Today in AgBioView: September 26, 2003:
* Science and 'Naturalism' Meet in Biotech Debate
* Biotech Delivers - With Benefits!
* Attack of Killer Labels
* Save the Seed?
* Bees Not Fussy over Non-GM and GM Rape
* FAO BiotechNews
* First Annual Conference on World Hunger
* Listen to 'Voice of America' Panel Discussion
* Precautionary Principle Can Risk Development and Lives
* What is BioLiteracy? Why is it important?
* Earth, Animals and Poisoned Apples: Luddites Trashing Science
Science and 'Naturalism' Meet in Biotech Debate
- Farm and Dairy 2003, Sept. 25,2003 http://www.zwire.com/
Two definitions of 'sustainable' at root of rift.
URBANA, Ill. - The possibility of unintended effects occurring in plants
produced using biotechnology has generated fear, doubts and opposition.
And even though biotechnology has been around for years, its use in crops,
particularly those that will ultimately become food on our table, is
suspect to some.
Ancient practice. But biotechnology isn't new. Our ancestors learned to
put living organisms to work more than 10,000 years ago to make wine,
beer, cheese, and bread and in breeding wheat, rice and other crops from
wild ancestors, says food microbiologist Bruce Chassy, at the University
of Illinois. For more than 20 years genetically engineered bacteria and
yeasts have been used to produce pharmaceuticals, vaccines, vitamins and
nutritional supplements. And, since 1995, biotech crops have been grown
Is it natural? "There is a sense of spirituality that relates to the
natural universe that prompts some to question the wisdom of engineering
transgenic plants," said Chassy, who is also associate director of the
university's Biotechnology Center. "Their concern is based on a belief
that taking a gene from one organism and placing it in another can have
greater negative effects than conventional plant breeding," he explained.
"But there is no data or evidence that this is true."
Speed things up. Chassy explained that the same processes occur in nature
and in conventional breeding, but they occur more slowly. Natural
cross-breeding can create undesirable characteristics in plants. Hearty
weeds and poisonous plants are good examples. "In conventional plant
breeding, there is actually more potential for unintended effects," Chassy
said. Can help genetic diversity. Conventional breeding often crosses wild
plants with commercial varieties in order to bring in genetic diversity.
One example Chassy related was when scientists were trying to develop a
tomato that would be resistant to virus. "Wild tomatoes have toxic
compounds so plant breeders needed to be careful that the new varieties
were not toxic," he said.
Unintended effects. Chassy recently testified before the National Academy
of Science Task Force on Unintended Effects of Biotechnology. Can there be
unintended effects? "Absolutely, that's a possibility. There can be
unintended effects even with the best science available, but this is true
for all forms of plant breeding," said Chassy. "But when scientists are
working on a new pest resistant plant, they think a lot about the
consequences," he added. "They create thousands of candidates for new
plants - called events - many of which may have been altered in unintended
ways, but only those plants that are normal in all respects are selected
for further research. "The same selection process is applied in
conventional plant breeding."
Information gap. Some of the lack of acceptance of genetically modified
organisms (GMOs), Chassy believes is the result of a lack of good
information about the risks. In a list of what we should be worried about
when it comes to the safety of our food, Chassy puts food borne diseases
at the top and GMOs at the bottom. "There are many pathogens that can
contaminate the foods we eat and cause illness or death," said Chassy.
"But GMOs are evaluated and tested every step of the way. The risks are
much lower." Clash of titans.
Although it appears that the majority of people have a positive view of
the potential benefits of biotechnology, opposition is still strong and
growing according to Chassy. "It's almost like two locomotives heading at
one another on the same track. It's not clear who will survive," Chassy
"One thing's for sure, with the world's growing population and pressing
environmental problems, humankind will need to develop some way to produce
more food in a more sustainable way. Hopefully it won't take us another
10,000 years to figure it out."
Biotech Delivers - With Benefits!
- Terry Wanzek, Agweb.com, Sept 25, 2003
It looks like North Dakota won't impose a ban on biotech wheat anytime
soon--and that's welcome news.
In back-to-back legislative sessions, the opponents of biotechnology have
tried to enact a "moratorium" on genetically modified wheat, even though
biotech wheat isn't even available as a commercial crop yet. Twice they've
failed, and their efforts are growing weaker, not stronger.
They won't stop, though. Right now, in Hawaii, they're waging a campaign
of disinformation against experimental fields where scientists are trying
to develop the next generation of biotech plants. These miracle crops will
help us boost yields, reduce the need to spray, fight soil erosion, save
rainforests, provide more nutrition to feed a growing global-population
and even quite possibly find a way to help fight human diseases.
