Today in AgBioView: August 9, 2003:
* A Realistic Preview - WTO at Cancun
* Thousands Rally in France, Trade Battle in Mind
* USDA to Tighten Regulation of Industrial Biotech Crops
* GM Food Safety Fear 'Based on Distortion'
* 'Bitter Harvest' by BBC TV
* ISB News Report -- August 2003
* GMOs For Rael? - Naked Campaign to Support Biotech!
* Feudal Prince, Backward Campaign
* GM Food - What are the Issues?
* Views on Biotechnology from Europe
* Bioinformatics Tools for Plant Genomics
* Pew Brief on U.S.-EU Trade Dispute over GM Crops
* Chicken Little - The Green Threat to Progress
* Opportunities and Challenges in Plant Biotech - Sen.Bond
A Realistic Preview - WTO at Cancun
- Dean Kleckner, Truth About Trade & Technology, August 6, 2003
Free trade took a minor turn for the worse very recently at a meeting of
trade ministers in Montreal. A news story in the Wall Street Journal put
the matter plainly, "With the fate of a global trade deal in question,
trade ministers meeting here for the past three days made little progress
toward resolving issues that have stalled talks this year."
We've known for a long time that next month's World Trade Organization
meeting in Cancun would pose significant challenges, especially in the
area of agriculture. Yet trade representatives from 146 countries will
meet there and try to make progress on a major agreement. They don't have
to come away with a deal in their hands--nobody expects that--but they do
have to move the ball forward so that important deadlines next year can be
Readers know that I'm no fan of the European Union's positions on trade,
especially when it comes to agricultural biotechnology. But I do like the
way EU trade commissioner Pascal Lamy recently described the problem,
"What we need to do in Cancun, in golfing terms, is a solid approach shot.
Then with the ball on the green, all we'll need is a couple of good putts
for agreement by end-2004."
Agriculture will be a key area for progress, because it represents 20
percent of all global trade--and 25 percent of all trade for developing
countries, which have high hopes for the current round of trade talks.
Earlier this year, Europe offered to cut some of its trade-distorting
domestic subsidies, which is a big step in the right direction. The United
States may want to reply by promising to take a new look at some aspects
of the farm bill that was passed last year. There is plenty both sides can
do to increase trade with each other, though it will take political
courage to make it happen.
The most significant stumbling block between America and Europe, of
course, involves genetically modified crops. For five years, the Europeans
have refused to approve new varieties of biotech seeds. What they're doing
amounts to protectionism, and it's illegal under WTO rules. That's why the
United States filed a formal protest earlier this year--and it's why the
EU is now scrambling to approve a few new technologies by the end of this
year. But even if they do, it probably will be nullified by "impossible to
meet' new labeling rules.
There won't be a major breakthrough on ag biotechnology in Cancun, though.
At most, we can hope for positive developments in a few keys areas. One
issue that I'm watching closely is GIs--and I don't mean U.S. soldiers.
In trade jargon, GIs are "geographical indicators." To most of us,
parmesan cheese is a generic product that comes in green cylinders for
shaking onto spaghetti. The EU, however, wants to restrict the word
"parmesan" so that it can only be used to describe cheese that's actually
made in Parma, Italy.
That means Kraft would have to change one of its best product names from
"parmesan cheese" to something weird, such as "cheese sprinkles." As may
be imagined, this could get rather complicated, once we start talking
about champagne, Muenster, and provolone. The next thing you know, Turkey
is going to demand that we rename the birds we eat on Thanksgiving.
Perhaps we can give thanks that things have not gotten that far out of
hand, yet. But they sure don't look good - the EU is trying to seize
ownership of some 600 names for food.
I'm not sure whether to be optimistic or pessimistic about the Cancun
talks. One thing all of us must be is realistic. We should hope for
success, but not be afraid of failure--because success on somebody else's
terms is a failure for us.
There are reasonable allowances to be made on all sides. The devil is in
the details. Keep your fingers crossed.
Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org) is a national
grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA formed by farmers in
support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology.
Thousands Rally in France, Trade Battle in Mind
- John Tagliabue, NY Times, August 9, 2003 http://www.nytimes.com
Aussue Du Larzac, France, Aug. 8-- Call it a summer camp for
antiglobalization crusaders. Tens of thousands of people, young, old and
in-between, gathered on this sunbaked, wind-swept plateau in southwest
France today, heeding the call of organizations opposed to the way global
commerce is being reorganized. They were brought together to discuss ways
to influence World Trade Organization talks in Cancún, Mexico, in
It was a Woodstock against globalization. Pamphlets were handed out by
environmental groups, trade unions and opponents of nuclear energy and the
wars in the Middle East, Iraq and Chechnya. Rock bands and circus acts
performed and vendors hawked local specialties from sausages to wine to
pungent Roquefort cheese, which is manufactured in a nearby village.
