Today in AgBioView: October 23, 2003:
* The Man Who Fed the World
* Yet More on the UK Farm-Scale Evaluations: Real Conclusions
* Biosafety Trials Darken Outlook for Transgenic Crops in Europe
* Too Dull a Message (What the UK Press Missed)
* Why GM Crops Are Not a Worrying Development
* The Regulator's Agenda - Benefit From Global GM Best Practices
* Brazilian Farmers Embrace GM Crops
* BioEvolution: A New Book by Michael Fumento
* GMO Trade Disputes Conference
* Public's Perception of Risk: Int Conference by EU
* Risk Assessment of GM Plants: Avoiding Gridlock?
* Four Questions on European Consumers' Attitudes
* Why Concern About GM Foods?
* The Tragedy of Garrett Hardin
The Man Who Fed the World
- Elizabeth Weise, USA Today, Oct 22, 2003
'Norman Borlaug's landmark wheat research saved millions from starvation
in the 1960s'
The history books of the 20th century are full of the names of dictators
who killed millions. Less well known is the name of one man credited with
saving more lives than anyone who has ever lived by keeping tens of
millions from starving in the 1960s.
He is 89-year-old Norman Borlaug, and he won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize
for his role in launching a revolution in agriculture that tripled wheat
production in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East in the 1960s. In
1944, Borlaug joined a Rockefeller Foundation program undertaken with the
Mexican government to research wheat production.
During 16 years in Mexico, Borlaug helped develop dwarf wheat varieties
that were disease-resistant, adaptable to growing conditions and
exceedingly high-yielding. His wheat and improved agricultural practices
transformed production in Mexico in the 1940s and 1950s and later in Asia
and Latin America, and they sparked what came to be known as the "Green
The effect has been called spectacular. Over the past 40 years, annual
wheat production in India has increased from 12 million to 76 million
metric tons; in Pakistan, from 4.5 million to 21 million metric tons; and
worldwide, from 300 million to 600 million metric tons.
Borlaug also was the driving force behind the establishment of the World
Food Prize in 1985, which is awarded annually in recognition of
outstanding achievements in the fields of food production and nutrition.
Last week the $250,000 prize was awarded to Catherine Bertini, former
executive director of the World Food Programme. In her tenure, she helped
feed the hungry in the Horn of Africa, Mozambique, Kosovo, North Korea and
Borlaug still works most of the year in the Third World, most often in
sub-Saharan Africa, trying to improve agriculture to feed a world
population expected to reach 8.3 billion in 2005. He recently lectured at
the University of California-Berkeley, where he spoke to USA TODAY's
Q: How did you do it?
A: We had international nurseries where the best wheat varieties were
compared. As the crisis of hunger in Pakistan and India grew in the 1960s,
we had the data. It wasn't published yet. Hell, we were trying to fill
empty stomachs. The academics said, "Who are these insane people from
Mexico? Borlaug is playing with the lives of millions of innocent people."
They said it would take 10 or 11 years (to reap the benefits of the
high-yielding strain). We cut it to four to five by planting two
generations (of wheat) a year, one in the north and the other in the
Q: Who worked on it?
A: We brought many young students to Mexico. They were a new generation, a
fraternity of hungry, gutsy young scientists from countries such as
Pakistan, India, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the
well-trained scientists in those countries were wearing white coats, like
they'd worn when they were in graduate school. They weren't out in the
field where the problems were.
Q: How did your students accomplish this?
A: I used to tell them when they first arrived, "We're going to teach you
to be rebels. Not gun-lugging rebels, but scientific rebels, not afraid of
change." They put in demonstration plots on farmers' fields. The first
year not very many, then hundreds and then thousands. And that sets the
grass roots on fire when peasant farmers see that land that's been
producing eight or 10 bushels can suddenly produce 75 bushels.
Q: Did you call it the Green Revolution?
A: It wasn't us scientists. In 1968, at a small meeting in Washington, the
head administrator of USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development),
William Gaud, said, "For the last five years, we've had more people
starving and hungry. But something has happened. Pakistan is
self-sufficient in wheat and rice, and India is moving towards it. It
wasn't a red, bloody revolution as predicted. It was a green revolution."