Despite all these terrific benefits, these anti-biotech activists
manufacture unfounded fears. This is what's going on in Europe right now:
Special interests spreading propaganda about perfectly safe products and
generating political results that aren't in the interests of farmers or
With a disturbing regularity, the other side makes claims that are just
plain false. We've got to answer back with facts, because truth will carry
the day. That's what has happened here in North Dakota.
Let me offer an example. I was accused of violating my Catholic faith
because I support giving farmers the freedom to responsibly grow federally
approved biotech crops. This is a serious accusation. It's also patently
false. In fact, until recently the Vatican has not gotten involved in
disputes between the United States and Europe over genetically modified
Then, some months back, it announced that communion wafers may contain
genetically modified ingredients. What's more, Archbishop Renato Martino,
head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Vatican
representative to the UN, said in August that he will issue an official
report on biotechnology--and it will include a strong endorsement in
support of genetically-modified foods.
"The Book of Genesis clearly establishes the domination of man over
nature. God has entrusted mankind to preserve nature but also to use it,
and scientific progress is part of the divine plan" said one Vatican
official. Archbishop Martino reflected upon living in the United States
for 16 years. "I ate everything that was offered to me, including
genetically modified products," he said. "This controversy is more
political than scientific."
It certainly isn't religious--even though the desperate foes of
biotechnology have wrongly tried to make it so. The good news is that
we're winning the debate in my home state. But in Hawaii and Europe, phony
controversies continue to rage.
We must win in these other places, because biotechnology holds so much
promise-including for American wheat farmers like myself. Many of us want
to have the option of using new technologies by growing crops that give us
more economical value, are more environmentally friendly and at the same
time provide great societal benefits. This is progress!
All of this is a tremendous boon to farmers and society. Some of us will
use the technology and others won't--but the choice will be ours, which is
exactly where it should be once a product has met federal safety
standards. All biotech foods now on the market must pass federal
regulatory approval as being safe through the USDA, EPA and the FDA. Where
biotech crops have been approved, farmers have been increasing their use
exponentially. The reason, I believe, is because farmers have been first
hand witnesses to the tremendous benefits and potential of biotechnology.
Half a century ago, the world produced 680 million metric tons of cereal
grains. In 2000, we turned out almost 2 billion metric tons. That's a
threefold increase, even though we're only using about 10 percent more
land. It was necessary to boost our food production because of the global
population boom, and we were able to do it because new technologies came
on line. We must continue in that pursuit.
Now we stand at the threshold of a new era in which biotechnology will
help us keep pace in a growing world. It's a wonderful opportunity that
the people of North Dakota appear ready to seize. I hope the Hawaiians and
Europeans will join us.
Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org) is a national
grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA formed by farmers in
support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology.
Attack of Killer Labels
- Jay Byrne, PR Reporter: Tactics & Tips, Sept. 2003; Ragan.com
"Words like 'Frankenfoods' and 'genetic engineering' scare consumers and
deny them the facts about agricultural technology and food safety"
It's official and now we're stuck with it. "Frankenfoods" has made it to
the latest edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. Does it
matter? As students are returning to school this fall, purchasing new
books, dictionaries included, will this one trivial mention matter?
My children love to say "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words
will never hurt me." Poppycock. Language matters. It defines how we
approach and process issues influencing areas of our lives, both
intellectually and emotionally. The use of powerfully negative words like
"Frankenfoods" in media coverage and our language regarding the regulation
and labeling of foods derived from biotech crops is a prime example.
The words chosen by the media and others in their coverage of
biotechnology in agriculture and the ways currently being debated over how
to provide consumers informed choice in the labeling of foods are a
striking case study in how propaganda often trumps science and manipulates
public opinion, even on such important issues as food production and food
How did we get here? Despite claims by European green activists or U.K.
supermarket retailers who first exploited the term for profit in the late
1990s, the word Frankenfoods did not originate in Europe. In June 1992, a
Boston College professor and opponent of biotechnology wrote a
letter-to-the-editor of The New York Times in response to an opinion piece
supporting FDA oversight of biotechnology-produced foods.i In the letter,
Professor Paul Lewis coined the term "Frankenfoods." Within two weeks, The
New York Times-not the sensational and often baudy British tabloids-used
the term in a front-page headline, and a recent news search reveals more
than 6,000 media references to this phrase since The Times' banner
headline.ii Why did the venerable New York Times opt to place such a
loaded term in a Page One headline? Times food writer Molly O'Neill told
the Boston Globe simply, "I love the term. It's got such wonderfully
Biotechnology vs. 'genetic engineering'
Chilling indeed. A study by the London School of Economics found that the
media's use of "Frankenfood" headlines and other metaphors for foods
produced using agricultural biotechnology helped create and fuel public
fears.iv Numerous published polls show a majority of consumers support
foods derived from "biotechnology," yet other polls show these same
consumers oppose "genetic engineering" of food.v Clearly language choice
The two phrases describe the same thing, but they are perceived quite
differently, and that fact is not lost on interest groups that benefit
from these fears. Activists and other industry groups with a vested
financial interest have labeled conventional and biotech-as opposed to
organic-farming as "nonorganic," "chemical-laden" and even "toxin-laden."
