Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - March 5, 2004:
* UK Ministers Pave Way for Farmers to Grow GM Maize
* GM Crops - The Pros and Cons
* GM Under Fire Again: Weed-Killer Ban Will Reduce Benefits of GM Maize
* Success in Science Demands Constant Effort
* NPR Talk of the Nation 'Science Friday' Talks Biotech
* The Rice is Right
* DeGregori's Letter to the Washington Post Ombudsman
* India-US Grant to Promote Agriculture Sciences
* New Biotech Chief for India
* A Call for Adoption of New Technologies In Africa
* Syngenta and DuPont Give $1 Million Each to Global Crop Diversity Trust
* New Biotech Research Centre for the Middle East
* Hey Hey, Ho Ho, GMO Has Got to Go
* Strategic Rationale of Environmental Direct Action
* Right and Wrong - Hayek's Wisdom
UK Ministers Pave Way for Farmers to Grow GM Maize
- George Jones and David Derbyshire, Daily Telegraph, (UK), March 5, 2004
The Cabinet paved the way yesterday for genetically modified crops to be grown commercially in Britain. Ministers rubber-stamped a decision by a Cabinet committee last month to give qualified approval for sowing GM maize.
The move followed the publication of a study which found that GM maize was less harmful to the environment than the conventional crops and pesticides currently used in Britain. The announcement will be made next week, but GM crops are unlikely to be planted commercially in Britain for at least another year, possibly not until after the next general election. It follows the lengthy farm-scale trials of GM maize, beet and oilseed rape, a scientific review and a programme of public consultation.
Elliot Morley, the environment minister, said: "We have always made it clear that there will be no blanket approval. Every application will be decided on a case-by-case basis, If the science shows a particular crop should not be grown, we will not allow it to be grown. "The Government is not an advocate for GM - we're not here to sell GM to anyone. If people don't want to buy GM produce they don't have to. Clear and accurate labelling is the key to informed consumer choice, and all GM products will be clearly labelled."
He said Britain had done more than any other country in considering the available evidence on GM crops with a science review, costs and benefits study, crop trials and a report on co-existence, as well as a public debate.
However, anti-GM campaigners said the decision was based on flawed science and warned Tony Blair that he was "picking a fight with the British people". A positive decision next week will not give an immediate green light to commercial cultivation, as all applications for planting GM seeds must be approved by the European Union in Brussels.
Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, later assured MPs that they would be able to debate the decision before GM crops were grown commercially. "No GM seeds will be planted this year because the planting season has passed," he said.
The decision followed the publication of results from the three-year, farm-scale trials last month, carried out by Acre, the Government's advisory committee on releases to the environment. They supported the growing of GM herbicide resistant maize but gave only qualified approval to GM herbicide-resistant oilseed rape and sugar beet. While GM maize was shown to increase biodiversity, GM rape and beet were shown to reduce farmland biodiversity and endanger insects, butterflies and birds.
The maize trials were criticised because GM crops were compared with conventional crops sprayed with atrazine - a chemical about to be banned. Critics called for a fairer comparison, with a less toxic pesticide. The new peer-reviewed study, published yesterday on the online version of the science journal Nature, looked again at the small amount of data from the trials covering alternatives to atrazine and other triazine pesticides.
Prof Joe Perry, of the Rothamstead Research Institute, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, who led the study, said: "The comparative biodiversity benefits from GM herbicide-tolerant maize cropping would be reduced, but not eliminated by the withdrawal of triazines in the UK."
Sarah North, of Greenpeace, said: "Tony Blair has picked a fight with the British people. Once again he's pushing a pet project in spite of the evidence." The Government is braced for considerable public resistance to the decision and ministers may seek to defuse criticism by offering advice on the establishment of voluntary GM-free zones in areas of the country.
GM Crops - The Pros and Cons
- Times (UK), March 5, 2004
The Cabinet decided yesterday to allow genetically modified crops to be produced commercially for the first time in Britain. Nigel Hawkes, health editor, left, explains why.
What has the Government approved? A single GM product -- named Chardon LL (Liberty Link) T25 -- a maize developed by Bayer, the German chemical and pharmaceutical company. It showed up well in the trial plantings and environmentally. The GM maize proved better than conventional maize doused with herbicide.
