Today in AgBioView: June 21, 2003:
* Bush to Speak at BIO
* Critics Say Politics, Not Science, Drives GM Food Debate
* Re: Can't We All Just Get Along?
* Who Owns Percy Schmeiser's Seeds?
* Alternatives Before the Indian Regulators: Slaughter or Euthanasia!
* Private Seed Developement
* Bush to Visit Africa
* Conventional vs. No Till/Minimum tillage Cotton
* Readers Digest On Organic Produce
* Agricultural Biotechnology - New Book
* UNIDO Global Biotech Forum - Chile, 2004
* DNA Revolutionary
* The False Promise of Pseudoscience
* Assessment of the Allergenic Potential of GM Food
* USDA Briefs on Sacramento Food Technology Meeting
* The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Rich and Some Poor
* UK: Son Kicks His Mother During Discussion on GM Food
President Bush to Speak at the BIO Meeting Next Monday in DC
President George W. Bush will be speaking at BIO 2003 on Monday, June 23,
at 12:45 p.m. The speech will take place during the plenary luncheon,
which runs from noon to 2 p.m. The doors to the ballroom open at 11 a.m.
Online registration at http://www.bio.org/events/2003/reg/ or on site.
Critics Say Politics, Not Science, Drives GM Food Debate
- Lauren Miura, Greenwire, June 18, 2003
Four decades ago, Patrick Moore was in a church basement in Vancouver with
a group of activists planning Greenpeace's first protest against U.S.
hydrogen bomb testing in Alaska. This week, Moore is in Brazil working to
get farmers to defy government efforts to ban genetically modified crops
-- one of the central goals of the environmental group he helped found and
lead for 15 years.
Although Greenpeace has made significant progress in its campaigns to end
weapons testing, factory whaling and seal harvesting, among other things,
Moore and other experts say the environmentalist agenda on GM food is now
driven more by politics than by science.
Environmentalists are among the most strident critics of GM foods around
the world. They allege that biotech crops will reproduce and spread
uncontrollably, lead to increased herbicide use and cross-pollinate with
other plants and weeds, creating what some have termed "superweeds."
Environmentalists also say GM foods threaten human health by raising the
risk of allergic reaction and contributing to antibiotic resistance
through the build-up of foreign chemicals in the body.
But Moore, who is now an author and sustainable logging advocate, said the
rhetoric on GM foods doesn't reflect sound research, but rather serves to
inflame political sentiments. "Much of Greenpeace has been taken over by
political activists whose target is really capitalism, globalization,
multinational corporations, et cetera," he said. "They use environmental
issues to push these other agendas."
Experts say the shift of focus on GM foods from science-driven
environmentalism to more overt political campaigns began in the mid-1990s
when genetic engineering in agriculture gained notoriety among farmers and
consumers. Environmentalists saw the emergence as an opportunity to rally
around a new cause. "Some of it's political, some of it's simply what
they do," said Henry Miller, a research fellow at Stanford University's
Hoover Institution and former FDA regulator who worked with biotechnology.
"They're constantly in search of a new target they can use to mobilize and
galvanize their supporters and recruit members," added Rob Paarlberg, a
professor of political science at Wellesley College and an associate at
the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.
"GM came along in the mid-1990s [just] as they needed something new."
The resulting campaigns against GM foods rely on what some food scientists
and industry representatives decry as scare tactics; using the term
"Frankenfish" to describe genetically engineered fish, for example, and
calling agricultural applications of biotechnology a "dangerous global
experiment with nature and evolution."
The danger, critics say, is that many of the environmentalists' arguments
lack scientific grounding -- a charge Greenpeace and other environmental
groups refute. "They often emphasize uncertainty," Paarlberg said of the
anti-GM campaigns. "That's fine, but they never quite say what
hypothetical risks exists and how many years such a hypothetical risk
needs to be tested for before allowing people access to the technology."
"Lots of things are certain" about the risks of genetically engineered
crops, countered Charles Margulis, a campaign spokesman with Greenpeace.
"It's certain GE crops are leading to resistant weeds, that GE crops can
harm non-target insects .. The potential for disastrous circumstances are
Margulis said Greenpeace bases its campaigns on concerns raised by doctors
around the world over biotech foods. "The British Medical Association, the
equivalent to the [American Medical Association], came out and said GE
foods have different risks -- risks of new allergies, new toxics. "That's
not something Greenpeace said, that's something the British Medical
Association said," added Margolis.
The power of public opinion. One of the most powerful ways environmental
groups have altered the GM debate is by molding public opinion,
particularly in Europe. There, widespread distrust of GM foods helped
prompt the European Union to cease approval of new biotech crops. Last
month, the Bush administration filed a complaint with the World Trade
Organization to overturn Europe's policy.
Environmental groups "have been very effective in preying upon Europeans'
fear of food after mad cow [disease] and other more legitimate fears,"
Whether environmentalists have been as effective in shaping U.S. public
opinion "depends on whether you consider the glass to be half full or half
empty," said Miller of the Hoover Institution. "Products are moving slowly
coming to market," he said. "Farmers and consumers are realizing real
benefits from it," but the slowness of regulators in approving new
innovations has kept GM products from gaining a larger share of the food
Public awareness of GM foods in the United States has also remained
lukewarm as debate intensifies abroad, said Thomas Hoban, a sociology
professor at North Carolina State University who has tracked the issue for
years. "Two-thirds of people feel they've never eaten any GM food," Hoban
said. "When they find out, some say 'Good'. The other reaction is, 'Gee,
why didn't anyone tell me?'"
