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Date:

January 11, 2004

Subject:

GM Foods? Yes; Germans Getting Ready; Pakistan Pleads for Bt Cotton; No Pristine Nature; Healthy Corn; Suman Sahai's Book; Poverty of Reason; Davos and Bombay Forums

 

Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: January 12, 2004:

* GM Foods? Yes, If The Price Is Right
* Germany Drafting Law to Allow Genetically Modified Crops
* Pakistani Growers Plead for Bt Cotton
* Power of Bt-cotton to Combat 'Sundi' (Boll Worm)
* Bt Corn Produces Healthier Crops for Humans and Animals
* Davos World Economic Forum 2004 - Security and Prosperity
* Bombay World Social Forum - Anti-Globalization
* A Cause Without A Disease
* GMO Tech and Asia: One Step Further! - Suman Sahai Book Review
* Exploring the 'Singularity'
* A Poverty of Reason: Sustainable Development and Economic Growth

--

GM Foods? Yes, If The Price Is Right

- Jamie Doward, The Observer (UK), Jan. 12, 2004

It was thought that the vast majority of people saw them as 'Frankenstein
foods'. And, despite numerous PR offensives, poll after poll suggested the
public will not knowingly eat products with genetically modified
ingredients.

Yet authoritative new research debunks all this as a popular myth.

The latest issue of the respected Economic Journal magazine says almost
two-thirds of people would eat GM foods, after all, if the price was
right. Economists Charles Noussair, Stephane Robin and Bernard Ruffieux,
conducted role-playing experiments in which participants were asked to
taste products stripped of their packaging.

The participants were asked to say how much they were willing to pay for
the products. Over time they were told which of them carried a GM label.

What the economists found stunned them. Although 35 per cent of
participants refused to eat a product once they discovered it contained
genetically modified ingredients, 42 per cent said they would buy it if it
was cheap enough. The other 23 per cent had no qualms about eating GM
products, whatever the price.

'Our results show a sharp contrast to the predominantly negative views of
survey respondents toward genetically modified organisms in food
products,' the three economists note. They also found that almost nine
out of 10 participants said they would eat food having 'only' 1 per cent
of GM ingredients.

Prior to the experiment the three men conducted a survey which appeared to
confirm again that most people don't want to eat GM food. Eighty-nine per
cent of those interviewed said they did not want GM ingredients, while
almost four out of five wanted them banned. More than 90 per cent said
they would never buy GM tomatoes or French fries.

Co-author Robin said the results suggested people think differently about
things when money is introduced into their decision-making. 'You give one
answer when you're asked 'what you think of GM foods?' in an opinion poll,
but you give a different reply when you're a consumer,' Robin said.

The economists suggest that consumers of GM food may be like 'the consumer
of electricity who is opposed to nuclear power but uses the electricity
from the power grid, despite the fact that some of it is generated with
nuclear power'.

Their results showed that people 'demonstrate considerably less hostility
toward the presence of genetically modified ingredients in food products
than suggested in public opinion surveys'.

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

Germany Drafting Law to Allow Genetically Modified Crops

- EU Business, Jan. 12, 2004,
http://www.eubusiness.com/afp/040112100853.36f26b2w

Germany is drafting a law allowing farmers to plant bio-engineered crops,
its consumer affairs minister said on Monday, predicting that genetically
modified sweetcorn would be on sale in European Union supermarkets later
this year.

Announcing the move, Renate Kuenast, of the environmentalist Greens party,
said the government saw no health risks for consumers in genetically
modified (GM) foods.
Germany's readiness to accept GM produce is significant because it has
long been one of the most sceptical countries.

The Greens, now junior partner in the ruling coalition, have traditionally
opposed bio-engineered foods.
Kuenast said the law would set clear rules and responsibilities on growing
bio-crops and offer protection to those farmers whose non-GM produce might
be affected by accidental contamination. "The law is a breakthrough.
Personally I am very pleased with this success. For the first time, it
will give consumers freedom of choice and farmers will have safe
guidelines," she told the Berliner Zeitung daily.

She said a de facto EU moratorium on GM crops would run out this year and
that new rules to enforce proper labelling of GM produce would take effect
in April. "The EU is likely to issue its first authorisation for
genetically modified sweetcorn in the summer. I imagine it will be on
shelves of European supermarkets by autumn at the latest." She said the
German draft law, to be endorsed at cabinet level in February, would lay
down strict rules.