A 1999 Internet memo from an organic industry advertising executive
directed to "activists" and "journalists" gives a glimpse into the depth
of manipulation behind anti-biotechnology propaganda. Moreover, it shows
the success that such groups have had in co-opting a media often poorly
trained in science.
"GE Euphemisms and More-Accurate Alternative Power Words to Use:
Controlling the Language," distributed by groups including Greenpeace,
Friends of the Earth and various organic agriculture lobbying interests,
provides a glossary of alternatives to the accepted, more accurate,
science-based language descriptions for biotechnology applications in
agriculture. The author counseled activists and journalists that "biology"
and "biotechnology" are words "we should never use... ." Other terms to
eschew: "food scientists," "biotechnology companies" and
"Make them use our words," writes Peter Michael Ligotti, architect of
several Internet propaganda campaigns in marketing organic foods. "Look
how successful the 'terminator' seed term was. At first, that was a term
only used by activists. And congratulations on the success of the term
'Frankenstein food.' I am suggesting an extension of those two great
successes," adds Ligotti.vi
His glossary proposed alternative terms, including "genetic engineering
industry," "genetically engineered foods," "Frankenfood," "test-tube food"
and "mutated food." A search of articles from the first six months of 1993
(the year the first biotech crops were approved for commercial use)
compared with the first six months of 2003 shows the success of those
seeking to change the language used by opinion leaders and the media:
There was a 100-fold increase in the media's use of the more inflammatory
and emotional words such as "genetic," "manipulation," and "altered" over
the benign, but accurate terms "biotechnology" or "bioengineered."
Another outspoken nonorganic food critic from India has sought, for
example, to recast the Rockefeller Foundation Vitamin A enhanced rice
project dubbed "Golden Rice" as "Jaundiced Rice." The Golden Rice project
is designed to help alleviate blindness, malnutrition and related
childhood mortality rates, yet language such as jaundiced rice is now
creating confusion, particularly among developing world stakeholders,
where adoption and integration into local diets could do the most good.vii
Dr. Steven B. Katz, an associate professor of English at North Carolina
State University, studies the linkage between language and public
perceptions of risk. "The important role that language plays in the
public's perception and reception of scientific data and risk assessment
is often neglected by scientists," says Katz. He singles out issues that
have been slowed or completely halted by public concerns driven by
language-including biotechnology. Katz notes that such "public resistance
has been traced to communication problems-flawed rhetorical choices and
faulty assumptions by scientists about the role of language, emotion and
values in communicating with the media and public."viii
No killer tomatoes
To be accurate, virtually all foods are genetically altered or
manipulated. Foods from apples to wheat did not exist in their current
form before man began to alter and cross their genetic makeup-including
organic crops. In addition, thousands of crop varieties today, many used
in organic agriculture, were developed through chemical and nuclear
mutagenesis-haphazardly exposing seeds and plants to gene mutating
radiation or chemicals to alter their genetic structures. This genetic
mutation clearly altered the genetic structures of plants, yet required
none of the similar regulatory safety testing of the more precise
biotechnology engineered breeding programs. Yet these foods make up a
significant portion of the breeding stock for the so-called natural,
unadulterated and organic food crops promoted as alternatives to the
Modern biotechnology tools are changing the way farmers grow crops making
them pest- and disease-resistant or able to grow in harsher climates, but
are altering the actual foods we eat less than most conventional and
organic cross-breeding programs and with significant knowledge and
precision lacking in crop varieties derived through random mutagenesis.
Yet many journalists use language and certain unscrupulous food companies
use labels and advertising that mislead us to believe there is a vast and
potentially dangerous shift in the physical makeup, nutrition or safety of
the foods we eat. In fact, simple biotechnology breeding techniques-moving
one or more well- known and researched set of beneficial genes into a
plant-typically undergoes years of highly-regulated testing guidelines to
ensure its safety prior to commercial release.