Hoban agreed that environmental groups like Greenpeace have made GM foods
a political lightning rod, which he said may benefit groups oriented
toward a more scientific approach. "Some groups tend to be working very
hard to make sure the regulatory system is adequate," Hoban said. "They're
saying, 'This stuff is coming, how can we make sure it's handled in the
best possible way?' Greenpeace just wants to stop it ... I think that's
basically going to be impossible."
Re: Can't We All Just Get Along?
- Mark Tepfer
I just want to clarify that what i was suggesting was something less dire
than censorship by Prakash. I think it would be helpful if he could give
us his position on this question. After all, if there are rules of
civility to be respected on AgBioview, or if he prefers that people should
feel free to indulge in any type of comments, including ad hominem
attacks, this would be useful information for potential contibutors. If in
some of the more extreme cases, he wrote to the contributor to suggest
that a less violent tone would be better, would this censorship? A more
general question is to what extent is Prakash legally responsible for
slander on AgBioview?
Reply from Prakash:
Since there has been a lot of discussion lately regarding the tone of
arguments on AgBioView, I thought I should remind everyone that we do not
selectively edit items submitted for publication to the list, and only on
rare occasion do I return items to authors that blatantly attack
individuals or those that contain obvious falsehoods recommending, when
time allows, that they amend comments or direct them to other more
appropriate venues for their comments.
Therefore, while passions certainly and understandably run deep, it would
be preferable for our discussion group participants to remain civil,
factual and professional. Active readers will note that I often post
original news articles or direct submissions that contain provocative and
ad hominem attacks on defenders of agricultural biotechnology or factual
inaccuracies about science so our groups can discuss and respond. This is
not an excuse to resort to personal attacks in return.
Who Owns Percy Schmeiser's Seeds?
- Jeff Clothier
>> 'Who Owns the Seeds?- Percy Schmeiser, San Francisco Chronicle
Regarding Percy Schmeiser’s SF Chronicle article - If the facts are as Mr.
Schmeiser presented them, then the issue is not GM science and industry
itself, but property rights.
Mr. Schmeiser tips his hand when he says "Now Monsanto has my seeds." He
is clearly as concerned with others receiving unearned benefits from his
labor as Monsanto is. The fact is that both entities have legitimate
property claims here. The issue is similar to that of downloading
copyrighted media from the internet, which has little to say about the
benefits or risk of the copyrighted content itself. Ultimately,
Schmeiser’s case hinges upon intent: Did Mr. Schmeiser intend to use
Monsanto's patented product without paying for it, or is he the unwitting
victim of unavoidable genetic drift?
Since his supposed position is that possession of seeds implies ownership
and the right to use them as one sees fit, why does Mr. Schmeiser complain
that Monsanto has the product of his research in its possession? Or, put
more simply, who owns HIS seeds?
Percy Schmeiser's Lies
- Alex Avery
The Chronicle should wary of allowing convicted thieves like Percy
Schmeiser to spout deliberate (and verifiable) lies on its pages. Mr.
Schmeiser would like readers to believe he was victimized by Monsanto when
windblown pollen or seeds from the company’s biotech crops contaminated
Hogwash. The truth is that Schmeiser was duly convicted of knowingly
stealing Monsanto's seed technology. Schmeiser’s first appeal was
dismissed and is proceeding to the Canadian Supreme Court. Good. This
should put an end to Schmeiser’s deceit.
No farmer has or will be taken to court for pollen or windblown seed
contamination of their fields. Schmeiser’s 900-acres contained 95-98
percent Monsanto canola two years in a row. Windblown? Hardly. A Canadian
federal judge ruled that Schmeiser knowingly planted “seed that he knew or
ought to have known was” Monsanto’s patented variety. It’s that simple.
Biotech seeds are like music CDs that replicate 100 copies of themselves
with each playing. Schmeiser claims that farmers must sign contracts
“promising that they will buy new seed from Monsanto every year.” Wrong.
Farmers who buy Monsanto’s patented seeds must only agree not to save and
replant the replicated seeds. The farmers get a "one-time" use, much like
what is being considered in the music industry to prevent piracy. This
keeps the cost of seed affordable. Farmers remain free to buy seed from
another company or to plant their own variety of seed anytime they like.
The right to save and replant traditional seed varieties has not been
violated. But in a just society, no one has the “right” to steal from
Percy Schmeiser's story ('Who Owns the Seeds?' June 20) of his losing a
lawsuit over genetically engineered seeds makes for interesting, but
fanciful reading. How could anyone reading the legal plight of the
70-something farmer not be sympathetic? How could Monsanto stoop so low as
to persecute an elderly farmer who had the misfortune of having his land
contaminated with a few of their patented plants?
Well, the court record is vastly different from Mr Schmeiser's accounting.
After losing the initial trial, his appeal to three appellate judges
unanimously lost on all 17 points. According to the official record, the
courts found that over 90% of the plants on over 1,000 acres were
Monsanto's Roundup Ready plants. All four judges (the initial trial judge
plus three appellate jurists) were not convinced that those plants got
there by errant pollen or seeds falling off trucks. True, pollen does
blow, and seeds sometimes fall from passing trucks. In those cases,
farmers see one or maybe two percent contamination, not 90-plus percent.
Also, Mr Schmeiser claims to be a plant breeder, developing his own
special canola varieties for 50 years, and growing canola for over 40
years. Interesting, considering the first canola, called Tower, was
developed in 1974, not even 30 years ago.