Much discussion revolved around the menace to diversity in the food world
as rules of global commerce empower giant multinationals to crush the
small farmers who produce the hundreds of varieties of French wine and
Among the stars of the show is José Bové, the 50-year-old sheep farmer,
union leader and national hero for his refusal to bow to globalization.
The big gathering took place only a short distance from Millau, the town
where in 2002 he organized the bulldozing of a McDonald's restaurant to
protest the Americanization of France. He spent six weeks in jail for that
Last week, Mr. Bové was paroled from a 10-month prison sentence he had
been serving since February for destroying genetically modified rice in
1998. "In France, there has never been a public debate, never a discussion
of the mandate" given the European Union for Cancún, he said in an
interview. "It's something being done on the backs of the people."
Mr. Bové, a wiry man with a mustache, still pale from his jail cell, said
the main topics of the three days of debate, which end Sunday, would be
essentially the Cancún agenda: farming, services, intellectual property
rights in food and medication, and projected accords on international
investment, which he called tantamount to a "surrender of all
President Jacques Chirac has been eager to include nongovernmental
organizations in the debate leading up to major global meetings like
Cancún. Mr. Bové, wearing a T-shirt that read, "Other Worlds Are
Possible," said the weekend events, which the organizers hope will attract
as many as 100,000 people, were an appeal to Mr. Chirac to draw a broader
public into the discussion. "We need a general debate," he said.
USDA to Tighten Regulation of Industrial Biotech Crops
- Associated Press
The Agriculture Department will require biotechnology companies to get
permits for the genetically engineered crops that help make chemical
compounds for products such as detergent, amid a sharp increase in such
Until now, the department simply asked companies to notify federal
officials before planting industrial crops, then randomly checked the
crops. The department received five such notices in 2003 alone; between
1993 and 2001 it received just 10 notices.
Cindy Smith, a deputy administrator of biotech regulation for the agency,
said the crops will be routinely tested under the new rule to be issued
Wednesday. "The government will inspect these field tests much more often
than the typical food-and-feed field tests, as well as audit company
records of those field tests," Ms. Smith said. Each site where a test crop
is planted will be inspected seven times -- five during the growing season
and twice after harvest, she said.
The food industry and watchdog groups had complained that there was a lack
of oversight. Ms. Smith said the new rule will require industrial crops
to be surrounded by an unplanted perimeter of 50 feet to ensure that the
plants don't mix with others nearby. Biotech farmers also will have to
plant the industrial crops at least one mile away from food crops, and
they also must set aside certain farm equipment to cultivate, maintain and
harvest the industrial crops.
The government has allowed most genetically engineered crops to be
harvested and mixed into the food supply for humans and animals.
Industrial crops must be segregated because they produce chemical
compounds for making items such as laundry soap and paper -- a health risk
if found in the food supply.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization said it agrees with the new rule.
The food industry is pressing the government and biotech companies to make
sure medicines or industrial products grown in biotech fields stay out of
the food chain. The National Food Processors Association said the
department should issue further restrictions. "We have to have 100%
assurance," said Tim Willard, a spokesman for the group. "We don't think
they're there yet in terms of full oversight and controls and
The department doesn't require biotech firms to publicly disclose what
they are growing, arguing that information is protected trade data.
Watchdog groups said this needs to change. "The public doesn't know what's
being grown, where it's being grown, what compounds are being engineered
into these plants," says Greg Jaffe, biotech director for the Center for
Science in the Public Interest.
Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program at the Union
of Concerned Scientists, said the public should be allowed to comment on
new crops. "This is a grand opportunity for the USDA to step up to the
plate and take responsibility for the environmental and public health
risks of biotechnology crops, to set up a new stronger regulatory system
that has more opportunities for public input," Ms. Mellon said. The
interim rule goes into effect immediately but expires December 2004. Ms.
Smith of the USDA said officials want to gather public comments about the
regulation before making it a long-term rule.
GM Food Safety Fear 'Based on Distortion'
- New Scientist,
The head of Britain's leading scientific academy has accused the former
environment minister Michael Meacher of "severely distorting" the
scientific facts and uncertainties surrounding genetically modified foods.
The furore over GM foods erupted once again on Sunday when Meacher
published a newspaper article saying the government had ignored evidence
that GM crops could be a hazard to human health. He had been environment
minister for six years until losing his job on 13 June.
The latest row comes in the run up to a government decision on whether to
end a three-year moratorium on the commercial growing of GM crops in the
UK. The Prime Minister's contribution "has been to emphasise the
importance of the biotech industry to the UK" Meacher wrote in the
Independent on Sunday, but the scientific data on GM crop safety was
"clouded with deep uncertainty" meaning the decision should be deferred.