Q: There has been a backlash against your work among some
environmentalists, who have argued that introducing fertilizers and new
seed types took control over the food supply out of the hands of the
A: Cereal production was 680 million tons in 1950, and the year 2000 it
was 1.9 billion, more than threefold more. Had we tried to use the
technology of 1950 to produce the harvest of 2000 it would have taken an
additional 2.75 billion acres of land. Instead, that land was saved for
Mother Nature to leave it in the natural forest and vegetation that the
utopians talk about.
Q: What about complaints by environmentalists that the Green Revolution
A: I've always said, "Use all the organic fertilizer that's available, but
please don't give the message to the developing nations that they can
produce the food they need on the highly leached soils with organic
fertilizer alone." This is misleading and making it much more difficult
for those of us who are trying to deal with the problems. . . . One of my
great frustrations is the misuse of terminology. You'll hear "the use of
fertilizer, insecticide and herbicide is detrimental" with the same
toxicity implied. Fertilizers are nutrients for plants, like food is
nutrients for people, whereas insecticides, fungicides and herbicides are
selected for their toxicity. But you wouldn't know that by reading many of
these environmental publications.
Q: Can biotechnology help feed the world's growing population?
A: I say we need biotechnology. We're going to need better technology,
otherwise we're going back to chopping down more trees on marginal land,
destroying land and habitats.
Q: Don't you worry you'll be attacked for saying such things?
A: When you're old and you've retired a couple of times, you feel that you
have a moral obligation to say it like it is.
The Borlaug file
* Born: March 25, 1914, in Cresco, a farming community in northeast Iowa.
Worked on the family farm and attended a one-room rural school.
* Education: University of Minnesota. Competed on wrestling team; earned
bachelor's degree in forestry and advanced degrees in plant pathology.
* Family: Married with two children, five grandchildren and three
* Achievements: Developed high-yielding, disease-resistant dwarf strains
of wheat that later had revolutionary yields in Asia, Latin America and
the Middle East. Instrumental in establishing humanitarian World Food
Prize in 1985.
* Accolades: Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work on production of grain
in hungry nations.
Yet More on the UK Farm-Scale Evaluations
- Chris Preston
Well it took less than a day for Greepeace Australia to declare "UK Govt
report puts nail in coffin of GE canola" and further and "The UK
government report shows that commercial planting of GE canola in Australia
is likely to result in a drop in insect and butterfly numbers and less
plant diversity". You can read the press release at:
Bob Phelps of the Gene Ethics Network released his own comments which
include "This major environmental report shows that growing herbicide
tolerant GE canola in Australia would be an environmental disaster,"
I have read all 10 of the papers published by the Royal Society of London
on the Farme-Scale evaluations. These publications are possibly the first
time that we have seen such detailed data collected from commercial scale
farming fields. So what are the main conclusions from these studies? In a
snapshot they are that different herbicide use patterns will lead to
different numbers and maturity of weeds in fields towards the end of the
season. This in turn will influence the populations of insects that use
those weeds for food or other purposes. This is particularly true of broad
leaf weeds that produce nectar. If these weeds are not flowering, you can
expect fewer insects that visit weeds for nectar. Perhaps also there is
the warning that we sould not generalise about these effects too much as
individual insect groups will vary depending on the weed species present.
Therefore, if you want to encourage specific insect groups into crops you
need to make sure you have the correct weeds.
In all the hype about these trials, one important point seems to have been
forgotten. That is the effect of the crop itself. Loking through the data,
it was obvious to me that maize crops, GM or not, are not favoured by
insects. For many arthropod groups there was little difference between
numbers in maize, oilseed rape or beets, but where there were differences,
maize was always well behind oilseed rape. Of the two insect groups that
we have heard most about in the press, bees and butterflies, there were in
fact 4 times as many butterflies and 30 times as many bees in GM oilseed
rape than there were in non-GM maize. There were also more of both insects
in GM oilseed rape than there were in non-GM beet. I would hazard that had
numbers in non-GM wheat been measured, they would also be found to be
lower than oilseed rape. So far as bees and butterflies are concerned,
perhaps the UK Government should insist that more oilseed rape and less
maize and beets (and wheat?) are grown.
