Today in AgBioView: September 23, 2003:
* Twenty-Third Nobel Laureate to Endorse AgBioWorld Declaration
* On Defending GM Science: Rader, Kennedy and Parrott
* No GM Food for Thought
* Organic Hypocrisy
* Australian Inst of Management Propagates Misinformation
* AG-BIOTECH FOOD FORUM: Chicago, IL
* Nutrition Navigator - A Rating Guide to Nutrition Websites
* No Grey Areas in a Green's World
* Greenpeace Accused of Money Laundering Donations
* Looking to Yesterday for a Better Tomorrow
* Cancun's Failure Raises Need for Collaborative Science
Twenty-Third Nobelist Signs on to AgBioWorld Declaration!
Timothy Hunt, who shared the '2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine'
with Leland H. Hartwell and Paul M. Nurse for their discoveries of "key
regulators of the cell cycle" is the 23rd Nobel Laureate to endorse the
AgBioWorld declaration in support of agricultural biotechnology at
http://www.agbioworld.org. In writing to us, Dr. Hunt said " I support
your aims, and would be happy for you to add my name to your list. I
would be in very good company."
Dr. Hunt from UK was awarded for his discovery of cyclins, proteins that
regulate the CDK function. He showed that cyclins are degraded
periodically at each cell division, a mechanism proved to be of general
importance for cell cycle control. More details of his current research
at Cancer Research UK, Clare Hall Laboratories is at
Read Dr. Hunt's autobiography at
http://www.nobel.se/medicine/laureates/2001/hunt-autobio.html and his
Nobel lecture at
Full list of AgBioWorld-Nobel laureates is at
AgBioWorld thanks this great scientist for lending his support to a worthy
cause. He has spoken out recently in support of GM Crops; See below.
Genetically Modified Food Is Not Harmful
- IOL (South Africa), August 22, 2003 http://www.iol.co.za/
Alpbach - Genetically modified crops pose no danger to humans, British
Nobel prize winner Timothy Hunt said at a European technology forum taking
place in Austria. In an interview with the forum newspaper Alpbach News,
on the sidelines of the current European Forum technology talks in
Austria's Tyrol Province, molecular biologist Hunt said contrary to the
perception that gene technology was putting impurities into nature, each
bite of food already contains manipulated DNA.
It didn't matter whether DNA was transferred from one plant to another by
a human being or whether this was done by an insect. Hunt said the reason
for popular scepticism was a "philosophical problem" as humans tend to
exclude themselves from nature.
He himself could not understand this attitude, and was concerned that
humanity had become too arrogant. "If gene manipulated organisms can grow
better in the developing countries, we should not deny the population
there these advantages merely because we do not agree with gene research."
Hunt's remarks echoed those of United States President George Bush, who
accused the Europeans of an "unscientific" and "immoral" attitude in their
restrictive stance on gene technology was endangering the fight against
hunger in Africa.
Re: Defending GM Science Against Greenpeace Attack
- Charles M. Rader
Dear Mr. Roberts: It's good that you have decided to take the time to
understand the Greenpeace charges about transgenic crops. I'll try to
answer them. It would have been helpful if I knew the URL of the part of
Greenpeace's site where these charges are published. But I can work from
These arguments are typical of the Greenpeace propaganda, in that they
make true statements in such a way that the reader is, nonetheless,
The picture painted is of the genetic engineer crudely introducing a gene
into an organism with no idea where it ends up in the genome or what other
genes it disrupts. This is quite correct about the transformation process,
but completely misleading because the transformation process is not the
end of the story. After transformation, there is testing.
First, although current technology cannot control where a gene ends up in
the genome, it is able to very accurately determine where the gene did end
up. That fact makes it completely irrelevant that it was inserted by a
crude method. By analogy, if I try to thread a needle in the dark, most of
the time my attempt will fail, but I can easily tell when I have gotten it
right and that's when I'll use it to sew.
Second, it is true that the "central dogma'' has been shown to have
important exceptions. But it is misleading to suggest that genetic
engineers don't know about the exceptions. For example, the much maligned
"terminator'' technology uses the ability of the genome to make changes in
itself. For a simplified explanation, look at
http://members.tripod.com/c_rader0/termin.htm, which is a "footnote'' in
my essay "Genetic Engineering in Agriculture'' at
http://members.tripod.com/c_rader0/gemod.htm. (I'd be very pleased if you
would read the whole essay, although you probably know enough about GM
Genetic engineers also use the ability of RNA to interfere with protein
synthesis. An example is the so-called "antisense'' technology.
The paradigm shift in point 6 dates back to the 1960s. For all transgenic
crops, a set of several genes is transferred, including at least one
regulatory gene. While Greenpeace, in this presentation, may be giving the
impression that regulatory genes are something genetic engineers ignore,
in other propaganda they play up a fear of some regulatory genes which the
genetic engineers have derived from viruses.
Genetic engineers know about and use the fact that plants express some
genes differently than the same genes would be expressed in bacteria. They
know about introns and exons.
I cannot stress sufficiently that the safety and genetic stability of
transgenic crops is not inherent in the technique of transformation, but
in the follow-on testing. That testing is not just the location of the
transferred gene on a chromosome. It is not just the detection of an
intended protein. It is testing at all levels over many generations of the
Genetic engineers claim, correctly, that their significant understanding
of the process of gene insertion and gene function, although not without a
few uncertainties, allows them to intelligently plan a program of testing
for effects that can reasonably be anticipated. That is simply not
possible with other methods of developing new crop varieties.
