Today in AgBioView: September 16, 2003:
* Insect Choloroplasts???
* Mexican Village Plays Host to Fight Over Genetically Modified Food
* GM Crops and the Catholic Church
* Globalization, Then
* Opposition to GM Crops in Europe Already Peaked?
* Global Aspects of Technology Transfer: Biotechnology
* Training and Funding Opportunities
* African Biotech-related sites and Pan-African Organisations
* Biotechnology in the Global Communication Ecology
* The Green-Gray Alliance
- Christopher Preston
The document cited is on Ho's websit, but was actually written by Prof Joe
Cummins. Prof Cummins was responsible for the 'invention' of the link
between glyphosate use and acrylamide in food, but that is another story.
I suspect the error is an oversight as the mention of cloroplasts comes
after mitochondria, but there are certainly other errors in the article.
One is that Cummins claims Bt resistance in insects from GM crop use is
certain, but is virtually impossible from organic use. My understanding of
the evidence is that the only resistance to Bt so far has come from uses
similar to those of organic growers.
A second error is that Cummins seems to have got the idea that the
resistance management recommendations for Bt crops allow the use of Bt
sprays over both the Bt crops and the refuges and that this idea is
supported by academics.
In Australia the Bt cotton management plan was designed to provide five
years protection from resistance until the two gene cotton was released.
Seven years later, we still don't have Bt resistance in cotton pests and
the one gene cotton will be phased out over the next two seasons.
- Dr. Christopher Preston, Senior Lecturer in Weed Management, University
Mexican Village Plays Host to Fight Over Genetically Modified Food
- Marc Morano, CNSNews.com, September 15, 2003
Valle Verde, Mexico (CNSNews.com) - An effort to promote the safety and
benefits of genetically modified foods during the World Trade Organization
meeting mushroomed into a clash between free market activists and
environmental groups in a small-impoverished village outside of Cancun on
The event, sponsored by the free market group Committee for a Constructive
Tomorrow (CFACT) degenerated in a shouting match, as environmental groups
opposed to GM food technology crashed the event.
"We invited the media to come because we wanted this message to get out on
the world stage," David Rothbard, the president of CFACT, told
CNSNews.com. CFACT distributed bags of food containing GM rice and beans,
sugar, corn oil and pasta -- all of it bought at local stores. A local
Catholic charity called the Foundation for the City of Joy aided in the
food distribution effort.
Rothbard attacked the greens for what he sees as their efforts to keep the
world's poor nations from using the latest technologies such as GM foods.
"By opposing modern farming methods of agricultural chemicals and
biotechnology, reliable energy sources like nuclear power and fossil
fuels, and a whole host of other technologies that are crucial to a
prosperous life, the greens show they do not want the poorest people of
the world to ever attain a decent standard of living," Rothbard said.
But about a dozen green activists crashed the event and disputed the
claims of the free market activists. "This is a propaganda event to
promote GM foods in a poor community," Raul Benet of the environmental
group Friends of the Earth told CNSNews.com. "These kinds of events can be
very dangerous to the people," Benet added. The poor residents of the of
the village of Valle Verde watched as activists from both sides of the GM
food debate shouted at each other and held up competing banners. Green
activists did convince some residents to reject the food because of safety
concerns, but most of the residents happily accepted the food.
Several dozen school children seemed entertained by the crowd of activists
and reporters gathered in their small village, which has no running water
or electricity and a local schoolhouse with dirt floors. Genetically
modified crops are the result of altered seeds designed to increase yields
and withstand drought with the use of fewer pesticides. Environmentalists
have labeled genetically modified foods "Frankenfoods," insisting that
they have yet to be proven safe for consumption. GM foods have been
consumed in the U.S. for the past seven years. GM foods have been the
focus of disputes between the United States and the European Union.