Particularly strange is the fact that the anti-GM groups in Australia (and
probably elsewhere) have trumpeted the conclusions that the studies
demonstrate a decrease in plant diversity in GM oilseed rape. Where they
get this result from is totally beyond me. The data on weed species
diversity shows that at the final count there were no significant
differences between GM and non-GM oilseed rape. In total, for 12 species
examined in detail only two showed a significant reduction in seedbank
numbers following the growing of oilseed rape. These are Capsella
bursa-pastoris and Persicaria maculosa. While this may lead to a reduction
in abundance of these weeds it is unlikely to lead to their extinction
from farm land. Some seem to forget that GM oilseed rape is not going to
be grown on the same land every year as it is part of crop rotation. Also
there is little evidence that herbicide use alone has ever led to the
elimination of a species at the field scale.
There were no differences in total weed numbers between GM and non-GM
oilseed rape. Both crops had identical average weed populations of 48.8
weeds per square metre at the final count. However, GM oilseed rape did
have more grass weeds and fewer reproductive broad leaf weeds. Overall
seed rain on GM oilseed rape fields was 79% less than on non-GM oilseed
rape fields. However, despite this, the weed seedbank in fields following
GM oilseed rape increased by 18%. This compares to a 57% increase for
non-GM oilseed rape fields. This result simply demonstrates something we
have known for some time, that oilseed rape is not particularly
competitive against weeds, at least not so far as weed seed set is
It would seem this study has demonstrated that changing crops grown can
have a much bigger impact on weed and insect numbers than will growing GM
varieties of crops. The scale of the final impact will depend on who
adopts the GM crops and how they are used (and also how farming practices
change in non-GM crops). One needs to also remember that these crops
represent only a small area of the total landscape. What happens in the
rest of the landscape is likely to have a much more significant effect on
plant and animal diversity than will killing a few extra weeds in crops.
Dr. Christopher Preston, Senior Lecturer, Weed Management, University of
Biosafety Trials Darken Outlook for Transgenic Crops in Europe
- Jim Giles, Nature v.425, p.751, Oct. 23 2003
The results are in from the largest investigation so far into the
ecological impact of transgenic crops -- and they're bad news for
Britain's Farm Scale Evaluations, published on 16 October, show that two
genetically modified crops -- spring oilseed rape and beet -- are likely
to have harmful impacts on farmland biodiversity. Researchers say the
levels of weeds, seeds and insects in fields of transgenic crops were
lower than those in plots of conventional varieties, and that this could
have a knock-on effect on the birds and small animals that feed off these
Although the problems are caused by the herbicide-spraying regime
associated with the crops, rather than the crops themselves, the results
are likely to make it politically impossible for the British government to
license transgenic crops in the immediate future, many observers say.
That's a blow for supporters of the technology in the United States, who
had been looking to Britain for potential support in their attempts to
persuade Europe to accept the technology.
The trials, which took place between 2000 and 2002 and are published as
eight papers in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B,
compared conventional and transgenic varieties across 200 plots.
Positive results for a third crop -- maize (corn) -- have been called into
doubt, as the weed-killer used on most of the conventional plants is to be
phased out. But the other results have not been directly challenged by
most supporters of the technology. The data show that the number of seeds
on the ground in the plots of transgenic oilseed rape and beet was
one-third to one-sixth lower than in the conventional plots. Levels of
some insects and weeds were also lower. "We could see a long-term decline
in weeds that feed birds," says Les Firbank, a land-use specialist at
Lancaster University, who led the trials.
Firbank and the other authors stress that it is the herbicide-spraying
regime, not the genetic modification, that is the root of the problem.
Herbicide-resistant crops are engineered to resist broad-spectrum
weed-killers that remove almost all weeds from a field.
During the farm-scale evaluations, farmers sprayed the crops once or twice
with a broad-spectrum herbicide. This reduces the labour required for
conventional weed management, which involves repeatedly applying less
powerful weed-killers. But the more powerful herbicide used with the
transgenic crops also removes more weeds, as well as the seeds they
Representatives of the agriculture industry point out that this leaves
open the possibility that another herbicide-spraying regime might have
lessened the impact on biodiversity while still reducing farmers' labour.