In a recently published book funded by the Rockefeller Foundation titled
Food, Inc. author Peter Pringle writes that biotech food products are not
Frankenfoods, noting: "The changes are not inherently unsafe, nor are the
companies that produce them inherently evil." Pringle suggests that
biotech opponent campaigns, many heavily funded by the multibillion dollar
organic food industry, have raised "awareness beyond its usefulness and
turned it into scaremongering."ix
The truth about agricultural biotechnology is far more benign than the
image of a mutant killer tomato would indicate or a food label warning
"may contain GMOs." Time magazine reported, "By over-reacting to fears
fanned by well-fed consumers in the industrialized world, food producers
might uproot an industry that could someday provide billions of people in
the rest of the world with crops they desperately need."x The Wall Street
Journal notes that the media and special interest groups are preying on
overblown and growing irrational fears, like food biotechnology. The
Journal wrote: "People who study fear have never seen a period in which
rational sources of it were in such short supply."xi
Mary Shelly's gothic horror story was written in 1816 as a cautionary tale
of the potential dangers of scientists playing God but more so was an even
greater admonition against public overreaction to science. The choice for
consumers, dictionary authors and responsible journalists should be clear:
Get your information and select your words carefully from the
scientists-not the wordsmiths.
Language counts. Labels will only have meaning if they are driven by
facts, not fears.
Jay Byrne is president of v-Fluence Interactive Public Relations and
counsels companies and groups on issues management and risk communication.
Byrne is the author of numerous journal and communication trade articles
on public affairs issues and strategy.
i Lewis, Paul, "Mutant Foods Create Risks We Can't Yet Guess," The New
York Times, June 16, 1992.
ii O'Neil, Molly, "Geneticists' Latest Discovery: Public Fear of
'Frankenfood,'" The New York Times, June 28, 1992.
iii Muru, Mark, "Wayward words," The Boston Globe, June 29, 1992.
iv "Frankenfood headlines scare public, study shows," Reuters, July 16,
v IFIC, "Support for Food Biotechnology Holds (71% support)...", IFIC
Backgrounder, Sept. 23, 2002, http: www.ific.org & "Majority oppose GM
Foods (70% oppose)," Farmers Guardian, Dec. 28, 2001.
vi Ligotti, Peter, "For Activists/Journalists - GE Power Words to Use:
Controlling the Language," Ban GE e-mail listserv, May 17, 1999
vii Shiva, Vandana, Biodevastation 2000 Speech, Boston, MA, July 2000.
viii Katz, Steven B., Language and Persuasion: The Communication of
Biotechnology with the Public" NC State University Feb. 18, 2001, at the
American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting
ix Nestle, Marion, "Eat Drink and be Wary," The Washington Post, July 6,
x "Who's afraid of Frankenfood?" Time magazine, Nov. 22, 1999
xi Eig, Jonathan, "Analyze this, as good times roll what are American
worried about now," The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 9, 2000.
Save the Seed?
- Thomas DeGregori , Professor of Economics, University
Does anyone have any data on what percentage of the world’s farmers save
and replant their own seed on a continuing basis? In a similar vain, what
percentage of farmers go into the market place periodically to buy seeds
for various reasons but then replant them for a few years until there is
some reason to return to the market place. My sense is that many who claim
to be defending the “traditional” rights of farmers to replant their own
seed, are confusing the two practices in lumping in Green Revolution
farmers who may replant seed for a harvest or two but are regularly into
the marketplace, with farmers whom the critics claim never enter the
market for seeds. As most of you know, SAVE THE SEED has become the battle
cry of the Luddites who claim that the vast majority of the world’s
farmers are planting the seeds from their previous harvest as those who
went before them have been doing for the several millenniums since
agriculture began in their region. I have yet to see any data whatsoever
to support this claim.
My experience has been the opposite in that I cannot recall encountering
farmers who voluntarily fit the SAVE THE SEED definition of a “traditional
farmer.” I have met with farmers who wished to plant a better, higher
yielding variety but were uncertain whether the credit or fertilizer or
pesticides would be available to them in time. Even without the additional
inputs, the farmers recognized that the improved seed would give them a
better crop but not enough better to warrant the expenditure for the
seeds. (I add this because one of the slogans of the anti Green Revolution
crowd is that the HYV seeds “require” fertilizer and pesticides when in
fact they outperform the traditional varieties at most any level of
inputs. Higher yields “require” more fertilizer as the more nutrient that
is extracted from the soil, the more that has to be replaced. In point of
fact, the Green Revolution seeds turn out to be more disease resistant
requiring less pesticides and more efficient in their use of nutrient
inputs, including water, requiring less fertilizer per unit of output. But
Some of the reasons that farmers do not replant their own seed:
1) Disease is carried over from one crop to another. (another digression-
my first encounter with developing country agriculture was in 1962 in the
Gezira scheme in the Sudan in Africa. Farmers not only did not replant
their own seed, they were not allowed to do so and were even required to
dig up and burn the roots of the cotton plants in rock hard soil in the
blistering sun in order to keep disease under control. The seeds for the
next crop were grown in a delta on the Red Sea circa 1500 miles away.)
2) Post harvest loses. Nobody to my knowledge has trained rats, insects
and microorganisms to distinguish between the crop that farmers store to
eat and that portion which will be saved for replanting the next year
providing all of them with continuing life sustaining nutrients.