---Alan McHughen, Biotechnology Specialist, University of California
Alternatives Before the Indian Regulators: Slaughter or Euthanasia!
- Sharad Joshi, AgBioView, June 21, 2003 http://www.agbioworld.org/
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) -- the interministerial
body that presides over the entry of genetically modified seeds in India
is creating, in each of its meetings, new webs and getting more and more
entangled. It is sinking deeper and deeper into the morass so rapidly that
it is beyond salvaging as it is. The government of India would better have
recourse to mercy killing and create a new organ that can validly
deliberate on all the social, economic, environmental, agricultural and
genetic issues involved.
In its recent meeting, the GEAC gave green signal to RASI Seeds Company to
produce Bt cotton seed in one lakh hectare for Kharip 2004. Nothing wrong
about it. Till date, the only seed producer enjoying the approval of the
GEAC was Mahyco, now there is one more. It does not matter that the basic
gene is the same - CRY1AC.
Then, suddenly, the GEAC gave to itself a much larger mandate. Here after
it presumes the powers to determine whether the genetically modified
organisms (GMOs) are economically viable or not. As a follow up on this
decision it decided to include an agro-economist in one of its monitoring
committees. Clearly, he would be a fairly junior agro-economist who will
have the last word in deciding if the produce from GM seeds is profitable
This action of the GEAC raises a number of questions. The Kisan movement
in the Country has taken the position that the GEAC's job should be
limited to the clearance of the specific gene in the light of
environmental and other hazards; that once it is established that there is
no significant risk from a gene to nation‚s security, public health and
morality it should be cleared for being incorporated into a large variety
of vehicle seeds that suit various agro-climatic regions. The vehicle seed
may, if necessary, be approved by ministry of Agriculture after
scrutinizing the germinating properties of the seed and requirement of
inputs so that the farmers can be advised about the right package of
technology that goes with the GM vehicle seed.
The government of India is not entirely unconcerned with the economic
profitability or otherwise of the new seed. But, its connection comes at
another level altogether. Once a new seed gets established and there is a
sizeable arrival of the final product in the market, the Commission for
Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) will make appropriate studies and
make recommendations regarding the Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) for
decision by the Cabinet. The CACP frowns on uneconomic seeds by
recommending an MSP in such a way that the uneconomic seeds, inefficient
technologies and wasteful practices go out of the market.
What the GEAC is attempting to do is the trick of the Arab's camel in a
tent. It has already usurped the power to approve not only the genes but
also the vehicle hybrid seeds. It has started moving to take over the
powers of the CACP in respect of price fixation of the Bt cotton. The GEAC
has blundered in yet another serious matter. The question is once a gene
has been examined, given field trials and finally cleared for
multiplication with reference to one hybrid variety, is it necessary to
follow the whole long procedure of tests and trials for another hybrid
variety containing the same gene. The GEAC has concluded that the RASI
Company do not require any further tests and trials because the gene
contained therein is same old CRY1AC. The experience of the passed season
shows that position of the GEAC is erroneous. The three approved Mahyco
varieties Bt MECH12, Bt MECH162 and Bt MECH184 and one unapproved
Navbharat151 that are known to contain the same CRY1AC gene have given
widely divergent performances and results. The hybrid variety chosen for
lodging the gene has its own traits. Some of them may remain dormant but
find expression only in special agro-climatic environment. That is the
reason why the three approved varieties of genetically modified Mahyco
seeds and one Navbharat 151 unapproved GM seed gave substantially
different results even though they contain the same guest gene.
The final outcome in the field, from the point of view of a farmer, will
depend on not only the one modified gene but also all the other genes of
the vehicle hybrid seeds as also diverse environments that might trigger
their expression. If the GEAC now concedes that no fresh tests are
required for examination of hybrids containing an already tested and
permitted gene it is admitting that its transgression into approval of
hybrids was uncalled for right from the day one and that it ought to limit
itself to approving just the critical gene.
The bungling on the part of the GEAC has now created a very serious
problem. In Gujarat, the number of illicit seeds that are claimed to be
genetically modified is multiplying by the hour. Understandably, the
Monsanto and Mahyco -- the original title holders to CRY1AC are concerned.
Apart from the fact that the illicit competition could hit them where it
hurts most-- in the pocket book, they are seriously worried that this
plethora of spurious Bt seeds will be major handicap in the proper entry
and promotion of biotechnology in India.
The new chairman of the GEAC has written to the chief secretary of Gujarat
to search and send various samples of Bt seeds in the market to the
Central Institute of Cotton Research, Nagpur for examination. It is also
reported that an instrument has been evolved that can distinguish between
the approved Bt plants and the unapproved ones. The question is will it
solve the problem. It might be used more for eliminating the official
seeds than the other way round. The government of Gujarat has clearly
conveyed its inability to handle the task of suppressing the illegitimate
Bt cotton production. Mr. Kashiram Rana the minister of Textiles in the
Center has also clearly stated that the task is impossible. The Gujarat
Police, barely coming out of the Godhra incidence and its aftermath
understandably do not have stomach to face a much wider and hotter
conflagration on the subject of GM cotton. Even if the state is able to
control the farmers‚ uprising, Narendra Modi and the ruling NDA alliance
at the Center will have lost all the political advantage they have gained
till the last election.
The GEAC has walked into a crunch of its own making. If its chairman has
any sense of honesty, he should offer to resign recommending the creation
of a newly constituted GEAC that has interest only in genes, engineering
and environment and nothing else.