"This was a test of management systems," says Craig Stevenson, head of
government affairs at the London office of the agricultural biotechnology
company Monsanto. "These can be changed very easily. We're still confident
that transgenic crops can bring benefits."
But given the intense public opposition to transgenic agriculture, the
chances of commercializing herbicide-resistant crops in the short term are
slim (see Nature 425, 656ö657; 2003). Many surveys of public attitudes,
including a government-commissioned public debate, have recorded
opposition to commercialization, and the field-trial results are likely to
strengthen this sentiment.
No decision will be made until a panel of scientific advisers has
considered the results for the government. But environment minister Elliot
Morley has already said that no commercial planting will take place in
In the meantime, work on better spraying regimes continues. Alan Dewar, an
entomologist at Broom's Barn Research Station in Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk,
and a researcher on the farm-scale evaluations, has studied the effect of
delaying spraying beet until later in the crop's life, and of retaining
herbicide-free strips between rows of crops. The experiments, which are
partly funded by Monsanto, found that the effects on biodiversity may be
no worse than with conventional crops. "But when I saw the headlines last
week I wondered if we would ever get the chance to prove it," he says.
Too Dull a Message
- David Walker, Open i, Oct. 18, 2003 http://www.openi.co.uk/oi031018.htm
The British press and media, looking for something spectacular from the
report on Farm Scale Evaluation of genetically modified crops in the UK,
seemed to miss the implication of the findings. (470 words)
Headlines messages varied from the death knell for genetically modified
crops from those newspapers which have been actively campaigning against
this biotechnology to the political implication that any decision, which
either way will be difficult for the government, is likely to be deferred
until after the next general election which is likely to be in 2005 or
The report identified loss of bio diversity in terms of some high profile
insects for genetically modified sugar beet and oilseed rape but gains for
genetically modified maize. In all three cases the insects studied
benefited from weedier crops. The study reports and news release stressed
that this had nothing to do with the breeding techniques used to produce
the varieties seeded, but reflected the effectiveness of the use of
herbicides to control weeds.
This was clearly too dull a message to sell newspaper or hold television
audiences. In the absense of any sustainable scientific case against
genetically modified crops, further delay represents a loss to UK society
in terms of benefits from the application of a potentially very useful
technology. This aside, however, the findings of the report have welcome
implications for both the government and those awaiting adoption of the
For the government it provides a ready excuse to delay what at this time
would certainly be a politically damaging and divisive decision. Indeed
the original decision to hold the trials may have been to avoid such a
decision more than four years ago. The excuse is likely to be that the
manner in which herbicides are applied to the crop needs reviewing to
avoid unnecessarily weed free crops.
Such a review would surely highlight, in a way that conventional promotion
is not able to, the very environmentally positive potential of the
herbicides glyphosate or glufosinate-ammonium relative to other herbicides
when used in combination with crops bred to resist them. With the red
herring of the genetic engineering used for this breeding fried, attention
could be focus on the benefits of environmentally sensitive agronomic
techniques, including delayed herbicide application, the use of
environmental strips and the like.
It would be logical then to expect an environmental imperative for the
release of genetically modified crops to flow from such a review.
Unfortunately significant vested interests opposed to genetically modified
crops have developed in the UK over the years of high profile debate and
mere environmental considerations may not be sufficient to over come them.
They may be no more willing to smell the roses after such a review than
they have been following the publication of the findings of the recently
completed Farm Scale Evaluation.
Scientific Reasons that GM Crops Should Not be Regarded as a Worrying
- Financial Times (London), Oct. 21, 2003
Sir, Several points in David Curry's assessment of genetically modified
crop and food policy, "Squaring the transgenic crop circle" (October 17),
First, it is not surprising that there are differences in "environmental
impacts of maize, beet and oilseed rape" but these differences arise from
differences in the fundamental nature of the plants and have nothing to do
with whether or not the plants in question have been altered with GM
techniques. There is wide agreement in the scientific community that risk
is determined by the nature of the parental plant(s) and the function of
the gene(s) that have been modified, not by the use of one genetic
technique or another.
Second, science has come as close as humanly possible to a "knockout
punch" that confirms the safety and utility of GM crops. They have been
grown worldwide on more than 100m acres annually for a decade and material
derived from them is present in more than two-thirds of processed foods
consumed in North America. There is not a single documented case of damage
to an ecosystem or person but GM has increased crop yields, eliminated the
use of hundreds of millions of pounds of chemical pesticides and enabled
farmers to use agricultural techniques that reduce soil erosion.