There are some honest people who consider that the testing of GM plants,
although extensive, is insufficient. Such a claim is quite different from
the Greenpeace pretense that such testing either doesn't happen, or is
trivial, or is naive.
My basic premise here is that Greenpeace uses the technique of presenting
truth in a way that is misleading. One of my favorite examples is this --
"For example, genes from a fish have been inserted into strawberries and
tomatoes.'' Any person reading that would think that these were products
offered for sale, but they are not. I would love to have a dime for every
time I've seen a GM protester carrying a poster showing a tomato with fins
or a fish with leaves.
Re: Defending GM Science Against Greenpeace Attack
- Lance Kennedy , Tantec, New Zealand
The concerns expressed relating to Greenpeace's web site reflect a typical
greenie 'red herring'. Changes in scientific paradigms are quite
irrelevent. One thing scientists have learned is not to rely on theory,
whether it is conventional genetics theory or the skewed theories
expressed by Greenpeace. The Universe has lots of fish hooks, which will
grab you if you assume that theory says they are not present.
The key to 'safe' use of any technology is testing, testing and more
testing. This is the key to the safety of GM foods. Not any version of
misleading theory. GM foods are the most tested foods in human history,
and hence the 'safest'.
Of course, there is no such thing as absolute safety, and never will
be. As in everything else, all is relative. To illustrate this point,
take the comparison between GM foods and that beloved by Greenpeace - the
mis-named organic foods. GM foods have been thoroughly tested before
release. Organic, not at all. GM foods have been eaten by over 2 billion
people, and by hundreds of millions every day, for a period approaching
ten years. There is not one single instance of any harm to any person,
when that harm comes from the genetic modification, if the standard of
proof is scientific confirmation.
(It is worth noting that 'harm' also comes from the imagination, as with
the Star-link corn fiasco. An excellent example is with the Canadian
aerial spraying to destroy an infestation of Gypsy Moth. People breathing
the spray, by the hundreds, complained of health problems. The Canadians,
without saying a word to anyone, switched to spraying distilled water for
a period of some days. You guessed it. The incidence of health complaints
continued at the same rate! Moral of the story. Claims of harm MUST be
confirmed by objective scientific testing.)
Here in New Zealand, we had a good indication of how 'healthy' organic
foods are. Last year, unsprayed zucchinis suffered a severe insect attack
due to warm wet conditions. The plants responded by producing enormous
quantities of the natural insecticide, cucurbitacin. Sixteen people were
hospitalised with cucurbitacin poisoning. Had these crops been GM insect
resistant or sprayed with insecticide, no-one would have suffered.
Greenpeace's gold standard of safety - organic foods - are FAR less safe
than GM foods, and this can be shown by unambiguous scientific data.
Re: Defending GM Science Against Greenpeace Attack
- Wayne Parrott
Hi Steve, I previously addressed the topic on differences between breeding
and GE, and I have copied my previous comments at the end of this message,
as it addresses some of GP's points.
Some of the points are just plain wrong. For example, contrary to GP
assertions, we know have an exquisite understanding of how genes get
silenced in the absence of changes to the DNA.
Nevertheless, the main premise behind all the GP points listed below can
be summarized by saying that gene regulation is very complex, and
therefore, engineering DNA is inherently hazardous. The flaw in the
argument is that not all genes are regulated equally.
Geneticists and breeders have known for a century now that different genes
behave differently, and have categorized traits as qualitative or
quantitative. The former can be followed as a single gene with simple
inheritance, the latter cannot, at least not easily. Genes also differ in
terms of their "expressivity" and their "penetrance," to use other terms
that have been around for decades. Expressivity refers to the extent that
the gene will be expressed in an individual that has that gene, while
penetrance means the extent to which individuals in a population will
manifest the gene they have.
An example of a gene with high penetrance and high expressivity might be
one that conditions for flower color or leaf shape-- a yellow dandelion
will always be yellow regardless of growing conditions. A gene with low
penetrance and expressivity may be one involved with flavor or taste,
which will vary depending on where a crop is grown.
Bottom line, different genes are regulated differently, and some genes are
even on all or most of the time. Others respond to relatively simple cues
and get turned on-- example, the presence or absence of light. It is these
genes that have been the mainstay of genetic engineers, as their
relatively simple behavior has made them easy to identify, clone, and
The genes that are subject to complex regulatory networks have eluded
engineers thus far. Even so, all we have to do is see what goes on in the
real world to infer that such genes and complex traits should be amenable
to engineering without negative consequences. To elaborate, I want to
summarize some key points from my original answer:
1) Different individuals with a species can and do have different numbers
2) Different individuals within a species can and do tolerate huge (eg,
20-40%) differences in the DNA content. Clearly, while some of the DNA
previously considered to be junk DNA now is known to have regulatory
roles, the rest is still junk or selfish DNA.
3) Genomes are constantly being subjected to insertions & excisions of
transposons and retrotransposons
None of these changes-- all much larger than those done by genetic
engineering- upset or change any of the regulatory changes that regulate
gene -expression. To the extent that these networks exist, they are
remarkably flexible and adaptable.
