Today in AgBioView: September 15, 2003:
* Insect choloroplasts???
* REPORT SHOWS EU TRADE BARRIERS KILL ONE PERSON EVERY 13 SECONDS
* Free Market Advocates Fight Back at WTO
* Cancun Trade Talks Fail
* Scientist defends GM food, Can help feed Third World
* Precaution Into Law
* Ulama must understand biotechnology
- "Murphy D (SApS)"
Roger Morton (Agbioview 9/12/03) recently picked up what was almost
certainly a mistake (arguably not the only one) in a recent article by Mae
Wan Ho where she alluded to chloroplasts in insects.
However, before we heap too much scorn on this notion, we should recall
that living plant cells and even plastids have now been found in a variety
of non-plant organisms. Perhaps the most remarkable is the case of the sea
slug, Elysia chlorotica, which captures chloroplasts from an alga and is
able to keep these exogenous organelles intact and functional in its
cytoplasm for at least 8 months (Mujer et al PNAS 93, 12333, 1996). The
chloroplasts apparently provide photosynthetically derived sugars for
these animals. See http://www.seaslugforum.net/elyschlo.htm for some nice
We are all aware that organellar DNA can and has frequently been exchanged
with nuclear DNA during eukaryote evolution so who knows, maybe some
animals contain copies of residual plant-derived DNA in their genomes. And
if slugs can ingest/capture plastids, why not insects or even people?
Denis J Murphy
University of Glamorgan UK
PRE-CANCUN WTO MEETING REPORT SHOWS EU TRADE BARRIERS KILL ONE PERSON
EVERY 13 SECONDS
Dr Tim Evans (President, CNE) +44 07956 969523, firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephen Pollard (Senior Fellow, CNE) +44 07956 118035,
Alberto Mingardi (CNE Visiting Fellow) + 39 33 96 02 18 70,
Dr Sean Gabb +44 07956 472199
BRUSSELS, 04 SEPTEMBER 2003 — A new report, EU Trade Barriers Kill,
published today in the run-up to the Cancun ministerial meeting of the WTO
by the Centre for the New Europe, the Brussels-based think tank, analyses
the impact of EU trade regulations and barriers on the developing world.
A PDF copy of the full report, by Stephen Pollard, Alberto Mingardi, Dr.
Sean Gabb, and Cecile Philippe is available for download at
- 6,600 people die every day in the world because of the trading rules of
the EU. That is 275 people every hour.
- In other words, one person dies every 13 seconds somewhere in the world
- mainly in Africa - because the European Union does not act on trade as
- If Africa could increase its share of world trade by just one per cent,
it would earn an additional £49 billion a year. This would be enough to
lift 128 million people out of extreme poverty. The EU's trade barriers
are directly responsible for Africa's inability to increase its trade and
thus for keeping Africa in poverty.
- If the poorest countries as a whole could increase their share of world
exports by five per cent, that would generate £248 billion or $350
billion, raising millions more out of extreme poverty.
Trade barriers imposed by the EU are more than just a technical issue.
Lack of access to the European market - by far the richest in the world -
slows development in the poorest countries of the world, condemns
thousands of millions of people to poverty and kills many others. This
paper quantifies, for the first time, the cost in human life to Africa of
It is widely acknowledged that it was trade that enabled the "Asian Tiger"
countries - Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, etc - to develop as
manufacturing economies. Opening their economies to the rest of the world
allowed them to attract the investment in physical and human capital that
brought them comparative advantages in the manufacture of a widening range
It could be the same story for the very poorest countries now. For one
thing they tend to have advantages in agricultural or textile production.
For the most part, however, this option is not available. Four main
countries or trading blocs - the European Union, the United States, Japan
and Canada - account for 75 per cent of world output. They are the obvious
destinations for exports from the poorest countries. Yet while these
countries talk endlessly about the liberalisation of world trade, they
have been ruthless in keeping their domestic markets closed to
agricultural and textile exports from the poorest countries.
The worst of the rich protectionists, however - by far - is the European
The EU runs two sets of protectionist policies that could be almost
designed to wreck the trading chances of those of the poorest countries
that have comparative advantages in food and textiles.
