Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : January 6, 2004:
* India Unveils Six-year GM Plan
* Questions Seen on Seed Prices Set in the 90's
* Bioethical Council in Favour of GM Crops
* Public Opinion vs. Public Policy
* Scientific Alliance Debate in London
* GM Straw Could Increase Livestock Production
* The Environmentalists' Deadly War Against "Frankenfood"
* Biotechnology: Looking for Answers
* Imposing Religious Beliefs of Organic Movement
* Soybean Biotechnology - Special Issue of AgBioForum
* James Watson Tells the Tale of DNA on An Epic Documentary Series
* Michael Crichton: 'Environmentalism is Fundamental Religion of Urban
India Unveils Six-year GM Plan
- Richard Black, BBC, Jan. 5, 2004,
The Indian Government has announced details of a six-year plan to develop
new genetically engineered crops which will provide better nutrition.
Government scientists say this kind of research is urgently needed to
improve the health of the developing world. India is currently
self-sufficient in most foods but its population is expanding very
The Plant Genome Research Road Map, as it's called, was unveiled at the
Indian Science Congress in Chandigarh. The government forecasts that in
fifteen years' time it will need to import substantial quantities of
grain, pulses, rice, fruit and vegetables. It is a situation common to
many developing countries - increasing demand, without increasing yields.
India has already developed a potato genetically modified to produce
increased protein. Professor Asis Datta, director of the National Centre
for Plant Genome Research, says more crops with enhanced nutrition are
needed - and he believes industry will not provide them.
"At this point, really, we are looking for nutrition security. I can tell
you that companies will not be interested. I developed a potato which is
protein-rich. "When I give it to a farmer, he doesn't need to come back to
me he can multiply."
Under the roadmap, government scientists will by the year 2010 have
developed other GM varieties aimed at boosting nutrition. Oilseed rape,
millet, pulses and sugar cane are among the crops to be investigated. Not
all experts believe that genetic modification is the way forward - some
point out that rather than enhancing the protein content of potatoes, the
government could simply ensure the availability of foods which are already
rich in protein, such as pulses.
But the Indian Government believes GM is necessary if its burgeoning
population is to be fed; and like other developing countries including
China, is prepared to invest in research it considers essential. The plan
also involves developing crops resistant to environmental stresses,
particularly drought and salinity.
Questions Seen on Seed Prices Set in the 90's
- David Barboza, New York Times, January 6, 2004
Senior executives at the two biggest seed companies in the world met
repeatedly in the mid- to late 1990's and agreed to charge higher prices
for genetically modified seeds, according to interviews with former
executives from both companies and to court and other documents.
The Monsanto Company and Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. acknowledge
that their executives met to discuss genetically modified seeds. Monsanto
also said the companies discussed prices, but added that they were engaged
in legitimate negotiations about changes to an existing licensing
agreement, not illegal price fixing.
Interviews with former and current executives of major seed companies,
along with company documents, however, show that through much of the
1990's Monsanto tried to control the market for genetically altered corn
and soybean seeds. Monsanto spent billions in the 1980's to invent
specialized seeds and sold the rights to make them to big seed companies
More than a dozen legal experts contacted by The New York Times say that
if the goal of the talks between the rivals was to limit competition on
prices, they would have violated antitrust laws.
The talks, which occurred from 1995 to 1999, involved licenses that let
Pioneer sell altered seeds developed by Monsanto, which is based here. In
those talks, according to interviews with dozens of executives and court
and other documents, the companies discussed prices, swapped profit
projections and even talked about cooperating to keep the prices of
genetically modified seeds high.
The talks involved top executives at both companies, including Robert B.
Shapiro, then Monsanto's chief executive, and Charles S. Johnson, then
Pioneer's chief executive, as well as Richard McConnell, now president of
Pioneer, and Robert T. Fraley, now Monsanto's chief technology officer,
according to company officials and documents. Together, Pioneer and
Monsanto control about 60 percent of the nation's $5 billion market for
corn and soybean seeds.
Also in the late 1990's, Monsanto pressured at least two other big seed
companies to coordinate their retail pricing strategies with Monsanto's,
former chief executives at those companies said. The executives, who ran
Novartis Seeds and Mycogen, said they rejected Monsanto's entreaties as
anticompetitive and potentially illegal.
Analysts estimate that more than $10 billion worth of genetically altered
seeds have been sold in the United States since they were commercialized
in 1996. Monsanto and Pioneer did not have to succeed in actually raising
retail seed prices to have violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, legal and
economic experts say; just agreeing to coordinate prices is against the
Companies found to have violated federal antitrust law could be subject to
criminal fines and civil class-action litigation. In the civil lawsuits,
courts can award triple monetary damages.
"If they're talking to Pioneer about raising the ultimate price to the
farmers, that's illegal," said Austan Goolsbee, a professor of economics
at the University of Chicago and a former Justice Department consultant on
antitrust issues. "Monsanto shouldn't care about the final price. They
should only care about the royalty payments they receive from Pioneer."
Full Story at
Bioethical Council in Favour of GM Crops
- Food Production Daily, Jan. 5, 2004
Raising a hand for the pro-GM camp, UK scientists assert that there is an
ethical obligation to explore the benefits that genetically modified crops
could offer people in developing countries.