Mr. Joshi is the Founder of Shetkari Sanghatana, a Farmers' Organization
Private Seed Developement
- Gordon Couger
I was farming before the laws providing protection to plant breeders when
into effect and the improvement in soybeans, alfalfa, cotton and wheat was
slow compared wiht hybrid corn and milo where the breeder could protect
their intellectual property. As shortly after the intellectual property
laws went into place I had a dozen varieties of cotton to choose from
instead of 3.
In talking with a cotton breeder a Oklahoma state the regents withdrew
funding from cotton breeding 10 years ago and he told me only one man is
left breeding cotton at Texas A&M. When I was farming the TAMCOT lines
from Texas A&M were one of the most prolific in the nation.
When I talk to researchers at ag universities around the country their
money is coming from industry not the state or federal government for work
that will mostly end up as property of the man that pays the bill.
For those that worry about private ownership of seed they should be
fighting for funding pubic breeders not moaning about private ones.
White House Sets Bush Trip to Africa
- JENNIFER LOVEN. Associated Press, Jun. 20, 2003
President Bush's trip to Africa, originally scheduled for January but
called off amid the buildup to war in Iraq, has been rescheduled for next
month with stops in five countries, the White House said Friday. Bush
leaves for his first visit to the continent July 7. Over the six day trip,
he is to visit Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria.
The president also has pressed for famine-stricken nations to accept
genetically modified food from America, and accused Europe of aggravating
hunger in Africa by closing its markets to the food. The result, Bush has
said, is that African farmers have been reluctant to try growing
bioengineered foods, which could be profitable and help feed the populace.
At the same time, the Europeans have been critical of the Bush
administration's rejection of a proposal to freeze the export of
subsidized food to Africa.
Conventional vs. No Till/Minimum tillage Cotton
- Gordon Couger
I went though the pictures I took on the 14th and came up with a very good
comparison of soil surface condition after a week of rain on conventional
and minimum tillage cotton. The conventional till is my home place and is
the first crop out of 5 or 6 years of alfalfa. The minimum till field is
about a mile away on a farm that was badly neglected in the depression and
still show the results. Three years of no till and minimum tillage have
greatly improved the soil. http://www.couger.com/farm/
After 5 years of alfalfa that is about as good as soil will ever be with
conventional methods and after a weeks rain the soil is sealed over
showing a little water erosion and set to blow with a 20 mile per hour
breeze. Should a thunder storm come up as it had 5 out of the previous 7
days the gust front can easily hit 70 MPH blowing sand in front of it and
killing cotton in 20 minutes. That's what happened to the fellow that
farms my wife's place in west Texas. He lot nearly 10% of his cotton to
blowing sand and a good deal more was damaged by it. Fortunately my wife's
was only damaged. Had he been able to get the drip irrigation installed
sooner he would have had wheat for a cover crop to start a no till program
on that place.
GM crops are not just a theoretical discussion to me. Stopping wind and
water erosion and rebuilding the organic matter in the soil are real
bottom line items to me. The organic farmers can talk about legume
rotations for building organic matter in the soil but that is more BS they
are putting out when it comes to my soils. We try to keep 1/3 of the home
place in alfalfa all the time since alfalfa hay is the best cash crop we
have. It's better than cotton every year but not much.
In the 20 years it has been farmed that way there has been little change
in organic matter than when I farmed wheat, cotton and cattle on it.
Grazing cattle on the winter wheat pasture. At the rate of one 500 pound
calf per acre the manure doesn't add up to much.
The fellow that farms my place bought a farm that had been in cotton for
75 years with out a break. It wasn't making very good cotton but it was
beating some of the neighbors. In 5 years he had it making as much as any
farm in the area.
The only way to increase organic matter in the soils in my area is either
haul it in at rates of over 10 tons to the acre or quit tilling it. I
would have had pictures of no till cotton but too muddy to get to any.
Straight rows and clean fields have been my way of life but it's the wrong
Letter to Readers Digest On its Organic Produce Article
- Colleen Tigges , Cle Elum, Washington
From Pat Tigges, Administrator of EAT First!, a non-profit organization
dedicated to fighting myth and misinformation about the benefits of
high-yield agriculture in response to a Readers Digest article on organic
produce reproduced here for AgBioView readers:
To: Readers Digest Food Editor
The US Department of Agriculture, the British Government’s Food Standards
Agency, thousands of published research reports and academic experts, and
even the Organic Trades Association, all state that organic certification
does not convey safety or nutritional information and that there is no
evidence of safety, health or nutritional benefits for organic foods over
those conventionally grown. Readers Digest arrogantly claims to know more
than all of them. (RD Food, July 2003, pg 184, “Are there really any
health advantages to eating organic?” by Karen J. Bannan). The article is
not only misleading, it is dead wrong. The organic label is not a food
safety claim; it is a verification of production methods.
Ms. Bannan lists two health advantages of organic foods, the first being
that they contain fewer traces of pesticides. This is misleading on two
counts, the first being the implication that organic foods do not contain
pesticides. They do. Organic growers use pesticides too. In fact, since
they are not as effective, they are generally used more often and in
larger amounts. The difference is that organic pesticides are “natural”
which means they occur in nature whereas synthetics are formulated in a
laboratory under a regulatory regime as strict as that which regulates
your prescription medicines. Mother Nature is not regulated, does not
conform to standards, and can be deadly – think arsenic, rattlesnake
poison, locoweed, and rotenone.
