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Date:

September 17, 2003

Subject:

Patents for Poverty to Prosperity; All It Takes is One

 

Today in AgBioView: September 18, 2003:

* BioPiracy and other Myths: Saying "Yes Patents on Life"
* All It Takes is One Maverick Scientist....
* Organic Farming's Dirty Secret
* GM Crops Called Boon for a Starving Africa
* Battle of Valle Verde: Campesinas Choose Biotech Over Fear
* The Battle of the Orange and Green
* Libertarianz Take on the GE-free Mob
* Americans are Iffy on Genetically Modified Foods
* Power Point Presentation of Foods Derived from GM Crops
* Chloroplasts in Perplexing Locations
* Graduate Research Fellowships in science, maths and engineering
* World Food Prize International Symposium
* AgBiotech Symposium and Plant Manufactured Pharmaceuticals
* SA's First Prize for Female Scientists
* Facts about French Food
* Let's Not Get Too Romantic About Traditional Knowledge

---


BioPiracy and other Myths: Saying "Yes Patents on Life"

- Ronald Bailey, Reason, Sept 12, 2003
http://www.reason.com/rb/rb091203.shtml

Cancun-"No Patents on Life," is one the most frequently heard slogans
among anti-globalization activists at the World Trade Organization's 5th
Ministerial meeting. It is part of a fierce fight over intellectual
property rights. Who has the right to make pharmaceuticals and who has the
right to grow genetically enhanced crop plants are hotly in dispute at the
WTO conference.

"Patenting of life forms must be prohibited in order to preserve
biodiversity, food security and indigenous peoples' rights and protect
them from corporate grip on genetic resources." declared a group of Green
and Socialist parliamentarians at a press conference earlier today. Andrew
Kimbrell, director of the US-based International Center for Technology
Assessment, denounced biotechnology patents as "biocolonialism" and just a
continuation of the "brutal history of oppression of colonialism."

But biotechnology patents are not the only intellectual property rights
fight going on at the WTO. Tony Clarke, from the Canadian anti-free trade
Polaris Institute, declared at the "teach-in" run by the International
Forum on Globalization (IFG), "Essential medicines should be available to
the people!" Indian public health activist, Mira Shiva asked, "Why should
the poor suffer and die if lifesaving medicines are available?"

But, before considering the objections being raised by anti-globalization
activists to intellectual property rights, a short lesson in intellectual
property rights: Property rights over things like land, houses and cars
are easily understood by everyone. Fences protect land and locks protect
houses and cars from being stolen or misused by others. But intellectual
property by its nature cannot be protected by fences and locks. For
example, once an inventor has devised, say, a recipe for a powerful new
drug, another drug manufacturer who finds out that recipe can easily make
it. That means that the inventor, who spent the time, effort and money, to
bring the benefit of a new cure to humanity would not be compensated for
his labor. Patents are designed to remedy that situation by providing
strong incentives to inventors of beneficial products.

Patents are temporary monopolies, usually 20 years in duration, which aim
to achieve two things. First, in order to receive a patent, an inventor
must disclose how to make the product, so that someone else can do it once
the patent has expired. Second, by awarding a temporary monopoly to
inventors, intellectual property rights encourage inventors to seek new
discoveries by allowing them to make money either by licensing their
patents to others who must pay them or by giving them the exclusive right
to make the product without competition for 20 years. Abraham Lincoln once
described patents as "adding the fuel of interest to the fire of genius."
Simply glancing up, we can all easily see how much we have benefited by
this system of encouraging inventors; nearly every product that we use in
everyday life was once patented.

Under the WTO, intellectual property rights, including patents, fall under
an agreement called, the "Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property
Rights"(TRIPS). The TRIPS Agreement requires that all WTO members
recognize patents on products like pharmaceuticals and genetically
enhanced crops. Without worldwide patent protection, a company in South
Africa could manufacture a product based on a Brazilian patent and then
ship the product back to Brazil, undercutting the Brazilian patentholder.
Perhaps in the short run Brazilian consumers might be slightly better off
because they could buy the cheaper South African version of the product,
but in the long run they (and we) would be worse off because future
inventors would have less incentive to make new inventions and to disclose
their methods to the rest of us.

But what about the poor in place like Africa, Latin America and India, who
are being ravaged by diseases like AIDS? After all, it only costs a few
cents to make an anti-viral pill since the formula for it was devised
several years ago by big drug companies in the United States and Europe.
Again, the research costs to find and develop drugs that can successfully
treat AIDS were in the hundreds of millions of dollars, yet once the right
formulation is discovered, it costs only a few cents to produce each
actual pill. Think of it this way: the first pill cost $500 million to
make, the second pill cost 5 cents. Yet selling the second, third, and
thousands more pills at 5 cents each will not recover the money spent on
the research necessary to make the first pill.
If researchers can't recover their costs, they will stop doing research
and we will all be worse off as the pipeline for powerful new medicines
goes dry. During the last half century the vast majority of new drugs
which have greatly improved the health of millions in both the developed
and developing countries were produced by for-profit pharmaceutical
companies. Without the discoveries of pharmaceutical companies, scores of
millions of people across the world would have died before their time or
lived diminished lives wracked with painful and crippling diseases.