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics argues that GM crops could significantly
improve agriculture in developing countries but it warns against
considering GM technology in isolation.
"The possible costs, benefits and risks associated with particular GM
crops must be assessed on a case by case basis," said Dr Sandy Thomas,
director of the Nuffield Council and who recently launched a discussion
paper on the subject.
"We recommend asking how the use of a GM crop compares to alternatives,"
continued Dr Thomas. It is essential to focus on the specific situation in
a particular country, and to compare all possible options. This comparison
should include not only other approaches in agricultural research and
practice, but also the potential cost of doing nothing, the council added.
The position from the council will go some way to redressing the balance
that sees the anti-GM food stance largely outweighing the pro side in the
debate on GM technology. In Britain, and Europe as a whole, the general
consensus from the consumer is one of extreme reticence towards GM foods.
But akin with many other passionate debates, the issue is far from black
and white. As confirmed by the council that reported when it held a
consultation this summer on the issue the responses received at the time
highlighted the complexity of the debate.
'While many respondents described the benefits they had experienced from
GM crops, others argued that economic, political or social change was more
important than new technologies,' said the bioethic group in a statement
Emphasising further that the issue is far from clear cut, Dr Thomas added:
"We recognise that we are discussing only part of a much larger picture.
We do not claim that GM crops will feed the world but we do believe that,
in specific cases, they could make a useful contribution to improving the
livelihood of poor farmers in developing countries."
The council maintains that GM crops could be used to address agricultural
problems, such as drought and salty soils, where other methods of plant
breeding or conventional agriculture have been less successful.
GM crops could also address some health problems. For example, Golden
Rice, modified to produce beta-carotene, could help to prevent vitamin A
deficiency. However, in other situations, the use of a GM crop may be less
appropriate. GM herbicide resistant crops may lead to reduced demand for
labour, which could hinder the reduction of poverty in developing
countries, added the group.
Taking a mild swipe at the current use of GM technology, and research, to
benefit large-scale farmers the council claimed that research into GM
crops 'must be directed towards the needs of small-scale farmers in
developing countries', with financing provided by the UK government, the
European Commission plus other national governments.
The debate continues.
Public Opinion vs. Public Policy
- Henry I. Miller, TechCentral Station,
"How can you tell whether a whale is a mammal or a fish?" a teacher asks
her third-grade class. "Take a vote?" pipes up one of the pupils.
This idea might be amusing coming from a child, but it's a lot less funny
when applied by governments to the formulation of complex policies that
involve science and technology. And it's an approach that is becoming
increasingly common around the world.
During the past two decades, the convening of citizens consensus
conferences on a variety of issues has gained popularity in Denmark, where
it is believed that non-experts "bring to the conferences a basic 'common
sense' derived from worries, visions, general view and actual everyday
experience as their basis for asking a number of essential questions
concerned with the given subject."
This approach has been applied there to a wide spectrum of scientific and
technological issues, including food irradiation; the new biotechnology --
also known as gene-splicing, or "GM," for genetically modified -- applied
to agriculture, animals, food and industry; setting limits on chemicals in
the environment; fishing policy; and human genome mapping.
It has metastasized elsewhere. Britons had their say during the summer,
for example, on whether they want gene-spliced crops in their fields and
their food. In order to gauge public opinion in advance of a decision
scheduled for late this year on whether to allow commercial planting of
gene-spliced crops, at great expense the British government sponsored a
series of public discussions around the country, as well as using more
conventional methods, such as focus groups. Local authorities held scores
of additional public meetings on the subject.
The head of the British debates' organizing committee, Professor Malcolm
Grant, called them a "unique experiment to find out what ordinary people
really think once they've heard all the arguments."
But the reality argues otherwise. Mark Henderson, science correspondent
for the Times (London), offered this view of the U.K.'s half-million pound
initiative: "The exercise has been farce from start to finish. I'm not
sure I want the man in the street to set Britain's science, technology and
agriculture policy. One of the six meetings . . . spent much of its time
discussing whether the SARS virus might come from [gene-spliced] cotton in
China. It's more likely to have come from outer space."
Henderson went on to say that the meetings were dominated by
anti-technology zealots, the only faction that was well enough organized
and cared enough about the issue to attend. This comports with reports
that as many as 79 percent of the 37,000 questionnaire responses were
orchestrated by activists.
Jan Bowman attended three of the events - including one in Stourbridge,
"where both invited speakers opposed biotech" - and offered an assessment
similar to Henderson's. "At all of them the audience numbered no more than
60, and was overwhelmingly middle class, white, and already anti-biotech."
The urge not only to sample, but to respond to public opinion flourishes
across the Atlantic as well. The National Science Foundation, whose
primary mission is to support laboratory research across many disciplines,
is funding a series of "citizens technology forums," at which average,
previously uninformed Americans come together to solve a thorny question
of technology policy. According to the NSF's abstract of the project,
being carried out by researchers at North Carolina State University under
a 2002 grant, participants "receive information about that issue from a
range of content-area experts, experts on social implications of science
and technology, and representatives of special interest groups"; this is
supposed to enable them to reach consensus "and ultimately generate
The project, first funded in 2002 to support two panels and expanded this
year under a continuing grant, calls for eight more panels of fifteen
citizens (who are "representative of the local population") each. Their
deliberations will be overseen by a research team "composed of faculty in
rhetoric of science, group decision-making, and political science," that
will test both "an innovative measure of democratic deliberation" and
"also political science theory, by investigating relationships between
gender, ethnicity, lower socioeconomic status and increases in efficacy
and trust in regulators."