More importantly, despite 50 years of food scares and misleading marketing
by the organic industry, traces of pesticides, whether natural or
synthetic, have absolutely no effect on human health nor incidence of
disease. This is backed by the American Cancer Society, the American
Medical Society, the EPA, and thousands of peer reviewed studies. There
has never been a single case of human cancer attributed to the legal use
of synthetic pesticides. We have used them for over 50 years and life
expectancy has gone up every single year. We must be doing something
Bannan’s second ‘health’ advantage is that organic foods sometimes have
higher levels of vitamins. She gives no basis for this claim. Says who?
She also notes a University of Calif., Davis, study that suggests organics
have higher levels of flavonoids. Where is this study, who is the author,
is it peer reviewed and has it been replicated? Isn’t it odd that
Christine Bruhn, consumer food-marketing specialist at that same
university says “Organic farming is a philosophy for farming; it doesn’t
guarantee greater safety”. Bruhn adds, “There’s no documented difference
in nutritional content.”
The organic industry has long tried, and failed, to prove their products
are healthier. In fact, most of the studies are done by the organic
industry itself and they have never found any scientific evidence to back
up what they wish was true. Tufts University hosted an international
conference on “Agricultural Production and Nutrition” that involved 19
countries. The American Journal of Alternative Agriculture reported on the
research presented and none could back up their wishful thinking.
As for safety, two of the biggest outbreaks of food poisoning (from
E.coli) were traced to organic lettuce and un-pasteurized apple juice.The
Centers for Disease Control lists 488 confirmed cases of E.coli outbreaks.
Nearly a fourth of those resulted from consuming organic or ‘natural’
foods. That’s a startling figure considering that organic accounts for
only about 1% of the US food supply.
Organic industry leaders are extremely careful not to make claims about
the safety and health effects of their products. They know very well they
can’t back them up. But, they don’t have to make any claims. Writers
like Ms. Bannan, raised on food scares and advocacy misinformation, do it
for them. She parrots the marketing tactics of its “green
soldiers”. Since they can’t prove theirs is better they disparage the
And finally, as a nutritionist I am appalled that Ms. Bannan’s article
will instill fear of the very foods that we need the most. Certainly
Readers Digest knows that American diets, especially those of lower income
families, do not include enough fresh fruits and vegetables. Organic
produce is expensive. By innuendo they imply that if people can’t buy
organic they would be better off not buying at all. That is disgraceful.
- Purohit, S.S., pp.938, 2003 $84.75
Biotechnology is the new wave of biological sciences and it is the most
powerful tool for further advancement in the various fields of
agriculture. While established agricultural techniques, such as breeding
and growth control have resulted in remarkable achievements since the dawn
of plant and animal domestication, new methodologies are clearly needed.
Emerging biotechnologies have seen dramatic developments during the last
decade and should be able to overcome and complement the limits of former
To order http://www.bpagency.com or Fax your Order on our United States
Fax Number i.e. +1-801-8816189 or email us at email@example.com;
BOOKS & PERIODICALS AGENCY, B-1, Inder Puri, New Delhi-12 India
First Meeting of UNIDO Global Biotech Forum - Concepcion, Chile in 2004
- From Crop Biotech Update, isaaa.org
Representatives from 15 African countries and 20 regional organizations
recently attended the first of four regional meetings in preparation for
the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) Global
Biotechnology Forum in Concepcion, Chile in 2004. The consultative meeting
focused on the critical needs of African farmers with small land holdings,
and the benefits that can be derived from local biological diversity.
The African stakeholders also discussed the: region-specific constraints
they encounter, projects for the introduction of appropriate
biotechnologies, mechanisms and resources which favor the introduction of
desirable technologies, and the merging of regional priorities into the
larger biotechnology-for-sustainable-development agenda.
Biotechnology priorities were also assessed during the consultative
meeting. According to the delegates "institutional priorities point at the
lack of coherent strategies, scarcity of funds, insufficient research and
development infrastructure, and weak capabilities for risk assessment and
management. Although these deficiencies need to be addressed by
appropriate national programs, regional efforts through enhanced
cooperation and coordination could enhance the capacity of individual
countries to overcome some of the constraints."
UNIDO will facilitate the endorsement of three proposals that were drafted
by the participants in response to the pressing needs identified. The next
Regional Consultative meeting will take place in Brasilia, Brazil, for the
Latin America and Caribbean Region on July 22 to 25, 2003. For more
details, email G.Tzotzos@unido.org or C.Linke@unido.org.
- Jerry Coyne, NY Times, June 15, 2003
'WATSON AND DNA Making a Scientific Revolution. By Victor K. McElheny.
365 pp. Cambridge, Mass.: A Merloyd Lawrence Book/ Perseus Publishing.
The first printing of Charles Darwin's ''Origin of Species'' in 1859 sold
out within a day of publication. The public was clearly eager to grasp
this scientific revolution, in which man was reduced to an aberrant ape
and God to a powerless bystander.
But unlike the theory of evolution, which immediately aroused excitement
because it was, as H. L. Mencken put it, ''disgorged in one stupendous and
appalling dose,'' the Watson-Crick paper caused little public stir. Only
with time -- and with technological development -- has the full extent of
the DNA revolution become apparent. Asked why he waited until his and
Crick's discovery turned 50 before writing what he calls ''the first big
book on DNA for the public,'' Watson replied: ''What we're finding now is
directly relevant to your life. Twenty-five years ago we said it would be
relevant but it was not yet relevant.'' Now, in this era of genetic
medicine in the hospital, genetic fingerprinting in the courts and genetic
modification on the farm, Watson's claim is irrefutable. The impact of the
DNA revolution is big and growing, transforming society in many ways.
