Today in AgBioView: June 13, 2003:
* BBC's Biotech Questionnaire
* Crop diversity
* Civility on AgBioView
* Debate, what debate?
* Starving Nations Reject U.S. Food Donation
* SOUTH AFRICA CONCERNED OVER EU GM LEGISLATION
* EU Under Pressure over GM Crops
* Swiss Parliament Votes to Reject GM Moratorium
* Rules for Technophiles
* RESEARCH SHOWS GM & ORGANICS CO-EXIST IN UK
Date: Fri, 13 Jun 2003 15:19:31 +0930
From: "Chris Preston"
Subject: BBC's Biotech Questionnaire
Thanks for your tip. I had quite a lot of fun with the questionnaire
despite its obvious drawbacks. Some of the questions were impossible for
me to answer in any sensible way such as the one about whether I invest in
ethical companies. I don't personally invest, so the obvious answer might
be no. But that again is untruthful, because I don't invest in unethical
companies either. Then again if I did personally invest perhaps I might
choose ethical companies. (Don't most companies try to be ethical? Don't
you get locked up for unethical activities like insider trading?.
Certainly, I would not be looking to invest in obviously crooked outfits
because my money might disappear. Perhaps, I don't understand this
questionnaire nearly as much as I thought I did?). Tough questions like
these I avoided.
The net result was that I came out strongly pro-GM - I think largely
because I answered that I believed it was better to give developing
nations a pest tolerant crop than lots of pesticide (WOW, that could be a
tough question for some), I said it was OK to use GM if it was the only
option to stop starvation (Gee, I hope nobody answers no to that one), and
I said it was OK for insulin to be GM (Obviously, because it is safer than
the alternatives). I also came out strongly for public ownership of GM.
As far as I could tell, I only answered two questions that might have
influenced that result. These are: that my family only owns one car; and
I don't own shares (at least not personally). It didn't take much for me
to be defined as anti-corporate!
Obviously, I don't have nearly enough to do, but I am told a good laugh is
Dr. Chris Preston
University of Adelaide
>> BBC's Biased Biotech Questionnaire
>> - Frances Smith
>> There's a terribly biased questionnaire (GM Compass) on GM food on the
>> website -- it's so poorly designed that it's impossible to answer some
>> with accuracy. (E.g., One question asks about the "fat cats" from
>> firms.) It supposedly is designed to show where you are vis-à-vis
Questionnaire available at:
From: "Nagib Nassar"
Subject: crop diversity
Date: Thu, 12 Jun 2003 02:23:46 -0300
I disagree,respectfully, on what Dave Eood and Jill Lenne claim that crop
diversity has nothing to do with preventing disaster of irish potato in
1845 by potato blight. It did!!! , not only with potato but with so many
crops. In East Africa, cassava was saved from mosaic devastation in the
1920s by transferring the resistance from M.glaziovii. This has happened
in other countries economically dependent on sugar, cacao, coffee tobacco
and banana. Mosaic virus destroyed the sugar cane in several countries but
the crop was saved by introducing the resistance from the saccharum
spontanium. Wild canes have also conferred resistance to sereh, puthium
root rot, gummosis, and red rot among others. Wild cacao have saved the
crop from devastation by witches broom. Wild coffee saved the cultivate in
Brazil when rust Helmeia vastrix invaded the country in the 1960s. Coffee
rust almost wiped out the arabica industry in Ceylon, India and the
philipines. Tobacco industry was salvaged by the transference of mosaic
resistance from Nicotiana glutinosa. In wheat the wild emmer conferred
resistance to strip rust. In Barely, H.spontaneum donnated genes of
resistance to powdery mildow, leaf rust as well as several other diseases.