What are the main arguments for this decision? GM crops offer many advantages, in terms of reduced weedkiller use, resistance to drought or salinity, greater yield, and better, more nutritious food. True, none of the first products to be tried provides all of these advantages, but to hold back now would be to deny future generations the possibility of major gains. So argue the proponents of the technology.
And against? Opponents say that GM crops have not been tested adequately for their safety as food, and that they will "contaminate" neighbouring crops, particularly those of organic farmers. They claim there will be risks of damage to wildlife, and the emergence of tough weeds resistant to weedkillers. Public opinion surveys show that these arguments have registered with the public, even though the scientific basis for them is not particularly strong.
So why is the Government so keen? It claims to be in favour of science, even though its actions have not always been so helpful. The evidence produced by the trial plantings was insufficient to justify stopping this particular GM crop, and it would be "irrational" to do so, the Government has said.
It would also be a signal to the scientific community that the Government is not more easily swayed by emotional arguments or the fear of losing votes than by logic. The Government would probably rather defer or avoid the argument, but it can do so no longer. So it has been forced into this stand reluctantly.
Will there be a market for GM maize? There should be. If there isn't, farmers won't plant them. GM crops are not compulsory, and the chances are that many farmers will avoid them so as not to attract controversy. Maize is used to feed animals, so it isn't as if it will be appearing on supermarket shelves.
What is the situation abroad? The EU is delaying the planting of GM crops until they are proved to be safe. The US, Canada and Argentina are bringing a case at the World Trade Organisation alleging that this delay is simply a trade barrier by another name. Given the absence of evidence of any harm from GM foods, the plaintiffs have every chance of winning the argument.
GM Under Fire Again: Weed-Killer Ban Will Reduce Benefits of GM Maize
- Mark Peplow, Nature, March 5, 2004
An impending European ban on certain weed-killers will slash the environmental benefits of genetically modified (GM) maize, according to UK scientists. But the GM crop is still better for wildlife than conventional maize, they say.
The findings are the latest from the UK's Farm Scale Evaluations (FSE), a four-year test of GM crops' impact on the environment. They follow results published in October last year, which showed that herbicide tolerant GM maize allowed more weeds and bugs to thrive in the environment than conventional crops. The UK government is still considering what action to take as a result.
Now a new study, published (1) by Nature today, predicts that around one-third of GM maize's biodiversity benefits will be cut if the common herbicides that were used on the conventional crops are withdrawn. The herbicides, called triazines and including atrazine, are no longer approved for use by EU farmers because they harm wildlife. They are being phased out by 2006.
But a UK government committee has concluded that the triazine ban will invalidate the results of the Farm Scale Evaluations and that the trials should be repeated. Their report, by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), is published today (2).
Joe Perry, of Rothamsted Research, Hertfordshire who led the most recent analysis, says that the EAC did not consult ecologists involved in the farm scale trials when drawing up their report. "Perhaps they should have called us to give evidence," he says.
And scientists say that they had already accounted for the effects of the impending atrazine ban in their initial reports to the UK government. A group called the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment is responsible for interpreting the results of the FSE and advising the UK Government about GM crops. "This new study is perfectly consistent with the information that we have already presented," says ecologist Les Firbank of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Merlewood, who led the FSE trials.
Non-GM maize is usually treated wtih atrazine. The GM maize studied in the trials was genetically engineered to resist another herbicide, called glyphosate. This means that weed-killer can be sprayed later in the growing season. This allows weeds more time to develop so that their rotting matter and seeds can feed birds and creepy crawlies.
Some critics of the FSE pointed out that the atrazine used on conventional maize is so harmful to weeds and other wildlife anyway, that almost any alternative would be better, whether or not the crops were GM. But Perry maintains that their study reflected farming practices at the time the trials started, and that the results were always dependent on which herbicides were used. "We only knew that atrazine was going to be banned three weeks before the launch of the FSE results, long after we finished the research and wrote the papers," he says.
Scientists also point out that GM maize should still be more beneficial to wildlife than conventional maize, even in the absence of triazines. Although atrazine was the herbicide of choice for conventional maize in about three-quarters of the FSE maize fields, there were enough sites that did not use any to estimate the environmental impact of GM maize after the ban.
