Today's AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org/ November 12, 2003
* Vatican Concludes Conference ..with Discussion of Moral Implications
* Bayer Posts Loss of $138M - Blames GM Crops for Low Pesticide Sales
* Letter Sent to the Guardian and Times HES by Prof. Chris Lamb
* Tony Blair Responds to the Letter from UK Scientists
* Banning Modified Crops is Not Enough to Save Wildlife
* Genetically-Modified Agriculture in Crisis
* Public Goods and Public Policy for Agricultural Biotechnology
* Why Poverty, Not Affluence, Is the Environment's Number One Enemy
* Seeds of Change: Five Plants that Transformed Mankind
* Seeds of Wealth
* Does Science Matter?
Vatican Concludes Conference on Biotech Foods with Discussion Oof Moral
- The Associated Press, November 11, 2003
The Vatican concluded a two-day conference on genetically modified
organisms Tuesday with a discussion of the moral implications of tinkering
with creation by splicing genes to make new plants and animals. Supporters
of the new technologies said they offer great promise to mankind and
deserve to be encouraged, while critics said biotech foods will not
alleviate world hunger. The two camps clashed at a Vatican-sponsored
conference entitled "GMO: Threat or Hope."
The Vatican is expected to make a pronouncement on genetically modified
organisms in the future, based on the data gathered during the seminar.
Some participants have questioned whether the Vatican was getting a
balanced view, since speakers in the pro-biotech camp dominated the
discussions, reflecting the views of its organizer, Cardinal Renato
Martino. Martino has spoken out about the potential benefits of
genetically modified foods in alleviating world hunger - a prime concern
of the Vatican.
Martino has said the Vatican's aim was to find some common ground for the
benefit of mankind, particularly the poor. The issue of poverty and hunger
is a major concern for the Vatican, which rejects arguments that limiting
family size by using contraception is one way to improve food security in
the developing world.
But two Jesuits, the Rev. Roland Lesseps and the Rev. Peter Henriot, said
in a joint paper to the conference that endorsing the use of genetically
modified organisms disturbed "the awesome goodness of God's creation."
Lesseps and Henriot, who both are based in Zambia, said church teachings
requiring respect for human rights and the natural world mandated that the
Vatican take a precautionary approach concerning GMOs.
"Nature is not just useful to us humans, but is valued and loved in
itself, for itself, by God in Christ," Lesseps and Henriot said in
prepared remarks. Lesseps, who has a doctorate, is a senior scientist at
the Kasisi Agricultural Training Center in Lusaka. Henriot is director of
the Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection.
A Vatican endorsement of biotech foods likely would draw praise from the
United States, where biotech companies have been at the forefront of
extolling the virtues of genetically modified organisms, which can be made
to resist insects or disease. But it would no doubt ruffle feathers in
Europe, which has imposed a moratorium on growing or importing genetically
modified organisms because of fears about their environmental and health
risks, and in African countries such as Zambia, which has rejected biotech
Greenpeace science adviser Dr. Doreen Stabinsky also challenged Martino's
argument, telling the conference that genetically engineered crops were
not alleviating world hunger and posed environmental risks. For example,
Argentina harvested enough wheat during its 2001 economic crisis to meet
the needs of both China and India, but many of its own people still went
hungry, she said.
"There is no direct relationship between the amount of food a country
produces and the number of hungry people who live there," Stabinsky said
in prepared remarks. Rather, political and economic issues over hundreds
of years have contributed to world hunger, she said. The problem will be
solved only by addressing inequalities in land distribution, improving
access to markets and dealing with cheap imports of staple foods, she
Italy's health minister, Girolamo Sirchia, told a press conference that
the technology offers hope to mankind.
"There is no data that shows that transgenic foods are harmful to one's
health," Sirchia said. "Four-fifths of humanity doesn't have enough food
or medicine. Science favors the development of humanity and health."
Dr. Harry Kuiper, a food safety expert at Wageningen University in the
Netherlands, said current methods adequately ensured the safety of
genetically modified foods, even if questions remained about the
"unexpected effects" of modification. "Scientists and colleagues, we think
we have the methods to identify unexpected effects using new
technologies," he said. "And although I must say there is no 'zero risk'
in life - everything is risky - we can provide with our methods a very
high level of safety assurance."