Hope this helps. Let me know if I can clarify anything.
>> 1. Genetic engineering is a crude and old fashioned technology
>> 2. GE relies on the outdated central dogma of molecular biology:
>> 3. There are networks regulating genes: There is more to genes than a
>code for proteins. Genes perform
>> Roland Lesseps, S.J, Kasisi Catholic Church, Lusaka, Zambia writes
>> "Insertion of DNA can cause deletions and rearrangements of the
>original DNA at the insertion site.
>> This information helps us understand that GE is significantly different
>from conventional breeding techniques."
Response from Wayne Parrott: I am afraid that anyone who makes such a
statement about plant breeding vs genetic engineering is showing a
profound misunderstanding of the effects that selection has had on plant
genomes. Ftr Lesseps is absolutely correct about the rearrangements that
take place when transgenes are inserted. He is not correct in claiming
such rearrangements are a significant difference from what is accomplished
by conventional breeding. In fact, I will argue that the changes brought
about by genetic engineering are minor compared to what has happened over
centuries of selection.
The effect of selection has been nothing short of amazing when it comes to
the changes it has effected. Charles Darwin first recognized that our
current plants and animals were the result of "... a kind of Selection,
.... which results from every one trying to possess and breed from the
best individuals..." and that the changes have been so great that "... in
a vast number of cases, we cannot recognize ... the wild parent_stocks of
the plants which have been longest cultivated in our flower and
Not unexpectedly, such changes have also altered the DNA. In first place,
plants are continuously altered by the effects of transposable elements
jumping in and out of genes, where they "can alter gene expression or
serve as sites of chromosome breakage or rearrangement" (Wessler, 2001,
Plant Physiol, 125:1490151) just like transgenes, and without ill effects
to the plants or those of us who consume them. In addition,
retrotransposons continuously insert themselves between genes (San Miguel
et al., 1996. Science 274:765-768). Because retrotranspon sequences are
found in current EST databases, we know that their movement was not just a
thing of the past, but something that continues to the present.
All this means that different varieties of the same crop differ greatly in
the amounts of DNA they have, and I do mean greatly. For example,
different varieties of maize can differ by as much as 42% in their DNA
content; different varieties of chili pepper differ by 25%, and different
soybean varieties differ by 12% (Graham et al., 1994.Theor. Appl. Genet.
88:429-432; Mukherjee & Sharma, 1990. Proc. Indian Acad Sci. 100:1-6;
Rayburn et al., 1989. J. Exp. Bot. 40:1179-1183). By my calculations, the
difference between the most different soybean varieties is over 100
million base pairs- compared to the thousand or so base pairs a transgene
would add to a genome. The take home lesson here is that plants can
maintain their integrity even when their DNA appears to be surprisingly
Furthermore, different individuals of the same species differ by the
number of transposon and retrotransposons they contain, a phenomenon
vividly illustrated by Fu & Dooner (2002. PNAS 99:9673-9578). While this
finding was not altogether unexpected, the most relevant finding by Fu &
Dooner is that different individuals within the same species do not even
have to have the same number of genes.
Again, this result is not altogether surprising, cytoplasmic male
sterility in a variety of plants is known to result from the creation of
novel genes in the mitochondria along with novel fertility restorer genes
in the nucleus (Schnable and Wise, 1998, Trends Plant Sci 3:175-180). The
bottom line is that individuals within a species can tolerate different
gene numbers without endangering the animals that consume them.
A final argument made is that plant breeding does not involve transfer of
DNA between non-related organisms. While such a statement is true, it must
also be acknowledged that DNA of unrelated species does get transferred
and incorporated into plant genomes anyway, to the extent that adding
foreign gene sequences via genetic engineering cannot be considered
unnatural or anomalous. For example, plantain bananas contain the genome
of the banana streak virus, rice contains sequences of the rice tungro
bacilliform virus, and tomato has sequences from tobacco vein clearing
virus. Some tobaccos even have genes from Agrobacterium rhizogenes
(reviewed in Harper et al., 2002.Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 40:119-136). The
true extent of such horizontal gene transfer will become more apparent as
additional genomes are sequenced.
No GM Food for Thought
- Cape Argus, South Africa, Sept 23, 2003
The recent tirade in parliament by African Christian Democratic Party MP
Kent Durr against GM crops and calling on the minister of health to place
a moratorium on the consumption of genetically modified (GM) food is the
most shocking example of ignorance regarding the most advanced scientific
research ever done on food production.
And that coming from a member of parliament. He should resign forthwith.
Taxpayers cannot afford to pay for dumbfounded ignorance. His claim that
no research has been done to determine the detrimental effects of GM food,
leaving scientific questions concerning this issue unanswered, is absolute
Apart from the research done by our own eminent scientists at universities
and the Agricultural Research Council, together with 6 000 other
scientists worldwide, giving GM food a 100% clean bill of health, let me
refer Mr Durr to the following: The Royal Academy of London, one of the
world's most respected and leading scientific academies, concluded in its
report on GM research released in July 2000 that there is no consensus on
the seriousness or even existence of any potential environmental or human
health harm from GM technology.
Food can be produced through GM technology that is more nutritious and, in
principle, promotes health. This report was endorsed by six other
academies of science from Brazil, China, India, Mexico, the Third World
Academy, and the National Academy of Science of the USA.