Third, tinkering with the threshold of "GM presence in non-GM crops" is a
futile exercise. It reinforces the incorrect notion that there is
something unique - and uniquely worrying - about GM crops, raises
production costs for GM and non-GM products alike and creates unnecessary
Most important, there is no safety issue involved.
- Henry I. Miller, The Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305, US
India: The Regulator's Agenda - Benefit From Global GM Best Practices
- Editorial, Financial Express (India), Oct. 22, 2003
This week, scientists and regulators of GM crops held forth on Indias
need for a robust regulatory apparatus for transgenic crops. They
revisited the various "problem" areas pertaining to environmental, public
health and agronomic impacts of transgenic (or genetically modified) crop
At least one policy issue was clarified by the secretary in the Department
of Biotechnology, notably, that a single window clearance system as
demanded by the industry was not an option for India. More importantly,
there was a general consensus over the need to draw lessons from global
Indeed, upholding intellectual property rights and a science-based and
transparent approach are the hallmarks of societies which have
successfully adopted technologies, as in the case of US and GM farming.
Interestingly, even UK has felt it worthwhile to conduct the most
widespread field studies ever done on biotech crops, notwithstanding the
overwhelming public resistance to GM products -- all in an effort to
evolve a coherent policy on GM crops.
Given that those with significant roles to play in Indias biotech farming
experience now express the desire to learn from experiences elsewhere, can
we expect a resolution of the long-running saga of unapproved Bt cotton
seeds flooding the market? Will "retailers" be prosecuted and/or fined for
selling untested and unapproved Bt seeds? Failing which, will the
regulator display a rare, commonsensical approach, and begin approving
basic genes instead of individual hybrids? Will local bodies be galvanised
into ensuring that approved seeds are being planted after adhering to the
technical conditions specified? Can forward movement be expected on the
infrastructural capability India so patently lacks so as to conduct GM
checks on imported food stuffs? Will the regulators begin to clarify on
vital issues such as the labelling requirements necessary and the
liabilities a company may face in the event of mixing between GM and
For those who may be discomfited with India drawing from the experiences
of developed nations, we need look no further than China. The dragon has
today surpassed India vis-a-vis its bullishness on GM crops, even though
both nations were off the starting blocks around the same time.
The agenda for our regulators is clear. While some has gone right, much
has also gone wrong with this country's transgenic experience. They need
to start fixing it.
Brazilian Farmers Embrace Genetically Modified Crops
- Tony Smith, The New York Times, Oct. 21/2003 via http://www.stltoday.com
Santo Angelo, Brazil - Brazil's decision last month to legalize the
planting of genetically modified soybeans may have angered
environmentalists and some in the government, but it led to rejoicing and
relief in the farming community in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil's
southernmost state, where farmers have been planting transgenic soybeans
illegally for years.
Among those celebrating is Rafael Moreno, who for the last four years has
been planting and harvesting genetically engineered soybeans on his
1,000-acre farm. "Everybody around here was doing it and it made economic
sense, so I did it, too," said Moreno, 30, a resident of this sleepy town
close to the Argentine border.
Such realities and the fact that Brazil - which this month is expected to
overtake the United States as the world's top soybean exporter - is
working hard to become an agricultural superpower are crucial factors
behind President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's changed stance on the
planting of genetically modified crops.
Before taking office in January, da Silva opposed such crops. Now that he
heads the government, he must weigh the growing importance of
agribusiness, which accounted for a third of the country's gross domestic
product and 40 percent of its exports last year. Farmers here expect the
president's decision, which legalized transgenic crops for this planting
season, to pave the way for more permanent legislation that would put them
on an equal footing with farmers in the United States, Argentina and
Canada, where gene-altered crops have been planted for years.
When Moreno started planting the seeds, originally smuggled from
Argentina, most of his farm equipment was at least 15 years old - "more or
less scrap metal," he said. Now, after just a few years, increasing
returns from the farm have enabled him to replace all but one tractor.