3) Genetic deterioration even without an understanding of all the
mechanisms of replication, most farmers recognize that inbreeding a crop
can lead to a deterioration of it over time. Even some the farmers who
might fit the SAVE THE SEED definition of being traditional, will exchange
seeds among themselves.
4) - Where the climate permits, farmers will plant a succession of crops,
sometimes it will be different varieties of the same crop. They may plant
an IRRI variety of rice when irrigating and a domestically bred variety
for a monsoon crop. And they may have a third crop of an entirely
different plant. Saving the seeds for three different crops plus possibly
those for the kitchen garden is not always easy or convenient.
5) Contrary to the slogans of the urban white European and North American
males who dominate the activists group, farmers are not naïve simpletons
in need of the protection of those who know nothing about raising food.
Farmers actively seek for crop improvements such as higher yields, disease
resistance or improved quality and marketability. Remember the doomsday
predictions about the Green Revolution some like Vandana Shiva still
don’t seem to get it or don’t want to get it or find it advantageous not
to get it. Even the most techno enthusiasts among us (like myself) had to
be more than mildly and pleasantly surprised at the speed and extent to
which farmers defined as traditional adopted the Green Revolution
technological package where credit, extension etc. were available.
6) Farmers in Africa (where farmers most closely resemble the activists
definition of traditional or to put it differently, if farmers anywhere
are to fit the activist definition, it would have to be in sub Saharan
Africa) have switched to hybrid corn making it the number one food crop of
Africa. No saving the seed there.
If I thought about it, I could probably come up with more reasons why
farmers do not replant their own seed. If I am not mistaken in my history,
I believe that the era of seed companies arose in the 1880s as private and
public research using the emerging knowledge of biological replication and
evolution were producing improved varieties. Before then, the US
government had actually gone overseas to seek varieties of wheat that
would grow in the new territories that were being settled. I would be
grateful for any comment and criticism.
Bees Not Fussy over Non-GM and GM Rape
A study of the foraging behaviour of various bees showed that they did not
discriminate between GM and non-GM rape varieties. Jacqueline Pierre of
INRA and her colleagues studied honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees and
Diptera on two conventional varieties of rape and their herbicide-tolerant
GM counterparts. Similar insect numbers and behaviour were found, and the
equivalent plants showed similar nectar volume, nectar sugar concentration
Pierre explains that the introduction of a new gene in the genome can
induce "collateral" phenotypic effects named pleiotropic effects which
cannot be foreseen. "In the particular case of the transgene confering
resistance to herbicide, there was a priori no reason it could induce
modifications in the plant leading to a discrimination of the GM plants by
the foraging insects because that gene does not concerns resistance to
insects. Nevertheless, it was necessary to verify if that gene had no
pleitropic effects having incidences on the foraging behaviour or the
health of the honeybees.
The pleiotropic effects leading to a potential discrimination between
transgenic and non-transgenic varieties by bees are: the number of flowers
produced, their earliness in blooming time, their nectar and pollen
production (qualitatively and quantitatively), the shape of the flower ...
At the beginning of our research some transgenic lines of several
transgenes seemed to produce more flower and more nectar, which was not
furt her confirmed (unpublished), that is why we very carefully studied
the herbicide tolerant transgenic lines."
Pierre's research suggests that bees and other insects move freely from
one rape plant to another, regardless of their GM status. "In that case,
for honeybees and other pollinating insects there is no difference between
GM and non GM plants, which means that they can fly from a GM flower to a
non-GM flower and transfer the GM pollen easily to the non GM flowers."
Pierre points out that it could be different in other cases: pointing out
that her earlier research shows that when the flowers are different in
shape, the honeybees specialise on particular shapes.
The issue of isolation distances for GM crops from non-GM crops has
attracted much interest. Pierre says that "all varieties of oilseed rape
(OSR), even non GM, having some specificity in their production (oil
quality and so on) are produced in isolated fields in order to warrant
their purity. It is the law." While GM rape is not commercially grown in
France, there are already protocols for limiting unwanted hybridization. "
In France, presently the obligatory isolation distance is 200 m for pure
lines seed production, 400m for hybrid seeds production of conventional
OSR but generally seed producers prefer 500 m or 1000 m isolation
distance, as far as possible," says Pierre. "Nothing has been decided
about GMO but in our scientific experiments the distance is often 1500m."