They included what could be grown, where, under what conditions -- such as
hedge barriers to protect non-GM crops from possible cross-contamination
-- and compensation in case of a breach of the rules.
"At present there are no indications of any risk. The EU checks any health
dangers before any authorisation. So far, scientists have found nothing,"
she added.

Last month, the 15-nation European Union delayed a decision on lifting its
four-year ban on bio-engineered crops, after member states' scientific
experts failed to reach agreement on whether to allow the import of GM
sweetcorn.

The decision must now be taken by EU ministers, who have another two
months in which to make it. Kuenast said she expected the import of GM
sweetcorn would be approved eventually.

EU Food Safety Site:
http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/gmo/gmo_index_en.html

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

Pakistani Growers Plead for Bt Cotton

- Pak Tribune, Jan. 10, 2004. Full article at
http://www.paktribune.com/news/index.php?id=51159

.. Another import window has opened in the wake of the breakthrough
achieved in Indo-Pak relations. The local mills are inclined to import
Indian cotton because of good quality and competitive prices. More and
more commitments are being made every day, which may go up to 150,000 to
200,000 bales.

India has already earmarked one million bales of cotton for export out of
which about half has been committed. The principal buyers of Indian cotton
are Bangladesh and Pakistan....

... These sources made a strong plea to the government to examine the
matter of producing genetically modified crops for increasing production.
India has already adopted this technology and has achieved very
encouraging results this season by sowing Bt cotton.

Every now and then, it is reported that our (Pakistani) agri-scientists
have evolved very promising seed, which would revolutionise our
agriculture, but all claims prove false, as we have not made any
breakthrough in cotton production in the last 12 years. Our domestic
cotton consumption is increasing every year and our cotton production
appears capped on 10 million bales, resulting in increased import of
cotton every year.....

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

Power of Bt-cotton to Combat 'Sundi' (Boll Worm)

- Ijaz Ahmad Rao, Dawn (Pakistan), Jan. 12, 2004

Cotton is an important cash crop. It is known as 'white gold'. It is grown
on about 6.50 million acres this year as compared to 4.95 million acres in
2002-03. In Pakistan, life of millions of farmers is dependent on this
crop, and millions of people are employed along the entire cotton
value-chain, from weaving to textile and garments.

Cotton crop was in good condition in most parts of the country till the
end of August despite the heavy rainfall in the cotton-growing belt.
However, in the first week of September many types of caterpillars known
as "sundies" like Pink, Spotted and American, severely attacked the cotton
crop in Sindh and Punjab.

So far the "Lashkari Sundi" and "American Sundi" have gone out of control
and now destroying the cotton crop at an alarming rate. Generally during
the months of August and September pressure of pests increases in the
cotton growing regions, most of cotton growers would remember that in
1991-92 after picking an all time bumper crop of 12 million bales, the
cotton crop had to confront with the challenge of cotton leaf curl virus
(CLCV).

Although the 'cotton bollworm' known as "American Sundi" has long been an
important pest of cotton in the last few years, unlike the Tobacco Budworm
, known as "Lashkari Sundi", which used to be considered as a 'secondary
pest', but in this cotton-growing season it has appeared as a 'major
sucking pest'. In non-cotton season large numbers of these sundies often
develop in fields of corn, grassy plants, sorghum, vegetables like egg
plant, Okra, etc, and then move to cotton in July and August.

Pesticides companies remained unaware about the presence of 'sundies'
through-out the month of July and August but cotton growers were the ones
who cried in their battle against American and Laslikari sundies. Now they
are asking where they have gone wrong? Would it be preventable now and in
the future? Whom can they blame for losses? To answer their concerns is
not so simple.

The fact is that in the past "Lashkari Sundi" and "American Sundi" were
relatively easy to control, since they hadn't developed resistance to
non-pyretbroids like Indoxacarb, Spinosad and Thiodicarb and other
pyrethroid insecticides. while this year especially "Lashkari Sundi", is
very difficult and costly to control, because of the high levels of
resistance that it has developed to these classes of chemistry.