The free market groups that joined CFACT in sponsoring the food
distribution event included the Congress of Racial Equality, Competitive
Enterprise Institute and International Consumers for Civil Society. 'It
shouldn't exist' Maj Fiil-Flynn of the Washington, D.C.-based Public
Citizen joined the environmental groups in attempting to disrupt the GM
food distribution in the village. Fiil-Flynn was appalled that GM foods
even exist. "I think it shouldn't exist. It's killing local farmers, it's
killing bio-diversity, we should get rid of it," Fiil-Flynn told
Erika Rosenthal, the legal advisor for the Pesticide Action Network,
warned of the dire consequences of allowing the expansion of GM crops. "GM
corn has already contaminated the native varieties [of corn] and it's
stronger than the native varieties in terms of being able to resist pests
and competition from weeds," Rosenthal said. Rosenthal said that
indigenous peoples of Mexico and elsewhere are going to lose their
traditional way of life if the use of GM foods becomes more widespread.
"Local campesino communities rely on dozens of varieties of corn, one for
medicinal purposes, one for human consumption, one for animal consumption.
Without it, their local economy is going to fall apart along with their
culture," Rosenthal said. 'Poverty, misery and death' But Rothbard
believes residents of the developing world do not want to continue living
in what he termed a subsistence lifestyle.
"People throughout the developing nations want progress, they want
prosperity. It's only the rich nations in Europe and some the radical
[green groups] that are trying to keep [the poor] from development," he
said, referring to the European Union's opposition to GM foods. Rothbard
challenged the greens to live up to their concerns about preserving
traditional ways of life for poor nations.
'The traditional way of life for many of these people around the world
involves poverty, misery and death," Rothbard said. "If this is the
traditional way of life that these radical green activists support, then I
believe that they are being immoral and that they themselves ought to go
and live that lifestyle before they advocate that others should continue
in that," he added. But Rosenthal refuted Rothbard's assertion that the
green movement wants to keep developing nations poor by rejecting new
technologies. "They lie," she said of the free market groups. "What is
going to save the world is local diversified agriculture, local production
for local consumption," Rosenthal explained.
Rosenthal believes that the U.S agricultural system is in dire straits and
that developing nations should instead focus on "integrated small, very
diverse food production systems" that are "100 times more productive than
big mono cultures that industrial agricultural promotes." But Rothbard
countered that the high yield U.S. agricultural system as far superior to
small scale farming. "High yield allows people to grow more food on less
land. In the U.S. in the 18th century, some 60-70 percent of the
population had to be involved in growing food, now only two out every 100
are. Yet in India today some 60 out of every 100 residents are still
involved in agriculture," Rothbard said.
"Freeing people up from being able to meet their basic needs, from having
to work hard in the field allows them to pursue things like higher
education and pursue business opportunities that will raise the standard
of living for these nations," he added. Agriculture issues proved to be a
major sticking point during the WTO negotiations in Cancun last week, with
Europe and the U.S. facing pressure to cut the $300 billion in annual farm
subsidies they pay to their farmers.
Anti-WTO forces declared victory over the weekend as the negotiations
collapsed following failure of the developing nations and the
industrialized nations to reach agreement on several key issues including
trade rules and farm reforms. The WTO talks formally ended on Sunday and
it may take several years to recover from the setback in Cancun, according
to U.S. trade officials.
Genetically modified crops and the Catholic Church
- Manila Bulletin, September 14, 2003
DEBATE about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, continues to take
place around the world. Unfortunately, there are times when ideological
viewpoints in the debate emerge. One common argument is that the
development, planting, and marketing of GMO crops is wrong because human
beings have no authority to "play God." This erroneous argument claims
that manipulating the genetic composition of living organisms is simply
unethical because humans have no authority to interfere with God's
In 2001, Jaime L. Cardinal Sin issued a pastoral statement asking that the
experimental planting of GMO corn be delayed. Some local bishops and
clergy in the nation's corn producing regions also opposed the
experimental planting of GMO corn in their regions. During the jubilee
year of 2000-2001, the Pope addressed a large crowd of farmers in Rome and
appealed to them: "Work in such a way that you resist the temptations of
productivity and profit that are detrimental to respect for nature."
Commentators then claimed that Pope John Paul II believes that GMOs are
contrary to the will of God, but a recent statement of the Vatican
indicates that the position of the Pope and of the Vatican is far subtler
than most commentators have realized. True, there are many issues
surrounding GMOs but the ethical issue is more gray than black or hite and
the Pope's statement should not be interpreted to mean that applications
of biotechnology, like GMO corn, are contrary to Christian faith.
