Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - March 6, 2004:
* Biosafety Protocol Now Operational
* Biodiversity - What, Why and How. New Dossier.
* LMOs and Modern Biotech Definitions in the Cartagena Protocol
* America: Wake Up and Smell the Cartagena Protocol
* Biotech Biodiversity Interface Grants
* Conko: Familiar Phenotypes Need Less Biosafety Scrutiny
* The Precautionary Principle
* GM Plants - How Can We Understand the Risks of GE?
* Chile Aims to Export Genetically Modified Fruit
* State of the Planet 2004
* Science and Ethics: How Scientific Inquiry Helps Frame Value Judgments
* "They Had The Money, We Had The People." - Biotech PR Campaign
* DNA Spirals Into Artists' Medium
Biosafety Protocol Now Operational
- Crop Biotech Update, isaaa.org
The 87 member states of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety have adopted documentation requirements and other procedures for promoting the safety of international trade in living or genetically modified organisms (LMOS/GMOs). This was agreed in a meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The Convention on Biological Diversity said that under the new system, all bulk shipments of GM crops intended for food, feed or processing (such as soybeans and corn) are to be identified as “may contain LMOs.” The accompanying documentation should also indicate the contact details of the importer, exporter or other appropriate authority.
Hamdallah Zedah, the Protocol’s Executive Secretary, notes that with an operational system for identifying and labeling GMO exports, "countries can enjoy the benefits of biotechnology with greater confidence while avoiding the potential risks."
More detailed documentation was also agreed to be required for those GMOs (such as genetically engineered seeds and fish) that are meant to be introduced directly to the environment. These shipments should be clearly identified as "destined for contained use." The common, scientific and commercial names of the modified organism, the transformation event code or unique identifier code, any handling and storage requirements, contact details in the case of emergency, and how the GMO is to be used, should be specified in the accompanying documents.
The meeting also adopted procedures and mechanisms for promoting compliance with the Protocol and assisting countries in cases of non-compliance. It established a 15-member compliance committee that will submit regular reports and recommendations to the governing body of the Protocol. A negotiating group of legal and technical experts on liability and redress for damages resulting from transboundary movements of GMOs was also launched. Likewise, the Biosafety Clearing House (which enables governments to share information on GMOs, national legislation, and other critical matters) was made fully functional.
View online the Convention on Biological Diversity’s news release at
http://www.biodiv.org/doc/press/2004/pr-2004-02-27-bs-en.pdf. For more information, contact Michael Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
'what it is, why it matters, and how its conservation must be built into development strategy'
- Cristián Samper, scidev.net
Biological diversity -- more commonly known as biodiversity -- is a collective term used to describe the totality and variety of life on Earth. In addition to individual organisms themselves and the genetic variability among them, the term also covers the ecosystems in which they live, in other words the various ways in which species interact both with each other and with their surrounding environment.
The term biodiversity, coined in the mid-1980s, has come to prominence because of its value in helping to understand and characterise the ways in which the biological organisms and processes are increasingly threatened by human activities. One of the by-products of modern industrial society has been the damage - ranging from the destruction of forests to the chemical pollution of the atmosphere - that it has caused to the natural environment on which all biological processes on Earth depend. Conserving biodiversity is the strategy designed to limit this problem.
Of course, such damage is not new; it has been associated to some extent with all forms of industrial activity. What is new is a growing realisation that many of these changes (such as the loss of natural
species) are irreversible. It is also being acknowledged that many of the processes being interfered with are essential to the well-being of humanity. For we rely on the existence of biodiversity for our food, our clothing, our building materials and our medicines. In addition, the biodiversity that surrounds all human societies is a potent source of cultural and spiritual values.
Realising that humanity pays a price for the loss of biodiversity has led governments, both individually and collectively, to take measures to curb the negative effects of social activity on the natural environment - in other words, to protect global biodiversity. Yet these protective measures can, in turn, create their own problems. Since they are designed to curb various forms of social and economic activity, they can - unless carefully handled - also reduce the benefits that such activities bring with them.
SciDev.Net’s Biodiversity Dossier
To assist those involved in addressing this task SciDev.Net has put together a dossier that provides a comprehensive yet focused set of electronic resources on biodiversity and its relationship to development. The dossier provides a series of commissioned policy briefs and opinion articles, an annotated directory of key documents, links to relevant organisations and events, and a basic glossary of definitions, as well as articles covering the latest developments in the field from SciDev.Net's news service.