So many example in the literature would certainly convince Dave Wood and
Not only resistance to diseases, but wild species contributed more and
more!! Wild peas were used in russia to extend the range into warmer and
drier regions where peas do not grow. Wild cotton conferred cytoplasmic
sterility to the cultivate. From wild cassaava , it was possible to trafer
apomixis, high protein content and tolerance to drought (by me!!! see
details in www.geneconserve.pro.br)
More examples have come from fruits. In it ,flavors was improved by
crosses with wild species. This was demonstrated by hybridizing the
cultivate tea with the wild Cammelia. In the case of oil palm,
unsaturated oil was traferred from the wild African oil palm!!!
Professor, Genetics, Universidade de Brasilia
Date: Wed, 11 Jun 2003 17:27:20 +0200
From: "Mark Tepfer"
Subject: civility on AgBioView
AgBioView Losing Its Only EU Insider? Hope Not..
I too hope that AgBioView is not losing participants like Anders Buch
Kristensen. I should like to point out that what has distressed him (and
also Julian Kinderlerer just a bit ago) is also the style that is
tolerated at AgBioView, which I also find quite unpleasant at times.
AgBioView has two major sources of input. One is quotes from other sources
(acting as a clipping service), about which nothing could or should be
done, from the point of view of civility. The other source is original
pieces by participants, and here is where I believe there is room for
improvement. It can of course be fun to let off steam by mistreating
someone one disagrees with, particularly if done in a semi-humorous
fashion. The problem is that it's just counter-productive in the present
case. I think the stakes are too high in the current state of the
discussion regarding GMOs to continue being self-indulgent in this
fashion. If disagreement can't be regarded with interest, and treated
serenely, aren't we losing something important?
Prakash, I think it's up to you to clarify what you want AgBioView to be.
If it's to be a tool for discussion and reflection, then you should
consider asking some of the participants to grow up just a bit, in the
interest of better mutual understanding. And in case you were curious, I
do have a sense of humor, but use it elsewhere.
Mark Tepfer (an EU outsider?)
Laboratoire de Biologie Cellulaire
78026 Versailles cedex
Debate, what debate?
June 12, 2003
The UK government is squandering the chance to canvass public opinion on
one of the hottest controversies in science.
How do you condense the views of the public on genetically modified (GM)
crops into a single document? One innovative, if experimental, solution is
to try to spark public debate among community groups across the country.
In Britain, this effort got under way last week. It is supposed to inform
the decision, to be made in the autumn, on whether to allow commercial
planting of the crops.
Six set-piece debates are being held in cities around Britain in the first
two weeks of June. These are meant to act as springboards for discussions
at local level. Questionnaires and recordings from the events should
generate more detailed insights into public thinking than opinion polls
can provide - helping to reveal how people have come to hold the views
that they express (see page 672).
It's a laudable idea. But one problem has become painfully clear: most of
the public don't know they are invited, for reasons that aren't hard to
discern. Over the past three years, the Netherlands (population 16
million) and New Zealand (population 4 million) have conducted similar
programmes to assess opinion on genetically modified crops, each investing
some four times the sum allotted in Britain (population 60 million). This
penny-pinching has restricted advertising, and turnouts at the first
debates have been limited to a few hundred, with the majority already
having a vested interest in the subject.
Members of the panel organizing the debate, which includes representatives
from industry and academia, as well as experts on public consultation,
claim that they were given too little time to set up the debate. The
panel's first meeting was last September; the government expects the
results to be complete by mid-July.
This sorry state of affairs will have two consequences. The opportunity to
test a consultation process that could be applied to many other scientific
controversies - from the alleged environmental hazards posed by
nanotechnology to the ethics of embryonic stem-cell research - could be
squandered. Worse, negative media coverage may leave the British people to
assume that the government has already made up its mind on transgenic
agriculture, and simply isn't interested in their views.
Starving Nations Reject U.S. Food Donation
June 12, 2003
LOS ANGELES — The United States, whose farmers are feeling the impact from
a ban on genetically modified food by the European Union (search), is
working on a claim filed with the World Trade Organization (search)
calling the EU's actions a form of illegal protectionism.