In December, France's Academy of Science came out in full support of GM
crops, confirming that there is no evidence showing that genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) pose any potential health or environmental
risks. The French Academy of Medicine fully endorsed this report. Research
conducted by scientists commissioned by the European Union (EU), involving
81 GMO research projects, conducted over 15 years and costing R640
million, concluded that biotech crops may even be safer than regular food.
Durr's further claim that GM crops could exclude South Africa's
agricultural exports to the European Union, our main agricultural export
market, are absolute rubbish. Durr's blatant ignorance proves he hasn't
got a clue what agricultural products we export to the EU and what the EU
consumers consume. South Africa's GM products consist mainly of maize,
soya bean and cotton.
According to the World Trade Atlas and Sars, South Africa exported hardly
any grain products to the EU over the past three years. Johan Pienaar,
director of economy and trade at Agri SA, also confirms that the EU is no
for South African grain products. Only 1 520 tons of maize was exported
to the EU last year. The EU has not banned the importation of GM food if
labelled as such.
According to the United States department of agriculture, by the end of
August, US soya bean exports (more than 80% GM) to the EU shot up by 14%
to 7.7 million tons. Two million tons of soya oil was used in food. Spain
has planted more than 20 000 hectares of GM maize since 1998. In addition,
the EU imported more than two million tons of maize gluten (GM animal
feed) from the EU. We have a wide open market in the EU. If America can
export to the EU, so can we.
A stunned reaction from South African farmers is why commercial farming
MPs sitting in parliament do not take a fellow MP to task for talking such
rubbish. Or do they not listen to the rubbish fellow MPs dish up in
- Hans Lombard, Randburg, South Africa
- Alex Avery, Health Facts and Fears, Sept 19, 2003
Organic farmers' way of using manure -- combined with their avoidance of
most chemical pesticides and fertilizers -- increases risks of E. coli
contamination. Yes, non-organic farmers apply far more manure than organic
farmers. But the use of animal manure by non-organic farmers is almost
entirely on feed/non-food crops (i.e., feed corn, cotton, etc.) where the
risks to the consumer from the manure pathogens is zero. (Just try to get
E. coli poisoning from a bowlful of milled or processed field corn. People
don't eat raw field corn, they eat only the processed and/or baked end
product, so the E. coli and other nasty pathogens are long destroyed.)
Very few non-organic vegetable growers use animal manure on their crops,
whereas organic farmers (who produce more food crops than feed crops) are
far more likely to use manure on crops eaten raw such as vegetables, in
which case the product could come into contact with the manure and pose a
pathogen risk to consumers.
Because of this undeniable reality, the USDA National Organic Program
revised its manure handling regulations to require specific
carbon-to-nitrogen ratios and specific time/temperature requirements for
manure composting by organic farmers in order to kill manure-borne
This revision was in direct response to widespread criticism (by us at the
Center for Global Food Issues and by many other science-based groups, such
as the American Phytopathological Society and Institute of Food
Technologists) of the proposed organic manure handling standards because
they were not science-based. Now they are science-based. And we'd be happy
to see those regulations extended to all farming, not just organic, as
long as an appropriate distinction is made between food crops and
feed/non-food crops in applying such manure-handling regulations.
Organic Chemical Use
Despite their apparent willingness to tolerate higher levels of pathogens,
organic farmers still use chemical pesticides -- though they strive to
downplay such chemical use in order to maintain their reputation for being
distinct from mainstream agriculture. Some organic activists claim, for
instance, that organic farmers only use pesticides, such as the
blight-fighting fungicide copper sulfate, after obtaining a special waiver
for a specific problem and crop at risk. But in reality, copper sulfate
cannot effectively treat fungal diseases (including blight-causing
Phytophthora infestans) post-infestation. Copper sulfate must be applied
before the onset of crop disease for it to be effective and thus organic
farmers routinely use copper sulfate as a preventative on susceptible
crops such as potato. Even then, Mader, et al have demonstrated that
despite the use of copper sulfate, organic potato yields were only 60% of
the yields of non-organic potatoes over a period of years (copper sulfate
used from 1978-1991), mainly because of late blight.
But copper sulfate has relatively large health and environmental risks.
Copper sulfate doesn't break down and is an indefinite soil contaminant,
causes liver disease, and poses significant risks to aquatic organisms.
Europe was slated to ban copper sulfate in 2002 -- however the ban was
postponed because organic farmers have no effective alternatives. In
contrast, non-organic farmers have a wide array of safe and biodegradable
synthetic fungicides to choose from.
We all know darn well that if the shoe were on the other foot, and
non-organic farmers were using copper sulfate, proponents of organic
agriculture would be screaming to high heaven about the eco-sins of copper
sulfate and would be demanding that it be banned and that only safer,
biodegradible synthetic fungicides be allowed. As it is, organic
proponents are left defending the use of an inferior, enviro-riskier
chemical on the basis that "non-organic farmers use it too!" It must make
the organic crowd uncomfortable at best.
What If Biotech Were Organic?