At a time when federal budgets are under pressure and laboratory research
funding is tight, the NSF has seen fit to spend almost half a million
taxpayer dollars on this politically correct but dubious project.
Getting policy recommendations on an obscure and complex technical
question from groups of citizen non-experts (who are recruited by
newspaper ads) is sort of like going from your cardiologist's office to a
café, explaining to the waitress the therapeutic options for your chest
pain, and asking her whether you should have the angioplasty, or just take
medication. (It might help, of course, if there were specialists in the
rhetoric of science and in group decision-making
having lunch at a nearby table.)
The first of these NSF-funded groups tackled regulatory policy towards
agricultural biotechnology, and recommended that the government tighten
regulations for growing gene-spliced crops, including a new requirement
that the foods from these crops be labeled to identify them for consumers.
Both of these proposals are unwarranted, inappropriate, and contrary to
the recommendations of experts, including those within the government and
in the scientific community.
The output of the citizens' panel illustrates that such undertakings have
limitations both in theory and practice; non-experts are too much subject
to their own prejudices and to the specific choice of materials and
advocates to whom they are exposed.
Although involvement of the public is critical to their understanding of
government policy, it is less useful for the formulation of policy. This
is particularly true when complex issues of science and technology are
involved. Science is not democratic. The citizenry do not get to vote on
whether a whale is a mammal or a fish, or on the temperature at which
water boils, and legislatures cannot repeal the laws of nature. (However,
on questions to which there is no scientifically "right" answer -- such as
at what age persons can drive and vote, or whether we should carry out
more manned exploration of the moon -- public opinion can play a critical
Thus, one should be wary of the attempts in various countries -- in recent
years the Netherlands, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland, France,
Argentina, Denmark and New Zealand, as well as the United States and the
U.K., have conducted similar exercises on biotech-related issues -- to
sample public opinion as a prelude to setting policy on biotechnology.
Even if such opinion-sampling exercises were better organized, widely
attended and more representative, their purpose should not be to translate
the vox populi into policy on subjects highly dependent on an
understanding of the subtleties of science and technology. Such
undertakings would founder on the principle that something not worth doing
at all is not worth doing well.
The goal of policy formulation should be to get the right answers -- in
this case, that gene-splicing technology is essentially an extension, or
refinement, of less precise genetic techniques that have been around for
at least half a century; that gene-spliced plants can make critical
contributions to farmers, consumers and the health of the natural
environment; and that, except as science dictates in specific cases, the
products of recombinant organisms should be regulated no differently than
other, similar agricultural and food products. As the journal Nature
editorialized a decade ago, "regulation of biotechnology products, whether
in agriculture, medicine, pharmaceuticals or manufacturing, should be
based on any inherent risk in the product, not on the process by which it
is made." Just as for critical decisions about medical interventions and
the design of airplanes and bridges, the best insights are likely to come
The formulation of public policy towards science and technology can be
difficult, to be sure, but if democracy must eventually take public
opinion into account, good government must also discount heuristic errors
and prejudices. The 18th Century Irish statesman and writer Edmund Burke
emphasized the government's responsibility to make such determinations. He
observed that in republics, "Your Representative owes you, not only his
industry, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he
sacrifices it to your opinion."
In other words, although it may be useful, and also politic, for
governments to consult broadly on high-profile public policy issues, after
the consultations and deliberations have been completed government leaders
are supposed to lead. Now there's a novel idea.
Henry I. Miller, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, was at the US
National Institutes of Health and Food & Drug Administration from
Scientific Alliance Debate in London - January 19
- Peter Sharp"
Scientific Alliance is organising a debate on 19 January 2004 on The
Precautionary Principle and Its Application in Environmental Policy Making
between Michael Meacher MP and Sir Colin Berry, chaired by Michael White,
Political Editor at The Guardian. For more information and registration,
This event provides an excellent opportunity for an open and rational
discussion on the application of the precautionary principle. It will also
be a very timely event taking into account the pending decision of the
Government on commercialisation of GM crops as well as the ever increasing
use of the precautionary principle in UK and European environmental
decision making, including on nuclear safety, chemicals and in the debate
on climate change.
This event is free, however should you like to attend, you MUST register
by emailing email@example.com and put in the Subject line "19
January Debate" or call us on 020 7484 535. Please include your name,
affiliation, email and postal address.
GM Straw Could Increase Livestock Production
- ISAAA CropBiotech Update, Dec. 22, 2003
Jonathan Gressel, Professor of Plant Sciences of the Weizmann Institute of
Science in Rehovot, Israel, and colleagues observed that straw could
increase animal production, by at least one third, if its lignin content
is decreased through genetic modification. This process would make straw
more digestible, and also increase the carbohydrate available to ruminant
Gressel stated that if straw can be converted into hay-quality material
using a combination of biotechnology, physical and chemical treatments,
this roughage could be given more ecological and economic importance.