More at http://www.scidev.net/dossiers/index.cfm?fuseaction=dossierfulltext&Dossier=11
LMOs and Modern Biotechnology Definitions in the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol
- Prof. Drew Kershen, AgBioView, http://www.agbioworld.org/ March 6, 2004
About two years ago, a scientist from Southeast Asia (if memory serves me correctly, the scientist was from either Thailand or Pakistan) contacted me to ask me if he could use rDNA techniques to transfer a disease-resistance gene from a landrace variety of the species to a modern widely-used variety of the same species (that plant breeders had developed within the past twenty years) without coming within the legal definition in the Biosafety Protocol (BSP).
I looked at the definitions in the BSP: (g) "Living modified organism" means any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic
material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology; (i) "Modern
biotechnology" means the application of: a. In vitro nucleic acid
techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and direct
injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or b. Fusion of cells
beyond the taxonomic family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection.
I wrote back to the scientist that the BSP would apply to what he wanted to do even though it was within the same species. I gave that opinion for two reasons:
1. The definition of "modern biotechnology" [(i)a.] makes specific reference to the use of "in vitro nucleic acid techniques" involving rDNA. Hence, I stated that the language applied directly.
2. Even if the definition were not so clear, those who oppose agricultural biotechnology have purposefully tried to get as broad a definition as possible. If the definition were narrow, these activists anticipated that scientists would simply change techniques. In other words, the activists wanted to preclude "modern biotechnology," not just specified techniques. [As an aside, I should add that the activists wanted a much, much broader definition in the document than the definition actually adopted. This can be seen by comparing definitions from proposed drafts with the document as adopted.]
The scientist responded to me that with my answer he would be forced to use traditional cross-breeding techniques. Consequently, the new disease resistant variety that he desired to develop would probably take 15 years to develop as opposed to 6/7 years with rDNA techniques. He commented that that was very sad for his country because thousands upon thousands (all of whom would be the poorest in the society) would suffer needlessly.
After telling my story, I want to respond directly to what a scientist has written in which the scientist says she "can't technically get around [the] definition." Let me suggest a possible way, not focusing on the technical issues but the language itself.
The scientist cannot get around the definition because technically each new plant, using the techniques listed, are "novel" in the "LMO" definition. But the LMO definition does not depend solely upon novelty. The novelty must come from "modern biotechnology." Turning to the definition of "modern biotechnology," it is a more limited definition. As another scientist has stated, "Basically, the definition [of modern biotechnology in the BSP] covers wide protoplast fusion and genetic engineering. The rest of the modification techniques pass muster."
Despite my interpretation of the interrelationship of the two definitions [LMO and modern biotechnology], I have two caveats:
1. I think every technique the worried scientist listed are within the definition of "modern biotechnology." Hence, the scientist has reached the correct conclusion that bombardment, Agrobacterium transformation, and transposon mediated gene delivery are within the legal definitions in the Cartagena BSP.
2. Despite my attempt to narrow the "LMO" definition by reference to the "modern biotechnology" definition, I can almost guarantee that the activists will argue that the definitions should be construed so as to prevent scientists from simply switching techniques.
In other words, I think the activists will argue for an interpretation of these definitions that will encompass new techniques such as homologous recombination as being within the BSP. These competing interpretations will be argued in the meetings of the COP of the CBD and the MOP of the BSP, in other fora (such as the WTO), in the legislatures and political arenas of many nations, and in the court of world opinion. I make no prediction as to which interpretation will triumph near-term or long-term. But I feel confident that I have identified one significant issue that will be part of the agricultural biotechnology debate.
Drew L. Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law, University of Oklahoma
America: Wake up to the Cartagena Protocol
- Alan McHughen, Knight Ridder News (author is at University of California, Riverside)
The tiny Pacific island of Pulau, unaccustomed to making international newspaper headlines or influencing world trade policy, did just that in June 2003, when the quiet republic officially endorsed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. In becoming the 50th nation to ratify the document, Pulau set in motion the legal framework for the world to adopt the Protocol. Ninety days later, on September 11, 2003, while most Americans were busy commemorating more important events, the protocol became legally binding under international law.
As the US did not sign on, most US media gave scant coverage to the event and so Americans remain oblivious to the dramatic implications of this agreement. However, as delegates meet this week in Malaysia to decide how to force America and other non-signatory nations to abide by the provisions, the impact will be felt soon enough. Essentially, the pact restricts international trade in "Living Modified Organisms" (LMOs), products of biotechnology of which the US farmers are the major producers. The ostensible intent is to ensure environmental safety, "biodiversity" in developing countries by imposing strict regulations on the dreaded LMOs. How effectively the protocol works will depend on the robustness of the scientific underpinnings and on the efficacy of practical implementation.