Furthermore, imagine if organic farmers had somehow developed the new
biotech blight-proof potatoes (through more traditional, older breeding
techniques). They'd be decrying any farmer who didn't plant those as well
after they came onto the market. But instead, the organic farmers are the
ones dependent on a nineteenth-century pest control chemical that has far
higher environmental risk than synthetic fungicides -- though even copper
sulfate can be used reasonably responsibly by conscientious farmers. But
then, if that's the case, why can't organic farmers accept that pesticide
use by non-organic farmers can be responsible too?
Blight-proof biotech potatoes should emerge from labs into farmers' fields
within five to six years, alleviating the need for some current chemical
use. Too bad the organic movement came out so adamantly against biotech.
When biotech farmers are planting these varieties and have reduced their
fungicide spraying by 90+%, organic farmers will still be looking for that
magical cultural technique or natural poison to replace copper sulfate.
Happy searching. If a replacement comes, I bet it'll be via research
conducted by a for-profit chemical corporation -- as happened in the case
of Spinosad, the new eco-friendly bacterial-biochemical organic
insecticide now used widely by both organic and non-organic farmers.
(Perhaps organic farmers won't be so keen to see chemical firms go out of
business now that they've benefited from the research and products
developed by one of those firms.)
In the meantime: the Food Standards Agency recently recalled two organic
corn meal products because they exceeded the proposed European
Commission's fungal mycotoxin levels by 1,000-2,000%. (unfortunately,
processing does not destroy carcinogenic fungal toxins the way it destroys
pathogenic bacteria). No non-organic products were recalled because of
overly high fungal toxin levels. Just another chink in the organic claim
of superior food safety.
Alex Avery is Director of Research and Education of the Center for Global
Food Issues at the Hudson Institute.
Australian Institute of Management Propagates Misinformation
'Uses misinformation in Case study on supermarket stocking GMOs'
- Stevens Brumbley Senior Research Scientist, BSES
If you get a chance, have a look in the AIMS Management Today magazine
(October 2003) pg 27-30. The section called 'Case in Point' creates a
management dilemma for an Australian supermarket whether to stock produce
derived from GMOs. It gives a slant on how business can view GMOs as a
risk and quotes science by: "Remember that potato developed in 1999 by Dr
Arpad Pusztai? Among other things it impaired immunological
responsiveness in rats. You would not want that on your shelves."
arlier in the article it also refers to the gene from a Brazil nut in
soybeans that ".. caused allergic reactions in consumers allergic to
AG-BIOTECH FOOD FORUM: Fostering Support for the Growing Application of
Biotechnology in the Agriculture and Food Industry
- December 8 - 9, 2003, Chicago Hilton, Chicago, IL
"Apply Biotechnology in the Agriculture and Food Industry to Ensure
Improved Efficiencies from Farm to Fork"
Learn About Innovative Biotechnology Applications That Will Have A
Dramatic Effect On The USA’s Agriculture And Food Markets From Industry
Food & Drug Administration (FDA); International Food Information Council
(IFIC); Iowa State University; The Pew Initiative on Food and
Biotechnology; Keller and Heckman LLP; Tuskegee University; Cargill, Inc.;
National Corn Growers’ Association; JR Simplot Company/Simplot Plant
Sciences; Corn Products International; Hershey Foods Corporation; Purdue
University; Quaker Foods and Beverages; Virginia Tech; Dziezak Law Firm,
Key Themes to be Addressed:
* Analyzing consumers acceptance of foods produced by biotechnology and
educating them on the benefits
* Examining the potential risks to the environment and public health
* Discussing the current EU moratorium and its impact to the US Food
* Establishing Best practices for Genetically Modified (GM) foods
* Examining the role of Intellectual Property law in protecting
investments in biotechnology products
Registration: email@example.com ;
Nutrition Navigator - A Rating Guide to Nutrition Websites
The Tufts University Nutrition Navigator is the first online rating and
review guide that solves the two major problems Web users have when
seeking nutrition information: how to quickly find information best suited
to their needs and whether to trust the information they find there. The
Tufts University Nutrition Navigator is designed to help you sort through
the large volume of nutrition information on the Internet and find
accurate, useful nutrition information you can trust.
Websites are reviewed by Tufts nutritionists, who apply rating and
evaluation criteria developed by the Tufts University Nutrition Navigator
Advisory Board, a prestigious panel of leading U.S. and Canadian nutrition
experts. Site reviews are updated quarterly to ensure that ratings take
into account the ever-changing Internet and nutrition environments.
The Tufts University Nutrition Navigator was developed by the Gerald J.
and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts
University, one of the most respected academic centers of nutrition
excellence in the world.
No Grey Areas in a Green's World
- Chris Bunting, Times Higher Education Suppl. (UK), Sept 19, 2003
Some researchers fear that the environmental lobby is turning away from
scientific balance to push an anti-capitalist agenda by 'scaring the hell
out' of people. Chris Bunting investigates
Stephen Schneider has two claims to fame. He is one of the world's leading
climate-change specialists and, for some opponents of the environmental
movement, he is a classic case of a scientist willing to prostitute his
discipline for radical political ends.
The second, unwanted reputation harks back 15 years to an interview the
Stanford University professor gave to the Pulitzer-prizewinning writer
Jonathan Schell for Discover magazine. One now infamous part of that
interview, in which Schneider explained his attitude towards getting his
message across in public debate, has been repeated in hundreds of
publications ranging from The Economist to www.taxidermy.net .