The high-profile political fight with Europe comes even as some Europeans
say they have no evidence that genetically modified, or GM, foods are in
any way harmful. EU scientists acknowledge that after dozens of studies
that show no ill effects from engineered foods, their rejection is not
science-based, but the result of paranoia following outbreaks like mad cow
and foot-and-mouth disease.
"There is a genuine fear in Europe of the consequences of these foods. As
a result it's difficult for politicians to certify new strains of
genetically modified foods," said Clyde Prestowitz, president of the
Economic Strategy Institute (search) in Washington and a former trade
The impact has been the forceful rejection by European countries of
American genetically modified food exports. The position was repeated
earlier this month at a Group of Eight meeting in France and again when
the EU Parliament ratified a three-year-old U.N. biosafety protocol that
lets countries ban imports of a genetically modified product if they feel
there is not enough scientific evidence a product is safe.
The treaty also requires exporters to label shipments containing
genetically altered foods such as corn or cotton.
The United States did not sign the treaty, which has not yet reached the
number of signatories yet to put it into effect.
Regardless of the treaty's status, the European Union's intransigence on
the issue has effectively barred many American food imports while
shielding European farmers from competition.
In the United States, up to 70 percent of prepared foods contain
genetically modified ingredients. Not only will the EU not accept them,
but their ban has effectively forced starving nations to reject food aid,
of which the United States provides 50 percent of the world's stocks.
Last year, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, two African nations experiencing ongoing
famine, turned down thousands of tons of desperately needed foods, in part
because of Europe's ban, in part because of an international propaganda
"They basically are saying it is better a million people starve to death
than eat perfectly nutritious genetically modified food from the U.S.
where people have been eating it for 10 years without negative effect,"
said Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore. Moore has since broken with
On Tuesday, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in Britain said in a draft
paper that genetically modified foods can help underdeveloped countries
meet its nutritional needs.
The paper added that European policy could hinder developmental efforts by
countries forced to comply with strict export policies. But the
organization said developing countries must decide for themselves whether
to accept genetically altered foods.
Other nations have also rejected GM food. Thai government officials
refused to accept "golden rice," which has been cross-pollinated with
daffodils to add pro-Vitamin A to Asian diets, helping to prevent
blindness in children. Rice is a major staple of the Thai diet but
detractors say golden rice seed, made by British and German companies for
export, has not been proven beneficial.
Moore said no science backs up claims that genetically modified foods can
cause disease, and said scare tactics are inexcusable.
"They refuse the corn because of scare tactics by environmentalists. They
say it's poisoned and contaminated, that's the way GM is described in the
developing world," Moore said.
The WTO case is a long way from being decided. In the meantime, the
five-year-old ban continues.
SOUTH AFRICA CONCERNED OVER EU GM LEGISLATION
June 12, 2003
Crop Biotech Update
The Environment Committee of the European Parliament has voted to ban
traces of GM material in imported products unless it has 100% purity,
which is much higher than the proposed 0.9% tolerance level. This decision
has prompted serious concerns among the members of the South African
agricultural industry. Concerns dwell on the possible impact that this
will have on countries who have trade relations with the EU and w ho at
the same time are using GM technologies to improve their agricultural
production. At present, Africa relies on biotechnology to overcome the 30%
plus crop losses caused by weeds, pests and diseases every year. According
to Jocelyn Webster, Executive Director of AfricaBio E28093 the
Biotechnology Stakeholders Association which includes industry, consumers,
and farmers in South Africa, "developing countries cannot afford cost
increases in domestic food production nor in exporting food products to
meet such high standards, especially in the light of negligible premiums
being paid for non-GM food." AfricaBio has released a statement on the
draft European legislation on t he tolerance levels for the intended
presence of GM material in non-GM agricultural and food products. It
strongly urges policy makers in the EU to consider the impact on
developing countries when voting on a labeling and traceability regulatory
regime that would be impossible to implement. More on AfricaBio at
EU Under Pressure over GM Crops
Inter Press Service
By Stefania Bianchi
BRUSSELS, Jun 12 (IPS) - Prominent African writer and activist James
Shikwati made a strong appeal at a forum in Brussels this week for
introduction of genetically modified crops to feed the hungry.