Perry thinks that after the ban farmers will use a range of different weed-killers, possibly applied earlier in the season. And he supports outlawing triazines on environmental grounds. "They are very persistent herbicides that should not have been continued, so it was the right decision," he says.
1. Perry, J. N. et al. Nature, published online, doi:10.1038/nature02374, (2004).
2. UK Environment Audit Committee Report on GM (2004).
Success in Science Demands Constant Effort
- Robert May, The Financial Times, Mar 03, 2004 (forwarded by Vivian
The commitment by the chancellor of the exchequer to publish a 10-year investment plan for science alongside the results of the public spending review this summer shows that the government is becoming more comfortable with tackling long-term challenges in science. The UK is undoubtedly a world leader in science at present, second only to the US in terms of output of scientific papers and winners of international prizes. But despite our enviable record in research, the government and scientific community need to confront some of the potential weaknesses that threaten our international standing.
The success of UK science has been due to three main factors. So far these have sufficed to keep us ahead of our competitors - but on present trends, it is not clear that they will continue to do so indefinitely.
First, Britain has for years had a plentiful supply of accomplished scientists and engineers. The high quality of our scientists - who have won nine Nobel prizes in the past decade - is recognised across the world, but this flow of talent now looks threatened right at the start of the pipeline, in schools. This is particularly true in the physical and mathematical sciences. According to the latest figures, the total number of A-level entries between 1991 and 2003 across all subjects in England, Wales and Northern Ireland increased by 7.4 per cent - but there were falls of 18.7 per cent in chemistry, 25.4 per cent in mathematics and 29.6 per cent in physics over this period.
While the popularity of A-level biology is increasing and more than half of our recent Nobel prizes have been in physiology or medicine, we cannot afford to let the slide in physical and mathematical sciences continue. Gareth Roberts, president of the Science Council, identified a strategy for reversing the trend in his government-commissioned report in 2002. The chancellor's review must ensure that the government perseveres in its efforts to solve the problems identified by Sir Gareth and others.
The second reason for Britain's scientific success has been its ability to bring researchers' ideas to the marketplace as products and services. In common with other European Union members, the UK lags behind the US in the amount of money invested by business in research and development. Last year's report by Richard Lambert, the former FT editor, into the relationship between academia and industry identified a number of ways in which the link with universities could be improved, although it is business that has the most to learn about, and gain from, such partnerships.
But it is crucial that measures to strengthen the innovation process do not jeopardise basic science. The government should certainly create more incentives for scientists and businesses to work together, as long as this does not diminish the appetite for, and ability to carry out, curiosity-driven "blue sky" research in our universities.
This brings us to the third critical factor, the creation of knowledge itself. This is currently very strong. With just 1 per cent of the world's population, we produce 8 per cent of the world's scientific papers. No other country, including the US, produces more scientific papers per pound spent on research.
This government has recognised that the science base is the primary source of new knowledge, both in the UK and abroad, and has invested heavily not just in people and projects but also in buildings and equipment. It is this understanding of the importance of funding the unglamorous infrastructure of science that has distinguished this government from its predecessors.
But there is no room for complacency. The search for new knowledge is a global race, and you have to run hard just to keep up. The proposal to increase spending on science and engineering within the framework of a 10-year plan is therefore to be welcomed - although something of the sort may be no more than a necessity if Britain is to stay ahead of its competitors.
In considering these areas, the government must pay special attention to the role of regulation. It is vital that there be an appropriate framework to guide research, particularly in areas of public concern such as the development of therapies from human embryonic stem cells. At present Britain has a global edge in this regard. The government also needs to limit the administrative burdens on researchers, so that they can concentrate on having good ideas.
Britain is a global force in science. The chancellor's review gives us a chance to maintain our commanding position.
--- Lord May of Oxford is president of the Royal Society and was chief scientific adviser to the government 1995-2000
Talk of the Nation: Genetically Engineered Organisms
- March 5, 2004 Today!: NPR Science Friday (2-3 EST)
We'll turn our attention to genetically engineered organisms. Researchers are investigating many different kinds of genetically-modified organisms, from plants that make their own pesticides, to faster-growing fish. We'll talk about the safety of such research, and what can be done to ensure that the environment is protected.