The government's decision has also brought a palpable change in mood to a
bustling tractor and farm machinery dealership in Santo Angelo. Just five
years ago, local farmers' margins were shrinking, and Wilson Pippi, the
owner of Pippi Maquinas, said he was finding it tough to drum up new
business. Then, more and more farmers began planting genetically modified
soybeans smuggled from Argentina, and Pippi's sales took off. "I've been
selling Massey Ferguson (farm equipment) for 40 years, and I can't recall
a more favorable outlook for agriculture around here," said Pippi, who
also grows soybeans.
On a national scale, although only about 17 percent of the soy plants in
Brazil's fields are transgenic, the country's soybean production has risen
nearly 60 percent in the last six years, closing the gap on the United
States, which is expecting a drought-diminished harvest in 2003. Last
week, the United States said that Brazil was about to surpass it in
Santo Angelo farmers say that by planting the genetically modified seeds
their average yield has already risen to nearly 50 bushels an acre from
about 30. "Unlike farmers in America or Europe, Brazilian farmers get no
subsidies, so this is important in helping us compete," Pippi said.
Too much genetically modified soy, however, could pose a problem. Brazil's
top export market for soybeans is the European Union, which has introduced
stringent regulations on the origins of all genetically modified food
because of concerns by consumers.
The stance in Europe appears to be softening considerably from three years
ago, when genetically modified foods were described as Frankenfoods. If
Europeans continue to resist, "we will just have to look for other
markets," said Amauri Miotto of Rio Grande's Fetag, a federation of
farmers working small, family-owned properties. "There are plenty of poor,
hungry people in the world who need cheaper food."
There is no reason Brazilian farmers cannot produce both conventional and
genetically modified soybeans, said Carlo Lovatelli, president of the
Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries, although he said they
should be paid a premium for conventional crops because they cost up to
$30 a metric ton more to produce. Detailed labeling and testing required
for export shipments will eat into the improved margins of those planting
genetically modified soybeans. Farmers here, however, say those costs are
marginal compared with the savings on herbicides and in time, because the
fields of genetically modified soybeans are free of weeds and easier to
Environmentalist groups and many members of da Silva's Workers' Party
continue to echo European concerns about genetically modified food.
They're also angry at what they call a "sellout" by Brazilian agriculture
to Monsanto Co. of Creve Coeur, Mo., whose Roundup Ready technology is
used in the genetically modified seeds that entered the region from
Nearly three-quarters of the state's soybean farmers have been planting
the transgenic seeds for years. While it has been technically illegal to
possess genetically modified seeds, only a handful of farmers have been
prosecuted and only minimal amounts of the seed are thought to have been
If Monsanto were to offer Moreno genetically modified seeds engineered
specifically for the region's climate and soil, he said he wouldn't think
twice about buying them and paying royalties to Monsanto. Monsanto, which
has complained bitterly for years about farmers in southern Brazil using
its technology but not paying royalties, welcomed the government's decree
and said it hoped to find "an applicable solution" for past and future
That is likely to be tough going. Here, at least, farmers have stockpiled
seeds from previous harvests and now do not have to smuggle seeds. Moreno
revealed a large supply of seeds stacked in his barn. "There are 2,000
bags in there," he said with a grin. "But I only need 600 bags to replant
BioEvolution: A New Book by Michael Fumento
Amazon.com price $20.27; 532 pages; Encounter Books; Oct. 2003;
No area of science is moving faster nor will have a greater impact than
biotechnology. BioEvolution is the first book to explain what biotech is
all about and to describe the amazing scientific advances that have
already been made.
Author Michael Fumento shows how biotech is changing our lives and will do
so even more dramatically in the near future. Reporting from Ground Zero
of experimentation and clinical trials, Fumento shows how biotechnology
has already demonstrated the potential to cure almost any disease, extend
human lifespans well past the 120-year range, and wipe out not only famine
but malnutrition while using less land, less water, and fewer chemicals.
He discusses the miracle drugs and treatments in the biotech
pipeline-scientific innovations that will change medicine over the next
decades, eliminating diseases such as diabetes, AIDS, and Alzheimer's, and
making cancer into a manageable disorder rather than a death sentence.