First, there are the trade restrictions. Though the EU has a low
industrial tariff of five per cent, its agricultural tariffs are far
higher. These average 20 per cent, but rise to a peak of 250 per cent on
certain products. For example, the tariff on Bolivian chickens is 46 per
cent, and on Bolivian orange juice 34 per cent. On textiles, there are
strict quotas on most important lines. These have been reduced or removed
in the case of fairly unimportant products such as parachutes and
umbrellas. But the European market remains barely open to the majority of
low cost textiles from the developing world.
Added to open trade barriers are the complex rules of origin applied to
imports from the developing world. These stipulate how much of a product
must be made from local inputs to qualify for the preferential tariffs.
According to a report published by the Centre for European Policy Studies,
only a third of imports from developing countries eligible for
preferential access are able to meet the strict criteria to comply with
the rules of origin.
Even if an exporter from the developing world is able to comply with these
regulations, there are then the further regulations on health and safety.
These have a protectionist effect, and that again may be their intention.
For example, one regulation requires that milk should be taken from cows
by machinery and not by hand. This effectively shuts out all Indian milk
products, which would otherwise, admittedly, enter only at prohibitive
tariffs of between 76 and 144 per cent. Again, complex rules on aflotoxins
cost sub-Saharan Africa $1.3 billion every year in lost exports of
cereals, dried fruits and nuts per European life allegedly saved thereby.
Second is the agricultural subsidy handed out by the EU under the rules of
the Common Agricultural Policy. This amounts to $41 billion a year, or
$14,000 per European Union farmer (though half the spending goes to the
biggest 17 per cent of farming enterprises). The CAP subsidy affects
agricultural producers in the developing world in three main ways:
1. It completes the effect of tariffs and other barriers in shutting them
out of a market in which they would otherwise have a comparative
advantage. For example, the EU spends Euros 2.7 billion each year on
subsidising European farmers to grow sugar beet, while it maintains high
tariff barriers against sugar imports from the developing world.
2. It generates immense surpluses of foodstuffs that cannot be sold within
the EU at the prevailing intervention prices. Much of these surpluses are
exported at very low prices that undercut those charged by the
unsubsidised producers of the developing world. A prime case of this is
sugar sales in the Middle East. Countries like Sudan are crowded out of
the sugar market in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
3. Some of the surpluses are exported at subsidised prices to developing
countries, thereby crowding out domestic producers. In Jamaica, some 3,000
dairy farmers are being driven out of business by imported milk powder
from the EU. 5,500 metric tons are sent there each year at a cost to the
European taxpayers of $3m. Many of the farmers are women.
Free Market Advocates Fight Back at WTO
Cancun, Mexico (CNSNews.com) - After days of anti-free trade protests at
the WTO conference, including a protest featuring nude activists and
another involving a suicide, free market advocates responded in kind on
They staged several counter demonstrations and street-theater stunts,
drawing the ire of anti-globalization protestors and environmentalists.
At a mock awards ceremony sponsored by a coalition of free market groups,
actors playing the grim reaper handed out "awards" to environmental groups
and other organizations that they accuse of promoting "poverty, misery,
disease and premature death to billions of people in developing
The awards ceremony was led by the conservative Congress Of Racial
Equality (CORE), an African-American civil rights group.
Billed as "Green Power-Black Death," the ceremony included participants
carrying signs that read, "Sustainable Development = Sustainable Poverty"
and "Save the Children."
Niger Innis, CORE's national spokesman, presented the first of three
awards to Greenpeace for what he called its "million-dollar campaigns
against anytechnology and economic development that could improve or save
the lives of poor people."
"For far too long, a lot of the left-leaning [nongovernmental
organizations] have had a global monopoly on the debate and discussion
involving these important issues," Innis told CNSNews.com.
CORE also gave an award to the European Union for "using its vast
monolithic powers to impose self-serving laws, rules, tariffs and
subsidies that stifle trade from developing countries."
The third award - named the "Uncle Tom" award - went to the Malaysia-based
Pesticide Action Network for "selling out its own people." According to
Innis, the group opposes pesticides and biotechnology in exchange for
funding from wealthy foundations.
Innis called the three award winners advocates of "lethal
"Their opposition to genetically engineered foods, pesticides and energy
development devastates families and communities and kills millions every
year," Innis said.