Nevertheless, it is a tragedy that hundreds of millions of poor people in
the developing world cannot afford modern treatments. How can their needs
for medicines be met without destroying the system of intellectual
property rights that has made miracle medicines possible in the first
place?

WTO negotiators reached a compromise just before coming to Cancun which
allows poor countries to import inexpensive generic versions of medicines
that are still under patent in the developed world. It is not a perfect
solution-it will require extra policing to make sure that generic versions
don't undercut the patented versions being sold in developed countries.
And even more problematically, this compromise will probably discourage
pharmaceutical companies from investing in future research on diseases
that disproportionately afflict poor people in the developing world. Why?
Because the companies know that whatever they develop will be copied and
sold cheaply before they can recoup their costs. So the poor may benefit
from this compromise in the short run, but suffer in the long run as the
development of new and better drugs aimed at diseases in the developing
world slows. To answer Shiva's question: More of the poor may suffer and
die because new and better drugs will not be available in the future.

Biotechnology patents, especially patents relating to crop biotechnology,
also are under attack by anti-globalization activists. First, many experts
acknowledge that many biotechnology patents are far too broad and vague
and that the biotechnology patent system desperately needs refinement.
However, that does not mean that the concept of biotechnology patents is
wrong. Like any other area of research and discovery, biotechnology
patents play a vital role in encouraging the development of superior new
products.
Of course, genetically enhanced crops are one of the more contentious
issues in world trade now because of the dispute between the United States
and the European Union over the safety of foods made from them. Without
revisiting that topic, suffice it to say that of the hundreds of millions
of people who have eaten foods made from currently available biotech
crops, there has not been a single documented case of a person who has
suffered so much as a sniffle or a bellyache after consuming them.

"Biopiracy" is what particularly upsets activists like Andrew Kimbrell. He
and other anti-globalization activists accuse transnational corporations
like Monsanto and Syngenta of stealing genes nurtured by poor farmers of
the world. The greedy corporations allegedly do this by patenting valuable
genes found in local varieties of plants grown by traditional farmers.
Then the companies try to sell the patented genes back to the poor farmers
from which they took them. Sounds pretty unscrupulous, doesn't it?

What actually happens is that researchers at companies like Monsanto and
Bayer screen a wide variety of plants seeking genes for things like
disease resistance or particular nutrients. Say, hypothetically that the
researchers find a gene in a local variety of rice in India that prevents
a fungal disease endemic to India. Delighted, the corporate researchers
have the technology to put the anti-fungus gene into a high yielding, but
fungus prone, wheat variety. Farmers in India would have liked to grow the
high yield wheat, but didn't do so because of its susceptibility to
fungus.

Genes are resources the same way that something like, say, copper is a
resource. If I had a rock containing copper ore, which is not much of a
resource to me, perhaps I could use it as a paperweight. However, a copper
rock is a much more valuable resource to someone who has the skill to
mine, mill, refine, design, and market copper products, electrical wires,
pots, and computer chips. Surely, it would be unreasonable for me to
demand of the person who buys my copper rock and turns it into a pot that
he give me the pot for free.

The same goes for a beneficial gene, like the hypothetical anti-fungus
gene that is inaccessible to Indian farmers because they have no way to
get it from rice into wheat where it would be really helpful to them.
Thanks to biotechnology, Indian farmers can now choose to grow (or not
grow) the high yield wheat without fear that their crop will be devastated
by fungus. BioPiracy is as much a fiction as CopperPiracy.
The anti-globalization activists get it almost exactly backward.
Intellectual property rights, far from being harmful to the poor, are in
fact the foundation upon which many technologies that will help them rise
from poverty to prosperity will be built.
---
Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent and a fellow at the
International Policy Network. His Cancun dispatches are available in
Spanish at www.hacer.org.

**********************************************

All It Takes is One Maverick Scientist....

- Fordyce Maxwell, The Scotsman, September 17, 2003
http://www.news.scotsman.com/columnists.cfm?id=1028452003

When child mortality was 50 per cent, far too many had far too little to
eat; dirt and disease were endemic; families of ten were squeezed into two
rooms; whole tenements used one toilet; on farms, cattle had better
housing than the workers, and staying alive was the goal and reaching 40 a
genuine milestone.

As it still is in some countries. But not here, where we are better fed,
have better health, live much longer and, most of us, are much better off
than any previous generation.

And are we happy? Do we talk about how good things are, how healthy we
are, what a choice of food we have, what a range of activities we can
enjoy, what a good time it is to be alive? Ho, ho, my aching ribs.
Instead, we attempt to do at some expense what nature used to do for
nothing, that is kill ourselves with tobacco, alcohol, drugs and cars, and
if we can't manage that then frighten ourselves to death with stories of
flesh-eating bugs in hospitals, MMR vaccine, BSE in cattle, genetically
modified crops, or any other one of a hundred cock-eyed reasons.

Yesterday, the media got the blame for spreading fear and panic at every
opportunity, and rightly so, even if some do it more than others - if the
words "Daily" and "Mail" come to mind, who am I to argue? Yet the stories
wouldn't run if a pudding-headed public were not ready to fear the
one-in-a-million possibility more than the one-in-600 killed every year by
cigarettes or drink fact.