It is natural that under regular exposure to insecticides, the insects are
likely to develop resistance to different pesticides. Unfortunately, at
present in Pakistan the use of pesticides is the only way out to keep
these sundies under control, while the rest of the world is exploring and
adopting new technologies and technique to confront crop diseases.

One of them is the use of Bt cotton, or cotton genetically spliced with
toxic genes borrowed from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacterium that is
deadly to the "Sundies". In the case of cotton, the Bt protein acts on
three major caterpillar pests - the tobacco budworm, the American bollworm
and the pink bollworm. Bt has been used since the 1950s in the form of an
insecticidal spray to combat insects though repeated applications are
necessary and insect damage was still common.

However, since the development and introduction of transgenic Bt cotton
seed "Bollgard I" in 1996 by a multinational company Monsanto. the ability
to more easily and effectively protect cotton from the damage of "Lashkari
Sundi", "American Sundi" and other pests have increased considerably,
because they are susceptible to the Bt toxin in these improved crops.

Bt cotton, which is currently planted around the world covers over 70 per
cent of the area under cotton in the USA and 40 per cent in South Africa,
and its percentage is increasing in China and India. At present Bt
provides 100 per cent control of "Lashkari Sundi". Although Bt cotton also
provides significant control of bollworms but supplemental foliar
insecticide sprays are occasionally required to keep bollworms from
causing excessive damage in Bt fields.

During the past few years, the average number of bollworm treatments
applied to Bt fields in Australia, India, China, USA has ranged from 0.27
to 1.22 treatments per field. Still. this is considerably lower than the 5
to 16 sprays per field that were applied to control bollworm/tobacco
budworm on non-Bt fields. It is also very important to know that to
control and reduce the chance that pests may develop resistance to "Bt"
insecticidal proteins in "Bollgard I'", Monsanto has also introduced
another variety of Bt cottonseed called "Bollgard II" in USA and
Australia.

Although "Bollgard I" provides excellent, season-long control of "Lashkari
Sundi" and pink bollworm, and a high level of suppression of the cotton
bollworm. while "Bollgard II" provides fantastic control of most of the
sundies and pests like "Lashkari Sundi", "American Sundi", pink bollworm.
fall armyworm, beet armyworm, cabbage and soybean loopers, and other
second day leaf- or fruit-feeding caterpillar in cotton. Both Bt-cotton
varieties are as safe to the environment, humans or other non-target
species, including beneficial predators and parasites. as other commercial
cotton varieties.

Other than the USA and Australia, in China by adopting Bt cotton seeds
against different sundies and pests, the average gross yields has
increased by 15 per cent over conventional strains. In Spain, Bt cotton
trial plots offered a 12 per cent yield advantage over conventional
varieties sprayed with insecticides. Even in India it has showed a 14 to
38 per cent increase in cotton yield. The biggest benefit reported by
farmers in these countries, most of whom have small-holdings like
Pakistani farmers, is the health benefit to themselves and farm labour
from the substantially reduced number of sprays to combat Lashkari sundi
and American sundi.

It is notable that risks to health from insecticides is considerably
greater in Pakistan, where adultration abounds, as compared to USA and
Australia.It is noteworthy that on the one hand excessive use of
pesticides has caused shortage of pesticides in the market, on the other
it has increased the costs of cotton production apart from the negative
impact on the environment and human health. In the past one month the
cotton price has increased more than 50 per cent because of the
speculations regarding the damages caused by sundies.

Further more, according to farmers, this is for the first time that
sundies can be seen crawling in the village streets and people are bitten
by it during cotton picking. It has also been reported by the Victoria
Hospital, Bahawalpur, that "Lashkari Sundi" has killed a child aged three
months as it tried to enter into the child's body through his belly
button.

Although government scientists have affirmed that at the laboratory level,
Pakistan has developed Bt cotton, Bt soybean, Bt rice and Bt tomatoes and
so on,but these cannot be declared fit for cultivation in the absence of
bio-safety guidelines. which need to be approved by the ministry of
environment. So, in the view of claims made by our scientists,
quantification and evaluation of these Bt crop varieties cannot be
ascertained unless these Bt varieties are released and tested in the
field.