The mock awards ceremony drew hisses from onlookers. Two environmental
activists attempted to disrupt the proceedings with repeated heckling.
Innis, however, was not deterred. "The extremist elements that tried to
disrupt the proceedings were unsuccessful," he said.
Cyril Boynes Jr., the director of international affairs for CORE, said the
awards ceremony was important "to draw attention to the destructive and
murderous policies of these eco-terrorists, as we like to call them."
But an environmentalist fired back at CORE's contention that sustainable
development is harming the world's poor residents.
"That's mistaken. Sustainability is something that contributes to
effective development, said Paul Joffe, the director of international
affairs for the National Wildlife Federation in an interview with
"When development [in poor nations] goes forward in a way that is slash
and burn, it results in undercutting itself, so [the premise of the mock
awards event] is something that is mistaken," Joffe explained.
Sustainable development is the key to helping the world's poor, according
"It is the poor who ultimately suffer from a lack of attention to
sustainability. It is the poor who are suffering and will suffer from the
neglect of the U.S. administration on the subject of global warming, and
we could go down the list on those issues," Joffe said.
Poor countries don't have to emulate the wealthy industrialized nations,
according to Joffe.
"To say that developing countries should not follow the model of the U.S.
and of Europe isn't to say that there isn't a way of doing it that would
bring the benefits to a wider spectrum of the public but also in a way
that is not destructive and undercutting the environment," Joffe said.
'Marxists go home'
Free market advocates engaged in several other demonstrations on Thursday.
The free-trade advocacy group Bureaucrash.com placed fliers on hotel
doorknobs of a German environmentalist group to illustrate what it calls
the hypocrisy of anti-free-trade groups.
The fliers featured a photo of a housekeeper and noted that hotel maids
only make $6 U.S. dollars a day cleaning their rooms.
"While you march against poverty, inequality and the exploitation of
workers, your maid is cleaning your room for 25 cents. You benefit from
'exploited' labor," read the flier. The flier then asks rhetorically 'Are
you practicing fair trade in your hotel room?'"
"There is a lot of hypocrisy within the statist forces here...during the
day they talk about fair trade but [the Heinrich Boll Foundation members]
are staying at the Best Western downtown where the maids are paid 25 cents
every time they clean a hotel room, so they are not practicing free
trade," Jason Talley told CNSNews.com.
The fliers demanded, "Marxists go home! Stop exploiting our workers!!"
"We just wanted them to wake up and get ready to push their agenda of big
government and then see that on the door and hopefully demoralize them,"
'They deserve the freedom'
Another free-market counter protest included a group of U.S. college
students demonstrating for free trade and against environmental
restrictions on development.
"EU countries and NGOs are using environmental policies to impose their
beliefs on other developing nations. We are here to say that is wrong and
that they deserve the freedom, the choice to trade like rest of world,"
said Gregory Pejic, a student at Tulane University in New Orleans.
The Washington, D.C.-based free market environmental group Committee For A
Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) -- http://www.cfact.org -- sponsored the
"We want to get out to the people that free trade is not a bad thing; it
can prevent poverty," said Monica Gonzalez, a student at the University of
"The greens are trying to keep the people oppressed," Gonzalez added.
The free market groups are planning more events to counter the thousands
of anti-free trade and WTO protesters.
Bureaucrash.com is planning to sell soft drinks to protesters on Saturday
that will feature two prices for the same drink - a cheaper 'Free trade'
price and a more expensive 'fair trade' price.
"The socially conscious might like that [the higher fair trade price]
provides union dues and environmental impact studies and things like that
but if [the protesters] want to save some money they can pay the free
trade price and get the exact same product," Talley explained.
"It's a good way to demoralize the enemy," he added.
Cancun Trade Talks Fail
Everyone loses, but the world's poor are hurt most
September 15, 2003
By Ronald Bailey
Cancun—Ambitious trade negotiations at the World Trade Organization's
fiftth ministerial conference fell apart over irreconcilable differences
between the demands of rich countries and poor countries. In a case of
cutting your nose off to spite your face, the trade negotiators from the
poor countries are tonight celebrating what they will all too soon realize
is a Pyrrhic victory over the rich WTO countries. The fact that the
lobbyists for American cotton farmers, European sugar beet growers and
American textile manufacturers are also celebrating the collapse should
really frighten the poor countries who forced the talks into collapse.