Shikwati, who is director of the non-governmental organisation
Inter-Region Economic Network (IREN) based in Kenya spoke at a meeting
organised by TechCentral Station, a U.S. online journal on global public
TechCentral Station promotes free markets and use of technology, but
acknowledges that such promotion raises important public issues. IREN
campaigns for policies that would support development of Africa.
The Brussels meeting was addressed also by Chris Wilson, U.S. Trade
Attaché to the EU (European Union). The campaigner from Africa was clearly
putting forward a case that seemed to match U.S. interests in breaking
down EU opposition to genetically modified (GM) foods.
Shikwati argued that Africa needs these crops. ”Biotechnology would give
African farmers the freedom to produce their own goods instead of begging
donor countries,” he said at the meeting Wednesday. ”Africa needs this
investment and wants to make use of the technology.”
Shikwati urged the EU to drop its five-year moratorium on GM foods. ”With
insects destroying crops, Africans don't have a choice that their crops
live or die, but with GM crops this could change,” he said. ”We want to
explore GM technology and believe it could tackle pests and save the
The EU has maintained a moratorium on the commercial development of GM
foods since 1999. This has delayed the approval of GM crops and, according
to the U.S., forced African countries to refuse GM food aid.
Last year famine-stricken Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique turned down
shipments of GM food from the U.S. because of health and environmental
concerns. The countries were worried also that they could lose their
export market in the EU if their crops were seen as contaminated by
genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Shikwati acknowledged EU concerns that African farmers could become
dependent on GM technology from the U.S., but insisted that such a
situation was still better than dependency on food aid.
”Food aid from abroad makes production difficult, but with GMOs farmers
could make a profit even if the seeds are expensive,” he said.
Supporting Shikwati's case for GMOs at the meeting, Wilson told EU
officials present that a combination of biotechnology and economic
policies could play a significant role in reducing hunger in Africa.
”The world is on the threshold of an agricultural revolution,” Wilson
said. ”GMOs can reduce the cost of food production, help the environment,
reduce pesticides and feed the starving.”
The case for GM crops did not go unchallenged at the meeting. Alexander de
Roo, vice-president of the Environment Committee at the European
Parliament and member of the Green Party, said the U.S. was promoting GM
foods for its own financial gain.
”It's up to Africans if they want to buy GM food,” he said. ”I would
advise them not to, but what I don't understand is why there is so much
pressure from the U.S.”
GM crops were first commercially cultivated in the early 1990s. It was
claimed they would increase resistance to pests and weed-killers, increase
yields, cut prices and enhance the nutritional value of crops.
Cultivation has expanded rapidly since then, especially in the U.S., which
now produces 68 percent of GM food, followed by Argentina with 23 percent.
Canada produces 7 percent and China 1 percent. The U.S. grows biotech
crops, mostly corn, over 96.3 million hectares.
But outside the U.S., and especially in Europe, GM foods have been
criticised by consumers as unsafe, unnecessary and bad for the
The GM debate has become a particularly sensitive issue between the EU and
Last month U.S. President George Bush accused Europe of ”impeding” U.S.
efforts to fight famine in Africa because of ”unfounded” fears over GM
foods. The U.S. has taken its case to the World Trade Organisation (WTO),
which deals with trade rules between nations, to get the European Union to
relax its restrictions.
The EU, however, denies claims that its reluctance to allow new GM foods
is keeping developing countries away from these foods. Officials say they
simply need more time to develop systems for tracing and labelling GM
foods and feed.
EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy was quoted by the U.S. Wall Street
Journal last month as saying that ”choices for developing countries should
not mean 'accept GM food or starve'.”