Currently a big concern rising among our farmers is on the life cycle of
these sundies. The female moths of Lashkari sundi, and American sundi"
produce from 800 to over 1000 eggs during an oviposition period that lasts
approximately 8 to 12 days. Although the eggs hatch in three to five days,
the larval stage lasts 12 to 15 days but this period can be longer when
temperatures are cool, after that it enter into Pupa stage.

Pupation occurs in the soil near the host plant on which the larva waits
for favourable climatic conditions to develop. Therefore in the next
cotton-growing season when these sundies or larva will develop how it can
be handled by the available insecticides and technology, which have not
shown any positive results this year?

Plant biotechnology is helping today millions of farmers around the globe
to get more and better food by controlling Sundies and other pests in
their crops, it holds even greater promise for the future. Whether cotton
farmers in China, India, America, Indonesia and South Africa, canola
farmers in Canada, soybean farmers in Argentina or corn farmers in Spain
and the United States, millions of farmers around the world are using
biotech seeds to boost yields, improve their livelihoods and preserve the
environment.

Hence, one million dollar question remains why the government is not
giving farmers a chance to decide if they want to keep the current
practices or to use advance technology like Bt in their fields. Though
every technology has its advantages and disadvantages and experience shows
that the less savoury aspects of a particular technology are remedied by
further technological advancements and not by reverting to the imagined
world of pristine naturalism, but closing doors on biotechnology is a
recipe for disaster for all of us.

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

Bt Corn Produces Healthier Crops for Humans and Animals

- Whybiotech.com

'Studies show biotech corn is less susceptible to harmful molds.'

Biotech corn may actually be safer to eat than conventional varieties --
particularly in some developing countries -- because it has built-in
protection against insect pests that burrow into corn kernels, creating
conditions for a mold to develop that can be harmful to both humans and
animals.

"There is now clear evidence that food and feed products from Bt corn are
often safer than the corresponding products from conventional corn because
of lower levels of the mycotoxin fumonisin," according to a November 2003
report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications (ISAAA).

Fumonisin is produced when insects burrow into corn stalks and kernels,
allowing fungi to enter and produce harmful mold. While mycotoxin levels
are closely monitored in the industrial world, they are not monitored in
many developing countries in the tropics where the threat from fungal
infection is greatest.

"Minimizing insect damage through Bt corn has significantly reduced
concentrations of fumonisin in food and feed," said Clive James, the
author of the report from ISAAA, a nonprofit organization whose mission is
to help alleviate hunger and poverty by sharing crop biotechnology
applications. "This is a major benefit in developing countries where
levels of the harmful mold are higher in food and feed and where corn is
directly used as food by a significant portion of the population."

A number of independent studies have confirmed that Bt corn -- enhanced
with a naturally occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, that
wards off insect pests -- has significantly lower fumonisin levels:

* A 2000 study by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service found that
fumonisin levels were between 30 and 40 times lower in Illinois Bt corn
fields than in those planted with traditional varieties.
* A 1999 Iowa State University study found a "significant" lowering of
fumonisin levels in Bt corn over conventional varieties. "Our results
indicate that under some conditions, genetic engineering of maize for
insect resistance may enhance its safety for animal and human
consumption," said the study's lead researcher, Gary Munkvold. "Lower
mycotoxin concentrations in Bt corn hybrids clearly represent a benefit to
consumers."
* "Bt corn is protected against damage from corn borers and consistently
has 90 percent less fumonisin than conventional plants," said a 2000
report from the American Academy of Microbiology titled, 100 Years of
Bacillus Thuringiensis: A Critical Scientific Assessment. "Thus,
protection against insect damage and subsequent fungal infection may have
important health implications for consumers and farm animals exposed to
fumonisins in their diet."

High levels of fumonisin can cause liver and kidney damage in many
animals, and fumonisin is believed to be a human carcinogen. While human
food safety from high fumonisin levels are generally not considered a
major problem in the developed world, it is a more serious health issue
where insect infestation levels are high and corn is a staple for human
survival.

In Kenya, for example, where the normal corn intake is about 400 grams per
day, eating corn with fumonisin contamination of just 1 part per million
(ppm) would mean exceeding the provisional maximum total daily intake
(PMTDI) for fumonisin by three times.