It has been quoted so many times that there are different versions of what
Schneider said, but here is one version from the late business professor
Julian Simon: "Scientists should consider stretching the truth to get some
broad-base support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course,
entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary
scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention
about any doubts we might have... Each of us has to decide what the right
balance is between being effective and being honest."
It is a gross misquotation. Schneider never said the first part about
scientists "stretching the truth", that was not in the original Discover
article but was added by the attack dogs of the anti-environmentalist
right. He did say the middle part, or words to that effect, which he
claims was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek caricature of dealing with the
media, but his vital qualification is invariably missed out by his
critics: "This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in
cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right
balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means
He also says he explained to Schell how scientists could be "both
effective and honest: by using metaphors that convey both urgency and
uncertainty, and also by producing supporting documents ranging from
opinion pieces to full articles to full books where there is enough time
and place to elaborate on the 'ifs' and 'buts' in the detail they deserve,
but these willrarely receive adequate attention in public debates
dominated by advocates, sound bites and short 'in-a-box' statements".
So the man who is supposed to exemplify the purposeful distortion of the
environmental debate by green radicals is himself being misrepresented.
But what does Schneider think of the claim that some environmentalists
have been fast and loose with scientific truth? "Groups like Greenpeace
very often grab the worst case," he says. "There are people who are paid
to make paralysis in this debate. There are greens who want to scare the
hell out of you.
"For over three decades, this has been my repeated frustration in dealing
with the climate-change controversy, and it seems to be getting worse as
stakeholders increasingly select information out of context to protect
their interests while clear exposition and balanced assessment sinks even
lower on the priority list of advocate-driven debates."
For Schneider, the "almost religiousfervour of the emotive enviros" is as
damaging to attempts to have an informed public debate about environmental
dangers as the manipulations of some anti-environmentalists. "At the Kyoto
conference (in 1997), the enemy was the industry groups. We were hearing
deceitful stuff about unemployment spiralling if anything was done or
global warming being good for us. At the Hague conference (in 2000), it
was the greens."
Criticism of the environmental pressure groups' sometimes tendentious
relationship with scientific findings is not limited to the climate-change
debate. Paul Nurse, the new president of Rockefeller University in New
York and winner of the Nobel prize for research on cancer biology, says he
is a natural sympathiser with groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of
theEarth, but he has become concerned at their mixing of science and
"It has been particularly around all this GM (genetic modification) stuff.
There are important issues to be explored, but they have been creating a
panic by putting up these Frankenstein dangers. I have quite a lot of
sympathy with the worries about domination in this area by big GM
companies, but I also think there is real potential for GM in improving
the world. Do you hear Greenpeace talking much about the GM strain of
'golden rice' that may prevent blindness in millions of children?
"Scientists have in the past tended to be key movers in the environmental
movement. The ozone layer was all about traditional science, but I think
maybe these campaigns have gone too much towards public relations and
media people running the show. If we keep having these scare stories,
there is a danger to society that we don't debate these complicated issues
Patrick Moore, an ecologist and former president of Greenpeace Canada, has
been waging a verbal war against his old organisation since giving up his
membership in 1986, long before GM technology was on the scene. He
believes the treatment of the issue by the main campaigning groups is part
of a bigger trend. He quotes the Greenpeace campaign against the disposal
of the Brent Spar oil platform in the North Sea as an example of a
campaign with little scientific backing but massive sensational appeal.
"The green movement was always abroad church. There always were mystics in
the movement, but happened in the late 1980s was that, with the end of
communism, you started seeing a lot of hard-core leftists coming in and
you started to see political agendas to do with anti-capitalism taking
there were also people who were basically science-trained andwere helping
to drive things. What ever. That is what is behind the GM thing. They are
ideologically against the big companies that are involved, and the science
is being manipulated to scare people," he says.
The THES has spoken to a number of other scientists who have given up
membership of Greenpeace as a result of feeling alienated by the
organisation's apparent willingness to play on popular fear of scientific
work in fields such as GM and nanotechnology.
But what does such criticism mean?There have always been scientists
opposed to the environmental lobby, and all organisations experience a
turnover in membership. Scientists have been leaving campaigning
environmental groups over the past five years in their thousands, but they
have also been joining in their thousands.
Doug Parr, chief scientist ofGreenpeace UK, says his organisation
cooperates closely with scientists across all of its work and he hasn't
noticed a chilling of the relationship. Greenpeace funds its own research
laboratories at Exeter University, and much of the success of the GM
campaign relied on close relationships with researchers in the field.
Ian Willmore, spokesman for Friends of the Earth, says that the
environmental lobby's general approach to the GM controversy and other
environmental issues is appealing to many scientists. "We are arguing for
a 'precautionary principle', which means that if we don't know the exact
shape of the risk we are facing, then we should have more testing before
taking the risk. Our opponents are saying we don't need the research.
Which is more scientific?"
However, both Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace stress that they are
advocates, not research councils. "The Frankenstein imagery is of a
powerful science turning against its creators and we are worried about
that in terms of the risks of GM," Parr says. "In summarising, you have to
use allegory. You cannot just ask people to read 50 pages of research. You
are communicating truthfully but also effectively."
