Haven,
Connecticut, is a prominent advocate of the idea that carefully designed
and measured indicators of environmental health can be used to assess the
impact of problems such as water pollution. It sounds as if he should be
one of Lomborg's biggest fans. "But the sad truth is that what Lomborg got
right was lost among what he got wrong," Esty says.
False economy? Throughout the book, for example, Lomborg argues that
environmental benefits will accrue from increasing prosperity. Esty
believes that Lomborg has oversimplified this connection. "I think there
is some correlation between economic development and better environmental
results," says Esty. "But the suggestion that environmental development
stems from economic development is a misunderstanding." Indices of
environmental health, Esty points out, show that some developing
countries, such as Costa Rica, perform well, whereas other, richer
nations, including Belgium, score badly. "There are a great number of
policy choices to make and priorities to set at whatever level of economic
development a country finds itself in," argues Esty.
Now that the initial furore has died down, most researchers seem to agree
broadly with Esty and Grubb: Lomborg has made some interesting points, but
far more thorough analyses of the problems that he tackled can be found
elsewhere. Given that other researchers have spent decades addressing the
same issues, this conclusion is perhaps unsurprising. And it isn't as if
Lomborg is the first author to cast doubt on the claims made by
environmental campaigners. So why did the book generate such a violent
In part, the outcry may reflect an element of panic about the way in which
the conservative media seized upon Lomborg's book. Many campaigners feared
that his arguments would be used as justification by politicians who
oppose environmental legislation -- a worry that was heightened in the
United States by the Bush administration's apparent disdain for
environmental issues. "The book was getting very positive reviews," says
Allen Hammond, a senior scientist at the World Resources Institute. "We
wanted to warn people that we had problems with it."
But Lomborg's background and character were also important factors. Simon
and most other prominent critics of the green movement have been
right-wingers, preaching to those who are already ready to reject
environmentalists' claims. Lomborg, however, comes from one of Europe's
most liberal nations and was even a member of Greenpeace as a student.
What's more, he has an engaging manner -- exemplified by his good-natured
response to the Oxford pie protest -- and a rare ability to quote
statistics without losing his audience. "He has a verbal and mathematical
sharpness -- you don't often get that combination," says Toger
Seidenfaden, editor-in-chief of Politiken.
Some of Lomborg's opponents would dearly love to be able to portray him as
a stooge of the political right. But that won't be easy. He seems entirely
genuine about his stated position of having formed his views simply
through unbiased statistical analysis. "I believe I have looked at the
important indicators," says Lomborg. "If I sat down with dispassionate
researchers, most of the time we would come up with conclusions that are
close to mine."
Lomborg does, however, acknowledge that his position has provided succour
for polluting industries, and for right-wing groups that are opposed to
environmental legislation. "I know people use me for their political
ends," he says. And he has been criticized for his decision in October
2001 to speak to members of the US Congress at a briefing organized by the
Cooler Heads Coalition, a Washington DC-based group that campaigns against
the Kyoto Protocol. Lomborg argues that his message is the same, whatever
the circumstances. "I say the same things at oil-company meetings and
ecology meetings. If researchers refrain from saying things that could be
used politically, then they start acting as politicians," he says.
Nevertheless, he has turned down some offers, including one from a
plastics-industry organization that wanted to sponsor a lecture tour of
the United States.
So what, in the long term, will be Lomborg's influence on the debate about
the state of the planet? In Denmark, at least, he is continuing to make
waves through his role as director of the country's Environmental
Assessment Institute, which was established in January 2002 by the
country's newly elected centre-right government. With 17 researchers and
an annual budget of US$2 million, its primary aim is to conduct
cost–benefit analyses of environmental issues that are important to
The institute has, for example, already challenged environmental advocates
by questioning whether the money invested in recycling aluminium cans is
well spent, and is now working on issues such as soil pollution and waste
More generally, few would argue that Lomborg's book has won over many
hearts and minds. The Bush administration's policies on Kyoto and other
environmental issues were largely formed before the book was published,
and green activists continue to campaign using the same arguments as
before. But some experts argue that the affair contains valuable lessons
for environmental scientists: specifically, they argue that it shows how
counterproductive it can be to respond to misleading claims with anything
other than reasoned scientific argument. The tone of the scientists'
attacks on Lomborg was often emotive, and they were sometimes seen as
political. "I've yet to see a peer-reviewed response to Lomborg," points
out Roger Pielke, an expert on science and technology policy at the
University of Colorado at Boulder.
Pimm and Harvey's Nature book review, for instance, contains the following
statement: "The text employs the strategy of those who, for example, argue
that gay men aren't dying of AIDS, that Jews weren't singled out by the
Nazis for extermination, and so on." And the series of critiques in
Scientific American is subtitled: "Science defends itself against The
Skeptical Environmentalist", as if science itself was under attack.