Call in with your questions and comments at 1-800-989-8255 (2-3 Eastern), and share your opinions online in our Listeners' Lounge http://www.sciencefriday.com/lounge
Allison Snow, Professor,Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
C. S. Prakash, Professor, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Alabama
Note: You can listen to the audio stream of this program after today at http://www.sciencefriday.com/pages/2004/Mar/hour1_030504.html
The Rice is Right
- The Guardian, Letters, March 5, 2004 http://www.guardian.co.uk
Ingo Potrykus, who developed golden rice, has shown that Greenpeace exaggerates the amount a person has to eat by 15 times (Letters, March 4). Sense About Science is not "a propagandist group", but a charity set up to promote the evidence-based approach. I am not a spokesman for government nor for the biotechnology industry, and I have no financial interest in promoting GM crops.
- Dick Taverne, Cambridge
Tom DeGregori's Letter to the Washington Post Ombudsman
In late January, shortly after the posting of the National Research Council's report, Biological Confinement of Genetically Engineered Organisms (Committee on the Biological Confinement of Genetically Engineered Organisms, National Research Council - according to the NAS webpage, the final version has not yet been released in hardcopy even though it has been available online for downloading which I and others have done), and the Washington Post coverage of it by Justin Gillis, several questions were raised on AgBioView (www.agbioworld.org) involving the Post coverage of it.
Going online to the Post webpage, I found three virtually identical pieces by Gillis with three different titles. The first version of the story indicated that Greg Jaffe of Center for Science in the Public Interest was the only one in Washington who had read the report other than the NRC committee members. Clearly the quoted comments by Jaffe in all three versions were indicative of someone who had read the report. The manner of presentation by Gillis made it seem that Jaffe had actually read a report whiPle others had not taken the trouble to do so when in fact others were denied early access to it. In other words, Jaffe's comments were factual while the others might be suspect - hot air. It was confirmed on subsequent postings that other groups sought early access to the report but were denied it. This gave rise to a number of questions:
1) Was Jaffe provided an advanced copy of the report that was denied to others with equally valid interests in the issues raised? If so, was this a violation of the rules and policies of the National Academy of Science? If not, why not?
2) If Jaffe had an advanced copy and this was known to the reporter, would this have not unduly biased the story such that it was a reporter's obligation to provide a corrective? As it has turned out, Jaffe's spin on the report has tended to dominate the subsequent coverage of it and in the judgment of many of us, ends up distorting its findings. Was the reporter not allowing his story to compound the already unfair advantage that activist group had to further their agenda rather than providing a balanced coPverage of the story for his readers?
Without going into further detail, one can argue that there is at least an appearance of impropriety. Consequently, in the AgBioView postings, there was a request that Justin Gillis, Greg Jaffe and Kim Waddell who directed the project, provide some form of explanation. It was clearly stated that though there may be an appearance of impropriety, we were certain that there was an innocent explanation if only one was forthcoming. Not only was this request posted in an open letter but each was sent an email wiPth a cover respectfully requesting a response from them. None of them even choose to acknowledge receiving the request.
Since this has all been posted on AgBioView, an organization endorsed by 25 Nobel Prize winners and with participants in the newsgroup consisting of distinguished scientists from around the world, an investigation and posted explanation by the NAS and by the ombudsman of the Post would seem to be in order. Quite possibly, a very quick investigation will turn-up an innocent explanation which can be posted and satisfy many who have questions. Or a more thorough one may be necessary. I will not prejudge the oPutcome. The integrity of these institutions is too important to allow doubts and questions to linger.
Thomas R. DeGregori, Professor of Economics, University of Houston
India-US Grant to Promote Agriculture Sciences
New Delhi, India and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have joined hands to award new grants to six universities for the promotion of agriculture sciences. The awards of up to $300,000 each would see forging of partnerships between colleges and universities in the US and India.
"The partnerships are designed to stimulate India's economic growth through revitalised agriculture, focusing on cutting-edge agricultural science and shared interests of the cooperating institutions and USAID," an official statement said Wednesday.