Unfortunately, the scientific foundation is almost non-existent, and the implementation impracticable and unenforceable. The science is faulty because it rests on a faulty assumption-- that all products of biotechnology (LMOs) are inherently risky and that all other technologies are inherently safe. One might reasonably argue that biotechnology is relatively new and therefore one might be more cautious with its products. But by capturing all products of biotechnology and exempting everything else, the pact fails to recognize that ordinary commodities might be risky, and instead improperly places an enormous and unnecessary regulatory burden on some, safe, products of biotechnology.
Science cannot make a blanket claim that all products of one technology are safe while all products of another are risky. Some products of biotechnology are safe, others may be hazardous. Same applies to products of 'traditional' technology. As concluded in several studies by our National Academies of Science, hazard goes with the features of the product, not in how that product was made. There are examples of products made using either biotechnology or traditional means. The products pose the same risks. The Cartagena protocol fails in science.
The practical implementation of the Protocol is also suspect. By defining an LMO as "any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology", the drafters show an ignorance of ordinary plant breeding and grain handling practices. For example, the protocol is written as if a given crop or grain shipment is composed entirely of one type of item, say "LMO soybeans", or possibly a discrete combination of "soybeans" and "LMO soybeans". In reality, a shipload of soybeans leaving the US for an overseas port blends beans from hundreds of different farms, combining the beans of all dozens of different varieties (some biotech derived) grown on hundreds of different farms. With the implementation of the Protocol, each farmer may have to harvest each field separately, carefully segregating the seeds, with the grain handling system maintaining that segregation all the way through to delivery to the overseas customer, with appropriate documentation and minimal seed mixing along the way. This will, of course, add a big cost to the process, to be borne, ultimately, by farmers, taxpayers and consumers. Amazingly, this additional cost and regulatory burden comes with no measurable increase in protection of biodiversity or the environment, the stated intent of the protocol in the first place.
But the biggest failure of the Protocol is likely to come from an unexpected source. The protocol was drawn up primarily to "protect" biodiversity in developing nations from LMOs imported from technologically advanced countries, primarily the USA and Canada. Overlooked was the rapid adoption of biotechnology derived crops, the harvested versions of which are LMOs, in developing countries themselves.
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, developing countries now grow most of the world's biotech crops (http://www.isaaa.org/). With the spread to more and more countries, biotech crops will comprise more and more of the export from those developing countries, and they will be subject to the expensive and bureaucratically onerous provisions of the protocol.
If major exporting nations do not ratify the protocol, and there's no indication the US, at least, is prepared to do so, then the burden of regulatory compliance and its associated costs fall almost exclusively to developing countries. In the absence of any scientific evidence suggesting the protocol will succeed in protecting biodiversity, it seems a high price to fall on those nations least able to pay. People will suffer and, as all so common in these international agreements, poor people in poor countries will suffer the most.
Biotechnology Biodiversity Interface Grants: Request For Applications
ISB News Report (Via Agnet) http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2004/news04.mar.html
The Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) is pleased to announce a request for applications for research projects funded by the Biotechnology Biodiversity Interface Grants program. The funding for these research grants is intended to enhance the capacity of developing countries in Asia and Africa to make regulatory decisions concerning the environmental impact of transgenic crops, genetically engineered livestock and fish, and recombinant livestock vaccines.
By funding research focused on the needs of developing countries, PBS hopes to support science-based decision making and policy development in those countries. The deadline for applications is April 15, 2004.
To access the RFA, please navigate to http://www.isb.vt.edu/grants/PBS_rfp.pdf. Applications are welcome from our developing country partners, SROs, crop research networks, IARCs, and U.S. universities, among others.
PBS contact: Dr. Hector Quemada, BBI Program Manager. Program for Biosafety Systems, Department of Biological Sciences, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008-1903; (269) 387-5869; Fax: (269) 387-5609; email@example.com
Conko: Familiar Phenotypes Need Less Biosafety Scrutiny
- Crop Biotech Update, Dec 12. 2003, isaaa.org
The precautionary principle has led to an inappropriate level of biosafety scrutiny for genetically modified (GM) plants with transgenes with a history of safe use, argues Gregory Conko of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. In a paper in Transgenic Research, he stresses that the precautionary approach does not give a clear picture of what information is needed to make a risk assessment. The precautionary principle (PP) and precautionary approach "are public policy tools, not scientific ones," says Conko.