But Robert May, president of the UK's Royal Society, said on Wednesday
that Meacher had "very selectively" quoted from a Royal Society report to
back his "ideological opposition". Now that his stance is clear, "the
public can judge for themselves his statements on GM science," May said.
The controversy over GM crops was also stoked in US on Monday at a world
biotechnology conference. US President George W Bush accused Europe of
risking starvation in Africa by its rejection of GM crops. Public
opposition to GM crops in the US has been minor.
Baby food. In arguing that GM crops have not been shown to be safe for
human consumption, Meacher quoted from several major reports. In
particular, he highlighted comments from a 2002 Royal Society report that
said the health effects of GM foods should be rigorously investigated
before allowing them into baby food or to be marketed to pregnant women or
elderly or infirm people.
"But he conspicuously fails to mention its principal conclusion that there
is no scientific reason to doubt the safety of foods made from GM
ingredients that are currently available, nor to believe that genetic
modification makes GM foods inherently less safe than their conventional
counterparts," says May. The report also pointed out that GM techniques
might be used in the future to improve the quality of food, a point also
omitted by Meacher.
But Meacher did note that, although millions of US citizens have consumed
GM foods over many years with no ill effects seen, there have been no
trials in which the health of people eating GM and non-GM food have been
directly compared. The way in which GM food is currently assessed -
whether it is "substantially equivalent" to its conventional counterpart -
is "scientifically vacuous", according to Meacher. May rejects this
charge, saying it is the only practical way of evaluating the safety of GM
'Bitter Harvest' by BBC TV
- Saturdays @ 0810; 1210 and 1910 GMT; Sundays @ 1510 GMT;
Bitter Harvest tells the inside story of possibly the most powerful
technology ever developed - bio-technology and the revolution it has
wrought on the food industry.
Episode 1: Out of Eden: First transmission - August 9, 2003
The first programme looks back to San Francisco in 1972 and the first
revolutionary experiments. First-hand accounts tell how scientists dreamt
of transforming the world, how industrialists saw the potential for the
richest and most powerful global business and how activists fought to stop
them. Contributors include Professors James Watson, Stanley Cohen and Paul
Berg, with Jeremy Rifkin and Earle Harbison, ex-Monsanto President.
Frostban, designed to protect fruit from frost, drew the first salvo from
the protest groups. Andy Caffreyís Earth First group succeeded in trashing
the first crop of treated strawberries, but the farmer and his colleagues
simply replanted them. Andy gave voice to public unrest. ìWhen I first
heard that a company in Berkley was planning to release this bacteria Ö in
my community,î he says, ì I literally felt a knife go into me. Here, once
again, for a buck, science, technology and corporations were going to
invade my body with a new bacteria that hadnít existed on the planet
before. It had already been invaded by smog, radiation and toxic chemicals
in my food, and I just wasnít going to take it any more.î
Just a decade later, the Flavr Savr tomato went down in history as the
first GM food to enjoy success. But while many farmers welcome help to
produce trouble-free crops, opponents argue that bio-technology does
nothing to improve food and nutrition but is a cynical ploy to make money.
The industry has flourished in the States, but will it dominate world
agriculture in the 21st century?
Episode 2: Seeds Of Anger First transmission - August 16, 2003
Seeds of Anger finds out what happened when giant US bio-tech companies
such as Monsanto set their sights on Europe. Having conquered America, the
industry expected a walkover but the arrival of genetically modified grain
and foods on these shores became one of the biggest issues in living
memory. Ships were intercepted, fields trashed, supermarkets disrupted and
politicians accosted by naked demonstrators. A trade war threatened and a
giant global corporation was brought to its knees.
Episode 3: On the Eight Day - First transmission - August 23,2003
Concluding the 3-part series. After the controversy surrounding the first
wave of genetically modified foodstuffs, the multimedia dollar
bio-technology industry is hoping for a smoother ride for forthcoming
products. As well as plans to remove nicotine from tobacco, it is hoped to
find a way to tackle obesity. But how will people react to the concept of
transferring genes between different species of animal?
ISB News Report, Information System for Biotechnology, August 2003
* Emerging Terminology – Words Are Never Enough
* How to Improve Plant Protein Quality: Err on the Side of Goodness
* Engineering for Reduced Saturated Fatty Acids in Oilseed Crops
* Transgenic Aspen Trees with Altered Lignification: Good News for Pulp
and Paper Industry
* Laccase Transfection for Antifungal Properties in Crops
* US Files SOS with WTO: End EU's GM Moratorium ASAP
GMOs For Rael?