Five of the six grants are for south Indian universities. Three of these are in Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu: Tamil Nadu Agricultural University's School of Postgraduate Studies, Agricultural Engineering College and Research Institute, and the Horticultural College and Research Institute.
Two grants are for the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) in Bangalore and one is for the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. The collaborating US universities are Ohio State, Cornell, University of California, Davis, Purdue, Iowa and Michigan.
"Such partnerships expand collaboration between the US and India, building on the transformed relationship between the democracies," the US embassy statement said. The grant programme will help increase yield through new farming models and also improve post harvest management.
The collaboration between Purdue University of US and the UAS in Bangalore will see efforts to educate people in rural areas about nutrition and enhance public awareness about the potential benefits of biotechnology in improving human nutrition.
Similarly, the Ohio State University and the Punjab Agricultural University will collaborate to promote agricultural diversification and "add value" to raw food products through food processing to extend shelf life and explore export potential.
New Biotech Chief for India
- From: Agbiotechnet.com
Maharaj Kishan Bhan has become the new Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), replacing Manju Sharma, who has retired. M.K. Bhan was formerly a senior Professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Bhan has conducted some experiments in pharmaceutical biotechnology in collaboration with the DBT. Dr. Bhan is from the Department of Health, and he succeeds two consecutive past secretaries from the agri-biotech field. His appointment is seen by some as significant in light of the perceived health issues relating to consumption of genetically engineered food products, which are currently being raised by activists.
Contact Information From The AgBiotechNet® Directory Contact: Department of Biotechnology, Block 2, 6-8th Floor, CGO Complex, Lodi Road, New Delhi, 110 003, India; Tel: 91-11-4361813 ; Fax: 91-11-4362884; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://dbtindia.nic.in/
A Call for Adoption of New Technologies In Africa
- Crop Biotech Update, isaaa.org
Key African stakeholders who attended a recent technology policy workshop in Nairobi, Kenya called for the increased use of new technologies to improve agricultural productivity in Africa. Speaking during the African Technology Policy Studies network (ATPS) workshop, Prof. Norah Olembo, chairperson, Biotechnology Trust Africa (BTA) urged African leaders to develop concrete plans to enable the continent to import, domesticate and use new technologies for faster economic development.
During the workshop, key policy makers, researchers, scientists, industrialists, donors, journalists and other stakeholders reviewed Kenya's Economic Recovery Strategy Paper. The participants were unanimous that Africa could not develop without constructive engagement of scientists, researchers, industrialists and governments. Some of the issues that emerged from the discussion were:
* Scientists and policy makers should develop concrete policies to guide the implementation of science and technology innovations. Constructive engagements between scientists, technologists and politicians should also be encouraged.
* Scientists should actively market themselves and their activities while, at the same time, proactively seek solutions to problems. They should also develop technology pacts with industrialists to help them in commercializing their research products.
* To be able to modernize African Agriculture, low-yielding traditional seeds should be phased out but caution should be taken to ensure that this will not have adverse effects on resource-poor farmers, who are largely dependent on these type of seeds.
This technology policy workshop is a follow-up activity of the 2003 Scientific Revival Day in Africa, where it was suggested that the various sectors meet regularly with policy-makers to discuss how they could dialogue with one another on issues fostering the use of science and technology for Kenya's development. /African Technology Policy Studies and Kenya Biotechnology Information Center (http://www.isaaa-africenter.org)
Syngenta and DuPont Give $1 Million Each to Global Crop Diversity Trust
- Compiled from Agbiotechnet.com
Syngenta has announced its support for the Global Crop Diversity Trust http://startwithaseed.org), a unique public-private partnership that will help conserve gene banks and safeguard crop diversity for future generations. In the first pledge from the private agribusiness sector to this partnership, Syngenta will contribute $1 million to the development of the Trust. The Trust, currently based in Rome, started as a joint initiative of the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The crop diversity collections, holding millions of plant samples housed in gene banks, provide the raw material necessary for plant breeders to develop reliable, hardier, more productive and nutritious food crops for farmers.
"The Global Crop Diversity Trust needs support from all who have a stake in conserving plant genetic diversity and hence our food supply," said Geoff Hawtin, Interim Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust. "Syngenta's contribution is an exemplary commitment and shows how the private sector can make a real difference to our work."