Gripe hype. Presenting Lomborg as an enemy of science may indeed have been
hyperbole, and it certainly seemed to boost his profile. Chris Harrison,
publishing director for social science at Cambridge University Press, who
handled the book, says that sales quadrupled in the month following the
appearance of the Scientific American articles -- although he stresses
that stirring up controversy was not a deliberate marketing strategy.
Perhaps the most surprising development in the affair was the move by a
group of scientists, including Harvey, to report Lomborg to the Danish
Committees on Scientific Dishonesty, an official body that is responsible
for examining accusations of scientific misconduct. Even more surprising,
to some observers, was the committees' decision to investigate. In a
highly confusing judgement released in January, the committees' deemed The
Skeptical Environmentalist "to fall within the concept of scientific
dishonesty", because of its allegedly biased presentation of data,
although the report conceded that there was no evidence that Lomborg had
actually intended to deceive his readers (see Nature 421, 195; 2003 &
Nature 421, 201; 2003).
The investigation has been heavily criticised for relying on published
critiques of the book, in particular the Scientific American articles.
Lomborg issued a lengthy rebuttal on his website and lodged complaints
about the investigation with the Danish parliamentary ombudsman and the
government. "He never, ever said anything but what he believed the data
showed," says Kenneth Thue Nielsen, a member of Lomborg's original study
group who was until recently a researcher at the Environmental Assessment
Nevertheless, Lomborg loses a little of his calm when discussing the
investigation -- it is evidently one of the few events over a turbulent
couple of years that have really rattled him. "They simply said that if
the four critical scientists in Scientific American said I was an idiot,
then I must be," he complains. Fearing that the publicity surrounding the
ruling was damaging the Environmental Assessment Institute's standing, its
board of governors launched an independent review of all of the reports it
has produced. Board members hope that the review, which should be ready in
August, will provide a vote of confidence.
The real loser from the incident may, however, be the Danish Committees on
Scientific Dishonesty, which now faces a review of its remit by the Danish
government. And the committees' report definitely served to propel Lomborg
and his controversial ideas back into the headlines at a time when
interest had at last begun to wane. Whereas some news articles simply said
that Lomborg had been found guilty of misconduct, others portrayed him as
the victim of a witch-hunt.
Harvey has taken part in public debates with Lomborg on several occasions,
and his opinions on the book have not changed. But looking back, he
acknowledges that the venom with which Lomborg was attacked may have been
counterproductive. "The affair has taught me to be more calm and
measured," says Harvey. "We should have let the empirical evidence
Harvey's comment illustrates an important lesson to be learned from the
affair. The Skeptical Environmentalist is packed with facts and figures,
yet it was the emotional response that it inspired that will be best
remembered. The whole controversy, Pielke laments, is now perceived to
have been about politics rather than science, and everyone has been tarred
with the same brush: "Scientists are seen as the same as everyone else."
Lomborg's website http://www.lomborg.com
Danish Environmental Assessment Institute http://www.imv.dk
Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution
- Francis Fukuyama, BN.com price $20.00; ISBN: 0374236437; Hardcover,
272pp; April 2002 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
In Our Posthuman Future, Francis Fukuyama navigates the world beyond his
The End of History. According to this cutting-edge theorist, discoveries
in biotechnology have the potential to change human nature and undermine
human dignity. Arguing that limits must be and can be put on
biotechnology, Fukuyama asserts that state power must be used to regulate
biotechnology, our Brave New World fears notwithstanding. Our Posthuman
Future is social philosophy of the most controversial sort.
"In 1989, Francis Fukuyama made his now-famous pronouncement that because
the major alternatives to liberal democracy had exhausted themselves,
history as we knew it had reached its end. Ten years later, he revised his
argument: we hadn't reached the end of history, he wrote, because we
hadn't yet reached the end of science. Arguing that the greatest advances
still to come will be in the life sciences, Fukuyama now asks how the
ability to modify human behavior will affect liberal democracy." In Our
Posthuman Future, our greatest social philosopher describes the potential
effects of our exploration on the foundation of liberal democracy: the
belief that human beings are equal by nature.
In 1989, Francis Fukuyama made his now-famous pronouncement that because
"the major alternatives to liberal democracy had exhausted themselves,'
history as we knew it had reached its end. Ten years later, he revised his
argument: we hadn't reached the end of history, he wrote, because we
hadn't yet reached the end of science. Arguing that the greatest advances
still to come will be in the life sciences, Fukuyama now asks how the
ability to modify human behavior will affect liberal democracy.