"Given that maize (corn) contamination of 1 ppm is not uncommon, there are
risks for people consuming high amounts of contaminated maize," according
to the ISAAA report. 8 The recommended guidance level for fumonisin in
corn is 2 ppm.

To date, South Africa is the only country in Africa to approve the
commercial planting of Bt corn, and the Philippines is the only country in
Asia to do so. In Europe, Spanish farmers have been planting Bt corn for
several years as have farmers in the United States and Canada.

"In countries with commercial maize production and chronic Fusarium kernel
rot, Bt maize can make the difference between a significant proportion of
the crop meeting fumonisin guidelines or not, and this is very important
in a world that is becoming increasingly conscious of food and feed
safety," said the report from ISAAA, which has offices in Kenya, the
Philippines and the United States.

References at http://www.whybiotech.com/index.asp?id=4213

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

World Economic Forum 2004 - Partnering for Security and Prosperity

- Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 21-25, 2004; http://www.weforum.org

There can be no prosperity without security, and security cannot be
achieved in the absence of prosperity. Creating active partnerships is
critical to ensure both. While business is an engine of global growth, it
requires an enabling environment: physical and political security and
macroeconomic stability are two indispensable ingredients for business to
fulfil its role in society. A few relevant sessions:

Why Are GMOs Such a Hard Sell?
- The debate about the safety of genetically modified crops (GMOs) has
produced much noise, but few solutions. A combination of public fears and
political expediency has made GMOs a major stumbling block in trade
negotiations. 1) What are the economic implications of this deadlock for
the developed and developing worlds? 2) Is there any immediate prospect
for a resolution? 3) As new technologies emerge, what lessons can we learn
about dealing effectively with public concerns and fears from the GMO
experience?

Can Science Take Sustainability Seriously?
- The complexity of environmental and social changes in the world today is
testing the capacity of the global system. The narrow traditional
scientific disciplines that sufficed in the past may not be able to solve
the problems of the future. 1) Do scientists today have the intellectual
tools to address the questions of our times? 2) What is the end goal of
'sustainability'? 3) How can sustainability goals be achieved more
effectively?

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

World Social Forum

- Bombay (India), Jan 16- 21, 2004; http://www.wsfindia.org/

Peoples' movements around the world are working to demonstrate that the
path to sustainable development, social and economic justice lies in
alternative models for people-centred and self-reliant progress, rather
than in neo-liberal globalisation.

The World Social Forum (WSF) was created to provide an open platform to
discuss strategies of resistance to the model for globalisation formulated
at the annual World Economic Forum at Davos by large multinational
corporations, national governments, IMF, the World Bank and the WTO, which
are the foot soldiers of these corporations.

**********

Indian Activists Take Center Stage at WSF

- Shaun Tandon, SIFY (India), Jan. 11 , 2004

By hosting the world's premier anti-globalisation event this week, Indian
activists accustomed to fighting local battles will be thrown onto a world
platform ready to hear grievances as diverse as the billion-plus country.

About half of the 75,000 people who plan to attend the six-day World
Social Forum starting Friday in Mumbai are Indian, organisers say. It is a
far cry the first three World Social Forums, held in 2001, 2002 and 2003
in Porto Alegre, Brazil, when Latin Americans and Europeans were the clear
leaders of the anti-globalisation movement.

The most visible of India's contemporary leftist activists is most likely
Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize-winning novelist who has won a global
audience with her strident denunciations of US foreign policy. In Mumabi,
Roy is set to speak against the US invasion of Iraq. But for many Indian
campaigners, the World Social Forum will mark their own globalisation of
sorts, as they for the first time interact with a broad international
audience.

Vandana Shiva, a widely travelled Indian activist who has campaigned
against genetically modified crops and the privatisation of natural
resources, noted that many Indian movements were not even national in
reach. "It's too much of a political leap for Indian civil society," she
said at her Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology,
headquartered in a New Delhi basement where files clutter the floors and
posters promote organic food.

"There's only a tiny minority of Indian movements that work on
globalisation; the vast majority work on social exclusion," she said. "So
basically what you will have at the World Social Forum is exposing the
world community to an Indian Social Forum about Indian crises of
exclusion."