While the Darwinian revolution can profitably be relived in the pages of
the ''Origin'' (or in accessible modern treatments like Carl Zimmer's
''Evolution''), the DNA revolution has been only patchily documented.
There are separate books on the Human Genome Project, forensic DNA and
genetic disease, but until now no comprehensive overview of the events of
the past 50 years and their repercussions. Who better than one of the two
people who started it all -- and who lists ''The Double Helix'' among his
writing credits -- to fill this gap? The result, ''DNA: The Secret of
Life'' (in collaboration with Andrew Berry, a science writer who has a
doctorate in genetics), is essential reading. We need to understand a
science that already affects our lives and will increasingly spawn hard
technical and ethical problems. Moreover, a basic understanding of science
-- including Darwin's theory -- is essential to comprehending ourselves
and our world.
Though told from Watson's unique perspective and written in the first
person, ''DNA'' (unlike ''The Double Helix'' or Watson's more recent
''Genes, Girls, and Gamow'') is not a memoir. Nor, despite its glossy
illustrations, is it a coffee-table book. Rather, it is a serious work of
popular science, written to bring even those who, as Watson says, have
''zero biological knowledge'' up to speed on modern genetics.
In simple, elegant prose, Watson begins by describing the history of
molecular genetics, pausing at times to introduce the scientific players
and to describe the critical (and often beautiful) experiments showing how
DNA is replicated, how its code is translated into the proteins that
compose our bodies and how genes are turned on and off as needed.
The remaining two-thirds of the book treats the implications of the new
genetics: biotechnology, genetically modified food, the forensic use of
DNA, the sequencing of the human genome, the development of genetically
based medicine and the search for genes affecting human behavior. Watson
casts his net wide, even writing a chapter on DNA-based approaches to
understanding the human past. Our current view -- that Homo sapiens
originated relatively recently in Africa and subsequently migrated
throughout the world -- comes from DNA studies, not from archaeology or
Watson does not limit himself to describing the science, but offers
characteristically caustic opinions about how it should be used. Given his
status as a founder of modern genetics, it is no surprise that Watson is a
committed DNA booster, dismissing public worries about bioengineering and
genetically modified (G.M.) food as ''Luddite paranoia.'' Fortunately, as
in this case, his opinions are usually sound. For example, scientists have
inserted into the DNA of corn a bacterial gene that makes a protein toxic
to corn-eating insects. Opponents of G.M. corn have not only grossly
overestimated the dangers of such intervention, but have failed to
recognize its real benefits for the environment: a substantial reduction
in insecticides sprayed onto corn, and the selective killing of only those
insects that eat the plant. Watson is also on the money in his views about
patenting genes and genetically modified organisms: such patents are
acceptable only if they do not commercially strangle scientific progress.
But his DNA chauvinism sometimes becomes excessive. He believes, for
example, that every American should submit a DNA sample to the government.
This would surely help apprehend criminals, but it would also represent a
frightening erosion of civil liberties. One might as well suggest that all
Americans wear electronic tags so that satellite tracking could place
people at crime scenes. And he is far too enthusiastic about evolutionary
psychology, the idea that most of our behaviors resulted from natural
selection acting on our ancestors. ''Natural selection itself,'' he
proclaims, ''has likely endowed each of us with a desire to see others
(and therefore our society) do well rather than fail.'' The idea that
natural selection has endowed humans with a universal magnanimity,
however, conflicts not only with common experience (so much for
schadenfreude!) but also with the fact that natural selection usually
favors the genes of those who outcompete their rivals.
Watson is also keen about searching for genes that can cause differences
in behavior or differences in personality among individuals and groups. As
he sees it, ''Knowledge, even that which may unsettle us, is surely to be
preferred to ignorance, however blissful in the short term the latter may
be.'' I am not so sanguine. What possible good, for example, could come
from a study of genetic differences in I.Q. between ethnic groups?
A finding of ''no difference'' may slightly reduce racism, but it would
surely be disregarded by most bigots. The opposite finding would have
disastrous consequences: institutionalized racism and odious social
Watson does in fact believe that we should organize society in light of
people's genetic differences. Individuals with genes for low intelligence,
for example, should be taught differently from the lucky carriers of
''smart'' genes: ''Nor will all the extra tutoring in the world ever grant
naturally slow learners a chance to get to the head of the class. . . .
Children will get left behind if we continue to insist that each one has
the same potential for learning.'' But information about genetics may be
completely irrelevant here, because the same educational remedies might
apply whether slow learning is caused by poor genes or by poor
environments. We give the same treatment -- insulin -- to those who are
diabetic for genetic reasons, or for such environmental reasons as
alcoholism or inflammation of the pancreas.
Jerry A. Coyne is a professor in the department of ecology and evolution
at the University of Chicago. He is writing a book on the origin of
The False Promise of Pseudoscience
- George Dvorsky, Better Humans, June 16, 2003; Full Story at:
'Real science offers hope. Mysticism and belief in the paranormal are just
Workshop Overview - Approaches to the Assessment of the Allergenic
Potential of Food from Genetically Modified Crops.
- Ladics, G., Holsapple, M., Astwood, J., Kimber, I., Knippels, L., Helm,
R., Dong, W. 2003. Toxicological Sciences. 73: 8-16.