What do GM crops mean for honey producters? Pierre says that in their
experiment," there was neither difference in nectar production between GM
and non GM plants nor in insect foraging behaviour. So, that transgene has
no particular commercial implications for honey production." However, some
rape varieties are nectar-poor , which means that the oilseed rape honey
production is impaired, "especially in countries where oilseed rape is, at
spring, nearly the only source of nectar." She says that plant breeders
are generally aware of the importance of nectar levels, especially for
hybrid seed production where pollen transfer by insect pollinators between
male and female plants is necessary. "Since 1978, Michel Renard and his
team have demonstrated that it was very important to select female lines
having sufficient nectar production in order to ensure similar bee
frequentations of male and female plants by bees." Production of lines
with sufficient nectar should keep honey farmers happy too.
Pierre says that it is important not to generalise from this research that
GM plants have no impact on pollinator behaviour. "in GM plants, a case by
case approach is absolutely recommended," she says. Few plants species and
genes have yet been studies for their effects on pollinating insects.
The paper, Effects of herbicide-tolerant transgenic oilseed rape genotypes
on honeybees and other pollinating insects under field conditions, by J.
Pierre, D. Marsault, E Genecque, M. Renard, J. Champolivier and M.H.
Pham-Delègue appears in Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 108,
Contact: Jacqueline Pierre: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Sept 25, 2003
Biotechnology research papers: As part of the ESA Working Papers series,
FAO has recently published "The economics of agricultural biotechnology
research" (Paper 03-07) and "Biotechnology R&D: Policy options to ensure
access and benefits for the poor" (Paper 03-08), both by C.E. Pray and A.
Naseem. ESA Working Papers are produced by FAO's Agricultural and
Development Economics Division (ESA) and are circulated to stimulate
discussion and comments. See http://www.fao.org/es/ESA/work-e.htm or
contact email@example.com to request a copy of the papers.
Biotechnology in forestry: Issue number 30 of the annual bulletin Forest
Genetic Resources, produced by FAO's Forest Resources Development Service,
is now available on the web. In addition to a number of other
biotechnology-related articles, it includes "The role and implications of
biotechnology in forestry" by A. Yanchuk, an updated summary of a paper
published in Unasylva (2001), 204, 52-61 by the same author when he was a
visiting expert at FAO. See
=1&siteId=3761 or contact Forest-Genetic-Resources@fao.org for more
GM foodstuffs: The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD) has recently published "Considerations for the safety assessment of
animal feedstuffs derived from genetically modified plants". This 46-page
document "addresses considerations in the safety assessment of GM
foodstuffs, including the fate of DNA and protein in animal feeding,
animal feeding studies, and future GM feedstuffs. As well, there is
background material on the various organisms and traits constituting GM
plants used as animal feeds". It is number 9 in the Series on the Safety
of Novel Foods and Feeds. See
contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request the publication.
Food safety and GM crops: The International Food Policy Research Institute
(IFPRI), one of the 16 research centres supported by the Consultative
Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), has just published
2020 Focus 10, entitled "Food safety in food security and food trade",
edited by L.J. Unnevehr. It contains 17 policy briefs describing "how
developing countries are addressing food safety issues in order to improve
both food security and food trade, and discusses the risks, benefits, and
costs when such policies are implemented". Number 16 is a 2-page brief on
"Food safety and GM crops: Implications for developing-country research"
by J.I. Cohen, H. Quemada, and R. Frederick. See
http://www.ifpri.org/2020/focus/focus10.htm or contact
IFPRIemail@example.com to request a copy
First Annual Conference on World Hunger
- University of Maryland, College Park. October 14, 2003
Friday, September 26 - the last day for early registration
9:00-9:05 am - Opening remarks, introduction of panelists - Dr. C.D. Mote,
Jr., President, UM
9:05-12:30 pm - Session I: Food Production Moderator: Dr. Scott Angle,
Associate Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources, UM Speakers: Dr. Uma
Lele, Senior Advisor, Operations Evaluation Department, World Bank; Dr.
Thomas Fretz, Executive Director, Northeastern Regional Association of
State Agricultural Experiment Directors and former Dean, College of
Agriculture and Natural Resources, UM; Dr. C.S. Prakash, Professor of
Plant Molecular Genetics and Director of the Center for Plant
Biotechnology Research, Tuskegee University; Tony Van der haegen,
Minister-Counselor for Agriculture, Fisheries, and Consumer Affairs,
Delegation of the European Commission to the United States
Introduction: Dr. J. Dennis O'Connor, Vice President for Research and Dean
of Graduate Studies, UM
Keynote Speaker: Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen, H.E. Babcock Professor of
Nutrition and Food Policy, Cornell University; Senior Fellow and former
Director-General, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI);
and 2001 World Food Prize Laureate
2:00-5:00 pm - Session II: International Food Policies Moderator: Dr.