New, liberalized trade rules could have increased world income by $230
billion annually and, according to a recent study by the Center for Global
Development, could have lifted 200 million of the poor in developing
countries out of poverty. Instead, the poor countries left Cancun with
Specifically, the talks collapsed over disputes about how to liberalize
agricultural trade. The developing countries were essentially demanding
that the European Union, the United States and other rich countries
totally eliminate their domestic agriculture subsidies and export
subsidies. Conversely, the poor countries—organized as a bloc called the
G20 (also known as G33) that Brazil, China, India, Kenya, and South,
Africa—insisted that they be allowed to "protect" their farmers by
maintaining tariffs against agricultural imports from the developed
countries. In other words, the G20 countries were demanding that the rich
countries open their markets while they kept theirs closed.
By the end of the talks, the poor countries had in fact extracted
significant concessions from the European Union and the United States to
lower their domestic agricultural subsidies and to reduce their export
subsidies. In return, rich countries were asking that the poor countries
lower their tariff barriers on agricultural imports in return. The
European Union is also especially to blame for the collapse because of its
insistence throughout the Ministerial that investment rules and trade
facilitation be included in the negotiations, despite the fact that 100
members of the WTO had rejected the idea of negotiations on these items.
These so-called "Singapore Issues" diverted the focus and attention from
the all-important negotiations over liberalizing world agricultural trade,
so that when the EU finally agreed to drop them, it was too late.
What about the future? First, the collapse means that protected industries
and sectors all over the world will still get their subsidies and still
overcharge consumers for many more years to come. In fact, a new and very
damaging wave of protectionism could sweep the globe given the current
shaky world economic situation. Second, rich country anti-globalization
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), will take this opportunity to
continue their campaigns to undermine the legitimacy of the WTO and free
trade while promoting their trade-killing environmental and social
concerns into any future WTO agreements. Third, the focus of trade
negotiations will shift to bilateral and regional agreements. When that
happens, the poor countries with small economies will find that the rich
countries have very little interest in negotiating separate trade treaties
with them. Consequently they will be stuck for years to come facing high
tariffs and other trade barriers for their goods. The only official
statement from the Cancun meeting was that the WTO executives will gather
in Geneva on December 15 to see if they can devise a way forward.
The only winners at Cancun are the vested interests such as moribund
protected industries, highly subsidized rich country farmers, and
anti-globalization ideologues. The real losers are hundreds of millions of
poor people who would have benefited from the jobs, the higher incomes and
lower prices that liberalized trade brings.
Scientist defends GM food, Can help feed Third World
By NATALIE PONA
September 15, 2003
Though some Canadians may be suspicious of genetically modified foods, a
Kenyan expert says partnerships with Winnipeg companies specializing in
that technology is the key to helping Africa's starving.
"The issues in Africa are different from in Canada," said Dr. Florence
Wambugu, an expert in biodiversity from Kenya. "We have a food deficit
there so this technology is a real opportunity for long-term food
Wambugu was in Winnipeg yesterday for the 51st CropLife Canada Conference,
a meeting of Canadian agriculture technology companies which is slated to
run Sept. 14 to 17. She said problems with food production in Africa, such
as smaller-scale farms and lack of government funding, could be remedied
ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY
"Genetically modified technology is an opportunity to pack all the
developments into a seed," Wambugu said, adding the modified seeds would
result in more available food.
Wambugu said she wants African farmers to have access to the technology
Canadians do -- seeds that grow crops able to withstand hardships such as
drought and insects.
She said it would also be an opportunity for more environmentally friendly
farming practices, considering less chemicals would be needed to protect
crops already able to withstand diseases.
She said Africans aren't leery of the technology.
"The controversy came ... from several European groups who came to tell
people the food is dangerous," she said, adding tests prove food grown
from the modified seed is safe. "... And when you are hungry you will eat
Wambugu said she was at the conference to build partnerships with Canadian
companies able to donate the genetically modified technology to Africa.
"They should look to Africa as an emerging market," she said, adding the
continent could one day become a viable trading partner.
Wambugu is scheduled to speak at the conference this afternoon at The
Precaution Into Law
Tech Central Station
By James Pinkerton
CANCUN, Mexico -- September 11 will be remembered for many things, of
course, but something that happened on 9/11/03 will also be remembered.