Highly effectively, says Wyn Grant, professor of politics at the
University of Warwick and a keen observer of the environmental pressure
groups. "They can be a little bit economical with the truth. We saw that
in the Brent Spar episode, but all the poll evidence shows that they are
trusted by the public. In fact, scientists are held in less regard than
these people. What is striking about Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth
is how much they can getaway with. If they were politicians doing what
they do, they would have a lot of the media on them."
That fool's paradise may not remain forever, Grant says. He believes a
shift of scientific opinion against the environmentalist movement may have
damaging long-term effects. "If the public starts to see scientists from
universities - not from companies, but scientists seen as being in some
way above the fray - criticising these groups, then we might see damage to
their credibility. What it is critical for Greenpeace and such groups to
understand is that once you have lost public trust, you cannot get it
Greenpeace Accused of Money Laundering Donations
'Group Files IRS Complaint, Seeks to Revoke Privileged Tax Exempt Status'
- Public Interest Watch, Sept 22, 2003 http://www.publicinterestwatch.org/
A non-profit watchdog group today filed a complaint with the Internal
Revenue Service against Greenpeace, accusing the organization of illegally
soliciting and transferring millions of dollars in tax-deductible
In a report titled "Green Peace, Dirty Money: Tax Violations in the World
of Non-Profits," Public Interest Watch (PIW) accused Greenpeace - one of
the world's most recognizable and visible non-profits - of knowingly and
systematically violating United States tax laws.
"At the heart of the matter is the way in which Greenpeace's complex
corporate structure masks its misuse of tax-exempt contributions," claimed
Mike Hardiman, Executive Director of PIW. "The IRS very clearly
differentiates between taxable and tax-exempt contributions, and the ways
in which they can be used," Hardiman said. "Greenpeace has devised a
system for diverting tax-exempt funds into non-exempt organizations within
its empire and using the money for improper and illegal purposes. It is
plainly a case of money laundering."
The report details how during a three year span, one Greenpeace entity
diverted over $24 million in tax-exempt contributions. Such contributions
are supposed to be used for charitable, educational or scientific
programs, but instead financed advocacy campaigns.
Examples of taxpayer subsidized activities undertaken by Greenpeace
* Blockading a naval base in protest of the Iraq war,
* Boarding an oil tanker for a banner hanging,
* Breaking into the central control building of a nuclear power station,
* Padlocking the gates of a government research facility.
Because Greenpeace receives significant donations from large entities such
as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Turner Foundation, the report
also calls into question the accountability of these donors.
"Foundations that make tax-exempt contributions are responsible for
verifying that their funds are used appropriately," Hardiman said. "In the
case of contributions to Greenpeace, either the foundations have no idea
how their money is being spent, or they are knowingly allowing their funds
to be laundered for illegal advocacy and civil disobedience."
In addition to the IRS investigation, the report calls for a series of
* Greater oversight by grant-making foundations such as Rockefeller and
* Regulatory and legislative investigations of Greenpeace by Congress,
* Action under California law governing non-profits.
"Greenpeace is cheating the taxpayer by accepting tax-deductible
contributions, and then misusing the funds," Hardiman said. "They are
accepting taxpayer subsidized funds for charity and education, and then
using it to hang banners on buildings and break into nuclear power
Hardiman also said PIW was considering filing a lawsuit in California
under a provision of the state's Business and Professions Code, commonly
known as a 17200 lawsuit. "California has a series of statutes designed
to protect the public from impropriety on the part of non-profits,"
Hardiman said. "And in the case of Greenpeace, we believe its violations
of law mean that the state's Attorney General should take action. And if
the AG is not willing, then he should grant "relator status" to PIW so we
can." Relator status can be conferred onto an entity by the AG, and allows
it to pursue legal claims in the name of the people of California.
Public Interest Watch (PIW) was established in 2002 in response to the
growing misuse of charitable funds by nonprofit organizations and the lack
of effort by government agencies to deal with the problem. PIW works to
fight charitable trust abuse by exposing individual cases of abuse and
advocating for stronger governmental oversight, including requirements for
greater financial disclosure by charitable organizations.
Looking to Yesterday for a Better Tomorrow
- Simon Smith, editor-in-chief, Betterhumans, September 22, 2003
'From evolutionary psychology to our cyborg nature, ignoring our past
imperils our future'
Confession: I've read all of Jean Auel's Earth's Children books. It began
with 1980's Clan of the Cave Bear, which sucked me into the world of
prehistoric humanity the way Greg Egan's Diaspora sucked me into the world
of future humanity.
Sure, Auel has been criticized. She may be very wrong in suggesting such
things as interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans. She can
also be faulted for viewing early humans through a New Age crystal and
oddly mixing anthropology and softcore pornography. (My grandmother warns
that the books aren't suitable for young adults.)
But she does describe humanity's prehistoric world in striking --
sometimes excruciating -- detail. Growing fame has earned her access to
some of the world's oldest archaeological sites -- such as the prehistoric
painted caves at Altamira in northern Spain -- and her books relay them
vividly. So recently I picked up and completed the massive Shelters of
Stone, the fifth in the Earth's Children series, which came out last year.
While long on flashbacks and short on plot, the book rekindled my interest
in human history. This forced me to confront the question: What value does
human history hold for those forging ahead? The answer, I believe, is
simple but often ignored: The more we understand yesterday the better we
can build tomorrow.