To spread the fear, all that is needed, as was pointed out yesterday and
as some of us have tried to argue for what seems like ever, is one
maverick scientist. One hundred reputable scientists can argue themselves
hoarse that genetically modified food is not a risk to anyone, but it only
took one counter view from a small experiment to spread panic.

It only took one Professor Richard Lacey to do the same for BSE, and it
only took one doctor, against almost all other evidence, to suggest that
the MMR vaccine, which has been massively effective in preventing several
childhood diseases, might be linked to autism.

The nub of it is that we refuse to believe that what stares us in the face
and kills millions - booze, tobacco, over-eating, driving with a mobile
phone attached to an ear, for example - is lethal, but give us some
crackpot forecast of a two-in-a-million outside chance and watch the
terror spread.

Professor Hugh Pennington gives evidence of a genuine cause for fear in
his book When Food Kills - published this week, with a full review due to
appear in a newspaper near you quite soon - when writing about the
campaign that began in 1938 to make milk pasteurisation compulsory. That
campaign was resisted for years throughout most of Britain, partly because
of probable expense, partly because farmers and their public insisted that
it would destroy the flavour, but largely because of "ignorance and
prejudice", two words which still figure large in any debate about food or
drink today.

Resistance was probably because evidence for pasteurisation was not from
one scientist with a few rats and some raw potatoes, one professor with an
obsession, or a doctor trying to produce a national theory from a few
dozen cases in one small area. It was that between 1912 and 1937, more
than 65,000 people had died of TB contracted from infected raw milk. Death
on that scale moves into the tobacco cancer/alcohol liver category, too
common to worry about and much too common to make a frightening story.

The most predictable headline of the week, apart from "Carole Caplin to
spill No 10 beans", was "World Trade Organisation talks end in failure".
It helps slightly to be a veteran reporter of numerous European Union
common agricultural policy negotiations and to remember the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that ran for years before it was recast as
the WTO, but it is not essential. Anyone who has been on a committee, from
parliamentary to trying to organise the office party, knows the problems.

Multiply them by 146 participating countries in Mexico last week, and ask
yourself how realistic it was to forecast that agreement would be reached
in five days when they have been trying to do that for the past eight
years. You might as well have forecast that Martin O'Neill and the
Scottish Football Association will be friends by the weekend.

As with GATT, an agreement of some sort will eventually be reached, and
the big boys in the game - the United States and European Union - will
spend the next ten years trying to find ways round it. All good fun that
keeps thousands of civil servants in a job and gives politicians an
enjoyable lifestyle, but evolution of the human body is a sprint compared
with changing the human mindset.

**********************************************

Organic Farming's Dirty Secret

- Andrew Apel

Friends and colleagues, For far too long, a dirty secret about organic
farming has been ignored: part of the premium paid for organic produce
amounts to a subsidy for migrant labor. The migrant labor system mocks the
abolition of indentured servitude, verges on slavery, and carries with it
all the human rights abuses one would expect.

Some may think that using humans like beasts of burden when alternatives
exist is simply a natural [sic] consequence of having free markets. Others
may prefer to eschew the fruits of barbarity.
See:
http://www.tulareadvanceregister.com/news/stories/20030911/localnews/239934.html


**********************************************

GM Crops Called Boon for a Starving Africa - Kenya-Born Scientist Sees
Role for Canada

- Jason Bell, Winnipeg Free Press, September 16, 2003

Jason Bell Growing up with hunger and poverty all around her, Florence
Wambugu tried to protect her family's crops from pests and disease.
Today, the renowned Kenya-born scientist continues that work on behalf of
a continent.

Dr. Wambugu is a strong proponent of using biotechnology as a farming tool
to help fight starvation in Africa, where 5,000 people die from a lack of
food every day. Considered one of the world's foremost experts on
agri-biotechnology, she believes the development of genetically modified
(GM) crops -- immune to insects and disease -- is key to winning the
battle.

"I am not a GM crusader; I am a crusader for Africa," Wambugu said
yesterday, just moments after speaking at the CropLife Canada Conference
at the Fairmont Hotel. "I am committed to reducing the losses in our
fields. I am committed to increasing food production." The conference, a
four-day meeting of Canadian agriculture technology companies, wraps up
tomorrow.

Wambugu told a packed meeting room that Canada has a vital role to play in
developing African agriculture's move to more GM crops. "Canada can take
a look at Africa as an emerging market," she said. "We need Canada's
help... contributing science, building partnerships, training our people
to produce our own food over the long term."

However, Steven Lewis, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations,
said human disease is destroying Africa's ability to feed itself and
pushing unwanted GM food on the continent will not change that. "So many
farmers had died or were sick that there was inevitably in various
communities a decline in food production," said Lewis, who also spoke at
the conference yesterday.

He suggested Africa's problems are too deep for bioengineered crops to
solve, even if they deliver all the benefits their backers claim. "You've
got to go way beyond that. You have women in the fields in crippling
positions with primitive hoes, working round the clock. You have children
being taken out of school in order to work the farms because they've got
sick and dying parents."