Questions about political acceptability, safety, economic impact, social
and cultural effects are far from answered inregard to GMO technology.
Nevertheless, in the latter half of the 1990s this form of agricultural
biotechnology took some giant steps. First, largescale planting of
genetically modified crops took place in such countries as the United
States, China, and Brazil. Second, standards for regulating and labeling
products containing GMOs began to evolve through international
consultations. Third, some developing nations found that the increased
yield of genetically modified crops has helped sustain ever-growing
populations that need adequate food supplies at affordable prices.
Given the present state of affairs, ideological viewpoints and simplistic
ethical approaches are not helpful, no matter what their source.
Ideological opponents and proponents of GMOs are adding more heat than
light to ethical reflection on the pros and cons of GMO technology. The
better course for the Philippines is the moderate course of proceeding
with the use of GMOs while continuing objective scientific monitoring. In
addition, the government should continue to engage in broad consultation
with all sectors of society about the social, cultural, and economic
consequences of employing biotechnology to harvest the abundant potential
of this fertile land. All these things can be accomplished without
compromising the quality of life for either the present or future
- Jared Diamond, Los Angeles Times, September 14, 2003
'Spread of trade and culture -- even genetically modified food -- rocked
the ancient world too'
We tend to think of globalization as uniquely modern, a product of 20th
century advances in transportation, technology, agriculture and
communications. But widespread dispersal, from a few centers, of culture,
language, political ideas and economic systems -- even genetically
modified foods -- is actually quite an ancient phenomenon.
The first wave of globalization began around 8500 BC, driven primarily by
genetically modified foods created in the Mideast and China, and to a
lesser extent Mexico, the Andes and Nigeria. As those foods spread to the
rest of the world, so did the cultures that created them, a process that
reshaped the ancient world in much the same way the U.S., Europe and Japan
are reshaping today's world.
Our ancient ancestors' method of genetically modifying food was of course
much different from the way it is done today. When humans lived as hunters
and gatherers, they had to make do with whatever wild plants and animals
they found. It turned out, though, that some of the wild species upon
which humans relied for food could be domesticated. Early farmers soon
learned not only how to cultivate the resulting crops and raise livestock
but also how to select the traits they valued, thereby genetically
In choosing to sow seeds from wild plants with particularly desirable
traits -- often the result of mutations -- early farmers changed
genetically, albeit unconsciously, the foods they raised.
Take the case of peas. Most wild pea plants carry a gene that makes their
pods pop open on the stalk, causing the peas to spill onto the ground. It
is no surprise that early farmers sought out mutant plants with a gene for
pods that stayed closed, which made for an easier harvest. As a
consequence of their preference, by selecting, over many generations,
seeds from the plants that best served them, they ended up with a
genetically modified variety of peas.
Would-be farmers in some regions had a huge advantage. It turned out that
only a few species of wild plants and animals could be domesticated, most
of them native to the Mideast, China, Mexico, the Andes or Nigeria --
precisely those places that became ancient centers of power. The crops and
livestock of those five restricted homelands of agriculture still dominate
our foods today. Many of the lands most productive for modern agriculture
-- including California, Europe, Japan and Java -- contributed no species
that were domesticated.
Ancient people lucky enough to live in one of the few areas with wild
plants that could be domesticated radically altered their societies.
Hunters and gatherers traded their nomadic lifestyles for safer, more
settled lives in villages near their gardens, orchards and pastures.
Agricultural surpluses, like wheat and cheese, could be stored for winter
or used to feed inventors and bureaucrats. For the first time in history,
societies could support individuals who weren't directly involved in
producing food and who therefore had time to govern or to figure out how
to smelt iron and steel. As a result of all the extra food and stability,
farming societies increased in population density a thousandfold over
Ultimately, ancient genetically modified foods conferred military and
economic might on the societies that possessed them. It was easy for
armies of 1,000 farmers, brandishing steel swords and led by a general, to
kill or drive out small bands of nomads armed only with wooden spears. The
result was globalization, as early farmers spread out from those first
five homelands, carrying their genes, foods, technologies, cultures,
scripts and languages around the world.