Thandiwe Myeni, a small-scale South African farmer and chairwoman of the
Mbuso Farmers' Association, said she had a positive experience with
genetically modified cotton. The genetically modified seeds cost more than
regular ones, but she saves money by using less pesticide and harvesting
"We need this technology," she told a press conference after speaking to
the symposium. "We don't want always to be fed food aid." "We want access
to this technology so that one day we can also become commercial farmers."
Excerpt from report by Vatican Radio on 10 November via BBC
GMOs: Threat or hope? This is the title of an international seminar
organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
The work got under way in the building of the Vatican body: For two days,
the highest experts in the sector are meeting to gather scientific data
and assess the implications for the food, commercial, environmental,
health and ethical sectors. Let's now go live to Palazzo San Callisto with
[Reporter] Creation must not be dominated in a reckless and despotic
manner, warned Cardinal Renato Martino, the head of the Vatican body which
has promoted this meeting. [passage omitted]
Some 70 participants - scientists from all over the world, people in
charge of UN agencies, representatives from research organizations and
universities, delegates from producers' and consumers' associations - are
gathered here behind closed doors in Palazzo San Callisto, in the heart of
Trastevere [Rome area near the Vatican] to offer a pastoral and ethical
understanding of the matter to the Church. [passage omitted]
The Conference of Italian Missions has released a statement which was very
critical of the use of GMOs. The statement says: If only GMOs were the
solution to the hunger of many peoples, when already today the earth
produces more than enough food. [passage omitted]. Let's now listen to a
statement by Cardinal Renato Martino:
[Renato Martino] There is a lot at stake owing to the polarization
splitting public opinion, the international commercial struggles under
way, the difficulties in defining scientifically a matter which is the
subject of rapidly evolving research and, also, the complex
ethical-cultural and ethical-political implications.
I trust that the scientific contribution coming from the seminar will
provide the body I chair with the ability to find a balanced and truthful
point of synthesis which will be useful and rich in good for the men of
our time, especially for the poor.
Bayer Posts 3rd-Quarter Net Loss of $138M (Attributes to GM Crops for Low
- David Mchugh, Associated Press, Nov 12, 2003
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP)--Drug and chemicals maker Bayer AG swung to a loss
in the third quarter as sales fell at divisions the company will soon spin
off and analysts warned the remaining drug and farm chemicals businesses
face pressure too. Bayer said Tuesday it lost 123 million ($138 million)
in the July-September period in contrast to profits of 656 million a year
ago and 128 million in the second quarter.
Sales fell 8.4 percent to 6.83 billion ($7.85 billion) from 7.46 billion a
year ago. The company in part blamed the euro's rise against the dollar,
which shrinks U.S. earnings when they're reported in euros. Bayer said
sales fell 24 percent at industrial chemicals and 5 percent at polymers.
The businesses that make up the future Bayer showed difficulties in the
third quarter as well.
The farm chemicals business is weak worldwide with one reason being the
increasing use of genetically modified crops that need less protection
Letter Sent to the Guardian
- From Prof. Chris Lamb, Director, John Innes Center, Norwich (UK),
Sir, In responding to the unprecedented letter to the Prime Minister from
so many distinguished scientists, many from well beyond plant science and
the immediate confines of the GM Nation? Debate, Sir David King (Guardian,
6th November) notes that, despite strong support for UK research,
challenges remain. In my view these challenges are about the context in
which the country considers innovations arising from new knowledge.
The Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission GM Nation? Debate
was launched in response to a small cohort of vociferous campaigners-
hardly then a surprise that these same voices figured prominently in
Debate events and associated feedback. Perhaps debates of this kind might
work better in the reverse orientation by starting with long-term,
over-arching problems and then working back to science and technology.
This approach would bring stakeholders together in a more cooperative,
problem-solving fashion, thereby avoiding the inherent polarisation of the
present debate, to determine what solutions science and technology could
contribute and to identify what policies are needed to facilitate
appropriate innovation. Such an approach might also take the sting out of
media campaigns where complex evidence-based arguments tend to fare badly.
What then are the major problems that we need to tackle? First, humans
appropriate about 30% of terrestrial photosynthetic production. What level
is truly sustainable, how much do we need to share with other species and
how can we optimise the usefulness and beneficial impact of what we can in
the future harvest? Second, how can we deliver global food security to
avoid predicted deficits as early as 2020 and to deliver an
environmentally sustainable doubling of crop production by 2050? Third,
how can we reduce our dependence on, and ultimately replace petrochemicals
with renewable chemical feed stocks from plants?