Following Syngenta's announcement, DuPont has followed suit with a pledge of $1 million to the Global Crop Diversity Trust (http://startwithaseed.org), an international fund charged with securing long-term funding for the support of genebanks -- storage facilities for plant germplasm -- and crop diversity collections around the world.
Formed in 2002 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the 16 Future Harvest Centers of the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research, the Trust has been charged with raising a $260 million endowment to maintain the world's most critical germplasm for agricultural and industrial crops as well as support struggling collections - especially those in developing countries.
DuPont's gift will be allocated in equal installments, beginning in 2004 through 2007, to improve plant genetic storage facilities, increase staffing, build capacity, and support the basic costs of conservation. The crop collections to be supported by the Trust are available to public and private plant breeders and farmers under the terms of an International Treaty on Plant Genetic resources, adopted in 2001. A key objective is to encourage crop research and development and assure an abundant and affordable food supply in the future.
Dr. Geoff Hawtin, interim executive secretary, Global Crop Diversity Trust, contends plant genetic diversity is the raw material needed to help farmers successfully address challenges such as evolving pests and diseases, changing climates, limited arable land, natural disasters and civil conflict. "When a crop variety goes extinct, all of the valuable information within it dies with it," said Hawtin. "Conserving crop genetic diversity ensures the continuing safety and availability of the raw data from which we can develop and enhance seeds. The conservation of crop diversity protects a key component of the world's agricultural heritage."
While biotechnology, genomics, proteomics and traditional breeding techniques are useful tools for producing the seeds of the future, it's important to remember that none of these tools would be as effective without access to historical genetic diversity.
"For the past 10,000 years it has been the creative use of our rich plant genetic resources that has enabled the development of improved seed varieties that thrive in ever-changing environments," said Hawtin. "Crop genetic diversity and science work hand-in-hand to create improved seeds. It is evident from this generous gift that DuPont understands the fundamental, societal benefits that biological diversity provides."
"As we strive to do our part to support the conservation of biodiversity, we're also asking other companies and associations to do the same," said Fyrwald. "Unique germplasm is the single biggest factor in helping farmers manage their production risks. Farmers should be able to make informed decisions about the seed products they are planting each year to ensure they are genetically unique. That information is imperative to make the best management decisions for their business."
New Biotech Research Centre for the Middle East
- Agbiotechnet.com, March 2, 2003
Groundbreaking for a major new environmental and biotechnology research centre in a section of arid land along the Israeli-Jordanian border will take place on 9th March. Government officials, academicians and business leaders from both countries are expected to attend the groundbreaking ceremony, along with representatives from Stanford and Cornell - the two universities that will oversee academic research at the centre.
The Bridging the Rift Foundation, a New York-based non-profit organisation that includes business executives, academicians and community leaders from Jordan, Israel and the United States, provided seed money for the new research centre. Mati Kochavi, chief executive officer of the foundation came up with the idea of enlisting Stanford as a partner in the project. "I called Cornell first because we thought the focus would be on agriculture, and Cornell has an excellent school of agriculture," he recalled. "But the people we talked to in Jordan wanted to move toward plant biotechnology and biotechnology in general." Kochavi immediately thought of Stanford because of its reputation in combining science, technology and business. "We needed a magnet to bring people together, and the opportunity of getting a Ph.D. from Stanford creates a magnet. People in the Middle East were more than excited when they heard about Stanford's willingness to be involved."
Eventually, both universities were brought in as academic partners, said Stanford geneticist Marcus W. Feldman. For the past three years, Feldman has chaired the academic planning committee of the foundation and made several trips to the Middle East to meet with officials and observe the proposed site. "The centre is located is an extremely interesting environment," he said. "There are numerous organisms in the Dead Sea, the most saline body of water on Earth, and in the desert, one of the hottest places on the planet. How they are able to survive in such extreme conditions is of great interest to geneticists and other life scientists."
The faculty at the centre will consist of scientists from Stanford, Cornell and various Jordanian and Israeli universities. Feldman predicts that the number of students, staff, faculty and postdoctoral fellows at the centre could reach 1,000. "We expect people to come from all over the Middle East," he said. "There's really no limit if people of good will want to participate."