David Lineback, Director, JIFSAN, UM Speakers: Dr. Howard Leathers,
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, UM; Dennis Avery, Center for
Global Food Issues; Dr. I.M. (Mac) Destler, School of Public Affairs, UM
Contact: telephone: 301-405-4772; Fax: 301-405-4773; e-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org More information at:
Listen to 'Voice of America' Panel Discussion on AgBiotech
Click on 'Frankenfood' September 25
Precautionary Principle Can Risk Development and Lives
Relying on the precautionary principle can lead to technological
stagnation, barriers to trade and loss of human lives. This is the
conclusion of Hans Labohm, who examines the consequences of over-using the
'better safe than sorry' approach. Labohm explains how proponents of the
precautionary principle often ignore the important benefits of new
products and processes by focusing on unavoidable scientific
uncertainties. Nothing is risk-free. Yet the imposition of the
precautionary principle accepts risks associated with existing activities
and products, while penalizing new innovations and technology, upon which
economic development depends.
One of the most infamous misuses of the precautionary principle has been
the campaign against the use of the pesticide DDT to combat malaria in
developing countries. As a result, malaria has re-emerged in countries
where it was formerly close to eradicated. Malaria currently kills over a
million people (mostly children) each year.
An obsession with risk has also underpinned attitudes towards genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) in Europe, including a moratorium on GM food
imports. This precautionary policy has aroused suspicions of protectionist
motives and trade tensions with the US (given certain discretions for EU
Unfortunately, EU and NGO pressure on the GMO issue has also caused some
African governments to reject GM food aid, while millions of African
people are on the brink of starvation. Despite long-term consumption in
the US, GM grains sit in food sheds in Africa due to health and safety
'uncertainties'. African governments are also worried about planting GM
crops, fearing future difficulties in exporting agricultural products to
the EU. Disturbingly, it has also been reported that the cessation of
development aid is being used as threat against growing GM crops in
Hans Labohm's article Are You Better Safe Than Sorry? is available on the
Tech Central Station Website. Go to: www.techcentralstation.be. Several
articles on the rejection of GM food aid in Africa are available on the
Bio-tech page of the Tech Central Station Website. Go to:
www.techcentralstation.be. Information about efforts to combat malaria and
use of DDT is available at www.fightingmalaria.org.
What is BioLiteracy? Why is it important?
"Education makes people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to
govern, but impossible to enslave. - H. P. Brougham (1778-1868)."
Every day we encounter a stream of news items that describe biological
breakthroughs, dangers and possibilities.
Dramatic announcements of an increased danger of cancer associated with
___ (fill in the blank), or protection from disease associated with ___
(fill in the blank) are commonplace. This drug, herbal product, or
endangered animal part, often touted as "drug-free" and "all natural", are
promoted as cures for all manner of medical and psychological complaint
Surprisingly, such claims are often based on small or preliminary studies
that are later abandoned or retracted with little or no fanfare. That is,
of course, if any objective evidence exists to support these claims at
Biology-fueled debates range from the benefits and risks of genetic
engineering and embryonic stem cells, pesticides, organic foods,
irradiation, nutriceuticals, alternative medical therapies, and childhood
vaccination to the validity of the theory of evolution. The outcomes of
these debates can determine public policy as well as personal decisions.
Yet, the public is often ignorant or misinformed about basic scientific
terms, principles, and methods. The end result can be flawed, dangerous,
misdirected or wasteful decisions, scientifically frivolous lawsuits, the
waste of social resources and loss of beneficial opportunities, not to
mention costly and potentially harmful personal choices.
Given the demonstrated power of science and science-based technologies,
all kinds of groundless or problematic assertions are clothed in
scientific legitimacy. Even actively anti-scientific/anti-rationalist
groups use science's authority to bolster their claims.
At the same time many studies reveal the general public's alarming level
of ignorance and misunderstanding not only of biological science
specifically, but of the scientific process in general. The lack of basic
bioliteracy leaves the public at the mercy of those with social, political
or economic agendas rather than good science in support of their position.
The public is ill-prepared to sort the wheat from the chaff, to identify
sound and convincing claims from those that remain to be unambiguously
established, not mention those that are simply wishful thinking, cynical
misrepresentations, ideological posturing or self-serving hype.
"When many cures are offered for a disease, it means the disease is not
curable -Anton Chekhov "
Bioilliteracy in particular, and its more general form scientific
illiteracy, is distinct from pure anti-scientific attitudes, but it does
contribute to them. Scientific illiteracy leads to misconceptions and
misunderstanding of what science is really about and how it works. It
provides places for anti-scientific and pseudoscientific ideas to hide,
often under the aegis of scientific legitimacy.
The world of anti-science is littered with appeals to science's legitimacy
-- often its vocabulary deliberately mimics the 'sound of science'. Unlike
science, however, it is anti-rational and unsupported by the rigorous
process of review, reproducibility and revision that is essential to any
scientific endeavor. It aims for certainty rather than understanding.