Ammonification, which separates lignin and serves as a nitrogen source for
ruminant bacteria, and biotreatment with ligninolytic fungi are the
technologies that can be used for upgrading.
This technology, according to the researchers, could increase cattle,
goat, and sheep production by at least 25%. US and Europe could produce
another 200 million cattle per year (35% increase); Asia 250 million more
cattle (50% increase); Africa 170 million more goats per year, or 500
million goats if its current grain yields were tripled to match the global
average; and Australia could produce 30 million more sheep (25% increase).
For more information, email Jonathan Gressel at
The Environmentalists' Deadly War Against "Frankenfood"
- Robert James Bidinotto, Sep 25, 2003; firstname.lastname@example.org
(Reproduced with permission of the author)
The October 2003 issue of The Atlantic Monthly carries an outstanding
article by Jonathan Rauch, "Will Frankenfood Save the Planet?" It’s
required reading for anyone who believes "natural" and "organic" food is
somehow superior to "artificial" and "genetically modified" food. More
importantly, it’s another case study of how environmentalist philosophy
poses deadly risks for human beings and--ironically--for the environment
"Frankenfood" is the pejorative environmentalists use to describe
genetically modified or engineered crops. It conjures images of mad
scientists (are there any other kind?) maniacally manipulating Nature,
with apocalyptic results. This plotline is a staple of science fiction and
horror stories, with roots that go back to Greek mythology. (See my
manifesto on environmentalism for a discussion of this mythology, and its
potent influence on our lives. http://www.econot.com/page4.html) Rauch's
investigation of genetically engineered food, however, presents a very
"That genetic engineering may be the most environmentally beneficial
technology to have emerged in decades, or possibly centuries, is not
immediately obvious," he begins his article. "Certainly, at least, it is
not obvious to the many U. S. and foreign environmental groups that regard
biotechnology as a bête noire."
The problem the world faces, he explains, is this. Within the next half
century, global population is expected to soar about 40% before leveling
off. During those coming decades we have to find ways of feeding all those
billions. However, 38% of the earth’s land area is already used for crops
or pasture. We’ve already exploited existing technology to the point of
diminishing returns in squeezing greater yields out of that land. Constant
irrigation, for example, has left soil increasingly salty, and less
hospitable for growing crops. In the Third World, the need for more food
and jobs has driven desperate people to expand farming into previously
untouched areas, cutting down more forests. It’s also led to increased
use, sometimes overuse, of pesticides and other agrichemicals--every
environmentalist’s worst nightmare.
Biotechnology, however, promises a way out of this grim future scenario.
Crops can be genetically engineered to resist higher soil salinity,
harsher climates, insects, diseases, and fungi. As a result, yields have
demonstrably and dramatically increased in test sites, without the use of
more pesticides and agrichemicals. This means we may well be able to feed
all those coming billions on existing farmland, rather than having to
expand further into forests and wilderness areas. And we can do it while
reducing our reliance on chemicals.
So biotechnology is the magic bullet that would solve a pending hunger
crisis, sparing millions of lives and millions of acres of wilderness, all
while freeing us from dependency on "poisons." Every environmentalist's
That conclusion rests on an assumption: the assumption that
environmentalists are motivated primarily by a love of nature…rather than
chiefly by hostility to Man’s presence in, and development of, the world’s
resources. But is that assumption true?
Rauch goes to the Web site of Greenpeace, where he finds this:
"The introduction of genetically engineered (GE) organisms into the
complex ecosystems of our environment is a dangerous global experiment
with nature and evolution… GE organisms must not be released into the
environment. They pose unacceptable risks to ecosystems, and have the
potential to threaten biodiversity, wildlife and sustainable forms of
Now note very carefully what they’re saying here. If we don’t dramatically
increase agricultural production, we face the certainty of future famines,
and the increased use of land and other natural resources to prevent them.
But Greenpeace is far more worried about the hypothetical "risks" of
genetically engineered crops. And the "risks" they’re worried about are
not to humans: rather, they are to "biodiversity, wildlife and sustainable
forms of agriculture" (i. e., to organic farming). Those risks--and not
the risks of mass starvation--are "unacceptable."
Some might be tempted to dismiss Greenpeace as occupying a fringe position
in the environmental movement. But at the Web site of the much-venerated,
mainstream Sierra Club, Rauch finds an echo of the Greenpeace position, in
Sierra's endorsement of the so-called "Precautionary Principle."
The Precautionary Principle is the premise that no new technology should
be permitted unless it is first proven to have no downside risks or
negative consequences. Of course, every new technology throughout history
has had some negative aspect. No gadget or process is perfectly safe under
any and all circumstances and uses (or abuses). No new machine, mode of
transportation, medical treatment, means of communication, energy
source--no invention of any kind--would have ever passed such a test.
Every vaccine, for example, harms at least a handful of people who are
allergic to it, even though it may save millions of lives. So we weigh
risks against benefits constantly. We adopt innovations not because
they’re perfect or pose no risks, but because they are a demonstrable
improvement over what we’ve had before.