Conko says that the PP entails making a decision based on how much information is available and that certain experiments, production and commercialization processes cannot proceed without express permission from a government authority. He notes that standards for evaluation could vary, since there's no established or widely accepted definition of how much data one needs to make an approval decision."The problem is not just that different regulatory authorities might have different standards, but rather that a single regulatory agency could apply different standards to similar products," adds Conko.
Giving governments so much subjective discretionary authority allows "politics" and other biases to affect the regulatory process. Conko explains that this might slow down innovation and the introduction of new technologies.
The paper recommends a tiered set of regulatory standards for different risk classes of transgenic organisms. Conko says there is a need to re-think about the regulation of transgenic organisms. He suggests that in cases where specific transgenes are known to be environmentally benign and safe for human and animal consumption.
The paper, "Safety, Risk and the Precautionary Principle: Rethinking Precautionary Approaches to the Regulation of Transgenic Plants" by Gregory Conko appears in Transgenic Research 12 (6): 639-647 or at this site http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1023/B:TRAG.0000005157.45046.8e ; or email Gregory Conko at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Precautionary Principle
Article and links at http://www.worldgrowth.org/pages/sustain/wg-precprin.shtml
* Precautionary principle problematic in practice
The terms 'precautionary principle' and 'precautionary approach' have been appearing in regulations for many years. However, their definitions remain ambiguous. Gregory Conko examines why this is a problem in his recent article, 'Safety, risk and the precautionary principle'.
Conko argues that countries need to reach consensus on the definition of 'precautionary principle' for use in regulations and environmental conventions. Interpretative uncertainty undermines efforts to balance the risks and the potential benefits of new technology. As a result, decisions may be based on subjectivity rather than science.
A second problem is over-reliance on the precautionary principle. Conko contends that overuse is counterproductive to protecting human and environmental health. New technologies and innovation can be stifled when precautionary regulation is applied excessively. Beneficial products may never reach the marketplace. Conko contends that these fundamental problems make the precautionary principle an inadequate tool for risk management.
Gregory Conko's article is available (as a 180 k PDF) on the Competitive Enterprise Institute website. Go to: www.cei.org. (Find link to this article at http://www.worldgrowth.org/pages/sustain/wg-precprin.shtml )
* Precautionary principle can risk development and lives Relying on the precautionary principle can lead to technological stagnation, barriers to trade and loss of human lives. This is the conclusion of Hans Labohm, who examines the consequences of over-using the 'better safe than sorry' approach. Labohm explains how proponents of the precautionary principle often ignore the important benefits of new products and processes by focusing on unavoidable scientific uncertainties. Nothing is risk-free. Yet the imposition of the precautionary principle accepts risks associated with existing activities and products, while penalizing new innovations and technology, upon which economic development depends.
One of the most infamous misuses of the precautionary principle has been the campaign against the use of the pesticide DDT to combat malaria in developing countries. As a result, malaria has re-emerged in countries where it was formerly close to eradicated. Malaria currently kills over a million people (mostly children) each year.
An obsession with risk has also underpinned attitudes towards genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Europe, including a moratorium on GM food imports. This precautionary policy has aroused suspicions of protectionist motives and trade tensions with the US (given certain discretions for EU products). Unfortunately, EU and NGO pressure on the GMO issue has also caused some African governments to reject GM food aid, while millions of African people are on the brink of starvation. Despite long-term consumption in the US, GM grains sit in food sheds in Africa due to health and safety 'uncertainties'. African governments are also worried about planting GM crops, fearing future difficulties in exporting agricultural products to the EU. Disturbingly, it has also been reported that the cessation of development aid is being used as threat against growing GM crops in Africa.
Hans Labohm's article Are You Better Safe Than Sorry? is available on the Tech Central Station Website. Go to: www.techcentralstation.be. Several articles on the rejection of GM food aid in Africa are available on the Bio-tech page of the Tech Central Station Website. Go to: www.techcentralstation.be. Information about efforts to combat malaria and use of DDT is available at www.fightingmalaria.org.
* WWSD backs science over arbitrary principle in protecting health and the environment The arbitrary use of the precautionary 'principle' to protect health and the environment has found little support at the World Summit for Sustainable Development. Few of the references to the principle remain in the final outcome document, and its use is subordinated to within systems of science-based risk assessment and management procedures---not outside them. This can be contrasted with the draft outcome document which contained contradictory statements that supported the greater incorporation of scientific knowledge into decision-making while at the same time promoting the principle which discourages that.