It is because of this first wave of globalization that almost every
literate person alive today uses one of only two writing systems: an
alphabet derived from the first Mideastern alphabet or a character-based
language that grew out of Chinese. This is also why more than 90% of
people alive today speak languages belonging to just a half-dozen language
families, derived thousands of years ago from a half-dozen languages of
the five ancient homelands. The Indo-European family that includes
English, for example, originated in the Mideast. But then as now, there
was also a cost: Countless other ancient languages and cultures were
eliminated as the early farmers and their languages spread.
The first wave of globalization moved faster along east-west axes than
along north-south axes. The explanation is simple: Regions lying due east
or west of one another share the same latitude, and therefore the same day
length and seasonality. They are also likely to share similar climates,
habitats and diseases, all of which means that crops, livestock and humans
can spread east and west more easily, since the conditions to which they
have adapted are similar. Conversely, crops, animals and technologies
adapted to one latitude spread only with difficulty north or south to
another latitude with a different seasonality and climate.
There are certainly differences between modern globalization and that
first ancient wave. Today, crops are deliberately engineered in the
laboratory rather than unconsciously in the field. And globalizing
influences spread much more quickly by plane, phone and Internet than they
did on foot and horseback. But the basic similarity remains: Now, as then,
a few centers of innovation and power end up dominating the world.
Even in our modern wave of globalization, genetically modified crops tend
to spread along an east-west rather than a north-south axis. That's
because crops still remain as tied to particular climates as in ancient
times. Plant breeders at U.S. firms like Monsanto concentrate on
genetically modifying wheat, corn and other temperate-zone crops rather
than coconuts, oil palms and other plants that grow in the tropics. That
makes good business sense for American plant breeders, because the rich
farmers who can afford their products live in the temperate zone, not in
the tropics. But it also contributes to the widening gap between rich and
Does this mean that tropical Paraguay and Zambia are eternally cursed, and
that their citizens should accept poverty as fate? Of course not.
Europeans and Americans themselves enjoy no intrinsic biological
advantages: They just had the good luck to acquire useful technologies and
institutions through accidents of geography. Anyone else who now acquires
those same things can reap the same benefits. Japan, Malaysia, Singapore,
South Korea and Taiwan already have; China and others are trying and will
probably succeed. In addition, some poor countries that don't acquire
enough technology to become rich can still acquire enough technology (like
a few nukes, missiles, chemical weapons, germs or box-cutters) to cause a
lot of trouble.
The biggest problem with today's wave of globalization involves
differences between the First and Third worlds. Today, citizens in North
America, Europe and Japan consume, on average, 32 times more resources
(and produce 32 times more waste) than the billions of citizens of the
Third World. Thanks to TV, tourism and other aspects of globalization,
though, people in less affluent societies know about our lifestyle, and of
course they aspire to it.
Vigorous debates are going on today about whether our world could sustain
double its present population (along with its consumption and waste), or
even whether our world's economy is sustainable at its present level. Yet
those aren't the biggest risks. If, through globalization, everyone living
on Earth today were to achieve the standard of living of an average
American, the effect on the planet would be some 10 times what it is
today, and it would certainly be unsustainable.
We can't prevent people around the world from aspiring to match our way of
life any more than the exporters of culture during the first wave of
globalization could expect other cultures not to embrace the farming way
of life. But since the world couldn't sustain even its present population
if all people lived the way that those in the First World do now, we are
left with a paradox. Globalization, most analysts feel, is unstoppable.
But its consequences may overtax the Earth's ability to support us. That's
a paradox that needs resolving.
Jared Diamond, a geographer at UCLA, is the author of the, Pulitzer
Prize-winning book "Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of, Human
Societies." E-mail: email@example.com.
Opposition to GM Crops in Europe Already Peaked?
- Crop Decisions, September 12, 2003; Via Agnet
With a growing number of companies and awareness programs, Bayer AG Board
member Dr. Bernward Garhoff believes Europe is slowly coming to terms with
At an international press conference last week in Monheim, Germany, Bayer
AG Board member, Dr. Bernward Garthoff, told journalists, "We know the
current controversies surrounding genetically modified organisms. We know
the current trade conflict between the U.S. and Europe. And we know the
low level of acceptance of these technologies in Europe. But we are
convinced the field of plant biotechnology offers unique and excellent
opportunities to address ever-increasing demands for food, feed and fiber
products foreseen in the next decades." He also said acceptance is linked
to demonstrating clear benefits to the consumer.