- AgBioTechNet.com, August 7, 2003
The Raelian Movement, controversial for its human cloning claims, has
taken up the cause of GM food. "The Brazilian Raelian Movement
congratulates Monsanto, which has been demonized by anti-GMO fanatics and
dogmatics, for its lobbying campaign favoring a new agriculture based on
the most recent scientific discoveries," says the group. The Raelian
movement has been at the centre of a controvery over its claim to have
succeeded in cloning a human baby.
The Raelian movement describes itself as "the world's largest UFO related,
non-profit organisation - over 60,000 members in 90 countries - working
towards the first embassy to welcome people from space... sweeping the
world with the most politically incorrect and fearlessly individualistic
philosophy of non-conformism.
Last month, more than 300 naked Raelians will gather to form the words
"Yes to GMOs". This was in response to an anti-GMO publicity event in the
UK where 30 demonstrators formed the words: "No GMOs" in June. Gathered
for their Annual Sensual Meditation Seminars, Raelians will take advantage
of this opportunity to show their support for genetically modified foods
by having these foods on their daily menu.
According to the movement "In his most recent book "Yes, to human
cloning", His Holiness RAEL, founder and spiritual leader of the Raelian
Movement, devotes an entire chapter to GMOs. To this effect, He writes, "
GMOs allow the considerable reduction of pesticides and fungicides on
Earth, which are a serious source of pollution - they allow, as recently
demonstrated with yellow rice, to provide an important source of vitamins
to Third World countries, whose population so desperately needs them."
His Holiness RAEL adds: "It is all too easy for Westerners to proclaim
from the top of their obese tower that GM foods are dangerous. However,
the most hazardous for a person's health is not to have any food at all."
Monsanto spokeswoman Shannon Troughton responded to the naked display of
support by suggesting that "Given the Raelians' recognition of the
environmental and economic benefits of biotech crops, we hope they quickly
seek out some clothing made from biotech cotton grown with fewer
Feudal Prince, Backward Campaign
- Jeff Clothier
It is unsurprising that Charles, by the Grace of God Prince of Wales
continues his backward campaign regarding food production. He, like
organic agriculture, are both relics of the feudal system wherein even the
most basic foodstuffs were rendered enormously expensive and readily
available only to the ruling classes.
Many feudal lords insisted their fields be plowed, planted, tended and
harvested entirely by hand even when there were oxen or other beasts of
burden and better technology available so as to keep the serfs occupied
and busy, and to ensure that the prices for their crops remained as high
as possible. Those same serfs benefitted but little from their work and
many survived largely on subsistence rations, as would those who could not
afford food in a world which allowed only so-called" organic production
methods to be used.
Prince Charles continues the tradition of binding the mouths of those who
tread the grain.
- Jeff Clothier, Clarity Communications, Altoona, IA 50009
GM Food - What are the Issues?
- Australian Radio National Breakfast Discussion
You can hear the discussion with Prof. Chris Leaver at
and then clicking on the topic "GM Food - What are the Issues?".
Views on Biotechnology from Europe
- Produced by Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe
Bioinformatics Tools for Plant Genomics
- October 13-17, 2003, USDA Western Regional Research Center, 800 Buchanan
Street in Albany, CA.
What does Genomics mean to you? How could you use Genome data?
Learn how to utilize genome information in a week-long bioinformatics
course. This 5 day course introduces bioinformatics tools for sequence
alignment, sequence database search, gene finding, comparative genomics,
protein informatics, and SNP analysis. The course provides a specific
introduction to use of genomic tools and data in a plant genome
laboratory, and emphasizes hands-on practice to increase competence in the
use of the tools.
For more details see: http://www.communityoflearning.com/bioinformatics
Pew Brief on U.S.-EU Trade Dispute over GM Crops
In light of recent newsworthy developments, the Pew Initiative on Food and
Biotechnology has updated its brief on the trade dispute between the U.S.
and the EU over agricultural biotechnology. Events prompting this update
- In June 2003, the U.S. initiated an action with the World Trade
Organization, challenging the EU's de facto moratorium on the approval of
genetically modified (GM) crops. s
- In July 2003, the EU adopted legislation for a new approval process for
GM crops that included more stringent provisions requiring all foods and
animal feed with ingredients derived from GM crops to be labeled and
tracked through the food chain.
These and other developments are now discussed in a revised and expanded
version of U.S. vs. EU: An Examination of the Trade Issues Surrounding
Genetically Modified Food, a brief originally published by the Pew
Initiative in June 2002.
The new issue brief provides:
- A summary of the trade dispute between the U.S. and the EU regarding GM
- A timeline of critical events, and discussion of factors that have
influenced EU consumer wariness of GM crops and food products.
- Views on the trade dispute from EU and U.S. officials.
- Estimates of the impact that the EU de facto moratorium on GM crop
approvals has had on U.S. trade and discussion of the potential further
impact of the new EU rules on labeling and traceability.