Lewis said about nine million farmers have died in Africa since 1985,
mostly of HIV-AIDS. He said western governments and corporations have not
stepped up to provide the level of help required. "On drugs, as in
agriculture, Canada is privately in alliance with the United States and
Europe and resisting change which would benefit the developing world."

Wambugu, one of 10 children, said that when she was younger, she
experimented with mixtures of ash and soot in the soil to fend off insects
that threatened the family farm. Her success, however, was limited.
Wambugu spent years developing a virus-resistant sweet potato to increase
yields for African farmers, and has targeted other crops such as maize
(corn), yams and bananas as logical GM crops.

She said biotechnology offers African farmers an opportunity to succeed
because the science is already locked within the seed. "So many of our
people can't even read or write. They can't go onto the Internet for
help," she said. "But they know seeds, and this technology is delivered
through the seed itself. That's why I see so much potential."

**********************************************

The Battle of Valle Verde: Mexican Campesinas Choose Biotechnology Over
Fear

- Ronald Bailey, Rreasononline: free minds and free markets, Sept 17, 2003
http://www.reason.com/rb/rb091703.shtml

Valle Verde, Quintana Roo, Mexico-This dusty hamlet of tin and scrap wood
shacks outside Cancun just off the main road to Merida became the latest
battleground in the global war over genetically enhanced crops. The
occasion was the distribution last Friday of two tons of food by a group
of pro-free trade and pro-biotechnology nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs).

The effort to bring food to Valle Verde's 300 residents was organized by
the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), the Congress of Racial
Equality (CORE), and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). These
NGOs gave away parcels of food that contained corn meal, cooking oil,
beans, and a large box of Kellogg's cornflakes. Some of these items
contained ingredients made from genetically enhanced crops like corn and
canola.

Besides being a charitable act, the gift of food, naturally, was done to
make the point to the media and the World Trade Organization negotiators
gathered in nearby Cancun that the poor are not afraid of genetically
enhanced crops. And given what happened at Valle Verde, that point was
made even more strongly than the event organizers had intended. That's
because a contingent of anti-biotechnology and anti-globalization
activists showed up and tried to frighten the villagers into declining the
food.

They failed.

The activists, many claiming to be associated with Friends of the Earth,
circulated among the villagers before the food was distributed. One
activist from Brazil was particularly shameless in his tactics. He kept
telling several village women over and over that the food was
"contaminated" and "toxic" and would harm their children.

Even if he actually believed that genetically modified crops might be
harmful in some way, he knew full well that hundreds of millions of
Americans, Canadians, Argentines and others have been eating such food for
nearly a decade without any ill effects at all. So telling poor Mexican
village women that eating the parcels would harm them straight away had to
be a knowing falsehood. It is all very well to be passionate about one's
cause, but one does not advance justice by means of lies.

The apparent leader of the anti-biotechnology group was Raul Benet, a
Mexican activist from Morales. Benet tried to disrupt the distribution by
yelling to the villagers that the food was being handed out by agents of
Monsanto, a big transnational that wants "to control the food of the
world." (I later asked the CFACT organizers if they had ever received any
funding from Monsanto and was told, "Not so much as a penny nor any money
from any biotechnology company so far as we know.")

Meanwhile other anti-biotech activists unfurled a huge banner that read
"Comida Transgenica Mata La Gente" ("Transgenic food kills people.") One
activist was circulating through the crowd, screaming out, "Food for
pigs!" Simultaneously, another was passing out four-color posters that
claimed genetically modified foods could harm people's health by causing
allergic reactions and anti-biotic resistance. Never mind that there is
absolutely no scientific evidence for those claims.

When I asked several of the women what they thought of the claims they
were hearing, one of them waved her hand toward the Friends of Earth
banners, and dismissed them as "foreign craziness." I asked another
villager who had been listening to the Brazilian, what she thought of what
he was telling her. "We don't understand. We just know that the food is
good; we buy it all the time in the stores."

This hubbub went on for perhaps twenty minutes with activists from both
sides talking furiously to the reporters' cameras and into their tape
recorders. Finally, after standing patiently in the hot sun while being
harangued by the anti-biotech activists, the food distribution to the
villagers began. Would they take the food?

Yes, without hesitation. The women formed an orderly line and took the
parcels as they were handed down from the truck. As far as I could tell,
not a single village woman was persuaded by the scare tactics of the
anti-biotech activists.

Activists on both sides of the global war over crop biotechnology claim to
care about the poor. But in this case, it was the pro-biotechnology side
that brought the food. The Friends of the Earth came empty-handed, bearing
only dishonesty and fear.

The war over crop biotechnology will be decided in the hearts and minds of
people like those who dwell in Valle Verde. On Friday, the pro-free trade
and the pro-biotechnology forces won a small victory in the dusty plaza of
Valle Verde.