More at http://sify.com/news/fullstory.php?id=13357407

Also see
http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_world/view/65791/1/.html

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

A Cause Without A Disease

- Holger Breithaupt, EMBO reports 5, 1, 16 -18 (2004) Sent by Tom
DeGregori
http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/embor/journal/v5/n1/full/7400063.html


Endocrine-disrupting chemicals have become a topic of public concern
because they could potentially cause cancer and male infertility. But
evidence for a human health problem is hard to find

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

GMO Technology and Asia: One Step Further!

- S. Shantharam , Biologistics International, USA

Review of Book "Genetically Modified Crops: A Resource Guide for The Asia
Pacific by Suman Sahai, Gene Campaign, New Delhi, India, 2003."

Agricultural biotechnology of the GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms)
variety is perhaps the most controversial technologies of the 20th century
facing some of the most strident criticisms and opposition from different
stakeholders for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is the level of
basic understanding of the technology and related issues ranging from
being poor to ignorance confounded by the most wanton and malicious
negative campaigning by certain vested activist groups. For agricultural
biotechnology to succeed, it still has to overcome some of the strong
prejudices and public perception problems. Any effort to contribute the
better understanding of the basic issues of this "controversial"
technology is always a welcome move.

Consumer International, Malaysia has just published a new book on
genetically modified crops by Suman Sahai, to serve as a guide to public
for a basic understanding of genetic engineering of crop plants and their
stewardship. The book comes at a time when the GMOs are trying to make
their debut in Asia amidst criticisms that are all too familiar around the
world. The author is a well-known activist in the areas of farmer’s
rights, biodiversity conservation, and food security issues in India. She
is also a commentator and critic on GMO issues related to India and other
developing countries. The author brings to bear her scientific training
in genetics to explain some basic aspects of genetic engineering applied
to crop plants and highlights the issues and concerns in very simple
terms. Her avowed purpose is to raise the issues as they are and let
people make up their own mind on them. Lately, her activism is
concentrated on the way governments in Asian countries are managing the
commercialization of GMOs, and the deficiencies of the governance
mechanisms. Chief among them are the regulatory oversight of GMOs, and
social, economic impacts of GMOs and ethical issues surrounding the
technology in the Asia-Pacific region. It is in this backdrop that many
of the issues flagged in the book are supposed to inform the public at
large to enhance the quality of public debate.

The book covers various topics starting with DNA and basics of genetic
engineering starting technology, genetic elements used in genetic
engineering, acreage of GMOs in the world, and the kinds of GM crops that
have been commercialized so far, an what is on the anvil. The book delves
into issues of horizontal gene transfer, environmental risk of GMOs,
health impacts of GMOs, socio-economic impacts, religious opinions about
GMOs and regulation of GMOs, and risk assessment. A significant section
of the book attempts to describe different national biosafety frameworks,
the need for public participation in the regulatory policy and
decision-making. There is an introduction to the basics of the Biosafety
Protocol. Appendices section of the book will be very valuable and
utilitarian by serving as a one-stop source for the non-specialists.
Inclusion of various international instruments governing GMOs is equally
useful to lay persons.

Chapters on environmental risks of GM crops although written
simplistically cannot do justice to the complexity of the topic is known
and understood in the wider scientific community, but certainly sheds
light on the basics. The general scope of the book does not allow for
elaborate treatment of this all-important subject. The author has a
separate section on horizontal or lateral gene transfer (HGT or LGT), a
point that has raised a serious environmental safety concerns in the minds
of the critics and opponents of GMOs. The chapter does not say anything
about whether or not there is a possibility for HGT from plants as deduced
by scientific evidence so far. That would have helped to allay fears
about HGT. Although a brief discussion on HZT among microbes is
informative and educational, it does not help the general public to
understand whether or not such mechanism of gene transfer occur in plant
kingdom and how they may be related.

There is an interesting chapter on GM plants and weediness that once again
falls short of explaining all the complexities involved in basic biology
of weeds and weed management in present day agro-ecosystems. It is
understandable that a complete treatment of the subject may be beyond the
scope of the book, but some of scenario painted with respect to weediness
problem in canola is not that straightforward as depicted. The reader is
cautioned to seek more elaborate writings on the issue before jumping to
conclusions.