But the "Precautionary Principle" demands a platonic perfection of every
new technology, in effect treating them as "guilty until proved innocent."
And it proposes that the force of law prevent the introduction of anything
new unless it somehow can be proved to be without risk to anyone. The
Precautionary Principle amounts to the enshrinement of fear over progress.
Its consequence would be the idealization of stagnation.
Yet that’s the premise mainstream environmentalists uniformly endorse.
Says the Sierra Club: "In accordance with this Precautionary Principle, we
call for a moratorium on the planting of all genetically engineered crops
and the release of all GEOs [genetically engineered organisms] into the
environment,including those now approved." [emphasis added] In other
words, the Sierra Club would retroactively ban the use of biotechnology in
agriculture, even in those cases already scientifically demonstrated to be
safe and effective.
Consider the stakes for human lives and well-being. Now consider where
the environmentalist movement has cast its lot. This is "idealism"?
In my manifesto on environmentalism, I wrote: "As a first step, we must
challenge two false philosophical ideas at the root of environmentalism.
The two fallacies are: First, that untouched nature is valuable in
itself--intrinsically valuable, apart from any benefit to human beings.
Second, that self-interested human activities--any of the things we do for
our own benefit, well-being, or personal profit--are morally tainted at
best, and evil at worst."
Was I mischaracterizing environmentalism? Here's Rauch’s own explanation
for the greens' otherwise unfathomable opposition to an "earth-friendly"
technology: "For reasons having more to do with politics than with logic,
the modern environmental movement was to a large extent founded on
suspicion of markets and artificial substances. Markets exploit the earth;
chemicals poison it. Biotechnology touches both hot buttons. It is being
pushed forward by greedy corporations, and it seems to be the very epitome
of the unnatural."
So Rauch concurs with me on the twin premises I described as being "at the
root of environmentalism." And the fanaticism of environmentalists is that
they’d much rather face the prospect of mass starvation, than allow anyone
to profit by preventing it, or by using "unnatural" means to do so.
Read for yourself his piece in the October Atlantic Monthly. Then decide
for yourself whether the environmentalist movement is truly motivated by
love of nature...or by something much uglier.
Bidinotto is a former Staff Writer for Reader's Digest, where he authored
high-profile investigative pieces on environmental issues, crime, and
other public controversies. See http://www.ecoNOT.com for more of his
thoughtful and insightful articles on these issues.
Biotechnology: Looking for Answers
- B. M. Subbalakshmi, Deccan Herald (India), Jan 1, 2004
'Is agricultural biotechnology a blessing or a curse to the Indian farming
community? Are transgenic foods the best options to meet the demands of an
ever-hungry nation? A vociferous proponent speaks'
It is really an endless debate. Is biotechnology a blessing or a curse?
Has agricultural biotechnology really worked the kind of wonders that it
promised towards providing 'food for all'? Are the so-called GM foods
really the answer to combat hunger in a country like ours where
agriculture is still the main occupation of the vast majority of the
Answers to these questions have been as variant as the questions are.
While a fraction of the people in the so-called farmers' lobbies, believe
that biotechnology is nothing beyond an MNC invasion into Indian
agriculture, there are groups of scientists both in the corporate and
research faculties who believe that agricultural biotechnology is the best
option available today to overcome the relentless demand for food against
a not so equal food production.
Even while groping for answers, Deccan Herald decided to talk to Dr
Channapatna S Prakash, Professor, Plant Molecular Genetics, Tuskegee
University, Alabama, USA on what he thinks are the myths about
biotechnology that need to be resolved on a war footing.
"The apprehensions about biotechnology are not unexpected. After all
anything new, in our case biotechnology, is put under scrutiny. That’s
natural. The way we understand human behaviour, it is his survival
instinct to question the validity of what he eats which justifies his
doubts about GM or transgenic foods. That’s is not a cause for concern.
However, an orchestrated opposition from certain groups of people, which
builds upon this basic apprehension and converts it into fear in the
public minds is uncalled for. Added to that is the fact that many of the
regulatory policies pertaining to biotechnological research or GM crop
production are not formulated on a scientific basis," says Dr Prakash who
oversees research on food crops of importance to developing countries and
the training of scientists and students in plant biotechnology, at
Dr Prakash has been actively involved in enhancing the societal awareness
of food biotechnology issues around the world. His Internet website
www.agbioworld.org helps to disseminate information and promote discussion
on this subject among scientists, policy makers, activists and
journalists. He has served on the USDA’s Agricultural Biotechnology
Advisory Committee and continues to serve on the Advisory Committee for
the Department of Biotechnology for the Government of India.
His outreach activities include writing commentaries, delivering public
lectures, providing media interviews, and moderating the daily Internet
discussion group and newsletter 'AgBioView'.
Dr Prakash has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and a master’s in
genetics from India, and obtained his PhD in forestry/genetics from the
Australian National University, Canberra. His research interests include
studies on transgenic plants, gene expression, tissue culture and plant
genomics. His group at Tuskegee has led the development of transgenic
sweet potato plants, identification of DNA markers in peanut and the
development of a genetic map of cultivated peanut. Recently they enhanced
the protein content of crops through genetic modification.