An important component of the centre, added Kochavi, will be the Library of Life - a project that will allow Stanford and Cornell scientists to create a databank of all living organisms in the Dead Sea region. The library will be a research and education centre operating a databank, yet to be developed, that will assemble information on living systems, from microbes to plants to animals, using digital images and global positioning data. Information also will flow from ecological and environmental investigations, molecular research and DNA sequencing. The research centre will develop computer modelling systems to make predictions at genetic levels and to help understand coevolution of species and the ways in which ecology affects DNA, and the reverse.
"This centre is the first of its kind in the Middle East - a hub for technology, research and education for all people in Middle Eastern countries and initially Jordan and Israel," he said. When construction is completed in three to five years, this small piece of desert will be transformed into a thriving science and technology village dedicated to studying the unique ecology of the Dead Sea region. The high-tech centre will symbolically straddle the border so that half of the facility is in Israel and half is in Jordan.
Hey Hey, Ho Ho, GMO Has Got to Go
'Northern California County Passes Anti-GM Initiative'
Northern California's Mendocino County yesterday passed a voter initiative that bans the growing of genetically modified (GM) crops. The surprising 56-44 percent victory capped the county's most contentious and high-profile election ever, in which the initiative's backers were outspent by a whopping 6-1 margin.
Supporters of Measure H raised $93,525, while opponents marshaled $621,566
-- $600,000 of which came from CropLife America, a Washington, D.C.-based industry group that counts GM giant Monsanto among its members.
The initiative is likely to have little practical effect -- there are no GM crops currently grown in Mendocino County, where the biggest cash crop is (presumably all-natural) marijuana -- but the David vs. Goliath victory has enormous symbolic value, as it is the first anti-GM measure passed in the U.S., where efforts by industry to squelch protest have been fierce.
"They got the money," said triumphant initiative creator Els Cooperrider, "we got the people!"
The Strategic Rationale of Environmental Direct Action
- Paul G. Buchanan, BioScience News and Advocate (NZ), March 5, 2004
Although obscured by recent rows over race relations and refugee issues, the debate over genetic modification (GM) simmers without resolution. Opponents of GM have organized demonstrations, parliamentary protests, billboard campaigns and "direct action" camps to teach methods of non-violent protest and civil disobedience, while GM advocates urge the government to employ anti-terrorist legislation against those who threaten to destroy authorised GM crops or otherwise impede scientific research along those lines. The issue remains divisive and polarised, which opens the door for more extreme approaches to the issue.
One of the fallacies of so-called "eco-terrorist" phenomena is that they are seen as the work of a minority of fanatical Luddites bent on obstructing any progress gained from the technological exploitation of nature. Since the day humans developed the capacity to industrially control nature for profit, there have been those that have claimed that the physical end is nigh. They could well be right. But they are a minority in the environmental movement, even if some have come to the forefront of the anti-GM debate in New Zealand and elsewhere. Most of those engaged in militant environmental defense have more purposeful rationales in mind.
Eco-terrorism is a convenient label pinned on those who engage in counter-hegemonic irregular direct action against corporate or governmental usurpers of the laws of nature. More accurate would be the terms "eco-guerrillas" or "eco-warriors" since this refers to the strategy and composition of irregular direct action as opposed to the tactic of terrorising an opponent.
The strategy involves extra-legal channels of physical communication, mostly by way of acts of dispossession, liberation, theater, protest or destruction targeted against materially or politically stronger entities. Earth First, the Animal Liberation Front, more militant wings of Greenpeace, the Monkey Wrench Gang--these are the stuff of which environmental direct action legend is made. Their tools are unconventional and illegal. Tree-spiking, crop-pulling, arson attacks on laboratories, suburban developments and ostentatious displays of fossil fuel consumption, destruction of fishing nets and assaults on fur-bearing individuals have commanded much public attention. So have the murderous activities of such as Theodore Kazinski, the infamous "Unabomber" (although he disavowed any connection with environmental groups). The reason for their collective fame is simple: they get results and change the course of dominant group environmental policy, when not public consciousness of the issues at stake.