The world may mourn -- or not -- the attack on the US two years ago, but
the world environmental movement has definitely moved on. Here at the
World Trade Organization meeting, the assembled multitude, both pro-trade
and anti-trade, was confronted by the coincidence that Thursday marked the
first day in which the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety entered into force.
Right here, right now, there are more urgent issues for WTO-ers to
discuss, but it won't be long before the Cartagena Protocol makes itself
felt. So what is it, exactly?
The Protocol is the first legally binding agreement concerning the
transnational movement of living modified organisms (LMOs), such as seeds
and animals, resulting from modern biotechnology. According to the
Montreal-based Secretariat of the Convention on Biodiversity, a sub-unit
of the United Nations Environmental Programme, the Protocol seeks to
"ensure an adequate level of safety in the transfer, handling and use of
LMOs which may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable
use of biological diversity, also taking into account potential risks to
human health." To many, all that verbiage might sound innocuous -- who's
for risks to human health? -- but the Protocol is far more than warning
labels or safety caps. Instead, it represents a new front in the Greens'
never-ending battle to seize control of international trade. Such trade
currently runs about $6 trillion a year, although, of course, it would be
considerably less if the Greens had their way with it.
Maybe you don't remember reading about the United States agreeing to this
Protocol; that's because we haven't agreed. Even the Clinton
Administration wouldn't sign it when it came open for national signatures
in 2000, even as 103 countries did ink it. Of those signatories, barely
more than half -- 59, to be exact -- have gone on actually to ratify it.
The Protocol took on legal force when the nation of Palau -- you know all
about Palau, don't you? -- became the 50th ratifying country. But, you
might be thinking to yourself, the United Nations has 191 member states.
So isn't it a bit strange that international law comes into force when
it's embraced by a quarter of the nations of the world? That's what I
think, too. But welcome to the world of Green law, which would be regarded
as merely wacky if the stakes weren't so high.
To be sure, countries that haven't acceded to the Protocol aren't bound by
it, but here comes the rub: what happens when a Protocol country bumps up
against a non-Protocol country? France, for example, is all signed up. Is
it possible to imagine the French getting into a trade tiff with the
United States? Or, to put it another way, the Protocol provides Paris with
one more opportunity to pick a fight? In such a case, any dispute will
likely end up in the lap of the WTO.
We'll consider the WTO's role later, but first, a point or two about the
thinking -- maybe ideology is a better word -- behind the Cartagena
Greens and other Cartagena-heads say that everything they do is in the
name of "sustainability." But of course, there's much more to it than
that. Readers of this space might recall that I've looked at both
"sustainable development" and "sustainable trade," noting that these
eco-buzz-phrases are manipulatable in the hands of manipulators. But
here's another snatch of happy-talk to watch for: The Precautionary
When we speak of TPP, we might lower our voice a bit, because we're
getting close now to the Holy Grail of Greenianity. TPP transports Green
believers to a level above -- or below, your choice -- science. TPP takes
Greenianity to the level of faith. And faith is hard to argue, let alone
The Preamble to the Cartagena Protocol, in which TPP makes its first of
four appearances in the text, reads blandly enough; it claims that it is
merely "reaffirming the precautionary approach contained in Principle 15
of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development."
OK, so what's the Rio Declaration? That was the document issued at the end
of the "Earth Summit" in Brazil in June 1992. Here's what Principle 15
says, in full: "In order to protect the environment, the precautionary
approach shall be widely applied by States according to their
capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage,
lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for
postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."
Let's dwell on some of this language a bit, because the implications are
Here's that last clause again: "lack of full scientific certainty shall
not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent
environmental degradation." Perhaps I could put this another way: "Lack of
proof won't stop us from taking action." Or maybe this: "Just because we
don't know what we're doing won't stop us from doing it." Am I being too
Well, how else can one assess something that doesn't rely on objective
measures? Who will guard the guardians if they are not guided by
objective, transparent law? Of course, if you say that the risks of human
action are so great that we can't permit knowledge to moderate our fears
and modulate our actions, then you agree with the Greens. Now, all you
have to do is trust Greenpeace & Co. to administer the rest of your life.