Several consumer groups and civil society organisations say the U.S. is
arguing the case for GM foods to promote its financial self-interest.
Juan Lopez of Friends of the Earth International, the world's largest
environment federation, told IPS that GM food cannot solve the food crisis
in Africa. ”GM crops aim to consolidate the big agribusiness control of a
food chain,” he said. ”They would just force small farmers in developing
countries out of business.”
GM crops cannot solve the problem of hunger and food security in
developing countries, he said, ”since they are not the right response to
the real causes of those problems, like debt, lack of infrastructure and
Swiss Parliament Votes to Reject GM Moratorium
Brussels, June 12, 2003 - EuropaBio welcomes the decision today in the
Swiss Parliament to reject the moratorium on GM crops. The Lower House
voted to reject the moratorium by 77:70. This decision reflects an
about-turn by the Lower House to support the Upper House, which last week
overwhelmingly voted against any moratorium by a majority of 29 to 6
In May this year, the Lower House had originally voted in favor of a
moratorium (83:78). This led to the need to find a resolution between the
two Houses. Swiss parliamentary procedure dictates that both Houses must
reach consensus prior to decisions becoming law.
"We applaud this decision, which is a positive political move in Europe,"
said Simon Barber, Director of the Plant Biotechnology Unit at EuropaBio.
"At long last, we are beginning to see encouraging signals to support this
For further information, contact:
Simon Barber, Director of the Plant Biotechnology Unit, EuropaBio
Tel: +32 2 735 0313 Mobile: +32 476 44 24 20
Notes to Editors
(1) EuropaBio EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, has
35 corporate members operating worldwide and 21 national biotechnology
associations representing some 1200 small and medium sized enterprises
involved in research and development, testing, manufacturing and
distribution of biotechnology products.
See you at CORDIA !
CORDIA - EuropaBio Convention 2003
Vienna 2-4 December 2003
Avenue de l'Armée, 6
B - 1040 Brussels
Tel : +32.2.735 03 13
Mob: + 32 475 93 17 24
Fax : +32.2.735 49 60
email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Website : www.europabio.org <www.europabio.org>
Rules for Technophiles
Tech Central Station
By Kenneth Silber
I spend a lot of time writing about science and technology, and my general
thrust has been one of promoting and defending science and technology. By
most standards, I am a technophile. Yet I find myself concerned by some of
the commentary presented by my fellow technophiles in various forums. In
particular, they (or we, because I don't think I'm immune to these
tendencies) tend to take expansive views about technology's potential to
transform humanity and the world, even when there is vast uncertainty
about what that potential is.
My concerns crystallized after I read Arnold Kling's TCS article "Moore
vs. Plato" , which argued that the march of technology is rapidly making
the work of humanists (experts on literature, philosophy and so on)
irrelevant and obsolete. I debated Kling in a few comments posted below
his article, and the debate soon focused on questions about technology and
the Vietnam War.
But my broader objections were to the triumphal and sweeping tenor of his
article. In subsequent weeks, Kling has written several TCS pieces on
current issues in health care and education - and I have been tempted to
post comments asking why we should worry about such pedestrian issues,
given that technology is about to transform humanity anyway. (I decided to
avoid such petty sniping, of course.)
Speculating about the future of technology is part of any technophile
commentator's job description. But when technophiles assert, confidently
and without caveats, that vast change is in the offing, several dangers
arise. One is that technophobes will get undeserved material for
presenting alarmist views, as has been occurring in the debate over human
genetic engineering. Another concern is that overselling the product will
lead to disappointment when the promised results don't arise, fueling
further public disenchantment with technology. In addition, techno-hype
can simply be a distraction when dealing with serious issues involving
In light of all this, I would like to suggest some guidelines that could
be helpful to technophiles in thinking and arguing about technology. These
are heuristics to be considered, not inflexible principles, and they are
reminders to myself as well as to others:
Extrapolate cautiously. The Wright brothers' original airplane in 1903
flew at about 30 miles per hour. Just under 50 years later, two military
aircraft flew at over 1,600 miles per hour, more than twice the speed of
sound. In the mid-1970s, the supersonic Concorde began flying
commercially, and military jets pushed over Mach 3. Now, nearly 100 years
after the first Wright flights, the top military speeds are stable, and
the Concorde is being mothballed. The gains seen in the first half or
three-quarters of the first century of flight would have been a poor
predictor of where aviation would be in 2003.