Additionally, Garthoff said Bayer is engaged in novel technologies capable
of producing biomaterials on a renewable and sustainable basis, which
would otherwise be impossible or too expensive to produce. One of Bayer's
most promising applications in the area of quality enhancement is improved
starch properties derived from potatoes.
Garthoff was asked on what basis he thought European acceptance of GM
products would occur solely on the basis of crops with output traits
appealing to consumers? His answer was startling: "I think European
opposition to GM products has already peaked and acceptance is beginning."
When asked how long it would take for "broad" acceptance. He answered,
"more than three years out, but less than ten."
Global Aspects of Technology Transfer: Biotechnology
- Gordon Research Conference; September 21-26, 2003; Big Sky, MT, USA
This first of its kind Gordon Conference will provide a venue to present
and discuss global issues with respect to technology transfer in
biotechnology. Participants will explore ways in which research
institutions, private industry and governments interact to bring about the
effective dissemination of biotechnology globally. The talks and
discussions will also probe the effects of globalization on capital
development, on legislation and policy, and on the traditional means by
which technology transfer occurs across borders. The organizers hope to
stimulate thoughtful discussion on these issues by engaging speakers and
participants in helping to create new and innovative approaches to the
transfer of biotechnology in a sustainable, economically viable and
socially responsible manner.
Training and Funding Opportunities
- Plant Breeding News, no. 141, September 15, 2003
Vacancy positions at the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF)
FS/UNU/IAS 'Agriculture for Peace' fellowships
Travel grants for Plant Biology 2003 conference
Individual/group study residencies in Bellagio, Italy, on relevant topics
related to improvement of African crops http://www.rockfound.org/bellagio
"Frosty" Hill Agricultural Research Fellowship at Cornell University
The Food and Agricultural Sciences National Needs Graduate Fellowships
UNESCO Short-Term Biotechnology Action Council (BAC) Fellowship Programme
The above announcements from:
A New Plant Breeding Web Site
Links to African Biotech-related sites and Pan-African Organisations
- at A Harvest Biotech Foundation International http://www.ahbfi.org
Biotechnology in the Global Communication Ecology
- Calestous Juma, Economic Perspectives, via scidev.net, September 8, 2003
Debates over biotechnology are part of a long history of social discourse
over new products. Claims about the promise of new technology are at times
greeted with skepticism, vilification or outright opposition — often
dominated by slander, innuendo and misinformation. Even some of the most
ubiquitous products endured centuries of persecution.
For example, in the 1500s Catholic bishops tried to have coffee banned
from the Christian world for competing with wine and representing new
cultural as well as religious values.
Similarily, records show that in Mecca in 1511 a viceroy and inspector of
markets, Khair Beg, outlawed coffeehouses and the consumption of coffee.
He relied on Persian expatriate doctors and local jurists who argued that
coffee had the same impact on human health as wine. But the real reasons
lay in part in the role of coffeehouses in eroding his authority and
offering alternative sources of information on social affairs in his
In public smear campaigns similar to those currently directed at biotech
products, coffee was rumored to cause impotence and other ills and was
either outlawed or its use restricted by leaders in Mecca, Cairo,
Istanbul, England, Germany and Sweden. In a spirited 1674 effort to defend
the consumption of wine, French doctors argued that when one drinks
coffee: "The body becomes a mere shadow of its former self; it goes into a
decline, and dwindles away. The heart and guts are so weakened that the
drinker suffers delusions, and the body receives such a shock that it is
as though it were bewitched."
Butterfly stories and other misinformation tactics
Today similarly charged stories are told about genetically modified (GM)
foods. In addition to claims about the negative impact of GM foods on the
environment and human health, there are wild claims that associate GM
foods with maladies such as brain cancer and impotence as well as
behavioral changes. Some of these rumors are spread at the highest levels
of government in developing countries.
The tactics employed in the debates are equally sophisticated. Critics of
the technology have used instruments of mass communication to provide the
public with information that is carefully designed to highlight the
dangers they attribute to biotechnology. Advocates of biotechnology have
often been forced to respond to charges against the technology and have
only on rare occasions taken the initiative to reach out to the public.