*************

The Battle of the Orange and Green

- Deroy Murdock, Centre for the New Europe, Sep 13, 2003
http://www.cne.org/pub_pdf/2003_09_13_murdock_cancun.htm

VALLE VERDE, Mexico - - Just 18 miles from the turquoise beaches and
abundant buffet tables of Cancun's Hotel Zone, this poor village's roughly
400 residents would consider running water a luxury. These citizens, an
estimated 80 percent of whom are unemployed, occupy rickety, uninsulated
shacks that feature corrugated roofs balanced upon thin tree branches.
While wiry, flea-bitten dogs run about aimlessly, one little boy in blue
shorts bangs on an old, red pickup truck, then entertains himself with a
weathered piece of lumber.

The morning of September 12 promises relief from the usual squalor,
however. A group of free-market activists arrives to distribute two tons
of genetically-modified food as three vanloads of journalists watch.
Suddenly, a band of environmentalists crashes the event.

This quickly becomes the Battle of the Orange and Green. The former - -
members of CFACT, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow - - wear
orange T-shirts that say, "Free-Trade Fiesta." Most are American college
students from the University of California, Davis, Tulane University and
campuses in between. The Green, primarily members of Friends of the Earth
and the Green Warriors, wear green shirts that condemn
genetically-enhanced foods: "Transgenics = Poison. Organics = Life. You
decide."

Standing before a large CFACT banner taped to the side of a small
classroom with a dirt floor, the group's president, David Rothbard,
address the crowd of Valla Verdens and news people.

"We are here at the WTO along with a number of other NGOs that believe
that political and economic freedom and safe technologies are the path to
prosperity for people all over the world," Rothbard says. He barely
begins speaking before Raul Benet, a Mexican Friend of the Earth, screams
from atop a dirt mound 15 feet away.

"I'm very angry that these Americans have come here today with this
propaganda," Benet says. "This is another form of colonialism. This is
another conquest. This is a conquest of our grains." Benet stands in front
of twin, white banners - - one in English, the other in Spanish. Each
says: "Don't let big business rule the world."

Celia Ruiz, an older woman who has lived here for a year, favors the food
distribution effort. "We live in a village that has been marginalized
from society," she says. "We don't have water. We don't have light. So, I
think what these people are doing today is a good thing."

Asked if she fears what critics claim about GM foods, Ruiz says, "They
don't scare me, no." She adds: "What these people are bringing us is
something to benefit us and our health." "This is demagoguery," complains
Mario Vasquez, a driver. "This is bad. You know why? This is pig food. And
they come and donate it to us?"

Pigs should eat so well. Villagers, mainly women with small kids, line up
behind C-FACT's truck for packages containing corn flakes, rice, beans,
cooking oil, pasta, sugar and even lollipops. These items, C-FACT says,
were purchased from local stores. While C-FACT did not discuss the
still-theoretical risks of GM foods with the Valle Verdens, these poor
Mexicans had a more immediate and concrete matter on their minds: finding
something to eat.

"Every day, people here have to go around trying to get food for their
kids," says a young woman named Arjelia Maimendez. Genetically-enhanced or
not, she is pleased to discover that the free-marketeers have contributed
domestic products. "These are all Mexican foods. They're good for the
people. They're made here. They are ours."

Dr. Elena Khan, a Green Warrior and Mexico City contagious disease
specialist, has her doubts. She worries that GM foods eventually may prove
dangerous. "You need 20 years to know what is going on" with these items,
she says.

"Why limit choices?" Niger Innis demands of her. Innis, spokesman for New
York's Congress of Racial Equality and a co-sponsor of the food donation,
continues: "We are not trying to impose genetically-modified food. We are
giving more options and more choices."

Innis is uniquely unimpressed with Dr. Khan's technophobic timetable.
"People are starving right now," he says. "Not 20 years from now. Right
now."

**********************************************

Libertarianz Take on the GE-free Mob

- Libertarianz, Sept 16, 2003 (Sent by Andrew Apel)

Opposing the Luddite mob outside Parliament - a mob who were bewailing the
long-overdue lifting of the GE Moratorium - was a group of freedom
fighters including Libertarianz spokesman Stephen Berry. "We came here
today," said Berry, "to demonstrate that decisions on the use of GE are
for individuals to make, not the anti-technology mob."

Anti-GE'ers point to poll figures showing 68% of New Zealanders do not
want the moratorium lifted. "So what!" counters Berry: "The desires of a
mob cannot be used to stifle individual's right to choose for themselves."
It should go without saying, he says nonetheless, that individuals also
have a responsibility to ensure their choices do not result in the
initiation of force against another.

There is only one poll that matters with GE, says Berry: "the poll that
takes place every day on the supermarket shelves. That 'daily poll' shows
that far more than 68% of New Zealanders don't care a jot whether their
food is GE or not - and nor should they. They just want good, cheap and
tasty food - something the Luddites are trying to stop"

"Quite simply," concludes Berry, "if you are opposed to the use of GE,
then do not use it! If you do not wish to consume GE products, don't buy
them! However, no person should think they have the right to deprive
others of choice based on little more than the size of the mob they have
supporting them."

**********************************************

Americans are Iffy on Genetically Modified Foods

- Elizabeth Weise, USA Today, Sept 17, 2003

Americans still don't know much about genetically modified foods, even
though increasing amounts of their food comes from biotech corn and
soybeans, according to a poll released today by the non-partisan Pew
Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.