The full issue brief is available at
Chicken Little - The Green Threat to Progress
- Andrew McIntyre, IPA Review, June 2003. www.ipa.org.au
We are all familiar with the Greens' approach to risk, and the panic and
fear deliberately induced by threats to the environment, sea level rises,
pollution and global warming. It is no small irony that this panic and
fear comes at a time when good management of resources and technology,
science and political organization have brought mankind to a point of
comfort, well-being and certainty unimagined at any other time in human
Indeed, it seems to be a paradox that it is precisely because of this
wellbeing and certainty in our lives that we have now become obsessed with
uncertainty, and have now effectively legislated to outlaw it. This
uncertainty phobia is called the Precautionary Principle.
According to the Scientific American [David Appell, 2001], the Principle
can be traced back to a committee of West German public servants in the
mid-1960s. It is now a matter of law in Germany and Sweden and is
increasingly finding its way into international agreements. It has even
worked its way into US policy.
In Australia, back in 1992, an Intergovernmental Agreement on the
Environment, involving all three tiers of government, gave a definition:
where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage,
lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for
postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.
Bluntly put, that means that those who develop any new technology or
application must prove that there will be absolutely no adverse effect.
This, as we know, is a scientific impossibility. Science can never prove a
negative. From a public policy point of view it endorses the idea of
making nonscience- based decisions. In other words, caution first, science
The ramifications are quite horrendous. But from the viewpoint of our own
society, where we seem to have almost every comfort, brilliant drug,
technology and gadget imaginable, it is difficult to press this point. Not
only is it almost impossible for most people today to begin to grasp just
how appalling the physical environment and living conditions were barely
100 years ago in Europe, it is impossible to imagine what our world would
have been like if the Precautionary Principle had been adopted a few
hundred years ago.
The answer is pretty dismal. There would be almost nothing of what we
today take for granted, from penicillin and antibiotics, through
electricity, telephones and computers, right down to knives and even fire!
[see the box on the next page]. Forget about hot showers and breakfast
food, let alone genetics, quantum mechanics, space exploration and
pesticides. Common household bleach? ‘You mean you’re going to allow
poison gas into my home?’ The problem is that there is nothing we do or
explore or experiment with that has no theoretical risk, and nearly
everything carries some actual risk. But the Precautionary Principle
effectively outlaws anything with risk.
In response to this universal panic by environmentalists and doomsayers,
recently organized a large conference in London called Panic Attack:
interrogating our obsession with risk, in conjunction with the Royal
Institution of Great Britain and Tech Central Station, Europe.
The conference covered topics from chemicals in food to children and
obesity, from Gulf War Syndrome to global warming. Discussion of these
issues revealed the extent of our society’s preoccupation with negligible
levels of actual risk, and asked why this might be.
As a run-up to the conference, scientists from all areas of research were
asked to speculate on the impact of the Precautionary Principle on their
fields of work, had it been in place in the past. The results certainly
produce a precautionary tale. In fact, they were overwhelming, right down
to the very basics of pre-human existence. 'Fire--very dangerous--plus all
other useful forms of energy', claimed John Adams, Professor of Geography
at University College London. 'Energy misdirected can cause harm, and the
precautionary principle requires that if it can be misdirected, you must
assume that it will be'. Or, as Julian Morris of the Institute of Economic
Affairs in London remarked, 'If someone had evaluated the risk of fire
right after it was invented, they may well have decided to eat their food
raw'. So, end of fire.
Dr Gail Cardew, head of programmes at the Royal Institution in London,
explains its impact on the discovery of penicillin: Were the precautionary
principle adopted at the time, penicillin would not have been given to
[the first trial patient] after so little testing in animals. No doubt it
would have been tested on other animals, and yet subsequently penicillin
was found to be toxic to guinea pigs. In this scenario, would we have been
too cautious ever to try out 'the wonder drug' on humans?
There was overwhelming consensus amongst medical scientists that all major
medical breakthroughs would have been prevented by the Precautionary
Principle. There would be no exceptions. Even the live Salk polio vaccine
carried a five per cent risk of inflicting the disease.
Carl Djerassi (Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University, and
father of the modern contraceptive pill) points out that not only would
the contraceptive pill for women never have come to light, but it is
precisely because of the precautionary principle that we still have no
such pill for men. He is clear that had he been forced to deal with the
restrictions and interference that are commonplace these days in
biomedical research, he would never have set to work on the birth control
project. No pill. Just think of that boys and girls!
One clear recent example of the negative effect of the Precautionary
Principle in practice is the use of DDT. We forget that DDT actually saved
millions of humans from dying of malaria. As Djerassi points out, ‘it is
now conveniently forgotten that DDT eradicated the disease from the entire
Mediterranean region’. It is now claimed that global warming is to blame
for the rise in malaria deaths when it is most probably the ban on DDT. As
Dr Elizabeth M. Whelan, President of the American Council on Science and
Health [Health Priorities, Volume 8, Number 3, 1996] puts it, 'The
Precautionary Principle overlooks the possibility that real public health
risks can be associated with eliminating miniscule, hypothetical risks'.