This is particularly important because the general public does not readily
understand the technical details of biotechnology products and so new
communication approaches are needed.
While advocates of biotechnology have often tried to rely on the need for
scientific accuracy, critics employ rhetorical methods that are designed
to invoke public fear and cast doubt on the motives of the industry. The
critics draw analogies between the "dangers" of biotechnology with the
catastrophic consequences of nuclear power or chemical pollution. Indeed,
they use terms like "genetic pollution" and "Frankenstein foods."
Critics have also relied on the general distrust of large corporations
among sections of the global community to make their case. In addition,
they made effective use of incidents, whose risks they have amplified. A
much-quoted study by Cornell University researchers indicated that pollen
from GM corn (producing a Bt toxin) killed the larvae of Monarch
butterflies. This study was used to dramatize the impact of biotechnology
on the environment. Subsequent published peer explanations of the
limitations of the study and refutations of the conclusions did not change
the original impression created by the critics of biotechnology.
In this case the real environmental issue was not if GM corn killed
monarch butterfly larvae or not. The critical question was what impact the
corn had on the environment compared to corn grown with chemical
pesticides. It is the issue of relative risks that is important; not
simply a single event examined outside the wider ecological context. But
apparently, this kind of analysis would not serve the cause of critics.
It is notable that the critics of biotechnology have defined the rules of
the debate in two fundamental ways.
First, they have managed to create the impression that the onus
demonstrating safety lies with advocates of biotechnology and not on its
critics. In other words, biotechnology products are considered unsafe
until proven otherwise.
Second, they have been effective in framing the debate in environmental,
human health and ethical terms, thereby masking the underlying
international trade considerations. By doing so, they have managed to
rally a much wider constituency of activists who are genuinely concerned
about environmental protection, consumer safety and ethical social values.
There is a general view that concerted efforts to promote public debate
will improve communication and lead to the acceptance of biotechnology
products. This may be the case in some situations. But generally, the
concerns are largely material and cannot be resolved through public debate
alone. This is mainly because the root causes of the debate lie in the
socio-economic implications of the technology and not mere rhetorical
considerations. It is possible that public debates will only help to
clarify or amplify points of divergence and do little to address
fundamental economic and trade issues.
What then can be done under the circumstances, especially in relation to
developing countries that are currently the target of much of the
attention of advocates and critics of biotechnology? Operating in the new
global communication ecology will require greater diversity of
biotechnology products, an increase in the number of institutional
players, enhanced policy research on life sciences and society, and
stronger policy leadership.
Products speak louder than words
Much of the debate on the role of biotechnology in developing countries is
based on hypothetical claims with no real products in the hands of
producers or consumers. Under such circumstances, communication and
dialogue are not enough until there is a practical reference point. In
other words, rebutting the claim of critics is not as important as
presenting the benefits of real products in the market place.
This can be best achieved through collaborative efforts among local
scientists, entrepreneurs, policy makers and legitimate civil society
organizations. There is ample evidence to suggest that concerns over the
safety of new products tend to decline as local participation and
ownership in new technologies increase. Similarly, local participation in
new technologies increases the level of trust in new technologies, thereby
reducing the demand for non-science-based safety regulations. For example,
the word of a farmer from South Africa stating the positive impact of GM
cotton on her welfare carries more weight than thousands of screaming
press releases and empty headlines on both sides of the debate.
This means that spreading the use of biotechnology not only promotes
familiarity with the technology, but also generates the information needed
to convince the public about the relevance and usefulness of the
technology. The broadening of the range of products is therefore a key
aspect of the debate. This is particularly important in developing
countries interested in using the technology to enhance local products and
diversify their food base.
Information on the development of drought-tolerant crops, for example,
would be relevant to African countries while other regions might be
interested in different products. This view also suggests that general
debates about the role of biotechnology are of little utility unless
framed in the context of local needs and applications.