Guerrilla warfare is used by the militarily weak and legally outlawed. It is asymmetric in that it uses small acts of highly symbolic violence (or threats thereof) to counter the juridical, military or financial might of the stronger actor until such a time as the latter loses the will to persist in the contest. At the lower end of the violence scale, environmental direct action operates on the terrain of the psyche, working as a war of attrition on the will of those engaged in perceived anti-environmental acts as well as those who support such engagement.
The goal is to raise the physical, psychological and material costs to those who persist in the venture until such a time as the renounce their claims or agree to a compromise. If the latter, this could well be the aim of a "moderate-militant" approach on the part of the counter-hegemonic groups whereby extremist action opens the space for a negotiated compromise on mutually agreed terms between the dominant group and its moderate environmental opposition. One variant on that tactic would be to separate the issue of medicinal applications of genetically modified crops from the genetic modification of crops destined for the human food chain. A foreign political example would be the Palestinian approach to its dealings with Israel. Without Hamas and Hezbollah engaging in their terrorist campaign, would the Palestinian Authority be considered a reasonable alternative? Whatever the tactics, guerrilla strategy has the ultimate weapon on its side: time.
From the eco-warrior point of view, engaging in low level acts of destruction or dispossession raises the material costs to the profit-driven nature defilers. Increased security protection alone requires greater expenditures of capital. Add to that the psychological and emotional costs to those involved in the GM enterprise once they are identified and targeted by guerrilla intimidation campaigns. Only the most staunch researchers, believing in the purity of the scientific cause, will resist the personal invitations to cease and desist. For those merely on salary, the personal costs will become prohibitive well before their property is damaged, and the prospects of employment in less controversial fields will grow irresistibly tempting. By driving the point home to those involved in GM activities, thereby personalising the issue at the same time that the overall costs involved in pursuing such ventures escalate, environmental guerrillas deal a death by a thousand cuts to their corporate foes.
The problem for corporations involved in anti-environmental activities (as defined by the eco-warriors) is that they must increasingly rely on governments to police and prosecute those engaged in direct action against them. This gives the appearance of government serving as a tool of corporate elites, which is compounded by the fact that should the public mood shift in favour of some environmental claims previously unaddressed, politicians will quickly discover the merits of accommodating those claims. In that case, the moderate-militant strategy will have prevailed, and governmental protection of corporate property will loosen. At that point the only recourse is to increase use of private security, which merely broadens the target range of direct action.
For eco-guerrillas, the main concern is not government repression, but what might be called the threshold of public consent to their activities. In some localities the threshold might be street theater and peaceful demonstrations; in others it might be defacing of public or private property; for some it might be assaults on crops in the field; for others it could be vandalism of laboratories. Although improbable, there might be some areas where threats against people engaged in GM might seem permissible. For the anti-GM direct action planners, the key to success is reading the terrain of consent correctly so as to skirt the limits of public toleration of their acts. The more nuanced they are in their strategic outlook on public opinion, the more likely their direct action will find popular appeal.
History has shown that one group's "terrorist" is another group's "freedom-fighter" or "liberator." The issue is not so much the target of direct action (the recipient of the act), or the object of the action (the goal being pursued), but of the subject of the action, which is the court of public opinion.
The issue is to speak "good sense" (that which people feel in their hearts to be true) to "common sense" (that which elites maintain is the common good). With the passage of time and persistence in a long-term war of attrition that raises costs to the corporate elite while at the same time raising public awareness of the cause being pursued, environmental direct action advocates can slowly shift the tide of public opinion in their favor. After all, a few decades ago it was inconceivable that cetaceans should be protected, or that people of Negroid descent should have equal rights to Caucasians in South Africa or the USA, or that anyone could possibly "disappear" in countries like Argentina, Chile or Guatemala. Today we know otherwise, and counter-hegemonic direct action was involved in changing public perceptions of the truth. For those pursuing the GM agenda, it might be well to take note of that fact.
-- Paul G. Buchanan writes about unconventional warfare, among other things. He teaches a course on revolutions, guerrilla movements and terrorism at the University of Auckland. www.arts.auckland.ac.nz/staff
Right and Wrong
The ultimate decision about what is accepted as right and wrong will be made not by individual human wisdom but by the disappearance of the groups that have adhered to the "wrong" beliefs.
-- F.A. Hayek