“One of the biggest concerns about Bt crops has been that they have not
‘delivered’ as they promised. Consider Bt cotton cultivation in India.
Studies have indicated that in areas like Punjab, there was a delay in the
planting dates that led to the dip in produce. Also Bt seeds used for
cultivation did not appear to be the best available. Over and above that,
the drought that affected many areas where Bt was cultivated, have
collectively contributed to a fall in production. So Bt is really not the
"Another apprehension is the likelihood of Bt gene contamination and that
pollen transfer from a Bt to a wild variety could cause harm. It is common
knowledge that a certain level of mixing happens in agricultural fields.
As long as that does not cause any health hazard, there is no cause for
worry. As regards pollen transfer, plants classified as GM crops are such
a domesticated lot that cannot auto-transfer genes into the wild
varieties. Even if such transfer did occur, the genes would really not be
relevant in the wild variety - for example if a gene for pesticide
resistance were to get transferred into a wild variety, it would really
serve no purpose in plants growing in the forest. Environmental concerns
be it pollination or contamination are not unique to Bt-plants."
"The next issue pertaining to Bt crops is the relevance or the irrelevance
of labelling. Labelling is basically a method to provide consumers details
about the contents of what has been packaged with regard to nutritional
value, price, warning of allergens etc. That happens in normal marketing
practice. Most products that we buy have these details. So, labelling food
products as GM or non-GM must still serve the same purpose and not give
rise to any kind of unwarranted fears in the minds of the consumers."
If like Dr Prakash says, GM or transgenic foods are really beneficial to a
farming community like ours, then why the large-scale apprehension on
anything transgenic? "Unlike most of agriculture, biotechnology is driven
by the corporate. So people tend to believe that the motive behind is
mainly profit-making, which it is not. The next stumbling block is the
lack of transparency on the part of all agencies involved as regards
regulatory policies pertaining to transgenic foods along with a closed
door approach on the part of the research community. Then of course the
unchanging public perception on transgenic technology."
What then are the options available if we are to really appreciate what
biotechnology has to give us? "First of all a drastic change in attitude.
Questioning is right, but over suspicion is not required. Second, a change
in policy both regulatory and research so that people are taken into
confidence as regards the benefits of the technology. Thirdly, a need to
increase awareness on new technologies like biotechnology, so that people
are ready to appreciate what is on offer."
There it then. The verdict - question biotechnology, clear your
apprehensions and appreciate what a dramatic difference it can make to
Imposing Religious Beliefs of Organic Movement
- Drew Kershen
Tom DeGregori's research below led me to do additional research too - on
words whose meaning I did not know. The definitions come from 'Webster"S
Encyclopedic English Dictionary'.
Anthroposophy - 1a: Knowledge of the nature of man, 1b: human wisdom; 2 :
A spiritual and mystical doctrine that grew out of theosophy and derives
mainly from the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, Austrian social philosopher
Theosophy 1 :A body of doctrine relating to deity, cosmos, and self and
held to rest on direct intuitions of supersensible reality by
preternaturally perceptive individuals and to give a wisdom superior to
that of historical religions or empirical philosophy or science by which
the initiate can master nature and guide his destiny : a system of often
occult and esoteric thought presented as a means of individual salvation
and sometimes associated with mysticism, pantheism, or magic - compare
Bohemenism, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Swendenborgianism; 2: (not
In light of Tom's research on Louis Bolk Institute and my dictionary
research, let me just make a brief comment from my perspective and my
understanding of the American legal system.
In light of the Louis Bolk Institute statement, if the organic movement
attempted to impose its definitions upon others through mandatory law
(e.g. mandatory labeling, legal liability through tort actions), I believe
that the attempt to do so raises significant First Amendment issues under
the United States Constitution.
To allow the organic movement to impose its definitions would be to allow
the organic movement to impose its religious beliefs and principles upon
others. I would hope that this would violate all aspects of the First
Amendment - freedom from establishment of religion, freedom of religion of
non-organic persons, and freedom of speech. On the freedom of speech
aspect, I cite you to the decision about the Vermont statute imposing
mandatory labeling upon rBST products. The 1st Circuit United States
Federal Court of Appeals ruled the Vermont statute unconstitutional [the
From a legal standpoint, what is interesting to me is how the United State
Constitution is written and interpreted to protect American's in freedom
of religion and speech. This appears to be quite in contrast to Europe in
which freedom from being forced to believe or say is not recognized as a
basic legal idea, unlike the American sense of freedom of religion and
freedom of speech.
Hence, the Louis Bolk Institute not only thinks it acceptable that the
Netherlands government should fund its work (which the Netherlands has
done) but that the Netherlands government should impose the Louis Bolk
Institute ideas upon the general public (which the Netherlands has also
done [or is attempting to do] by its actions relating to agricultural
biotechnology). Fundamentally contrasting and contradictory conceptions of
freedom are underpinning these differences between the Netherlands and the
I do not know enough about the Canadian Charter of Liberty to know how the
Canadian courts might address this issue. I believe that the Saskatchewan
Organic Association lawsuit implicitly raises these issues.