Support for the introduction of GM foods into the food supply is divided:
One-quarter of Americans are in favor and almost half are opposed. But
opposition is softening, to 48% from 58% two years ago, when Pew first
polled consumers.

Opinions about the safety of GM food haven't budged much. Just above
one-quarter of Americans, 27%, say the foods are basically safe, and
exactly one-quarter say they're basically unsafe.

This is where knowledge comes in. Just 24% of Americans say they've eaten
GM foods, and 58% say they haven't. But the Grocery Manufactures of
America says 70% to 80% of processed foods sold in supermarkets contain
products made from genetically engineered corn, soybeans or cottonseed
oil.

That includes most products sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, which
is almost sure to contain at least some genetically modified corn. U.S.
Department of Agriculture figures for 2003 show that 40% of the U.S. corn
crop was biotech, as were 81% of the soybeans and 73% of the cotton.

But when pollster told those who were surveyed the extent to which GM
foods are already on store shelves -- and therefore that the respondents
probably have been eating them -- attitudes changed. After learning that,
44% said GM foods are safe and 20% said they are unsafe.

"For consumers, biotechnology is not a high priority," says Stephanie
Childs of the Grocery Manufacturers of America. "Knowing that it's on the
market and it's regulated, they think, 'We have other things to be
concerned about right now.' "

But one of the survey's strongest findings was that people support a more
active role by the Food and Drug Administration role to ensure GM food
safety. "More than half those surveyed said they'd be more likely to eat
GM foods if the FDA had a mandatory regulatory process," says Michael
Rodemeyer, Pew executive director.

James Maryanski, the FDA's biotechnology coordinator, says that although
companies aren't required to send the FDA safety data on biotech foods,
they are required to market safe and wholesome foods. "In other words,
they're not able to just do whatever they want."

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Power Point Presentation of Foods Derived from GM Crops

http://sdcma.org/

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Chloroplasts in Perplexing Locations

- Prof. C Kameswara Rao, krao@vsnl.com

Unicellular Cyanobacteria (blue green algae) can be found in
basidiomycetous fungi, sponges, Echiurioid worms and Ascidian larvae, as
endosymbionts. These algal cells are very small and can be mistaken for
chloroplasts, under a light microscope, by people in a hurry.

Several plant sap-sucking insects such as aphids may ingest some
chloroplasts. Many times I observed intact chloroplasts in grasshopper
gut contents. It is possible to find pro-chloroplasts constitutionally
in organisms belonging to the gray area of Mesokaryotes. Otherwise they
should be sourced to algal symbionts or ingestion of vegetal matter.

Prochloron is an algal genus of prokaryotic endo-symbionts of Ascidian
larvae. Prochloron contains stacked thylakoids (pro-plastids?) and this is
the only prokaryote with chlorophyll b. This is not a blue green alga
where thylakoids and chlorophyll b are absent and does not qualify to be
placed in Chlorophyceae, the group of eukryotic green algae. Hence is
placed in a group of its own, the Prochlorophyceae.

A responsible scientist working on the malarial parasite said that
Plasmodium contains chloroplasts. He also said that the parasite is
susceptible to herbicides and so the plastids (or plastid genomes?) have
an important metabolic role to play. Unable to believe of the presence
of chloroplasts in the malarial parasite, I checked further to find that
that the organelle has an ultrastructure similar to that of a chloroplast
but does not contain any chlorophyll.

It is necessary to distinguish between a) the constitutional presence of
chloroplasts/plastids in unusual situations and b) what could be due to
other factors such as symbiosis, ingestion and even an accidental
introduction due to sloppy procedures of specimen preparation.

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NSF Fellowships for Graduate Study in Plant Biology and Other Science
Disciplines

The National Science Foundation (NSF) will award approximately 900 new
Graduate Research Fellowships in science, mathematics and engineering.
Fellowships are awarded for graduate study leading to research-based
masterís or doctoral degrees in the fields of science, mathematics and
engineering supported by the NSF. Applicants must be citizens, nationals,
or permanent resident aliens of the United States at the time of
application. Students studying plant biology are eligible to compete for
the awards.

Each three-year fellowship provides a stipend of $27,500 for 12-month
tenures and a cost-of-education allowance of $10,500 per tenure year.
Application deadline for students in the life sciences is November 4,
2003.

For more information, contact the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship
Program, ORAU, P.O. Box 3010, Oak Ridge, TN 37831-3010. Phone toll-free
from the U.S. and Canada at 866-353-0905. nsfgrfp@orau.gov, or fax
865-241-4513 http://www.orau.org/nsf/nsffel.htm

- Brian Hyps, Public Affairs Director, American Society of Plant
Biologists

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World Food Prize International Symposium

http://www.worldfoodprize.org/Symposium

Featuring Presentations on The Millennium Development Goals and The
Millennium Declaration to End Hunger in America

Featuring Presentations by:
The World Food Prize Laureate Lecture: by 2003 Laureate Under Secretary
General Catherine Bertini
The Honorable Kisamba Mugerwa, Minister of Agriculture, The Republic of
Uganda
Andrew Natsios, Administrator , USAID
Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, on the Human Development Report 2003
The Honorable Thomas Vilsack, Chair, Governors' Partnership on
Biotechnology
Peter McPherson, Chair, BIFAD; Chair , The Partnership to Cut Hunger in
Africa
Per Pinstrup-Andersen, 2001 World Food Prize Laureate, Chair, World
Economic Forum Task Force on Globalization and World Hunger