We need to grapple with these issues as a matter of urgency otherwise
opportunities for UK leadership in knowledge-based agricultural economies
relevant to the environment and industrial innovation as well as food,
nutrition and health, could be missed.
Yours sincerely, Chris Lamb
Letter to the Higher Education Supplement (Published Abridged)
- From Prof. Chris Lamb, Director, John Innes Center, Norwich (UK),
Sir, The article by Mark Tester (24th October) and other recent articles
suggest that anti-GM sentiment is stimulating an exodus of plant
scientists from the John Innes Centre and other UK centres of excellence.
This is not the case. Science is a highly mobile profession and many of
the examples cited were entirely unrelated to the GM debate.
Furthermore, the articles ignore the simultaneous flow of talented
scientists in the opposite direction and indeed since the anti-GM campaign
started in 1998 JIC has seen a net influx of faculty from abroad, myself
included. Our recent recruitment of a young British geneticist from
Stanford was made in the face of stiff competition from leading US
institutions, and we are in the final stages of negotiation with an
Australian researcher to start a new programme in cereal research.
These world class young scientists are excited about the opportunity to
develop long-term, cutting-edge research programmes in the highly
interactive, vibrant UK plant research community. This community is funded
by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, who spent
approx £?M last year on plant science. Research Council-funded plant
research in the public domain will not only sustain the flow of seminal
discoveries of broad biological significance, but also help deliver
environmentally sustainable global food security, improve nutrition, diet
and public health, ameliorate the impact of climate change and underpin
new "green: biofactories to replace petrochemicals.
Tester is right about one aspect however. We need to rebuild public-good
germplasm improvement programmes so that crop genomics and a new era of
predictive, science-led breeding deliver maximum benefit to our
agriculture, industry and environment.
Tony Blair's Response to Letter from UK Scientists: Discussion in the
British Parliament (Nov. 10, 2003)
To ask the Prime Minister what response he has made to the letter sent to
him by 114 United Kingdom scientists relating to GM trials.
The Prime Minister:
I strongly believe that science and technology are vital to our country's
future prosperity. As a government, we need to ensure that the UK
continues to be one of the top countries in the world for scientific
I read the letter from Professor Burke and others with interest. In light
of this, I have responded to the letter re-iterating that this
government's approach is to make decisions on GM crops on the basis of
sound science. The reason why we have not yet made a formal response to
the results of the farm-scale evaluations is that we are waiting to hear
the assessment of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment
which we expect to receive around the end of this year.
Here's an earlier gem also from the British parliament when the greenie
Meacher had just become the fresh ex-environmental minister.
Michael Meacher (asking his first questions as a back bencher having been
sacked as a minister by Blair): May I ask a question about the current
public debate on genetically modified food? The Prime Minister has said
repeatedly that a decision on whether to commercialise GM crops should be
made on scientific grounds, and that it should be established whether
there is a risk to health or the environment. Quite so.
Is the Prime Minister aware that there have been no human feeding trials
in either the United States or the United Kingdom to establish the health
or biochemical effects of consuming GM foods? Does he agree that until
such tests are carried out, an important option for the Government when
they are reaching a decision later this year is the exercise of the
precautionary principle? Does he agree with that, and will he ensure that
it is taken on board very seriously?
Response here from a Tory:
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): May I warmly welcome the Minister to his new
role and urge him to maintain scientific objectivity before the Government
come to a conclusion? In the light of the extraordinary question from his
predecessor, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr.
Meacher), to the Prime Minister yesterday, does he agree that GM foods are
the most trialled and tested ever in the history of mankind?