Bruce N. Ames, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University
of California, Berkeley, and recipient of the National Medal of Science
"[A] wonderfully intelligent, well written, and wise look at...the new age
of genetics and society." Frederick Seitz, Past President, National
Academy of Sciences and President Emeritus, Rockefeller University
"'BioEvolution' provides an excellent antidote for much of the distorted
information surrounding us."
C.S. Prakash, Director, Center for Plant Biotechnology Research President,
AgBioWorld Foundation, Tuskegee University "'BioEvolution' provides a
sense of optimism and wisdom tempered by realism,...showing how human
ingenuity can make life better." William W. Li, MD, President, The
Angiogenesis Foundation "Fumento takes the reader behind the scenes of the
biotechnology business while lucidly explaining the scientific
underpinnings of medical research."
GMO Trade Disputes Conference
- San Antonio, Texas; Oct. 30-31, 2003
The Role of GMOs in Trade Disputes - a conference that will focus on
genetically modified organisms and how their use can result in trade
Public's Perception of Risk: International Conference by EU
- Brussels, Dec. 4-5, 2003, The European Commission.
The event will explore how the public's perceptions of risk are formed,
and what effect this has in a complex democracy such as the European
Union. Questions to be tackled include:
- What roles should scientists and politicians play in communicating risk
to the general public? - Can policy making based on scientific risk
assessment be made more open, more understandable and more inclusive? -
How should communication and debate at national, EU and international
level interact? - How should science, industry, government and civil
society interact in public debates about risk?
The conference will incorporate a stakeholder forum on risk perception in
relation to genetically modified crops and food.
Risk Assessment of GM Plants: Avoiding Gridlock?
- Mike J. Wilkinson, Jeremy Sweet and Guy M. Poppy; Trends in Plant
Science, 2003, 8:5:208-212
Cultivation of genetically modified crops is presently based largely on
four crops containing few transgenes and grown in four countries. This
will soon change and pose new challenges for risk assessment. A more
structured approach that is as generic as possible is advocated to study
consequences of gene flow. Hazards should be precisely defined and
prioritized, with emphasis on quantifying elements of exposure. This
requires coordinated effort between large, multidisciplinary research
Four Questions on European Consumers' Attitudes Toward the Use of Genetic
Modification in Food Production
- Klaus G. Grunert, Lone Bredahl and Joachim Scholderer; Innovative Food
Science and Emerging Technologies, Vol. 4, No. 3, Sep. 2003
Four questions on European consumers' attitudes to the use of genetic
modification (GM) in food production are posed and answered: (1) how
negative are consumer attitudes to GM applications in food production? (2)
How do these attitudes affect perception of and preference for products
involving GM applications? (3) How deeply rooted are these attitudes? (4)
Will the attitudes change due to more information and/or product
Drawing on two major studies researching these questions, it is concluded
that consumer attitudes towards GM in food production are negative, that
these negative attitudes guide the perception of food products involving
the use of GM and lead to a range of sweeping negative associations which
overshadow potential benefits perceived, that these negative attitudes are
embedded in a system of more general attitudes, especially attitude to
nature, to technology, and alienation from the marketplace, implying that
they are deeply rooted, and that they will not easily be changed by
information. They may change, however, due to own experience with products
produced using GM and involving clear consumer benefits.
Why Concern About GM Foods?
- The Onion (Madison, WI); http://www.theonion.com/3941/infograph.html
Genetically modified foods are becoming more prevalent. Why are some
>:) Have nagging fear that the yams may someday rise up against us
>:) Afraid corn might try to crossbreed with pets
>:) Sick of focus on genetically modified foods. Focus should be on
geneticlly modifying children
>:) Circulatory system seems unnecessary for watermelon
>:) Don't trust biotechnologists. Do trust organic farmers, until they meet
>:) Dog howls whenever he passes genetically modified soybean field
>:) Hath ot a genetically modified potato eyes? Not warm'd and cool'd by
the same winer and summer, as man is? If you poison them, do they not die?
>:) Tired of annoying pop-up ads that spell out "1-800-COLLECT" as bananas
The Tragedy of Garrett Hardin
- Gregg Easterbrook, The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2003
The philosopher Garrett Hardin and his wife Jane died last month by mutual
suicide. His passing received too little attention; perhaps this week's
memorial service at the Unitarian Society in Santa Barbara, Calif., will
change that. Hardin was a brilliant, wise and gentle man who was often
desperately wrong, and the ways in which a person can be wise and gentle
and yet wrong can tell us much.