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Agricultural Biotechnology Symposium and Showcase Plant Manufactured
Pharmaceuticals

October 16 - 17, 2003, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, CA

http://sdcma.org/symposium%20home.html

For further information: sdcma@biology.ucsd.edu or call (858) 534-0601

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SA's First Prize for Female Scientists

- Mail & Guardian (South Africa) September 18, 2003
http://www.mg.co.za/Content/l3.asp?ao=20646

On Friday night four women will be acknowledged in the country's first
Distinguished Woman Scientist Award. The winner will walk away with R50
000. Among them..

* Biotechnologist Professor Jennifer Thomson is a scientist and author
best known in the non-scientific community for her cautious advocacy of
genetically-modified foods. She has argued that Africa must use new
technology when and if it suits its needs rather than be dictated to by
European concerns or other small, unelected advocacy groups following
their own agendas. She is a professor at the department of molecular and
cell biology at UCT.

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The Facts about French Food

http://www.expatica.com/france.asp?pad=289,306,&item_id=13871

Part one: peeling the myth

Eating takes central place in the French soul. But in this first of a
three-part investigation into the state of food in France, Maryanne
Blacker bursts a myth about French eating habits, warns of the dangers
behind the country's agricultural abundance, and explains why labels are
now so important.

In France, a country boasting a choice of a different cheese for
practically every day of the year, eating is not simply a neutral act,
it's a culture. Many in France see the spread of mass produced,
chemically-treated or genetically modified food as striking at the very
heart of French cultural and culinary traditions.

You've seen the celebrated outdoor food markets full of oozing cheeses,
roasting chickens, salmon on shaved ice, and glossy fruit and vegetables.
It's a full-on sensory assault. There are no neat and clinical polystyrene
trays here. This is gastronomic France - bountiful and fresh - eat it up.

But the scene belies the fact that 80 percent of food consumed by the
average French person is factory-produced. José Bové, the Roquefort
cheese maker who ransacked a McDonald's in Millau, (south-west France), as
an anti-globalisation statement, is the rustic pin-up boy of the French
charge against globalisation. He casts McDonalds as a symbol of
standardisation and of industrialised food, contrasting it to French
farming traditions linked to the land, to local farmers and their
know-how.

Bové ignores the fact that French farmers provide McDonalds France with 98
percent of its produce. But eating is, and always will be, a piece of
national pride in France.

During the 1950s approximately 40 percent of French families were farmers.
Today, only five per cent of the population live off the land. More than
50 percent of France's land surface, however, is consecrated to farming
and agriculture and, of course, most French farmers use technology and
chemicals within industrial farming techniques. France is, after all, the
world's second largest exporter of agricultural products -- and Europe's
largest.

The French way of guaranteeing quality boils down to labels (called
'étiquettes'). They invented the now widespread Appellation d'Origine
Contrôlée (AOC), in the 1920s. This system of labelling products - wine,
cheese, chickens, potatoes, olive oil and even lentils - serves as a
guarantee of the origin of a product and its authenticity. Authenticity,
runs the idea, also guarantees a product's quality.

These are not labels that tell you what's in the food, right down to the
last molecule; instead, a stamp guarantees that the product was grown in a
particular region, under particular conditions. Only a product from that
region can bear that label. The product must correspond to all the
characteristics found in the region.

Recent food scares, however, have shaken French consumer confidence. The
biggest shock came with the emergence of ESB - 'mad cow disease'. But
there's also been widespread incidents of high levels of antibiotics
discovered in pork, as well as veal pumped-up with anabolic steroids, and
the false labelling of meat, cereals and even organic produce.

In 2001, the European Commission announced that almost one in 20 crops in
Europe is contaminated with illegal levels of pesticides -- and France
registered one of the highest levels of contamination. More than half of
its production was found affected, and 8.3 percent of it contained
higher-than-permitted levels. French lettuce, notably that grown in
greenhouses, showed elevated levels of pesticides due to the speed at
which it was grown and harvested.

France, is the world's second-largest consumer of pesticides after the US
-- and the world's first-largest consumer of fungicides. The widespread
use of chemicals is one reason people in France are turning to 'bio', or
organic, products. In fact, almost 30 percent of French are now 'bio'
buyers and one in five French say they have given up eating beef.

The declared trend is towards buying products which come with a quality
label, like the popular "label rouge" certificate. Labels are everywhere
-- but what do they really mean?

Also see (1) French food, part two: a question of etiquette; (2) French
food, part three: the lie of the label at http://www.expatica.com

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Let's Not Get Too Romantic About Traditional Knowledge

- David Dickson, Scidev.net, September 15, 2003

Supporters of traditional knowledge argue that one of its strengths is the
extent to which it is tied to specific cultural contexts. The idea that
this may not be the case enhances the opportunity for productive
interaction with modern science.