Another example of a huge benefit nearly forgone is that of Golden Rice.
Ingo Potrykus (Emeritus Professor of Plant Sciences at the Swiss Federal
Institute of Technology, and the inventor of Golden Rice) explains, 'I
have invented and developed Golden Rice, a transgenic rice variety which
produces provitamin A and which will substantially contribute to a
reduction in vitamin A malnutrition, thus preventing numerous children
from becoming irreversibly blind. Throughout the work, it could not be
guaranteed that harmful effects could be excluded. Having Golden Rice in
hand, we can exclude this possibility now, but not before we had solved
the scientific problem'. As he points out, 'The application of the
precautionary principle in science is in itself basically anti-science.
Science explores the unknown, and therefore can a priori not predict the
outcome. To turn an old saw on its head, it would be better to be poor,
blind and safe than to be sorry'.
The madness, if not already apparent from the examples above, is confirmed
with observations by Sallie Baliunas (astrophysicist, and enviro-sci host
at Tech Central Station). 'Electrification of the USA--the environmental
impact statements concerning the siting of power plants and transmission
lines, and concerning the air and water pollutants, would still be
underway. The final vote of the Precautionary Principle Committee (PPC):
no, we cannot electrify the country, because of the environmental risks'.
Dr Whelan points out that the Precautionary Principle is wrong footed
because it always assumes worst-case scenarios, and that it distracts
consumers and policy makers alike from the known and proven threats to
human health. She quotes an ancient philosopher, 'It is a serious disease
to worry over what has not occurred'. While the obsession with risk shows
little sign of abating, the conference organized by spiked online believes
that there is a large and diverse audience for critical voices in
discussions about this trend. The more people who are prepared to raise
their heads above the parapet, the harder it will be for new and more
destructive panics to take hold.
With all this evidence of the perverse and unintended consequences of the
Precautionary Principle, the reader must be wondering why so many of the
anti-American hating Left are for it. Just think. If the Precautionary
Principle had been applied 500 years go, the most important discovery that
would never have been made is America. Not even once. Makes you think.
You Can Kiss Them Good Bye...
The Bicycle; Biotechnology; Blood transfusion; CAT scans; Chlorine; the
Contraceptive Pill; Cultivation of rice and maize; Digitalis; the
discovery of DNA; Electric light bulbs; Electroconvulsive therapy; Fire;
Gas power; GM crops; the Green Revolution; work by Galileo and Newton;
Highvoltage power grids; Hoes; Hybrid crops; the Human genome project; the
Internal combustion engine; the Internet; In vitro fertilization; Iron;
the Jet engine; Knives; the Measles vaccine; Molecular biology; Neural
lesions; NMR imaging; Nuclear fission; Nuclear power; Nuclear physics;
Oil; Open-heart surgery; Organ transplants; Pasteurization; Penicillin;
the Periodic table; Pesticides; Plant domestication; Ploughs; the Polio
vaccine; Quantum mechanics; the Rabies vaccine; Radar; Railways;
Radiation; Radio; Radioisotope thermal generators; Refrigeration; Rocket
power; The Smallpox vaccine; Space exploration; Steam power; Stem cell
biology; the breaking of the Sound barrier; the Telephone; Water supply
and distribution; the Wheel; X-rays.
Andrew McIntyre is Public Relations Manager at the Institute of Public
Opportunities and Challenges in Plant Biotechnology
- Sen. Christopher Bond, U.S. Senator (Missouri), Opening Remarks Society
for In Vitro Biology Congress 2001. From: In Vitro Cellular and
Developmental Biology - Plant, Vol. 39, pp. 365-367. Copyright © 2003 by
the Society for In Vitro Biology (formerly the Tissue Culture
Association). Reproduced in AgBioView with permission of the copyright
U.S. Senator Christopher Bond joined Dr. Roger Beachy at the podium during
the SIVB 2001 Congress Plenary Session on Opportunities and Challenges in
Plant Biotechnology to Benefit Health and Sustainability, on June 17, 2001
in St. Louis, MO. Senator Bond presented an advocate’s view regarding the
benefits of plant biotechnology development. The strengths of the
biotechnology regulatory system were extolled. The opportunities of this
new technology to produce more and nutritionally superior food, additional
plant-based medicines and vaccines, plant-based renewable sources of
energy and renewable industrial products were outlined. The benefits to
the environment by adopting plant biotechnological innovations were
discussed. Developing public policy regarding this new technology should
be based on facts, science and reason.