The precautionary 'principle' removes the need for scientific evidence of risk before taking action and can result in the capture of policy-making by special interest groups. However, the EU has committed itself to apply the principle in EU regulation and it champions extreme versions of the principle---for example, in the Cartegena Protocol to the Biodiversity Convention---in specialist international fora. Although references do add the need for 'avoiding recourse to it for protectionist purposes', this does not obviate the dangers of open-ended advocacy of the principle unless there is an agreed definition of what it means.
* The risk of the precautionary principle
There is a need to recognise that risk is not necessarily a bad thing---not only can it generate rewards, but it can also enable us to control old risks better. This is one of the findings of the book Rethinking Risk and the Precautionary Principle edited by Julian Morris. In addition, the book cautions that prohibiting new technologies until all the risks have been removed is a recipe for stasis.
The book finds that definitions of the precautionary principle based on the need to demonstrate an absence of harm are akin to advocating a zero-risk society because of the impossibility of obtaining full scientific certainty. The book notes that while some risks, such as those from nuclear war, are best avoided if possible, many new risks enable us to control old risks better. In these cases, the conventional application of the precautionary principle may increase overall risks to society. The importance of trial and error for discovering the benefits and drawbacks of new technology has also been demonstrated throughout the history of mankind.
Other seemingly more balanced definitions of the precautionary principle (which do not advocate a zero-risk approach) are meaningless as they do not provide a useable method for establishing acceptable levels of risk. They can be used to justify just about any policy and have become an excuse for imposing arbitrary regulations. The book criticises the inclusion of these ambiguous definitions in international treaties which are later used to justify the imposition of restrictions that could not have been obtained through national legislation.
Rethinking Risk and the Precautionary Principle is available from the Institute of Economic Affairs Website at: www.iea.org.uk
* New book highlights the pitfalls of the precautionary principle The European Science and Environment Forum in Cambridge has released a new pamphlet presenting three case studies highlighting the pitfalls of the precautionary principle. The pamphlet finds that these pitfalls arise because the principle advocates early action, even before the problem it seeks to address is understood, resulting in solutions which are costly, unnecessary and sometimes worse than the problem they were designed to address.
The pamphlet Perilous Precaution: The folly of disregarding science was released in July 2002. It is available to download on the Website www.scienceforum.net (August 2002)
GM Plants - How Can We Understand the Risks of Genetic Engineering?
- Julia Charity; New Zealand Forest Research, email@example.com
Within the last five years, so called "first-generation" genetically engineered plants with traits such as insect, viral and herbicide resistance, have gained a 30% market share of all crops grown in North America. Given that over 200 000 people die every year because of health and environmental problems caused by using agricultural chemicals, coupled with loss of approximately 37% of all crops to insects and pathogens, the evaluation of alternative methods that reduce chemical use while maintaining productivity is justified.
This rational helps to explain why from 1996 - 2000, there was a 25-fold increase in the plantation of GM crops to a total of 44.2M hectares, grown world-wide last year. This trend may also be some indication of increasing confidence that genetically engineered crops are capable of delivering improved products such as reducing the volume of agrichemical use on forage and arable crops.
We are now moving to an era of "second-generation" crops where GM plants and products address nutritional, medical and other environmental issues. Such as:
* "Golden rice" which has an enhanced vitamin A content and has the potential to improve the health of the 250 million children with vitamin A deficiency (half of which may become blind).
* Edible vaccines for cholera and hepatitis B have been engineered into potatoes that can withstand long shipping, storage and cooking. Testing is still underway.
* The "Florigene" (Australia) produced blue- and violet-coloured Moondust( carnations, by adding the blue-flower colour gene, isolated from other flowers.
How Can We Understand The Risks Of Genetic Engineering?
It is human nature to be somewhat skeptical of new technologies and to question its relevance in society. Never before has this been more true of the questions being addressed by gene technologies. However in any debate we must ask "what are the key issues of concern and where do they come from. Is there any information that may enable a better understanding of the risks associated with these technologies?"
FEAR: GE IS A NEW TECHNOLOGY
Fact: Microorganisms have been genetically engineered for 30 years. GM plants, although first produced a decade ago, have only been commercially planted (although never in NZ) for only six years.
FEAR: GE MAY CAUSE ILLNESS, CANCER OR EVEN DEATH
Fact: 300 million people over six years have been eating GM products. There have been no reports of illness or death attributed to GE.
FEAR: GM PRODUCTS CONTAIN DNA
Fact: True. However all cells of all organisms (GM or not) contain DNA. So inside every cell of that tomato, apple or potato you eat are billions of particles of DNA. GM products contain one or two additional pieces of DNA to encode a special trait (eg. Flavour, nutritional property, frost tolerance etc).