Given that many millions of people have been eating those foods for the
best part of a decade with not one single case of an adverse reaction,
does he really think that human feeding trials are the answer? Even if the
right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton were to volunteer, would it
Banning Modified Crops is Not Enough to Save Wildlife
- Andy Coghlan, New Scientist, Vol 180, issue 2417 page 8; Oct.18 2003
'This week the UK's attention will focus on whether or not transgenic
crops will be approved. But non-GM herbicide-resistant crops might pose
just as great a threat'
Genetically modified crops are now grown in more than 16 countries. In
2002, farmers around the world planted 60 million hectares of land with
dozens of varieties of GM crops. Yet in the UK, the decision to approve or
reject the technology could hinge on the results, out this week, of
four-year trials involving 280 fields of three GM crops.Although these
farm-scale evaluations are being portrayed as a test of the environmental
credentials of GM crops, it is really the weedkillers to which they are
resistant that are on trial. The studies looked only at the effect that
these herbicides had on "wildlife" in fields, in the form of weeds and
insects. But if the aim of the exercise really is to save farmland
wildlife, banning any of the GM crops tested is unlikely to make much
difference.That's because herbicide use in the UK is soaring even before
any GM crops are introduced.
And in the long term, farmers denied GM crops may instead turn to non-GM
crops bred to be resistant to herbicides. That might seem like a good
thing to those who oppose GM technology, but like GM crops, the
conventionally bred strains allow farmers to splash on the herbicide.
Their impact on farmland wildlife in Europe could be worse than that of
the weedkiller-resistant GM crops, because many allow the use of more
noxious herbicides than GM strains. And as with GM crops, the
herbicide-resistance could spread to other crops and wild relatives.
Despite this, these crops do not have to undergo the same scrutiny as GM
crops because they are not genetically engineered.
The only hurdle they face in the UK is tests designed to confirm that they
are indeed new varieties. And while GM crops can be banned under world
trade rules on the grounds that they pose a threat to human health or the
environment, the same is not true of conventional herbicide-resistant
crops."We're as concerned about them as GM crops," says Brian Johnson, an
adviser on GM technology to the conservation group English Nature. "The
same principles should be applied to all crops, irrespective of their
The sequencing of plant genomes is making it much easier for breeders to
create non-GM plants with a desired trait, he points out.
None of these crops is yet grown in the UK, unless one counts maize, which
is naturally resistant to the herbicide atrazine. But one company has
already tried to market them. An application to sell
imidazolinone-resistant rapeseed in the UK was turned down in 1998 only
because the strain proved low-yielding when trialled (New Scientist, 27
February 1999, p 4). This strain and others like it are already grown in
several countries (see Table). More are being developed. And companies are
likely to redouble their efforts if GM herbicide-resistant crops are
banned in Europe."We're continually looking at GM and non-GM solutions. If
the market is there, we'd explore all avenues," a Syngenta spokesman told
New Scientist."We would be foolish to turn our backs on the possibility
that other methods of plant breeding could generate the same results
without the transgenic approach," says a Monsanto spokesman. "The
regulatory systems effectively ignore all these other methods, and are
driven by politics, not science. As things stand, a non-GM plant would
bypass the arguments against GM."But so far Monsanto has been unable to
create conventional crops resistant to glyphosate, the herbicide it sells
as Roundup. Glyphosate is regarded as one of the most benign herbicides
because it breaks down relatively rapidly. That is not true of many of the
herbicides to which companies have been able to breed resistant crops.
For instance, almost all Australia's oilseed rape now consists of strains
bred to be resistant to broad-spectrum herbicides. The most popular,
accounting for 72 per cent of the total grown, is "TT canola", which
tolerates the triazine herbicides, including atrazine, an older herbicide
suspected of poisoning frogs and polluting rivers.The original strains
were created by researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontaria,
Canada, who cross-bred commercial canolas with a weedy relative, Brassica
rapa, which had evolved resistance to triazines. Another variety,
"Clearfield" rapeseed, is resistant to the imidazolinone family of
weedkillers. Scientists made it by chemically mutating rapeseed strains
until they produced some strains resistant to the herbicide.Both strains
were approved without the fuss surrounding GM crops, despite arguments
that imidazolinones and atrazine are worse for the environment than the
herbicides such as glyphosate.
"The two canolas that were classically bred have greater problems with
persistence of herbicides and resistance than the GM ones do," says Rick
Roush, now of the University of California at Davis, who served for five
years with Australia's GM regulation body, the Office of the Gene
Technology Regulator."Atrazine is probably the most problematic of these
two herbicides, as it is mobile in water and frequently appears in
groundwater and waterways," says Chris Preston of the University of
Adelaide. "Atrazine is persistent and in dry years may cause minor damage
to subsequent wheat crops." Imidazolinones, meanwhile, can last so long
in soil that it is impossible to grow a crop the following season.