The absence of a real stake in the technology creates a vacuum that is
often filled with misinformation on the risks and benefits of the
technology. Countries such as Kenya and South Africa that have their own
biotechnology research programs have a more considered view of the
Broadening the constiuency
Addressing the issue of biotechnology communication requires an improved
understanding of the changing ecology of communication. The ecology
includes a complex network of sources of information and opinion leaders
as well as new communication tools that were hitherto not available to the
public or advocacy groups. In his days Khair Beg was outraged to learn
that coffeehouses had become an authoritative source of information on
what was happening in his jurisdiction. Similarly, the Internet has become
a more important communication tool than classical methods such as TV
But unlike the days of Khair Beg, the new communication ecology is global
in character, making it possible to spread information widely and generate
empathy among a diversity of activist organizations, including those that
are unlikely to be affected by the technology. These cyber-communities are
built around a complex set of mailing lists that are not easily
accessible. Correcting misinformation spread through such channels is
difficult to do because of the complexity of the networks.
While activists tend to use a diverse array of social movements to advance
their cause, advocates have tended to focus on the use of centralized
institutions whose impact is largely negligible in the modern
communication ecology. But creating the necessary diversity requires a
broadening of the base of social movements that champion the role of
science and technology human welfare.
One of the most important aspects of the biotechnology debate has been the
role of the popular media. In Europe, for example, the media have played
an important role in amplifying claims by critics or creating doubt about
positions advanced by advocates of the technology. In contrast, support
for the role of science does not usually have the polemical turn that
newspaper editors relish.
The traditional view that science is based on immutable facts which can be
passed on from an authority to the general public is being challenged by
approaches that demand greater participation in decision-making. In other
words, scientific information is being subjected to democratic practices.
The debate over biotechnology has pushed the frontiers of public discourse
of technical matters. On the one hand, society is being forced to address
issues that are inherently technical, and on the other, the scientific
community is under pressure to accept non-technical matters as valid
Policy-oriented research institutions and think tanks play an important
role in the war of words. It is notable that critics of biotechnology have
made a considerable effort to create alliances with research institutions,
including university-based departments. Much of the material used to
question the safety of biotechnology often has the legitimacy of a
research institution. But non-partisan policy research on the role of
biotechnology in society is largely lacking, and so those seeking to
provide an alternative view have limited opportunities to obtain credible
The lack of systematic research on the interactions between biology and
society is a critical bottleneck in efforts to engage the public in
dialogue on biotechnology. This is particularly critical given the fact
that advances in biology pose new ecological and ethical issues that are
associated with the physical and chemical sciences. For example, concerns
over the inability to recall products once released on markets are more
pronounced when dealing with the release of biological inventions into the
Leading the way
Much of the public debate is intended to influence government policy on
biotechnology. In this regard, the capacity of governments to assess the
available information and use it for decision-making is an essential
element of the debate. Political leadership on biotechnology and the
existence of requisite institutions of science and technology advice are
an essential aspect of the governance of new technologies.
Debates over new technologies will be more pronounced in the future, and
governments will increasingly come under pressure to address these issues.
But science and technology advice will not be sufficient unless
governments view science and technology as integral to the development
process. In this regard, enhancing the capacity of leadership to address
science and technology issues will contribute to the effective management
of public debates over new technologies in general and biotechnology in
On the whole, the nature of emerging technologies--particularly those
based on the life sciences--and the changing ecology of communication are
making it necessary to rethink strategies for advancing the role of
biotechnology in society. The scientific community will need not only to
demonstrate a clear sense of leadership, but also to adapt its
communication methods to suit the growing complexity and diverse needs of
the global community. In the final analysis, it is the range of useful
products available to humanity from biotechnology that will settle the
debate, not the hollow pronouncements of advocates and critics.
The Green-Gray Alliance
- James Pinkerton, Tech Central Station, September 15, 2003; Full story
CANCUN, Mexico -- Could the Greens take over the World Trade Organization
-- by using concepts from the late 20th century and tactics from the early
"Sustainable Development," "Sustainable Trade," and "The Precautionary
Principle" are the hip buzzwords of anti-WTO-ers, who would like to
transform the WTO from within or conquer it from without. But to succeed
in their effort, they are relying on tactics that summon up such old-time
phrases as "entryism" and "dual unionism." Many decades ago, those tactics
guided an earlier left-wing movement, Communism, in its bid for world
power. Now we will see how today's Greens, using the same tactics, stack
up against yesterday's Reds.