FEAR: FRESH GM FOOD PRODUCTS ARE READILY AVAILABLE IN NZ
Fact: False. GM meat, fish, fruit, vegetables or milk not for sale in New Zealand. Our supermarkets will contain some GM foods, but these are commonly restricted to processed food containing GM soy and corn (rather than fresh produce).
FEAR: THERE MAY BE UNEXPECTED REACTIONS.
Fact: True, but as much as practicable, these reactions are identified, analysed and characterised in the laboratory.
Chile Aims to Export Genetically Modified Fruit
- Louise Egan, Reuters, http://www.usatoday.com/tech/world/2004-03-05-chile-gm-exports_x.htm
SANTIAGO, Chile -- Chile, the biggest exporter of fresh fruit in the Southern Hemisphere, is developing new gene-modified foods for sale abroad, despite consumer concerns about such products, in a bid to compete with richer countries. The country now uses only traditional farming methods to produce the $1.5 billion in fruit bound for North America, Europe and Asia during the northern winter.
But Chilean exporters and scientists at the Global Biotechnology Forum in Chile this week said they believe they can develop and patent new species of grapes, nectarines and peaches -- using genetic material made in the laboratory and transferred to the plant -- within four years. "We believe that by 2008 we will have a transgenic plant and Chile will be ready to cultivate transgenic crops," said Patricio Arce, a Chilean scientist heading research to develop cheaper, pest resistant grapes at Santiago's Catholic University. Colleagues are doing similar work on other crops.
Conscious of widespread fears about the potential health and environmental damage from genetically modified organisms, Chile's plan is to test domestic reaction to the new products first before venturing into export markets. Public and private investment in biotechnology totals about $50 million a year in Chile, very low compared with developed countries and with regional leaders like Brazil, which announced on Wednesday it has developed a new genetically modified soybean.
But President Ricardo Lagos has started the ball rolling with a five-year biotechnology plan to boost research and development focused on Chile's top exports and cash earners -- mining, forestry, salmon, fruit and wine. The goal is to lower costs and raise volumes by developing new, hardier plant species and to find new techniques to fight pests and disease and preserve perishable produce after harvest. "For example, in our export fruit we have the problem of how long it can last between harvest and arrival at its final market," Agriculture Minister Jaime Campos told Reuters.
The biggest market for Chilean fruit is the United States, where regulations on genetically modified products are looser than in the European Union, Chile's other big market. Campos said Chile wants a co-existence of traditional agriculture, organic farming and and genetic engineering and plans to tread carefully given the global disputes over trade and labeling regulations for genetically modified organisms.
Consumer groups criticize the government for bending to business pressure to quickly develop GMOs. They demand that Chile draft strong laws to protect shoppers. "There is an urgent need to educate the population so that the citizenry -- and not the transnationals that promote these products -- decide if they accept or reject these foods," said the Chilean branch of Consumers International.
Chile, like Brazil, wants to end dependence on foreign biotechnology firms, such as the U.S.-based Monsanto Co., saying it has not received compensation for GMOs developed by foreigners from native Chilean species. Chile has 10,000 hectares producing genetically modified seeds for export and 31 private-sector biotechnology companies are working with academics on a variety of projects ranging from improving crops to developing vaccines for salmon and cattle.
Arce predicts that by the time the world reaches an agreement on GMO trade, Chile will be ready to take advantage of the new regulations.
State of the Planet 2004
- March 29- 30, 2004, New York City http://www.earth.columbia.edu/sop2004/
Working to link global decision-making to the best of sustainability science, the Earth Institute at Columbia University is convening the third biennial State of the Planet conference to gather an international roster of influential and innovative thinkers on issues critical to the well-being of the Earth and its inhabitants.
State of the Planet 2004 will generate recommendations on the best scientific practices, highest action priorities and most urgent areas for investment to ensure delivery of basic needs such as water, energy, health and nutrition to all the world's people. These recommendations will be presented to leading policymakers, including those involved in the G8 summit meeting scheduled for June 2004.
Tuesday March 30 session on Food: 10:30 am
'What action is needed to ensure that fisheries remain viable,
agriculture meets the needs of the world’s hungry and ecosystem loss does not threaten Earth’s ability to feed its population?