Hardin is known for his essay "The Tragedy of the Commons," which created
a sensation when published in Science magazine in 1968, and became among
the most widely read essays ever penned. In "The Tragedy of the Commons,"
Hardin supposed that unrestricted access to a commons would cause herdsmen
to graze so many animals that eventually the commons, which might have
supported a few, would collapse and all starve. Market theorists protested
that creating property rights would prevent the commons from being
overburdened, as rights-holders would acquire an incentive to safeguard
resources. Hardin thought "mutual coercion mutually agreed upon" was the
solution to the tragedy of the commons. Government should fence the
commons and turn away herdsmen. Government, Hardin thought, should
prohibit a great deal of human action, in the interest of preserving
resources for future generations.
Today people think of "The Tragedy of the Commons" as an argument against
selfishness. Actually, Hardin was arguing for government-imposed
population control: only by reducing the number of people, Hardin thought,
could we prevent excessive demand on the commons.
Reducing the human population became the cause of Hardin's life. On
becoming an intellectual celebrity, he spent much of the 1970s making
speeches in favor of abortion -- not just in favor of the right of a woman
to control her own body but in favor of abortion itself, as a good in
itself, because abortion prevents life. "Freedom to breed is intolerable,"
he declared. The newborn's cry was not, to him, a celebration of life; it
was just more breeding. "The only way we can preserve and nurture other
and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed,"
Hardin thought. And though he had a long, happy marriage with his wife
Linda, Hardin disliked the fact that women were reproductive vessels.
"Population does not grow globally; it grows very locally, at each spot
occupied by a fertile woman," Hardin declared.
Hardin said the U.S. should withdraw from the United Nations because U.N.
policy held that family size was a private decision. He also wanted a
total ban against immigration -- "we must bring immigration virtually to
an end and do so soon." When the world learned of forced sterilization in
China, Hardin cheered: "There is no talk in China of a woman's 'right' to
reproduce or of married couples' 'right to privacy,'" he wrote in 1989.
Hardin wanted forced-sterility programs extended to all developing
Thomas Malthus believed it would be physically impossible for agricultural
production to increase faster than population; the Green Revolution proved
that wrong, invalidating Malthusian assumptions. Hardin believed it would
be physically impossible for a rising human population to have any result
other than runaway pollution; "The Tragedy of the Commons" depicts the
near future as choking on smog and toxins. Instead, throughout the United
States and European Union, all forms of pollution except greenhouse gases
have been in decline pretty much since the moment Hardin wrote that they
could not decline, and population steadily rises. Hardin simply failed to
estimate how rapidly technology could respond to the needs of the commons.
Globally, the human population has almost doubled since "The Tragedy of
the Commons" was written, yet U.N. figures show that malnutrition has
declined in that period, while developing-world per-capita income,
literacy, education levels, longevity and political freedom all have
improved. Meanwhile no resource, not even petroleum, is near exhaustion.
Countless problems remain across the globe, but things simply have not
gotten as bad as Hardin assumed they would.
That Hardin was wrong on his most basic contention, that humanity would
overwhelm the Earth, should not obscure his other achievements. He spoke
wisely of the need to temper materialism: "The maximum is not the optimum"
was Hardin's best aphorism. He insisted that future generations make a
legitimate claim on us today; Hardin endlessly reminded of the future's
power to judge us, and of how we will, in the next life, wish to be
thought well of by the living. And Hardin's ability to be wise, caring and
accomplished, yet to say foolish things, reminds us all of our humanity.
I am haunted by the thought that the final expression of Garrett Hardin's
ambivalence regarding human life was the pact that brought his and his
wife's death. Both were in their eighties and in poor health; when the end
is near, each person needs the right to exit on his or her own terms. But
I liked the world much better when Garrett Hardin was in it, and am glad
his parents never took the advice their child later gave.
Mr. Easterbrook is a senior editor of The New Republic, a visiting fellow
of the Brookings Institution, and the author of "The Progress Paradox,"
forthcoming from Random House.