There is a need to assess the safety of foods deriving from genetically
modified (GM) crops, including the allergenic potential of novel gene
products. Presently, there is no single in vitro or in vivo model that has
been validated for the identification or characterization of potential
food allergens. Instead, the evaluation focuses on risk factors such as
source of the gene (i.e., allergenic vs. nonallergenic sources),
physicochemical and genetic comparisons to known allergens, and exposure
The purpose of this workshop was to gather together researchers working on
various strategies for assessing protein allergenicity: (1) to describe
the current state of knowledge and progress that has been made in the
development and evaluation of appropriate testing strategies and (2) to
identify critical issues that must now be addressed.
This overview begins with a consideration of the current issues involved
in assessing the allergenicity of GM foods. The second section presents
information on in vitro models of digestibility, bioinformatics, and risk
assessment in the context of clinical prevention and management of food
allergy. Data on rodent models are presented in the next two sections.
Finally, nonrodent models for assessing protein allergenicity are
discussed. Collectively, these studies indicate that significant progress
has been made in developing testing strategies.
However, further efforts are needed to evaluate and validate the
sensitivity, specificity, and reproducibility of many of these assays for
determining the allergenicity potential of GM food.
USDA Previews Food Technology Meeting
- USDA, June 18, 2003
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued a fact sheet on the
Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology to
be held June 23-25 in Sacramento, California.
Full Text is at
"We want to bring countries together to launch a major new front in the
battle against global hunger and poverty. This conference offers
policymakers in developing countries a unique opportunity to focus on what
science and technology can do for their farmers, their consumers and their
countries." -- Secretary [Ann] Veneman, June 10, 2003
MINISTERIAL BACKGROUND : In 1996, more than 180 countries from around the
world gathered in Rome for the World Food Summit and set for themselves an
ambitious goal of reducing global hunger by half by 2015.
In June 2002 at the World Food Summit: Five Years Later, these same
countries reviewed their progress and concluded their efforts fell far
short of those needed to achieve the goal. Only one-third of developing
countries had seen a reduction in the number of hungry. Other countries
either showed no improvement or their situations had actually worsened.
Some 800 million people, mostly in rural areas, still suffer from hunger
and malnutrition and the number will grow as the world's population
GOALS OF THE MINISTERIAL : In Rome, the U.S. Government urged that the
international community focus on three priorities: -- reducing hunger by
increasing agricultural productivity, -- ending famine, and -- improving
nutrition. As part of that effort, Secretary Veneman announced the
Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology.
FAST FACTS ON WORLD HUNGER AND POVERTY -- WHAT IS OUR CHALLENGE?
-- More than 800 million people (nearly one in seven) face chronic hunger
-- Among the world's children, one in three is undernourished.
-- Every 5 seconds, a child is lost to hunger.
-- Half the world's population lives on less than $2 a day.
-- The wide and growing gulf between developed and developing nations is
ACTIONS TAKEN BY THE U.S. GOVERNMENT
In discussions of efforts to reduce global poverty, improve economic
performance, and raise living standards around the world, President Bush
often stresses that we must lead by example.
-- The U.S. has pledged millions of dollars in funding for international
poverty reduction efforts and economic development.
-- The Millennium Challenge Account provides for a $5 billion [$5,000
million] (50 percent) increase in U.S. development assistance over 3
years, the largest increase in our foreign assistance in 40 years.
-- The new U.S. Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief will direct $15 billion
[$15,000 million] over the next 5 years to battle HIV/AIDS, particularly
in Africa and the Caribbean.
-- The President has asked Congress for $200 million for a new Famine
Fund, and $100 million for a new Emergency Fund for Complex Foreign
-- With more than a billion people lacking access to safe drinking water
and with an estimated 6,000 children dying each day from unsafe water, the
U.S. has committed to a nearly $1 billion [$1,000 million] initiative to
provide clean drinking water to 50 million people in the developing world.
ADDITIONAL STEPS THAT CAN BE TAKEN
At both the World Food Summit and World Summit on Sustainable Development,
country representatives discussed the role of trade as a tool for driving
development. An open trading system can provide greater market access for
developing countries, attract investment, stimulate growth, and improve
world food security.
This includes efforts in capacity building, working with the developing
world not only to increase productivity, but to build the institutions
that will help them participate in global trade negotiations and to
develop the resources that will allow countries to be more active in the
international trade arena.
Trade can --- and must --- play a central role in addressing the world's
food security needs. In today's global economy, open markets are crucial
to increasing food security. We must work closely together to ensure that
all countries can participate in the world market and that our global
trading system works to facilitate greater food security for all people.
The growing role and influence of developing countries in the trade policy
agenda is a positive sign. It is no coincidence that the current WTO
[World Trade Organization] trade round is named the Doha Development
As the United States works with other countries for ambitious global trade
reform in WTO, we are also negotiating free trade agreements, most of them
with developing countries -- FTAA [Free Trade Area of the Americas], CAFTA
[Central American Free Trade Agreement], Morocco, Chile, and the Southern
African Customs Union. The President recently proposed a future Middle
East free trade area and, as a first step, has announced U.S. intentions
to negotiate a free trade agreement with Bahrain.
Coupled with liberalized trade, productivity gains in developing countries
bring increased opportunities for export income and economic growth.
INCREASING AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTIVITY THROUGH TECHNOLOGY
The Ministerial meeting is an opportunity for participants to work
together to understand the benefits and opportunities that technology
presents. Achieving needed gains in global agricultural productivity,
improved nutrition, and better food distribution can be realized by
dissemination and adoption of existing and new technologies. The biggest
cost of not taking advantage of safe, accessible productivity-enhancing
technologies are borne not by the world's affluent, but by the world's
Some important points to consider:
-- Current and emerging technologies have the potential to increase farm
yields, improve the nutrient content of foods, deliver inexpensive and
edible vaccines, and improve distribution.