Moderator: Dr. William Masters, Columbia University
Dr. Simeon Ehui, The World Bank
Dr. Robert E. Evanson, Economic Growth Center, Yale University Dr. Claire Kremen, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University Dr. Bonnie McCay, Professor of Human Ecology, Rutgers University Dr. Robert L. Paarlberg, Professor of Political Science, Wellesley College Dr. Ellen K. Pikitch, Executive Director, Pew Institute for Ocean Science Dr. Prabhu Pingali, Director, Economics Division, Food and Agriculture Organization, United Nations Dr. Sara Scherr, Director, Ecoagriculture Partners, Forest Trends
Science and Ethics: How Scientific Inquiry Helps Frame Value Judgments
May 13 - 16, 2004, Toronto, Canada http://www.centerforinquiry.net/conference-2004.html
This Center for Inquiry conference aims to bring to the fore a renewed challenge to integrate the sciences and ethics as disciplines.
For many centuries scientists and philosophers believed that with the advance of scientific knowledge, literacy, and education, humankind could become liberated from ancient fears and superstitions so that a wiser and more humane ethical outlook could develop. It was believed that scientific inquiry could be applied to moral values and modify them in the light of their causes, rational consistency, and a regard for empirical consequences. This viewpoint is sympathetic to the classical attempt to apply reason to conduct, and it is consonant with the Enlightenment goal of achieving human progress. Many people were thus committed to using science to reconstruct the traditional sources of morality and to form entrenched socio-political-economic institutions.
First, many religionists hold that without belief in God and in absolute religious commandments, no moral standards are possible (a premodern view). Second, postmodernists, while skeptical of religious metaphysics, are likewise skeptical of science, believing that it offers its own mythology and that consequently no progressive emancipation agenda is possible for humanity. Third, many scientists and philosophers have in the past held that science deals with facts and that moral values are based on passions and feelings. Hence, it was held that science cannot help frame rational moral judgment. This conference aims to challenge these assumptions.
"They Had The Money, We Had The People."
Passion defeats well financed biotech PR campaign - (Precedent set for global activism)
- Ross Irvine, ePublic Relations, March 2004; firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.epublicrelations.ca
The biotech industry knew it was in a desperate situation. The anti-biotech forces were on the ground and active. It appeared the activists would succeed in encouraging Mendocino County, California, voters to support Measure H. The Measure would make it "unlawful for any person, firm, or corporation to propagate, cultivate, raise, or grow genetically modified organisms in Mendocino County." It would kill the future of biotechnology in the county and, more importantly, set a precedent for other activists to follow.
With only days left before the March 2 vote, what was the industry to do? In typical corporate fashion, the answer was simple: throw more money at it. So, in the final days of the campaign, the biotech industry spent another $150,000, on top of $350,000 previously committed, to influence Mendocino County's 47,000 registered voters. That works out to $20 for each eligible voter who actually cast a ballot for or against the Measure or $45 for each voter who supported the biotech industry’s position.
The activists spent $100,000. That’s approximately $4 for each person who voted or $7 for each person who supported the activist position. The result? The biotech industry lost; the activists won.
"…we had the people."
In a news report carried around the world hours after the vote was tallied, a leader of the anti-biotech forces said: “They had the money, we had the people.” This simple statement is the key to the activists’ victory.
The sense in which the activists "had" the people goes far beyond mere numbers. The activists “had” the minds, hearts, spirits, visions, and passions of the voters. The activists elevated the discussion from one about a technology – and whether it’s safe or not -- to a discussion about the county’s place in the world. People around the globe would view Mendocino positively if it remained free of genetically engineered plants and animals.
As part of its campaign, the industry took the uninspired position that the measure was badly written, would be costly and result in a tax increase. Such a notion was bland, even cold, compared to global adoration. For the biotech industry, Mendocino County offers an important
lesson: passion, not money, is vital to earning public support. Passion is developed long before an issue becomes political.
Local versus outside interests
Mendocino activists also positioned the vote as a choice between local residents and outside special interest groups such as CropLife America, the trade association for global biotech companies. Said one activist: "It’s staggering the lengths they (outside interests) are going to to defeat this local (emphasis added) effort.” Comments that industry was trying to “buy the election” were common.
Activist success in Mendocino will be followed by similar action in other communities. A local activist leader noted: “This is just the beginning of the revolution. We’re the first county in the U.S. to prohibit the growing of genetically altered crops - but we won’t be the last." A supporter noted future biotech battles will be fought "town by town and county by county." A group that supports organic agriculture noted that Mendocino is part of a "global controversy." Activists have a precedent in Mendocino and they’ll use it as model in communities around the world.
What happened in Mendocino has implications for other industries and businesses. The results of the Mendocino vote reflect a profound and growing anti-business sentiment. One headline said: “NorCal (Northern
California) voters turn back corporate-backed campaigns.” (The mention of than more than one campaign refers to a different vote in another county.) The article talks about corporate funding of campaigns and measure supporters shouting: “We can’t be bought.” A supporter said: “These multi-billion dollar corporations underestimated the savvy and determination of Mendocino County voters.”