Think I'm exaggerating? Consider the Kyoto global warming agreement, the
official name of which is the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change; note that "Protocol" word again.
The Kyoto Protocol, signed by then-Vice President Al Gore in 1997, is such
a radical document that the US Senate voted 95-0 to reject it -- alas, in
a non-binding, non finalizing resolution. And if you don't believe that
the Kyoto deal is a big deal, read this
(http://www.techcentralstation.com/040303B.html). And this
(http://www.techcentralstation.com/072501D.html). And this
In comparison to Kyoto, the Cartagena Protocol is modest; this is, after
all, just its second day of existence. But of course, every giant oak tree
starts out as an acorn, and so it's hard to tell how the Cartagena
Protocol will grow up. But some observers have some clues.
Fred Smith, president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, maintains
that "soft language becomes hard fact." That is, over time, even the windy
and hortatory rhetoric of preambles has a way of working itself into
international law. Just as American lawyers ingeniously pluck rationales
and precedents from anywhere they can be found -- the Supreme Court cited
experiments comparing children's preferences for white dolls over black
dolls in its 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision -- so, too, with
international lawyers. Smith notes that the European Union barely waited
for the Protocol's ink to dry before it started citing Cartagena's TPP
language as justification for its anti-LMO actions. In other words, even
now, TPP, in all its all-over-the-placeness, is being codified into
international law. And how will people adjudicate cases in which proof is
not required? Good question. Maybe you've heard of the phrase, "might
makes right"? Now try "Green makes right."
And so the contours of future politico-economic battlefields can be espied
through the rhetorical fogging and pettifogging. Gary Horlick, former
chief of the US Commerce Department's Import Administration, now a lawyer
in Washington, sees some leading indicators about the Cartagena Protocol
in past cases in which TPP was invoked.
One such case is beef hormones. In 1988, the EU prohibited the use of six
different growth hormones in imported beef. The United States and Canada
contested the prohibition, and, a mere nine years later, a WTO panel ruled
that the EU's action was out of bounds, because it was not based on sound
science. Indeed, Horlick points out, three of the growth hormones are
natural -- so natural that it's impossible to tell whether or not an
animal has even received them. Moreover, even as it banned American beef,
the EU was still allowing EU cows to be treated with the same hormones.
And most absurdly, the EU allowed contraceptives onto the market that
contained 17,000 times -- that's right, 17,000 times -- the hormone level
of banned beef.
Yet the Europeans had dug in their Green heels. To this day, the EU
restricts the beef, even though, having lost the case in the WTO, it now
must pay the penalty, in the form of retaliatory American duties on
European exports. But of course, a free market economist would call this a
lose-lose. Yes, America may be legally entitled to impose retaliatory
duties, but the effect of those duties is to raise prices for American
But now, with The Precautionary Principle embedded in the Cartagena
Protocol, the EU might feel emboldened to take another look at no-no-ing
imports, for just about any reason. After all, when you have TPP, you
don't need proof.
And if the EU feels emboldened, imagine what the Greens must be thinking.
They see that the world -- or at least the World Trade Organization --
might yet be their prize.
Ulama must understand biotechnology
New Straits Times (Malaysia)
September 13, 2003
By Shaikh Mohd Saifuddeen
BODY: IN the last century, we have witnessed tremendous advancements in
the area of biological sciences. The exploration and studies in the area
of molecular biology have uncovered much of the secrets of genetics.
The first scientific study on heredity was by Mendel in 1865. The
discovery of the structure of the gene (deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA) five
decades ago in 1953 propelled genetic sciences to the forefront.
The list of achievements in biological sciences has continued, with
protein synthesis in the 1960s, tissue culture in the 1970s, molecular
markers in the 1980s, genetic engineering in the 1990s and genomics at the
turn of the millennium.
All these advancements contributed to the development of biotechnology.
While biotechnology may be a new word to many people, in essence mankind
has been using biotechnological processes for the past 5,000 years, in
particular the fermentation technique.
No doubt, biotechnological processes in the 21st century are much more
advanced as we are now talking about modification processes that take
place at the molecular level.
With all these developments taking place so rapidly, how well do people
really understand biotechnology? Most members of the general public are
probably aware of certain biotechnological terms and concepts, as they may
have been used in the media.