Anti-science is commonly used to swindle, to coerce, and to foster
specific political or ideological positions. It poses a real threat to
rational debate and decision making.
Common Biological Misconceptions
We are looking to assemble a list of common biological misconceptions. If
you have some, send them to us!
Earth, Animals and Poisoned Apples: How the Luddites are Trashing Science
From a public speech in 1990 by the science reporter Jon Franklin.
Excerpts below... Full text of speech at
Let me say right up front that I've spent my adult life with scientists,
writing about them, and what they do, and the new power for good the
scientific culture represents. So I am fundamentally a rationalist. And my
message, as a rationalist, is that science has a problem . . . and THAT, I
think, means our whole culture has a problem. The difficulty is reflected
in the fact that science-bashing has become not just permissible but
fashionable. And the fact that there are many anti-science movements in
progress today. Too many. I'll touch on a number as I go along.
But in the looming tragedy I plan to outline for you today, I will focus
primarily on the animal rights movement and its ADVOCATES. They make an
excellent example, very present and tangible. They gather like a Greek
chorus outside laboratories, waving their placards in front of the
television cameras, chanting, in their voices of doom, things like:
Two images of the scientist have long vied for dominance in the American
mind. In one guise he is the absent-minded professor, the bumbling,
over-educated fool who has to be reminded to put on his galoshes. In his
alter ego he is Dr. Frankenstein, the mad scientist, the amoral if not
immoral creator of monsters and ever more hideous methods of death.
The image has now tilted dramatically in favor of Dr. Frankenstein. The
scientist is the one, in popular lore, who created the bomb. Scientists
are the corrupters of the earth. Scientists are the ones who made ALAR,
and poisoned the apples.
One especially telling study was done by a University of Pennsylvania
group. They found that people who watch a lot of television tend to think
of science as threatening. The study went further to show that television
reinforced this perception . . . television panders, we all know that . .
. and so television scientists turn out to be more frequently portrayed as
the bad guys than actors representing other professions. Even lawyers came
off as nicer folks.
Now . . . it's a rule on television, you know, that the really nasty
characters have to get it in the neck before the curtain goes down. So it
figures that TV scientists have the highest fatality rate of any
occupational group on the airwaves, with 10 percent of them dead before
the closing credits.
The message is clear: Science, like crime, doesn't pay. Or, if it does, it
shouldn't. It's no different in the movies, either. Look, for instance, at
ET. What did the scientists want to do to this friendly little feller from
another world? Why . . . they wanted to cut him up, of course.
Vivisection, that was what was on their minds. They were little better
than butchers. And you know something? It played real well in Peoria!
The antiscience movement that is growing up in response to this popular
change of attitudes is both deep and broad. It hides behind, and feeds off
of, a number of otherwise positive movements ranging from environmentalism
to feminism. It takes many forms but it is a single entity . . . the same
faces show up under the picket signs at animal rights rallies, no-nuke
rallies, radical environmental rallies . . . there is a movement here, a
new wave, and it's relentlessly anti-science.
This isn't just my paranoia. The people involved SEE themselves as a new
wave whose destiny it is to trash this society and set up a new one more
to their liking. Some scientists I know comfort themselves that the
antiscience activists are really not very numerous, and it is true that
they are not. But I do not find this comforting at all.
For, since they are so few, how have they gotten so far? Why can they
trash laboratories, even burn them, with impunity? How can they get their
programs through Congress? How can they win the doting attention of the
press? How can they sell so many books? How can they collect the
incredible amounts of money they collect?
How have they grown so powerful? Given their power, it's all the more
frightening that their numbers are small. If you'll study it you'll find
that people give money to PETA not because they think Ingrid Newkirk is so
great -- though many believe her a heroine -- but because they think the
SCIENTIST has got it coming. They want to see the scientist get kicked,
hard. They think in plain words that scientists are arrogant, know-it-all
sons of bitches.
The answer is that we have to face the reality that science cannot
continue as usual. And neither can the rest of the world, the world that
takes what science has to offer and then looks down its collective nose at
The answer is that the defense of science has got to become a priority. I,
as an artist, have to somehow make people who care -- scientists and
non-scientists -- pay attention. And then we have to come to some
equitable new division of resources between the sciences and the arts. The
people who can cure diseases and build computers have to make common cause
with the people who can sing and can dance, can paint and can write.
Books have to be written about the real world, in which the scientist is
neither friend nor enemy, but player. Movies have to be produced,
philosophies have to be philosophized. The rift between the cultures must
be healed. Humpty Dumpty has to be put back together again.
That, I think, leaves me with just a few more words to say. Let me borrow
them, if I may, from the masked ALF spokesman in California, who said they
might have to murder someone. LISTEN TO US, they said. LISTEN. . . . or