"Australians opposed to GM crops have totally ignored the fact that most
of our canola is already herbicide tolerant, and have also ignored
problems with currently used herbicides," says Preston.
In the UK the use of atrazine has increased from 34,000 kilograms a year
in 1992 to over 130,000 kg in 2002, mostly because more naturally
resistant maize and sweetcorn is being grown. Atrazine was one of the
"conventional" treatments against which GM glyphosate-resistant maize was
evaluated in the UK's farm-scale trials.Critics say that
glyphosate-resistant GM maize is bound to look good compared with
atrazine, and that the comparison is irrelevant because of an impending
But the UK has applied for an exemption from the ban for sweetcorn.The EU
ban does mean that TT Canola is unlikely to be grown in Europe. But
Clearfield products are edging closer, with launch this year of
imidazolinone-resistant sunflowers in Turkey, and the development of
similar varieties for southern and eastern Europe. BASF, the company that
makes Clearfield strains, has just launched imidazolinone-resistant wheat
in Australia and may develop variants for the European market.Even without
herbicide-resistant crops, GM or otherwise, herbicide use has soared in
the UK, with glyphosate use more than quadrupling in a decade. The biggest
rise has been on farms, where farmers receive subsidies to reduce
overproduction by temporarily leaving fields fallow, but keep these "set
aside" fields free of weeds with glyphosate. Glyphosate use has also
soared on cereals such as wheat and barley, to compensate for a side
effect of a popular fungicide."There's no strategic control over
technologies used in the countryside," says Johnson. "We have many
well-meaning technologies, but not a means to regulate them."
What the trials are about Trade names like Roundup and Clearfield leave
little doubt that broad-spectrum weedkillers like glyphosate and
imidazolinone are meant to wipe out all weeds. And North America and
Australia, this is just what farmers want - fields sterilised of
everything except the crop. Farmland there is purely for business, and if
people want to see wildlife, they can visit national parks. But in Europe,
farmland is used for leisure as well as producing food, and
conservationists want farmers to be kinder to what wildlife remains. In
the UK, for instance, there has been a catastrophic decline in many bird
species over the past 50 years. Removal of hedgerows, introduction of
powerful agrochemicals and a switch to winter growing on fields once left
fallow have all been blamed.
Environmentalists fear that introducing GM crops resistant to weedkillers
would make matters worse by allowing farmers to wipe out more of the
plants on which insects and birds depend. The farm-scale evaluations were
set up in 1998 to put this to the test. The official results will not be
released until after New Scientist goes to press (see our website for
Genetically-Modified Agriculture in Crisis
- Daily Herald, Nov. 12, 2003
In the United States this past summer, the question of
genetically-modified crops (GMCs) has been an almost nonexistent issue. We
all consume considerable amounts of GMCs in a large percentage of our
diet, and it's all OK. But such has not been the case in Europe.There the
arguments between proponents and opponents have been intense, and the
stakes are high. But in the past few weeks it has come to fever pitch in
The British system, trying to find the path of wisdom for themselves and
the European Union, commissioned a number of formal studies. The first to
report found no significant risk to human health from GMCs. The second
showed that GMCs could bring considerable economic benefit to both farmers
and consumers. The third evaluated the effect of herbicide-resistant GMCs
on wildlife, and that one has raised a firestorm.
The three crops closest to obtaining formal approval for commercial
planting in England were beets, maize (corn) and oilseed rape (canola).
The crops had all been modified to carry genetic resistance to herbicides,
making it so that farmers could just blanket-spray the entire field and
kill weeds (but not the crops). Large-scale studies were conducted at more
than 200 field sites. Each test field was split in half. Half was then
planted with conventional varieties, the other half with GMCs. The results
were clear particularly for the beets and canola: Farmers used
significantly less herbicide, had far fewer weeds, and reaped more
financial return from the GMCs.