History's in our genes
Having just finished Shelters of Stone, I was interested to read last week
about evidence suggesting that the establishment of villages led to the
birth of war. Examining evidence from small, nomadic Tribes in Oaxaca,
Mexico 10,000 to 4,000 years ago, researchers found no signs of group
conflict. Examining evidence from the beginning of village life at a site
called José Mogote 3,600 years ago, however, they found signs of organized
Surprising? Not really. "Every gene contributing to a trait is embodied in
many individuals in many generations, so if one individual with the gene
dies childless, the success of many others with the gene can make up for
it," writes evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker in his book How the
It takes a community to raise a battle flag because only in a communal
setting does natural selection favor warfare. "Imagine a game of Russian
roulette where if you don't get killed you have one more offspring,"
writes Pinker. "A gene for joining in the game could be selected, because
five-sixths of the time it would leave an extra copy in the gene pool and
one-sixth of the time it would leave none. On average, that yields .83
more copies than staying out of the game."
In short, war isn't just in our blood, it's in our genes. "Joining a
coalition of five other men that is certain to capture five women but
suffer one fatality is in effect the same choice," writes Pinker. "The key
idea is that the coalition acting together can gain a benefit that its
members acting alone cannot, and that spoils are distributed according to
the risks undertaken."
Cyborg hunters and gatherers
Understanding the origins of warfare is just one example of how
understanding our history can put the present in context and help us build
a better future. The notion that humans have the mental malleability of
Play-Doh is as popular as it is wrong. As Pinker has illustrated and
argued so well, our mind evolved not as a blank slate but as a computer
loaded with software that was shaped by its historical environment. The
better we understand our evolution, the better we can consciously further
Similarly, the better we understand our history the better we can assess
technological development and its relationship to the human biological
organism. Those who talk about relinquishing technology and returning
humans to a more natural state -- the ecological fundamentalists -- seem
to have no grasp of what this actually means. From axes to fire, from
language to education, we have always been cyborgs, requiring technology
for our survival.
As Auel describes in her books, prehistoric humans were constantly
developing and improving implements for hunting animals, sewing clothing,
building shelters and preparing food. Today's technologies don't break
with those of the past but build upon those of the past. Ancient humans
weren't satisfied with death, disease and poverty. Humanity didn't get to
this point by accident, but by step-by-step advancement.
Just as warfare isn't a modern invention, nor is the quest to improve the
human condition through technological development. It is a human trait,
encoded in our genes.
Acknowledging our ancestors
Ignoring our history keeps us ignorant of this fact and many others,
hindering a complete understanding of what it means to be human. It also
prevents us from lines of inquiry and development that could improve the
I'm not urging a new worship of the past, a new fundamentalism rooted not
in romantic notions of human history but in hard facts. The future lies
ahead, not behind. Nor am I saying that biology is destiny or that was and
is should dictate ought. All I'm saying is that we need to understand
where we've been to know where we are and to get where we want to be.
To do otherwise demeans our ancestors, who toiled hard so that their
descendents could build upon their work and toil less. We have an
obligation to them, to ourselves and to our descendants to learn about and
understand the past.
The admonishment that we forget history at our peril should be extended to
cover more than just Hitler, world wars, imperialism, slavery and other
human horrors. It should be extended to the origins of everything that
we've inherited, the roots of humanity, so that we can use our
understanding to guide our growth and development.
Cancun's Failure Raises Need for Collaborative Science
- David Dickson, Scidev.net, Sept 19, 2003
The collapse of trade talks in Cancun last week has thrown the spotlight
on bilateral and regional agreements. Cooperation on science and
technology must be at the heart of these, but needs to be handled with
Even some experienced diplomats were surprised at the speed of the
breakdown of the latest round of world trade talks, which took place in
the Mexican city of Cancún ten days ago. Before the meeting began, it was
already clear that deep divisions remained between rich and poor
countries, particularly over the extent to which generous agricultural
subsidies in the North prevent developing-nation farmers from accessing
essential markets. But while some argued that the intransigence of the
developed world -- particularly the United States and Europe -- on this
issue meant that failure at the talks was inevitable, others had still
been hoping for a compromise.
When such a compromise failed to appear, recriminations were predictably
loud. The rich countries accused the poor of being unrealistic in their
demands; conversely the poor argued -- with considerable justification --
that Northern governments appeared to be more worried about the domestic
concerns of voters than with establishing a fair system of world trade.
Both sides agreed, however, that the failure at Cancún has shifted the
focus of trade talks from the international to the regional, and even
This may not be good news for the proponents of globalisation. But it
could bode well for science, particularly in the developing world. It has
long been recognised in science policy circles that regional collaboration
represents a powerful way to build up scientific capabilities,
particularly between countries that share common economic, political and
geographical interests. These range from the advantages of pooling
resources in high-cost fields of science, to a mutual recognition of
professional scientific qualifications. Current trends in both Latin
America and Africa point in this direction.
None of this is intended to discourage regional collaboration, either in
research or industrial policy. But it does suggest that collaboration
needs to be approached cautiously, with the appropriate checks and
balances in place to ensure that the benefits are appropriate, and shared
equitably. If that can be achieved, it may be one of the few silver
linings to emerge from the black cloud of the failure of the Cancún talks.
In turn, it can help ensure that globalisation too becomes a democratic
process from which everyone benefits in an equitable fashion.
Full article at