Can the Greens really storm the Winter Palace -- oops, I mean take over
the WTO? Will the greatest engine of international wealth creation in the
history of the planet -- an organization that oversees $6 trillion a year
in global commerce -- allow itself to be captured?
If the free traders are to resist such a coup, they will have to study the
tactics of the anti-traders. And that study will require patience -- as
well as a high tolerance for both jargon and acronyms -- because the other
team is willing to undertake the hard work of non-freedom. The Greens may
be misguided, or worse, but they are not dumb; it could be said that World
Traders are confronted by a Green-Gray alliance: Green for
environmentalists, Gray for brain power.
The Green-Grays already have a strong platform. Today, much of the
European Union's bureaucracy has been Greeniated. And then there are the
Grays: all those bright-eyed products of Oxbridge, the Sorbonne, and
Universitat Tubingen. Both groups live in their non-market paradise,
sheltered from the rigors of reality, free to cook up new ideologies in
their tax-funded hothouses.
And yet the Green-Grays have allies who are not sheltered -- or not
sheltered enough for their own liking. These allies are European firms,
groaning under high burdens of taxation and regulation, reeling from
heightened international competition. As Alan Oxley has pointed out in his
monograph, European Unilateralism: Environmental Trade Barriers and the
Rising Threat to Prosperity through Trade, Euro companies are increasingly
making the cynical calculation that their economic salvation is two-fold.
First, they seek to limit imports into the EU home market through "Green
Protectionism." That's the subtext of new international instruments such
as Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which seeks to restrict or abolish the
movement of Living Modified Organisms, be they seeds, plants, or animals.
Such restrictions address not only the unscientific and perhaps irrational
psychic needs of Greens, but also the rational -- and selfish -- economic
needs of inefficient farmers and related manufacturers. And as discussed
in part one of this article, The Precautionary Principle (TPP), which
liberates Green Protectionists from the chore of actually proving their
fear-mongering assertions, makes the whole effort not only easy and legal,
but also forward-thinkingly cool.
Second, the Green-Grays seek to persuade other countries to embrace
"sustainability" as a concept. That was the purpose of the EU's
"Sustainable Trade Day" on September 9, which was all about convincing, in
effect, low-wage countries to imitate the ways of high-wage, high-cost
countries, such as those in the EU. And high-wage outfits such as The
International Institute for Sustainable Development, based in Winnipeg,
Canada, and The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable
Development, based in Geneva, Switzerland, stand ready to teach Third
World countries how to compete less effectively against Canadians and
Needless to say, both the IISD and the ICTSD had huge presences here in
Cancun last week. The ICTSD, for example, partnered with El Colegio de
Mexico to convene two days of meetings just down the street from Centro de
Convenciones. Some of the session-topics seemed like predictable
redistributionism, to wit, "Towards a Pro-poor Agenda for the Doha round:
The Role of Rich Countries and International Donors." But other topics are
no doubt sneakier, such as, "Is There a Future for Family Farming in West
Africa?" My guess as to the answer to this question: "Yes, but only if
African family farmers are somehow insulated from the rigors of the world
marketplace." And it's just a coincidence, of course, that such insulation
would also insulate European farms and their costly organic ways. Support
for the ICTSD's activities here, by the way, comes from 16 different
entities, ranging from the Quaker International Affairs Programme to the
Rockefeller Foundation to the World Bank. Which is to say, the base for
the attack on the WTO has significant intellectual and financial
In the early years of the 20th century, there was another globally
ambitious movement with committed cadres: Communism. Its core locus was in
Moscow, but its network agents and advocates were in every university,
bureaucracy, union, and newspaper. Today, the hub has shifted to Brussels,
but the network is still thick in universities, bureaucracies, unions, and
The World Trade Organization has a track record of success, and the
countries that make up the WTO have the wealth that accrues to success.
They won't give that up without a fight. But make no mistake, there will
be a fight. The Green-Gray alliance wields tactics, such as entryism and
dualism, that have proved effective in the past. And like the Reds in
their day, the Gee-Gees of our day are inspired by visions of a better
world. Always, the gleam of glory glitters the eye and livens the brain.
These Green-Grays can be defeated, but only by those who are equally
serious about winning--and equally willing to match them in effort and