Welcome to St. Louis, welcome to the "Silicon Valley of Plant Technology"
and welcome to the "Bio-belt".
I am delighted that this important group chose St. Louis for its annual
meeting and I want to say three things to you while you are still paying
attention, particularly those of you from Europe:
First, we love plant biotechnology here. Second, we are committed to
plant technology here. And third, if your country or institution is not
as friendly to biotechnology as they should be, we have a full amnesty
program for those who want to come to Missouri and join the team of
visionaries working to make technology work for people around the world.
Our President, who has just returned from Europe, was criticized by one
European editorial board for being committed to the "three Bs" -- the
Bible, barbeque, and baseball. The "three Bs" may not be popular in
European editorial boardrooms, but they are popular here, along with the
fourth "B" -- biotechnology.
My training is in international affairs and law, not biology. I have to
recruit my friend from the Forestry School at the University of Missouri
regularly to rescue the trees in my orchard that I plant and grow at my
home in central Missouri. I have been very fortunate to have the benefit
of excellent consultants in my state, including the men and women that are
farmers and ranchers in Missouri. I am also fortunate to learn about
biotechnological advances from experts such as Dr. Roger Beachy at the
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Dr. Peter Raven at the Missouri
Botanical Garden, scientists at the University of Missouri, Washington
University, Monsanto and others.
Given that I was not trained in biology, I was once hesitant to discuss
technology in public. However, since the only people European and some
American newspapers quote these days are politicians and activists, I
decided to join the field.
There was a time when I used to believe that a scientist would have to
dress up as a corncob to get media attention. The one thing we know in
politics is that when charges are not responded to, people assume the
charges to be true. When one side demonstrates no passion, then people
assume that it is not worth fighting for. Consequently, I have done
everything ethical a Senator can do to try to influence the discussion in
such a way that facts and vision and optimism are present.
The good news is that I believe that we have turned the corner with the
overwhelming number of so-called "opinion makers" regarding the acceptance
of new technology. I believe that has happened, in large part, because
groups like yours have had the courage to stand up and publicly speak to
and endorse the benefits of new technology and what you know new
technology can do to improve human health and the environment around the
world. As a proponent of this new technology, I know the risks associated
with being an advocate and I thank you and congratulate you for your
courage and vision.
There is an old saying about how all that is necessary for wrong to
prevail is for good people to do nothing. Some of the tactics of the
activists are relatively harmless, however, other tactics certainly are
not. We have seen people's reputations personally attacked, research
facilities destroyed, labs burned, and human life placed at risk. The
positive reality that these tactics demonstrate is the bankruptcy of the
activist’s arguments against technology. If they could argue with you in
a compelling way, they would be at the table doing so and they would not
be resorting to lawlessness, intimidation and hysteria production.
One year ago, your organization developed a powerful Position Statement on
Crop Genetic Engineering (see front pages of In Vitro Cell. Dev. Biol. --
Plant, volume 36, number 4, July-August 2000) and I received a copy of
that "Statement" from your President, Dr. Mary Ann Lila Smith. I can not
speak to the technical science of all the issues related to biotechnology,
but as any good politician can, I can sure commandeer the facts from
others if they will provide it. I have provided your statement to every
U.S. Senator. I have entered it into the official record of Senate
hearings. I have shared it with those in the media who are interested. I
have provided it to foreign visitors from Europe, Asia and Africa who come
to my office to discuss technology. I have shared it with Corporate CEOs
in the food processing industry, some of whom have the most rubbery spines
of all decision-makers central to this issue.
The important point is that there are many legitimate questions and those
questions need to be answered and they need to be answered by people who
know the science and the facts, not by those who are selling hysteria,
protectionism, doom and despair and other anti-technology agendas.
Recent endorsements of biotechnology have been issued by the American
Medical Association, American Dietetic Association, 10,000-member American
Society for Cell Biology, your organization, the 42,000-member American
Society for Microbiology, the 4,000-member Genetics Society of America,
the 5,000-member American Society of Plant Biologists (nee: American
Society of Plant Physiologists), the Federation of Animal Science
Societies, the American Council on Science and Health, the International
Food Policy Research Institute, Nobel laureates and even Dr. Patrick
Moore, biologist and founding member of Greenpeace.
While there will continue to be potholes in the road, Asian and Latin
American nations, in general, are rejecting the European model and moving
closer and closer toward broader acceptance.
In the Senate, anti-biotechnology legislation that was introduced last
year did not win a single cosponsor. It has not been re-introduced this
year. Furthermore, the courts last year threw a Greenpeace case against
EPA out of court. EPA, FDA and USDA have refused to let politics trump
science in their regulation of the product. Consumers in the U.S. have
rejected the hysteria. Corporate shareholders have universally rejected
activists-generated biotechnology-free resolutions by margins 95 percent
and higher. U.S. editorial positions have been extremely positive.