Others comments include:
"The County has never seen anything like this campaign. This victory means the people of Mendocino County saw through the bullying of corporations that were trying to undermine the democratic process."
"This is a great day for local democracy. It’s a demonstration of citizens taking control at the most immediate level – which is at home in the places where they live … In our present climate of corporate domination of the food system this is a reclaiming of responsibility for agriculture at the local level. This amazing campaign demonstrates where transnational corporations are vulnerable. No amount of money can replace the love and commitment of people who care passionately about the place where they live."
In an article in The Press Democrat journalist Spencer Soper wrote: "Voters' distrust of big business helped to defeat political campaigns (of which Measure H was one) in three North Coast counties, where a trio of industry groups dumped an unprecedented $1.2 million – outspending opponents 3-to-1 – and still suffered lopsided losses."
A political science professor quoted in Soper’s article said: "All three of these votes share a common thread in that they are anti-business and anti-large interests. People are seeing this as a corporate issue that makes them uncomfortable."
Some global companies preferred over others
Interestingly, while Measure H supporters objected to the multi-national nature of biotech companies, they see Measure H as a means to expand the global marketing and reach of local winemakers. In an article headlined "Measure H marketing advantages lauded" one supporter said: "We could turn Measure H into the Seabiscuit of Mendocino winemaking world." Another
said: "Measure H is like a marketing gift from the gods. And it's free and painless to enact. All we have to do is say we want to keep our agriculture exports just the way they are - natural and free from genetic engineering." Apparently it’s okay to be a multi-national if you're a Mendocino winemaker, but not a biotech company.
For trade associations, chambers of commerce, boards of trade and other business organizations, the outcome of the Mendocino County vote is a warning. Measure H was not just a challenge to the biotech industry it was a challenge to all industry, except organic farming. It was a popular expression of growing anti-business feelings. To reverse this trend – that’s limiting business and leading to more regulation – corporate managers and executives must discuss it. Failure to do so will result in more businesses and industries becoming victims of activist whims.
Congratulations to the biotech industry
While the biotech industry failed in Mendocino County, it must be commended for at least trying to make its case. Few industries or businesses have shown a willingness to stand up to their opponents. For example, on the same day as the Mendocino vote, McDonald's announced it will phase out its trademark Supersize fries and drinks. The menu change comes at a time when obesity is the health issue of the day and when more lawsuits against companies that sell fattening foods are on the horizon. It matters little that people decide what to put into their mouths. Does McDonald’s fear tobacco-scale lawsuits?
McDonald's has a history of following popular trends and appeasing, rather than confronting, opponents. Several years back, in light of criticism from environmentalists, McDonald’s did away with its styrofoam food containers, even though the claim that the replacement was more environmentally friendly was at best questionable.
Congratulations to the biotech industry! It understands the importance of being a leader and taking a stance. It knows the value of confronting and challenging nonsense-spewing critics. However, it needs to learn a few lessons from its attackers. Unfortunately, if other industries don’t learn too, biotech companies and the entire business community are in jeopardy.
Two days after the Mendocino vote, the following appeared in The Eureka
Biotech Crop Ban Initiative Under Way In Humboldt
With the passage of Mendocino County's Measure H by a 56-44 percent margin in Tuesday's election, Humboldt County could become the second county in the United States to institute a biotech crop ban through a citizens' ballot initiative, which is what Measure H did for Mendocino County. Members of Humboldt Green Genes Committee are collecting signatures to qualify for this November's ballot, and they expect to turn in 7,000 by the end of June.
"The passage of Measure H in Mendocino has given our movement wings," said Martha Devine, one of the co-chairs of HGGC. “We expect to generate tremendous countywide support for this effort as the anti-biotech movement gains ground." HGGC will work closely now with Measure H proponents in Mendocino to pass a Humboldt "Grow GMO Free" initiative this fall.
(Let the games begin!!!)
DNA Spirals Into Artists' Medium
- Debra Jones, Wired, Mar. 06, 2004
Eduardo Kac, the artist who brought us Alba, the glowing bunny, is at it again. Kac, who says recent biotech research provides a "new aesthetic platform" for artists, uses DNA and genetically modified organisms as his media of choice.
His latest installation, which opened Thursday at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, doesn't involve transgenic pets or fluorescent mutants. Instead, he has translated Descartes' "cogito, ergo sum" into his own designer DNA sequence and inserted it in a tomato plant.......
Read on at http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,62539,00.html