Remember failed predictions. Numerous technologies have failed to live up
to early expectations or speculations. Nuclear fusion and artificial
intelligence both fall into that category. Some hoped-for technologies,
such as flying cars or underwater cities, have failed to materialize at
all. Meanwhile, the important technologies that have emerged often have
done so with little expectation. In the late 1960s, the original Star Trek
presented Ricardo Montalban's villain Khan as a product of "selective
breeding," rather than of the gene splicing that emerged as a real
technique the following decade.
Think negatively sometimes. Economists are adept at considering costs and
constraints. Physicists are good at it, too, being quick to notice, for
example, when a proposed energy device violates the laws of
thermodynamics. Speculations about future technologies become more
credible when they take into account possible physical, economic, social
or political hurdles to their actualization. Technologies also may carry
crucial tradeoffs against other technologies or goals. Hydrogen fuel-cell
cars and electric-battery cars are unlikely both to become major forms of
transportation (even if either one ever does).
Consider low-tech options. Not everyone has the inclination or the means
to be on the technological cutting edge. Being focused on technology,
technophiles may overlook alternative methods that, for better or worse,
might come into use. During the conflict in Somalia in the 1990s, U.S.
intelligence efforts were frustrated by the enemy militias' use of
low-powered radios (and lower-tech drums) invulnerable to satellite
Visit Monument Valley. This scenic Arizona-Utah area of mesas and buttes
is worth the trip. But it's also an interesting metaphor, as used by
physicist James Trefil in his book Are We Unique?: A Scientist Explores
the Unparalleled Intelligence of the Human Mind. Trefil argued that any
future intelligent computers would likely be very different from humans;
they might outthink us in some ways but fall short in others - much as
Monument Valley's structures differ from each other, rather than being
adequately ranked by height. The Monument Valley metaphor provides a
valuable perspective on the possibility that genetic engineering or other
techniques could create "posthumans." But it's also a helpful way of
thinking about technology in general. Innovations do not necessarily
outperform, in every way, everything that came before.
Beware the horseshoe. It is sometimes suggested that the political
spectrum is like a horseshoe, in which the extremes are much closer to
each other than they are to the center. A similar argument could be made
about the spectrum of opinion regarding technology. Among both
technophiles and technophobes, there are fervent believers in the
proposition that technology is about to radically change the world and
humanity. The disagreement is mainly about whether this is a good thing.
If you are a technophile who shares certain key assumptions with
technophobes, that doesn't necessarily mean you and they are wrong in
those assumptions. But it's a possibility you might want to consider.
RESEARCH SHOWS GM & ORGANICS CO-EXIST IN UK
June 12, 2003 (Via Agnet)
Over the past four years farm-scale trials at 260 sites across the UK have
shown that the protocols attaching to GM crops are workable and that there
had been no instances of organic producers losing their status. Speaking
at the launch of a new assessment of the economic impact of GM cropsm in
the UK the acting Chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, Dr
Paul Rylott, said: "The consensus is that GM crops are at least as safe as
those grown conventionally. The debate now needs to be widened as to
whether GM crops can co-exist with conventional and organic systems and
what, if any, are the benefits." He added; "We know that co-existence can
occur, but should it, and what are the benefits? We in ABC wanted to try
and move the issue to find some answers and believe that the SAC report
does that. We appointed SAC because it is independent with widespread
practical knowledge, including in the organic sector." The report by the
Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) showed considerable economic gains
from the use of GM crops.