> Organic Plant Breeding Standards (proposed) and Saskatchewan litigation - Drew L Kershen
> I recently read E.T. Lammerts van Bueren, et. al, Concepts of
Intrinsic Value and Integrity of
> Plants in Organic Plant Breeding and Propagation, CROP SCIENCE, vol. 43
> pp. 1922-1929 (Nov.-Dec. 2003).
Soybean Biotechnology - Special Issue of AgBioForum
-December 30, 2003 http://www.agbioforum.org (Via Agnet)
Special double issue covering, guest edited by Henry T. Nguyen and Gary
Stacey (University of Missouri-Columbia).
1. A Soybean Biotechnology Outlook -- John C. Gardner and Thomas L. Payne
2. The Status of Soybean Genomics and Its Role in the Development of
Soybean Biotechnologies -- Randy C. Shoemaker, Jessica A. Schlueter, Perry
Cregan, and Lila Vodkin
3. The Future of Biotechnology in Soybeans -- John Soper, Dennis Judd,
Daria Schmidt, and Steve Sullivan
4. Genetic Enhancement of Soybean Oil for Industrial Uses: Prospects and
Challenges -- Edgar B. Cahoon
5. Modifications in Soybean Seed Composition to Enhance Animal Feed Use
and Value: Moving From a Dietary Ingredient to a Functional Dietary
Component -- Monty S. Kerley and Gary L. Allee
6. Engineering Soybeans for Food and Health -- Anthony J. Kinney
7. The United Soybean Board's Better Bean Initiative: Building US Soybean
Competitiveness from the Inside Out -- David Durham
8. Role of Public and Private Soybean Breeding Programs in the Development
of Soybean Varieties Using Biotechnology -- D.A. Sleper and J.G. Shannon
9. The Dynamics of Biotechnology in the Soybean Marketplace -- Steven
Sonka Other articles:10. Agronomics and Sustainability of Transgenic
Cotton in Argentina ö Matin Qaim, Eugenio J. Cap, and Alain de Janvry
11. Labeling Genetically Modified Foods: How Do US Consumers Want to See
It Done? -- Mario F. Teisl, Luke Garner, Brian Roe, and Michael E. Vayda
12. Climate Change for Biotechnology? UK Public Opinion 1991-2002 --
George Gaskell, Nick Allum, Martin Bauer, Jonathan Jackson, Susan Howard,
and Nicola Lindsey
13. Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods: Does it Really
Provide Consumer Choice? -- Colin A. Carter and Guillaume P. Grure
14. Research Prizes: A Mechanism to Reward Agricultural Innovation in
Low-Income Regions -- William A. Masters
15. Development and Marketing Strategies for Functional Foods -- Cecilia
16. Factors Affecting the Likelihood of Corn Rootworm Bt Seed Adoption
--James Payne, Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo, and Stan Daberkow
James Watson Tells the Tale of DNA on An Epic Documentary Series
- Frazier Moore, Associated Press, Jan. 1, 2004
James Watson, who rocked the human race a half-century ago by discovering
the DNA molecule's double-helix structure, has only one complaint about
"DNA," a documentary series in which he serves as the overarching
"I wish they had shot it 20 years ago when I didn't look so old," the
75-year-old Watson says with a rueful laugh. "It's not the view I have of
Still, a big part of his view of himself -- also clearly visible to the
outside world -- is that of someone who likes to rock the boat and create
waves. And that part seems impervious to age. "I haven't changed my
behavior since the age of 10," he says in his Manhattan apartment high
above the East River. "It's not because I became famous."
Watson upholds practical solutions and the bold pursuit of them, and,
along the way, he says what he thinks. ("If we don't play God," he
declares on "DNA" in its first moments, "who will?")
But there is more than Watson's outspokennness on this epic series of five
programs, airing weekly at 10 p.m. EST Sunday on most PBS stations. Each
is a freestanding, digestible hour that hears from other key figures while
using you-are-there visuals and computer animation to investigate a story
that, after 50 breakthrough years, is more thrilling than ever.
"We're in the midst of a revolution," says Watson, wearing the slightly
bemused smile with which he greets the world. "It will affect the way we
think about ourselves every bit as profoundly as the one which occurred
after Darwin's `Origin of Species,' which shocked a lot of people. We're
related to monkeys! That was a really upsetting thought and, for some
people, still is."
On "The Secret of Life" this Sunday, Watson retraces the contest he and
Francis Crick waged against a rival team of young scientists, Rosalind
Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, as well as a third contender, Nobel laureate
With the discovery by Watson and Crick that the DNA molecule forms a
double helix -- resembling a ladder twisted into a spiral -- the manner in
which DNA could carry a living thing's genetic code and precisely
duplicate it became clear. Their findings were published in April 1953 and
won them the 1962 Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology, which they
shared with Wilkins. (Franklin, who had died from cancer in 1958, was a
vital but largely overlooked participant, and the subject of "Secret of
Photo 51," a PBS documentary that aired last April.)
After that discovery, says narrator Jeff Goldblum (who himself played
Watson in a 1987 TV docudrama), "whole new fields of science and
technology burst into being, as our understanding of the genetic code
buried in DNA grew."