Clearly the scientific consensus is there and scientists, particularly in
the face of all the nonsense from Europe, are becoming more active in
efforts to educate the public about this new technology.
The scientific community understands that biotechnology is highly
regulated, and it needs to be highly regulated to ensure safety and
performance in application. Our regulatory system, which is rigorous and
layered, is flexible enough to change immediately to suit new developments
and realities. In short, the consensus is answering the legitimate
questions, addressing the heart-felt concerns, and overcoming the hysteria
from those activists who are interested not in improving the technology
but in killing it.
In the past half century, the number of people fed by a single U.S. farmer
has grown from 19 to 129. With this progressive spirit in mind, there are
many new opportunities to use plants to make more and better food,
plant-based medicines and vaccines, more efficient renewable sources of
energy, plant-based renewable industrial products and we can produce the
plants in a more environmentally conscious way.
We will do this in the U.S. whether the Europeans want to establish a
"technology-free zone" on their continent or not. At the moment, while
the U.S., South America, Australia and other countries are trying to
export food and solutions, the Europeans are exporting hysteria.
There are a great many issues regarding patents, regulation, segregation
and channeling that we must and will address in the years and decades to
come but the so-called "concerns" that are raised are concerns that we
have, can and will address. One of the issues that is key is that we grow
the public research initiatives to accelerate our development of
technology and maximize its availability to the public. Until three weeks
ago, when Senator Jeffords lost his way and turned the Senate over to
Senator Daschle, I was Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee which
funds research at the National Science Foundation. As Chairman, I have
provided over $250 million in research on plant genomics. With the new
Chair, my friend and colleague, Barbara Mikulski, we intend to continue to
grow this effort. I believe we have the bipartisan support necessary in
the Senate to meet our goal of doubling the NSF budget in 5 years.
Additionally, the new Administration is looking to increase its public
research efforts to develop biotechnology.
While many in this country and in Europe can afford to choose to shop at
places like 'Fresh Fields' for all the latest in trendy foodstuffs, we
know that there are still 800 million hungry people in the world who
cannot. Millions are sick and die from disease and nutritional
deprivation. I continue to believe that while the wealthy may be able to
afford shunning technology in the intermediate term, the world’s needy
have the most at stake in the outcome of the debate on food technology.
Last year, at my request, the Congress earmarked $30 million in Foreign
Aid funds for the purposes of studying biotechnology that has applications
for the developing world. I plan on increasing that earmarked level this
year and more the next year. This is to provide resources so that
institutions in foreign countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Indonesia and
elsewhere can work to develop scientific capacity and partnerships and
technologies that suit the needs of their people. We have no interest in
imposing this technology on them. However, they do not just want us to
send them bags of seed. The people in these countries want to partner
with our institutions and develop scientific capacity and address problems
that they consider priorities and, simply put, make the technology work
for them. I am very excited about this new initiative and in the years
ahead, I will fight to grow it.
In "Science" magazine last year, I was incredibly disturbed to see that
the hysteria in Europe was leading to a reduction in both private and
public research commitments. One example cited, was the EU decision to
reduce funding for the Golden Rice initiative. In response to that, the
Congress funded, at my request, $5 million for the International Rice
Research Institute in the Philippines to work on Golden Rice. If the
Europeans do not want to make beta carotene-enhanced "Golden Rice"
available to malnourished people in the developing world, then we should.
The article also stated that scientists were leaving Europe and students
were less inclined to take biology because they fear "poor career
prospects in such an unpopular field." I do not think that is truly the
European way but I know it is not the American way.
This is a critical point that I will end on. The fight for plant
biotechnology is a fight that is critical not just because of the danger
of not improving plant technology. Beyond the specific issue of
acceptance of transgenic plant technologies, there is more at stake here
and that is whether or not we are going to allow activist organizations to
regulate our food or whether we will maintain the science-based system
that has served our farmers and consumers for decades. While activist
groups are not always reasonable, they do have a bottom line and they will
be evaluating whether the tactics of hysteria are fruitful and whether to
use this campaign as a model against their next target of opportunity.
Since people are understandably sensitive about food safety issues, food
safety campaigns can be very effective and even profitable as groups
frighten the public then ask for money to help purchase more hysteria.
These tactics should be rejected and in America, overall, they have been
rejected. We are fighting to see if activist politics with the absence of
facts will govern the development of technology or whether facts, science
and reason will do so. Notwithstanding my concerns about the activist
industry, I am very optimistic that your voices are being heard which will
allow the world’s most vulnerable people to benefit from your remarkable
Please keep up the spirit and keep our country and the world safe for
technology. As the past has demonstrated, the future depends on this