When a group of farmers in Ghana told foreign agricultural experts that
there was a tree under which their crops grew well -- and that this was
because the water needed by the crops was provided by the tree itself --
they were met with considerable scepticism. After all, trees use their
roots to suck water up from the ground into their leaves, from which it
evaporates into the atmosphere. As a result, the ground underneath them
tends to be drier not wetter.

But it turned out that not only was the farmers' account genuine, so too
was their explanation. For the tree in question has a root system that
siphons up water both into its trunk, and also into the surrounding earth.
To social scientists, it was one more indication that there are many ways
in which modern agricultural science ignores the 'traditional knowledge'
of local farming communities at its peril. It also appeared to confirm one
of the key characteristics of such traditional knowledge, namely that it
'belongs to' the local communities out of whose practical experience it
has emerged.

What, then, is one to make of the fact that the same effects of trees that
provide water for crops -- and indeed the same explanation -- is also
known to hill farmers in Nepal? One implication, as Fergus Sinclair from
the University of Wales, Bangor, told the annual meeting of the British
Association for the Advancement of Science in Salford last week, is that
traditional knowledge may, in practice, be more universal than many social
scientists like to think. And this pours some cold water on the suggestion
that one of the key distinctions between traditional knowledge and modern
science is the extent to which the former is embedded in local culture,
while the latter is independent of local cultures and is valid for all
societies.

The modern value of traditional knowledge

The lesson is an important one. In recent years, there has -- quite
rightly -- been a steadily growing recognition that, in fields from
medicine to agriculture, the modern world has paid a high price for
rejecting traditional practices and the knowledge, however it is
expressed, that underpins them. Where this knowledge conflicts with what
is often referred to as the 'modern scientific world view', it has tended
to be discarded as little more than superstition. Its lack of an
apparently rational basis is itself seen as a reason for ignoring it,
without adequate awareness that the rationality test being applied is
itself a cultural product of Western societies.

This view is now changing -- and the damage it has done in the recent past
is being acknowledged. In a separate presentation to the British
Association, Gerry Bodeker of the University of Oxford, described the
failure of US scientists in the 1940s to develop an anti-malarial drug
from a traditional Chinese remedy based on extracts of the plant Dichroa
febrifuga. The apparent problem with the drug was that it induced such
violent nausea that patients refused to take it. But the US researchers
were unaware that, when used as a malaria treatment in China, the remedy
was administered with other ingredients such as ginger and liquorice root,
both powerful anti-emetics. As Bodeker pointed out, a less reductionist
approach that had taken such information on board might have saved
millions of lives in the intervening period.

While recognising the continued relevance of much traditional knowledge,
however, it is also important -- as Sinclair and his colleagues warn --
not to over-romanticise it. For example, some claim that traditional
knowledge has an innate superiority over modern science. They argue that
such superiority results from the fact that traditional knowledge is
embedded in local, traditional cultures, and therefore reflects the
virtues of such cultures in a way that modern science does not.

There are certainly some powerful elements of truth in such arguments. For
example, many traditional farming communities have shown a much greater
interest in the need to preserve long-term soil productivity and ecosystem
balance -- sometimes described as a 'respect for nature' -- than their
chemical-wielding successors. But there are also dangers, perhaps the
biggest being the tendency for this argument to slip into simplistic
sloganising that says traditional knowledge is good and modern science is
bad.

The need for mutual recognition

These dangers are not restricted to what one might call the more
traditional forms of traditional knowledge. The meeting of the British
Association also saw the launch of a new organisation, the Foundation for
Science, Technology and Civilisation. The new organisation has been set up
primarily to promote interest in the achievements of scientists and
engineers from the Muslim World. Too often, according to its chairman,
Salim Al-Hassani, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of
Manchester's Institute of Science and Technology, such achievements have
been ignored or forgotten by those who write the history of science. This
is typified by what is described as a 'black hole' in the history of
European Civilisation in the period between the Romans and the Renaissance
-- a description that ignores the vitality of Muslim culture (and science)
during this period.

The complaint is a legitimate one, up to a point; but it should not be
taken too far. Few mathematicians are unaware that algebra was invented in
the Muslim world, just as few modern tourists fail to recognise the
architectural wonders of the Ottoman Empire. But should these today be
applauded as feats that reflect -- and therefore promote -- the values of
Muslim culture? Or essentially as achievement of human endeavours that are
at least partially independent of the cultures in which they were born?

There are no black-and-white answers to such questions; there are always
times when a culture reinforces the achievements of individuals, and
others when it seeks to undermine them (think of the experiences of
Galileo). Perhaps the best that one can hope for is an expansion of the
cultural tolerance familiar in the arts, ironically ever since so-called
'modern' artists of the late 19th century began to draw inspiration from
the directness and expressionism of 'primitive' carvings.

This does not mean that when traditional knowledge claims to be
'scientific', it is wrong to apply some of the criteria -- such as
reproducibility -- used to scrutinise the claims of contemporary
scientists. But it does mean, as Sinclair emphasised in Salford, that one
should not paint a picture of traditional knowledge that is too rosy. The
real challenge is to find ways that both science and traditional knowledge
can work in a complementary fashion towards improving human well-being,
not in asserting the primacy of the respective cultures out of which they
have developed.