The subsequent "DNA" episodes:
-- "Playing God" (Jan. 11) introduces the pioneers who carried out the
first genetic engineering experiments, which triggered an outcry over the
dangers of genetic manipulation while spurring a multibillion-dollar
biotech industry whose early products included genetically engineered
insulin and genetically improved cotton and potatoes.
-- "Human Race" (Jan. 18) chronicles another bruising competition. This
time, two groups of scientists scrambled to be the first to catalogue all
38,000 genes in the human genome, which could serve as an "instruction
manual" for troubleshooting diseases and disabilities in humans. After a
decade of epic labor and bitter rivalry, success by all was declared at a
celebration thrown by President Clinton at the White House in June 2000.
-- "Curing Cancer" (Jan. 25) notes that all cancers are caused by damage
to DNA. And when a faulty, cancer-causing gene is identified and the right
drug is developed to repair it, then that particular cancer can be cured.
Example: Bud Romine, who, near death in 1997 from chronic myeloid
leukemia, became the first patient ever to take a drug called Gleevec.
Within 17 days, he was healthy. More such drugs for other cancers are on
-- Finally, "Pandora's Box" (Feb. 1) returns the spotlight to Watson, who
contemplates the future of genetic science. He speaks of a "new eugenics"
that might address what he calls genetic injustices (such as Down
Syndrome, cystic fibrosis or mental illness), giving people the means to
correct them. And what's wrong with people customizing the evolution of
their descendants to assure a better-looking or smarter kid?
These are exciting but often thorny issues, and Watson embraces them --
both as a public advocate and as president of Cold Spring Harbor
Laboratory, one of the world's leading genetic labs.
"I'm just trying to use common sense," he says, punctuating his point with
a grin and chuckle. "There are still big things you could do and that I'm
trying to do. Cancer hasn't been stopped yet. And I'm still trying to be a
better tennis player than I was when I was 25. "My dream would be to die
playing singles tennis," he confides. "Not doubles! Doubles is an old
On the Net: DNA Series on PBS
From Prakash: The PBS website listed above has some interesting video with
Watson, some excellent animation and graphics and a splendid 3D animation
of the DNA molecule (click on '3D DNA Explorer'). While the PBS is very
upbeat about the medical applications of biotech, it seems rather negative
about agbiotech with a very critical treatment. Check under "Playing
God", and click on "Gallery of Genetic Modifications"
Michael Crichton: 'Environmentalism is Fundamental Religion of Urban
- Michael Crichton (Popular Author incl. "Jurassic Park"), Remarks to the
Commonwealth Club - San Francisco, Sep. 15, 2003. (Thanks to Greg Pence
for the Alert). Excerpts below. Full Talk at
"I have been asked to talk about what I consider the most important
challenge facing mankind, and I have a fundamental answer. The greatest
challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from
fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a
challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the
disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance. "
"Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is
environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for
urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the
beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a
perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and
"And so it is, sadly, with environmentalism. Increasingly it seems facts
aren't necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about
belief. It's about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether
you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the
side of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them."
"There is no Eden. There never was. What was that Eden of the wonderful
mythic past? Is it the time when infant mortality was 80%, when four
children in five died of disease before the age of five? When one woman in
six died in childbirth? When the average lifespan was 40, as it was in
America a century ago. When plagues swept across the planet, killing
millions in a stroke. Was it when millions starved to death? Is that when
it was Eden? "
"In short, the romantic view of the natural world as a blissful Eden is
only held by people who have no actual experience of nature. People who
live in nature are not romantic about it at all. They may hold spiritual
beliefs about the world around them, they may have a sense of the unity of
nature or the aliveness of all things, but they still kill the animals and
uproot the plants in order to eat, to live. If they don't, they will die."
"With so many past failures, you might think that environmental
predictions would become more cautious. But not if it's a religion.
Remember, the nut on the sidewalk carrying the placard that predicts the
end of the world doesn't quit when the world doesn't end on the day he
expects. He just changes his placard, sets a new doomsday date, and goes
back to walking the streets. One of the defining features of religion is
that your beliefs are not troubled by facts, because they have nothing to
do with facts.
So I can tell you some facts. I know you haven't read any of what I am
about to tell you in the newspaper, because newspapers literally don't
report them. I can tell you that DDT is not a carcinogen and did not cause
birds to die and should never have been banned. I can tell you that the
people who banned it knew that it wasn't carcinogenic and banned it
anyway. I can tell you that the DDT ban has caused the deaths of tens of
millions of poor people, mostly children, whose deaths are directly
attributable to a callous, technologically advanced western society that
promoted the new cause of environmentalism by pushing a fantasy about a
pesticide, and thus irrevocably harmed the third world. Banning DDT is one
of the most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century history of
America. We knew better, and we did it anyway, and we let people around
the world die and didn't give a damn."
".... we all need to get rid of the religion of environmentalism."
"Because in the end, science offers us the only way out of politics. And
if we allow science to become politicized, then we are lost. We will enter
the Internet version of the dark ages, an era of shifting fears and wild
prejudices, transmitted to people who don't know any better. That's not a
good future for the human race. That's our past. So it's time to abandon
the religion of environmentalism, and return to the science of
environmentalism, and base our public policy decisions firmly on that."