But the reduction in weed numbers has a downside. Numerous species of
England's birds have been in serious decline for the past three decades or
so. Many of these birds depend on weed seeds for food. One can argue,
therefore, that traditional spraying has already done considerable damage
to the birds (and butterflies, bees, etc.) and that the GMCs will do even
more. And that last phrase is precisely the tack being taken by the
opponents of GMCs. Pressure is building on the government to ban GMCs
altogether. But the situation is far more complex than this
The purpose of farming, after all, is to raise food. GMCs clearly can do
it more efficiently and with much less herbicide, and that is a major
factor. Preservation of wildlife is also important. We must remember that
it is not the GMCs themselves which did the damage; it was the
effectiveness of the herbicide regimen. Would it not be wiser to find ways
to balance the two goals? One can think of numerous possibilities, such as
leaving unsprayed rows in the fields, turning some fields completely to
weed production as refuges for wildlife.
But whatever options are pursued, the political climate, seething for
years, has forced (even before this last report) the cessation of all GMC
testing in Britain. The government has made it mandatory to reveal the
precise location of test plots; opponents have repeatedly destroyed the
crops before they have ever come to fruition. At least four major
companies have closed their crop research facilities entirely; only one
major one remains.
And many crop researchers have had enough. A number of the leading
scientists are leaving England for more favorable locations. The research
industry was already hard-hit; the number of crop scientists with major
companies has declined more than 60 percent in the past two decades. A
recent accounting showed that, among the leading researchers, three have
recently emigrated to the U.S., two to Australia, two to Canada, and one
each to Spain and Germany. An agricultural brain-drain is clearly in
progress, and England will be the poorer.
Public Goods and Public Policy for Agricultural Biotechnology
- Zepeda, J., Cohen, J., Komen, J. 2003. 7th ICABR Int'l Conference on
Public Goods and Public Policy for Agricultural Biotechnology, Ravello,
Italy, June 29 to July 3, 2003: 1-19.
ISNAR organized the meeting "Next Harvest: Advancing Biotechnology's
Public Good" in October 2002. Experts from 14 countries reported on the
progress in developing agricultural biotechnology in their countries.
A significant finding of this meeting was that while intellectual property
issues have thus far proven manageable, high regulatory costs, increased
public concerns, and lack of knowledge regarding the potential benefits
and risks of biotechnology confine research products to the laboratory.
Insufficient funding and expertise hampers the implementation of effective
biosafety systems in many developing countries. Excessive requirements and
overly stringent conditions imposed by some biosafety committees may
inhibit technology transfer. A critical concern is the trade-off between
investments, safety and risk, and benefits to society.
In this paper examine the economic concepts of regulation, discuss ISNAR's
Biosafety Conceptual Framework to examine the tradeoffs and highlight the
potential cost tradeoffs of different biosafety systems, introduce a
regulatory cost study to be conducted by ISNAR and partners, and introduce
preliminary regulatory cost data collected
The Real Environmental Crisis: Why Poverty, Not Affluence, Is the
Environment's Number One Enemy
- Jack M. Hollander (Author); Amazon.com $19.25, Hardcover, 251 pages,
University of California Press; (April 2003), 0520237889
"Thoughtful and well-argued thesis."-- Audubon Magazine
Text takes a close look at major environmental and resource issues:
population growth; climate change; agriculture and food supply; our
fisheries, forests, and fossil fuels; water and air quality; and solar and
nuclear power. The author contends that our most critical environmental
problem is global poverty, not economic progress.
Drawing a completely new road map toward a sustainable future, Jack M.
Hollander contends that our most critical environmental problem is global
poverty. His balanced, authoritative, and lucid book challenges widely
held beliefs that economic development and affluence pose a major threat
to the world's environment and resources. Pointing to the great strides
that have been made toward improving and protecting the environment in the
affluent democracies, Hollander makes the case that the essential
prerequisite for sustainability is a global transition from poverty to
affluence, coupled with a transition to freedom and democracy.
The Real Environmental Crisis takes a close look at the major environment
and resource issues--population growth; climate change; agriculture and
food supply; our fisheries, forests, and fossil fuels; water and air
quality; and solar and nuclear power. In each case, Hollander finds
compelling evidence that economic development and technological advances
can relieve such problems as food shortages, deforestation, air pollution,
and land degradation, and provide clean water, adequate energy supplies,
and improved public health. The book also tackles issues such as global
warming, genetically modified foods, automobile and transportation
technologies, and the highly significant Endangered Species Act, which
Hollander asserts never would have been legislated in a poor country whose
citizens struggle just to survive.