For example, while discussing the case for introducing a GM crop, like
tomato in Malaysia seems to be safe from author’s point of views there are
no wild and weedy relatives there. But, what should be borne in mind is
that modern tomatoes are 99.99% self-pollinated and even if you grown GM
tomato next to its weedy relative the chances of gene transfer is zero,
and that is a scientific fact. In fact, in commercial cultivation of
tomatoes today there are no buffer zones and border rows to maintain seed
purity. Pollen flow does not mean gene transfer, and that point comes
through rather indirectly in the chapter, but what is important is to
understand is there are various biological and physical factors governing
pollen transfer from modern agricultural ecosystems to evaluate the impact
of gene flow to wild and weedy relatives. Another important point that
seems missing is given genes flow, which by itself is not a cause of
concern, but what needs to evaluate are the consequences of such a gene
flow. It is important for those who are concerned about “genetic
contamination” (I abhor the phrase) to understand this basic fact.

Contrary to the author’s claims that there is not much empirical data on
the fate of transgenes in the wild relatives of the GM crop plants, there
is a significant body of data on the topics from almost twenty years of
GMO risk assessment researches sponsored by European Commission 2002), and
more importantly the at least a century old literature on plant breeding
and genetics of various agricultural crops is replete with data and
information on pollen flow based on which seed purity standards have been
established by the seed industry. But, it is true as the author suggest
that when one carries out environmental risk assessment of GM crops, it
must be carried out in different agro-ecological environments in tropical
countries through a regulatory oversight mechanism to gain the confidence
of the public. The suggestion by the author to conduct tests with GMOs in
“wild communities” is difficult to comprehend and wonder what purpose it
might serve.

The chapter on health implications of GM foods is quite informative to
understand the food safety issues. Socio-economic impacts of GM
technology have been well articulated by the author, as it is her forte.
Again, they are complex issues and readers are cautioned read more various
other sources to gain a comprehensive understating of the subject.
Chapters on risk assessment and food safety assessment have also been
treated well given the basic scope of the book and the intended audience.

The resource book can easily serve as a primer to the uninitiated in
understanding the public issues of agricultural biotechnology. The book
can be a useful desk guide to practitioners of biosafety regulations in
Asia and also many NGOs in the region whose basic understanding of the art
of genetic engineering and biotechnology is rather wanting. Even though,
there are hundreds of books, articles and internet based resource
materials written by well known experts in the field, they are most often
never read by the those who blindly oppose GM technology, and even if read
is not trusted or believed. The book by Suman Sahai should help in better
understanding of the basics of biotechnology and genetic engineering and
public issues, coming as it is from one among them.

The book is written in a simple and direct manner given the complex nature
of biotechnology, and attempts to capture all basic aspects of the issues
surrounding agricultural biotechnology. Perhaps this is first book of its
kind to come by an author from the Asia region is itself an
accomplishment. Most often one only comes across writings on the subject
by western experts, but seldom from a person from the region. Publishers
are well advised to do a better job of copy editing and proof reading for
subsequent editions to remove some avoidable typographical errors and
printer’s devils that not too uncommon in such publications. The value of
the book would have enhanced a lot more had there been some good color
illustrations and photographs to explain topics as the book is meant for
the general public.

The book is highly recommended as a primer to those who are curious and
also care about the happenings in the area of GM crops, and would like to
become an informed participant in the public debate. Hopefully, this book
will be one of the voices from the south that needs to be heard in an
enlightened pluralistic debate. While the book in its present scope could
not have comprehensively covered every aspect the biotech issues, it
certainly has highlighted the need for informed public debate in the Asian
context. The author should be commended for her effort. Publishers must
put in efforts to see that the book reaches the hands of those who need it
most, the public.

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Exploring the 'Singularity'

- James John Bell, Originally published in The Futurist June 1, 2003.
Published on KurzweilAI.net June 6, 2003.

The point in time when current trends may go wildly off the charts-- known
as the "Singularity"--is now getting serious attention. What it suggests
is that technological change will soon become so rapid that we cannot
possibly envision its results.

Technological change isn't just happening fast. It's happening at an
exponential rate. Contrary to the commonsense, intuitive, linear view, we
won't just experience 100 years of progress in the twenty- first
century-it will be more like 20,000 years of progress.