-- Improving agricultural productivity can have the most immediate impact
on reducing hunger.
-- To fight hunger is to fight poverty. Increased agricultural
productivity will drive economic growth, especially in rural areas.
-- Increasing agricultural productivity is a way to boost both food
availability and access in developing countries.
-- In the 20th century, science and technology contributed to substantial
gains in global agricultural productivity.
-- During 1960-2000, populations of developing countries grew 125 percent,
but production of cereal grains tripled, with only a 25 percent increase
in land for farming.
-- During the Green Revolution of the 1960's, the spread of high-yielding
varieties, combined with the increased use of fertilizer and irrigation,
significantly reduced the incidence in famine in parts of Asia, helping
millions to escape hunger and malnutrition.
-- Science and technology can help increase crop yields with less water,
improve water use efficiency in agriculture, offer better tools for
conservation, and provide early warnings of drought.
Technology can help address both productivity and resource issues;
partnerships with international organizations, private partnerships, etc.
will leverage resources and encourage technology-flows. Countries that
want to encourage technology investments and dissemination need to make
sure that they have the appropriate policies and infrastructure to
Access alone will not fulfill technology's promise.
Experience shows that when agricultural productivity increases: -- Farm
and rural incomes rise.
-- More food is available to the population, improving nutrition and food
-- More food is available for export, increasing export earnings.
-- Food costs drop, giving consumers more money to spend on other products
and services. In many developing countries, more than half of household
income is spent on food.
-- As productivity continues to increase, more farm labor and other
resources are freed up for productive uses in other parts of economy,
stimulating economic growth and higher incomes.
-- An increase of 3-4 percent per year in African crop and livestock
yields could raise per capita incomes almost three times, while reducing
the number of malnourished children 40 percent (IFPRI) [International Food
Policy Research Institute].
The answers are not always the latest, biggest, and most expensive
technologies. Many conventional technologies and systems that have been
widely used for decades can be adapted to bring significant productivity
gains to the world's poorest countries. This may include a good system of
extension services, better nutrient management, contour plowing, readily
available higher yielding seed varieties, or efficient irrigation. Less
than 5% of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa is currently irrigated.
The goal is not technologies that make developing countries more dependent
on the developed world, but more independently able to feed their own
people. Today, many technologies, including new biotech varieties, are
coming from scientists in the developing world for producers in the
The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor
- David S. Landes, paperback, p658;W.W. Norton & Company; 1999; Amazon.com
Professor David S. Landes takes a historic approach to the analysis of the
distribution of wealth in this landmark study of world economics. Landes
argues that the key to today's disparity between the rich and poor nations
of the world stems directly from the industrial revolution, in which some
countries made the leap to industrialization and became fabulously rich,
while other countries failed to adapt and remained poor.
Why some countries were able to industrialize and others weren't has been
the subject of much heated debate over the decades; climate, natural
resources, and geography have all been put forward as explanations--and
are all brushed aside by Landes in favor of his own controversial theory:
that the ability to effect an industrial revolution is dependent on
certain cultural traits, without which industrialization is impossible to
sustain. Landes contrasts the characteristics of successfully
industrialized nations--work, thrift, honesty, patience, and
tenacity--with those of nonindustrial countries, arguing that until these
values are internalized by all nations, the gulf between the rich and poor
will continue to grow.
From Publishers Weekly: Landes (Revolution in Time), Harvard professor
emeritus of history, undertakes an economic and cultural history of the
world during the past five centuries. His well-written, sometimes witty
analysis is the kind of work one wants to pause over and reflect upon at
each chapter before moving ahead. Landes's principal argument is that the
richest nations continue to prosper while poorer nations lag behind
because of their relative ability or inability to exploit science,
technology and economic opportunity. In every case?from ancient China to
modern Japan?he maintains this is largely the result of national attitudes
about a myriad of cultural factors. Landes traces the story of England's
industrial revolution and America's system of mass production as
indicators of the West's superiority over the rest of the world.
John Kenneth Galbraith: Truly wonderful. No question that this will
establish David Landes as preeminent in his field and in his time.
David S. Landes is professor emeritus at Harvard University and the author
of Bankers and Pashas, The Unbound Prometheus, and Revolution in Time.
UK: 'Depressed' Son Kicked His Mother in a Fit of Rag
- Lincolnshire Echo (UK), June 19, 2003
Angry James Daniel Reeves kicked his mother when he 'acted like a child'
during an argument, a court heard.
Lincoln magistrates were told that Reeves and his mother had been
discussing GM crops when they started arguing about her parenting skills.
Olaide Esan, prosecuting, said the argument developed.
"He said she had never given him a meal when he came home from school and
made comments about her mothering skills," Miss Esan said. "He hit her
and then kicked her in a fit of rage." Reeves (29), of Dore Avenue,
Lincoln, admitted assault on Monday of this week.
Gordon Holt, in mitigation, said Reeves suffered from a depressive illness
and was still bitter about the break-up of his parents' relationship. "He
knows he behaved like a child and recognised immediately that his
behaviour was entirely unacceptable," the solicitor said.
The magistrates conditionally discharged Reeves for 12 months. He was
ordered to pay his mother £100 in compensation and pay the court £55 in