Hollander asks us to look beyond the media's doomsday rhetoric about the
state of the environment, for much of it is simply not true, and to commit
much more of our resources where they will do the most good--to lifting
the world's population out of poverty.
Seeds of Change: Five Plants that Transformed Mankind
- Henry Hobhouse, Paperback, McClelland & Stewart; 1993; ASIN: 0333582632;
This book, devoted to quinine, sugar, tea, cotton, and the potato, is not
just about plants but about history. It shows how certain plants
influenced the course of human affairs, often negatively. Quinine, for
instance, cures malaria, but that quality allowed temperate-climate
peoples to exploit tropical areas. The development of cheap sugar is
linked with slavery, and tea with opium. Seeds of Change is fascinating
and well researched.
Seeds of Wealth
- Henry Hobhouse, Amazon.co.uk £14.00, Hard Cover, 272 pages, 2003
Following "Seeds of Change", with its investigation of the seminal role of
plants in human social and economic history, Henry Hobhouse here focuses
on the economic consequences of the exploitation of rubber, timber,
tobacco and the wine grape - each of which enormously increased the wealth
of those who dealt in them, created great new industries and changed the
course of history. Ancient Rome's monopoly on wine production had huge
economic and hygienic importance. Without rubber, there would have been no
development of cars, buses and trucks, bicycles, waterproof clothing or
even tennis and condoms.
Tobacco has largely been condemned for its effects on health and its true
role in history has been ignored. Tobacco has often been used in place of
currency and its growth in Virginia supported a colony that produced much
of the talent that made American independence possible. Timber shortages
led the British Royal Navy to become dependent on American timber. The
dearth of timber drove English coal mines deep, which led to the steam
pumps, steam engines and, ultimately, the Industrial Revolution. This book
presents the effect of minutiae on the great waves of history.
Like his classic work, Seeds of Change, Henry Hobhouse's new book deals
with the effect of plants on humans and their past. But this new book,
Seeds of Wealth, tells the story of four plants that made men rich, and
how these plants inadvertently changed the course of history.
The four crops Hobhouse has chosen are timber, the wine grape, rubber and
tobacco. These four were not picked out of a hat, their cultivation and
consumption has had a profound and enduring effect on the world in general
and, specifically, on those who grew or traded their fruits.
As early as Shakespeare's time, timber became deficient in England; this
shortage promoted the use of coal before any other country. Shallow coal
being soon exhausted, this dearth led to the mining of deeper coal, which
made essential the pumping of underground water, which in turn involved
the use of steam power. this initiated the coal-steam-iron phase of the
Industrial Revolution, fifty years earlier than in any other country. In
the British North American colonies, in contrast, the entrepreneurial use
of the colonies' great wood-wealth helped engender the revolution of rich
men, which resulted in the War of Independence. As a consequence the new
nation was, and remains, wealthier than European countries.
Given the right conditions, the wine grape flourishes as an alternative to
grain. Ancient Greece and modern New Zealand, two economies 2,500 years
apart, made the change-over very effective. Vineyards, ancient and modern,
have produced many times the gross output of traditional staple wheat
fields. Good wine, Hobhouse argues, makes people wealthy as well as mellow
and wise. He deals with the story of wine grapes in a way that is
original, provocative and full of new insights.
Rubber is an essential in many ways, used in planes, cars, bicycles,
electricity, games and even condoms - all this from a Amazonian tree only
'discovered' after Columbus and only cultivated a century ago. Hobhouse
traces the effects on the world economy of this most industrialized of
plants, and describes rubber's integral part in the building of three
countries, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The synthetic rubber
industry is also thoroughly explored, explaining how its one curious
technical limitiation makes natural rubber still so fundamental.
Finally, there is tobacco, now very politically incorrect, but responsible
for the affluence of Virginia, home of Founding Fathers. Virginia itself
was only viable because of tobacco, the wealth of which created a colony
that produced much of the wisdom that made Independence and, even more so,
the Constitution feasible. The more recent tobacco story is less happy,
one which cigarettes have dominated with known, sad consequences.
Seeds of Wealth offers proof of how the seemingly irrelevant can have
widespread unintended consequences. In presenting global history from a
perspective he has made his very own, Henry Hobhouse offers an overview of
humans who have harnessed the nature of gain and how nature has
unwittingly contributed to the creation of wealth and to economic growth.