However, it is important for the public to really understand how
biotechnology is affecting and changing our lives as we speak.
Biotechnology holds many promises and great potential for mankind.
Nonetheless, there is an on-going debate on certain aspects of
biotechnology that seem to indicate that man may be playing God.
That is why discussions on biotechnology must include the religious and
ethical perspectives. Unless this is done, the risks that biotechnology
poses may overwhelm the benefits that it promises.
With this in mind, the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim)
along with the Sarawak State Government, the Sarawak Development Institute
(SDI) and the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute
(Mardi) jointly organised an international seminar with the theme "The
Understanding and Acceptability of Biotechnology from the Islamic
The recently concluded seminar was held in Kuching and has succeeded in
identifying several pertinent issues concerning biotechnology.
For one, there are still many grey areas in biotechnology that require the
Islamic input. The Islamic input on issues such as recombinant DNA
technologies, cloning and the like, is crucial in dealing with the
onslaught of progress in biotechnology.
As accurately noted by Professor Dr Abdul Latiff Ibrahim of Universiti
Industri Selangor (Unisel), biotechnology will have greater impact than
all the other technologies put together.
Therefore, this area of science will indeed bring forth many issues that
would be of concern to Muslims which in turn would require prompt input
from Islamic scholars (ulama). To provide the necessary input, ulama must
first understand biotechnology and its processes.
As such, ulama must be proactive in tackling issues pertaining to
biotechnology. As biotechnology is an area that is fast expanding, efforts
must be taken to ensure ulama are aware and understand these developments
so that they can provide the necessary Islamic input.
It is perhaps timely for ulama to sit together with scientists, in
particular those involved in biotechnology, to discuss and address
It would also be a good idea for scientists to explain biotechnological
processes in simple terms so ulama could benefit from them. This in turn
would assist them to not only provide the necessary Islamic input, but
also explain to Muslims - through Friday sermons (khutbah), religious
lectures and the like - the Islamic perspective on biotechnological
Participants who attended the international seminar held in Sarawak also
agreed that much needed to be done in creating public awareness with
regard to biotechnology.
The correct information and scientific facts must be given so that the
public will not be misled or misinformed.
In this aspect, religious bodies and ulama could indeed play a crucial
role in disseminating information and understanding with regard to
This is because religious bodies and ulama are closer to the public
compared to scientists and technologists.
From a study entitled "The Understanding and Acceptability of
Biotechnology among Muslims" conducted by Ikim which was presented during
the seminar, it is noted that the majority of the respondents in the study
do not have information on biotechnology.
The study also found that the most trusted source of information regarding
biotechnology are research institutes (28.5 per cent), religious
organisations (19.5), universities (14.4) and consumers' associations
This serves to highlight the important role that religious organisations
and scholars play in disseminating an understanding of and information on
If religious organisations and ulama could co-operate with
biotechnological research institutes as well as scientists in the field,
this would indeed be of great benefit to the general public.
The work that scientists are doing in researching biotechnology is in fact
part and parcel of mankind's responsibility as the vicegerent (khalifah)
of God on this planet. Endeavours to develop the world should continue.
While biotechnology is an area of knowledge that is shrouded with many
grey areas, efforts to tap the full potential of biotechnology should not
Upon understanding the developments in biotechnology, ulama could provide
scientists with Islamic guidelines vis-a-vis what is permissible and what
This would help to avoid controversies such as those surrounding human
cloning technology, genetically-modified organisms and transgenic food.
It is without a doubt that the rapid development of biotechnology will
continue to generate many challenging ethical and religious issues. If
scientists and ulama could discuss these matters using the proper
application of Islamic jurisprudence, it would indeed benefit the Muslim
ummah as well as the public at large.
Discussions and deliberations on biotechnological issues between
scientists and ulama must be on-going. They should not be reactive in
nature, rather they should be proactive whereby meetings are held
regularly to discuss new developments in biotechnology.
If this could be done, it represents a win-win situation for both
scientists and ulama.
Scientists would be able to enlighten ulama on new developments, while
ulama could provide the much needed Islamic perspective on these
In the long run, it is the general public who will benefit the most from
this meeting of minds between scientists and ulama.
The writer is fellow at the Centre for Economics, Social Studies and