The near-future results of exponential technological growth will be
staggering: the merging of biological and nonbiological entities in
biorobotics, plants and animals engineered to grow pharmaceutical drugs,
software-based "life," smart robots, and atom-sized machines that
self-replicate like living matter. Some individuals are even warning that
we could lose control of this expanding techno-cornucopia and cause the
total extinction of life as we know it. Others are researching how this
permanent technological overdrive will affect us. They're trying to
understand what this new world of ours will look like and how accelerating
technology already impacts us.

The antithesis to neo-Luddite activists is the extropians. For example,
the Progress Action Coalition, formed in 2001 by bio-artist, author, and
extropian activist Natasha Vita-More, fantasizes about "the dream of true
artificial intelligence . . . adding a new richness to the human landscape
never before known." Pro-Act, AgBioworld, Biotechnology Progress,
Foresight Institute, the Progress and Freedom Foundation, and other
industry groups acknowledge, however, that the greatest threat to
technological progress comes not just from environmental groups, but from
a small faction of the scientific community.

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

A Poverty of Reason: Sustainable Development and Economic Growth

by Wilfred Beckerman; Amazon.com $12.57; Publisher: Independent Institute;
(September 2002) ; ISBN: 0945999852

Wilfred Beckerman, an economist and Emeritus Fellow at Balliol College,
Oxford University, has served on Britain's Royal Commission on
Environmental Pollution and chaired the Academic Panel of Economists for
the UK Department of the Environment from 1991 to 1996. He is the author
of In Defence of Economic Growth, Small Is Stupid: Blowing the Whistle on
the Green, Through Green-Colored Glasses: Environmentalism Reconsidered,
and Justice, Posterity, and the Environment.

In this detailed economic investigation of sustainable development, a
noted professor of economics argues that many of the alarms commonly
sounded by environmentalists are, in fact, unfounded, and that current
sustainable development policies should be reconsidered in light of their
effects on the earth's human population, such as increased poverty and
environmental degradation in developing countries. In a rare balanced
counterpoint to popular sustainable development rhetoric, Professor
Beckerman forces policy makers to consider whether future generations have
rights that morally constrain and trump the claims of those alive today,
particularly the masses of people living in dire poverty, arguing that the
current sustainable development program is a menace to the prosperity and
freedom of both current and future generations.

"The author of this book is beginning the arduous task of reassessing
ideas that have pervaded economic and social thought since Malthus. This
book attacks the idea of "sustainable growth" as illogically based and
harmful to developing and developed countries alike. The
anti-"sustainable-growth" movement has been growing in the past ten years
(and even longer), sparking a serious if somewhat hidden debate by
academics fearful of the indoctrinated masses. The author brings together
some of the most compelling arguments against "sustainable growth". He
does not present the entire argument for any of his points, but rather
presents us with a book that should spark intellectual thought, as opposed
to environmental fear mongering. The author's style is not particularly
lithe; but, it is functional without being too stodgy.

Some of the authors main arguments include:
1.) From an economic perspective, it may be cheaper to deal with the costs
of pollution (such as levies to prevent rising ocean water from swamping
cities etc) than to pay the cost of abating pollution.
2.) The environmental benefit of ideas such as the Kyoto treaty may be
next to nothing while the financial costs are great.
3.) Future generations will most likely have much higher income than we
will; therefore, it is immoral to afflict today's population, especially
in developing countries, with costs that could best be borne by future
generations.
4.) The precautionary principle is an illogical one. Paranoid scientists
will then be able to cost the global economy trillions on a whim.
5.) Once countries reach a certain per capita income threshold they begin
to improve their own environments. Therefore, retarding growth is . . .
unadvisable.
6.) Future generations have no rights, as they do not exist.
7.) Limiting the pollution of developing countries impedes growth and
delays expansion of average lifespans.
8.) Most interestingly, he alludes to the idea that environmentalism may
be a new form of imperialism. The rich countries impress their values of
clean environments on those who would rather have enough clean food or
drinking water (resources are not unlimited).

While many people mention that those who write in favor of companies are
bought off by capitalists, it is also important to note that many
environmental organizations as well as international organizations (such
as the UN) depend on the public perception of unacceptable environmental
conditions to further their agenda as well. "