Does Science Matter?
- William J. Broad and James Glanz, New York Times, Nov. 11, 2003
Through its rituals of discovery, science has extended life, conquered
disease and offered new sexual and commercial freedoms. It has pushed
aside demigods and demons and revealed a cosmos more intricate and awesome
than anything produced by pure imagination.
But there are new troubles in the peculiar form of paradise that science
has created, as well as new questions about whether it has the popular
support to meet the future challenges of disease, pollution, security,
energy, education, food, water and urban sprawl.
The public seems increasingly intolerant of grand, technical fixes, even
while it hungers for new gadgets and drugs. It has also come to fear the
potential consequences of unfettered science and technology in areas like
genetic engineering, germ warfare, global warming, nuclear power and the
proliferation of nuclear arms.
Tension between science and the public has thrown up new barriers to
research involving deadly pathogens, stem cells and human cloning. Some of
the doubts about science began with the environmental movement of the
"The bloom has been coming off the rose since `Silent Spring,' " said Dr.
John H. Gibbons, President Bill Clinton's science adviser, of Rachel
Carson's 1962 book on the ravages of DDT. Until then, he said, "People
thought of science as a cornucopia of goodies. Now they have to choose
between good and bad." "The urgency," he said, "is to re-establish the
fundamental position that science plays in helping devise uses of
knowledge to resolve social ills. I hope rationality will triumph. But you
can't count on it. As President Chirac said, we've lost the primacy of
Science has also provoked a deeper unease by disturbing traditional
beliefs. Some scientists, stunned by the increasing vigor of
fundamentalist religion worldwide, wonder if old certainties have rushed
into a sort of vacuum left by the inconclusiveness of science on the big
issues of everyday life. "Isn't it incredible that you have so much
fundamentalism, retreating back to so much ignorance?" remarked Dr. George
A. Keyworth II, President Ronald Reagan's science adviser.
The disaffection can be gauged in recent opinion surveys. Last month, a
Harris poll found that the percentage of Americans who saw scientists as
having "very great prestige" had declined nine percentage points in the
last quarter-century, down to 57 from 66 percent. Another recent Harris
poll found that most Americans believe in miracles, while half believe in
ghosts and a third in astrology — hardly an endorsement of scientific
"There's obviously a kind of national split personality about these
things," said Dr. Owen Gingerich, a historian of astronomy at the
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who speaks often of his
"Science gives you very cold comfort at times of death or sickness or so
on," Dr. Gingerich said. In this atmosphere of ambivalence, research
priorities have become increasingly politicized, some scientists say.
"Right now it's about as bad as I've known it," said Dr. Sidney Drell, a
Stanford University physicist who has advised the federal government on
national security issues for more than 40 years.
As the world marches into a century born amid fundamentalist strife in
oil-producing nations, a divisive political climate in the United States
and abroad and ever more sophisticated challenges to scientific credos
like Darwin's theory of evolution, it seems warranted to ask a question
that runs counter to centuries of Western thought: Does science matter? Do
people care about it anymore?
Whether the complex challenges of today generate a new era of scientific
greatness, several scientists said, may depend on how a deeply conflicted
public answers the question of whether science still matters.
In many ways, it all boils down to "a schism between people who have
accepted the modern scientific view of the world and the people who are
fighting that," said Dr. David Baltimore, the Nobel Prize-winning
biologist who is president of the California Institute of Technology.
"Scientists are presenting a much more complicated, much less ethically
grounded view of the world, and it's hard for people to take that in," he
Some experts warn that if support for science falters and if the American
public loses interest in it, such apathy may foster an age in which
scientific elites ignore the public weal and global imperatives for their
own narrow interests, producing something like a dictatorship of the lab
"For any man to abdicate an interest in science," Jacob Bronowski, the
science historian, wrote, "is to walk with open eyes towards slavery."
Sir Paul M. Nurse, President, Rockefeller University, 2001 Nobel Prize
winner for medicine.
"The most important question facing the scientific community in the coming
25 years is: how it can maintain its contact with society to ensure that
it has a continued license to operate. Scientists need to develop more
effective ways to engage in dialogue with the public, to listen as well as
to inform, to respond to concerns, to be honest and brave when confronting
contentious issues as stem cells and genetically modified crops".
Read on at ...