Today in AgBioView: February 27, 2004
* GM presence in soya foods
* Sour potatoes
* EU prepares for verdict on safety of gene rapeseed
* UN announces new measures to boost safety in trade of genetically modified organisms
* World Awaits More GM Crops as Safety Debate Rages
* BRRI to innovate super hybrid Golden Rice
* MEDIA COVERAGE OF BIOTECH ISSUES IN KENYA INCREASES
* Quarry has promise for life science work
* Science-Based Reasoning or 'Dark Age' Beliefs?
* Select Letters to the Times (UK) - Debate
* 'Heredity' Debates GM
* Review of 'BioEvolution'
From: "Murphy D (SApS)"
Subject: GM presence in soya foods
Date: Thu, 26 Feb 2004 15:25:43 -0000
Here is a link to our recently publicised study on GM presence in soya
As we say in the final part of the paper:
"These examples illustrate the challenges currently facing national regulatory authorities and organic certifiers. They also highlight the need to take account of the realities of biology and commerce when framing certification and labelling rules. The current uncertainty about "GM-free" labelling and the unnecessary dogmatism about GM content in organic food are causing avoidable, and sometimes costly, problems in the food industry to producers, manufacturers, retailers and consumers alike.
Any labelling rules should be informative to consumers, but should also take account of the realities of international trade and the economic implications for food suppliers (Smyth & Phillips, 2003). For example, the cheapest and simplest future option for any importer of soya into the EU, confronted by the realities of the extensive presence of GM soya throughout the supply chain, would be to apply the precautionary principle and label all foods as "may contain GM ingredients". Those retailers wishing to omit a GM label (i.e. who are thereby willing to guarantee less than 0.9% GM content) or those who wish to make stronger claims (e.g.
"GM-free") would then incur the considerable additional costs of identity preservation of ingredients and of testing the foods for adventitious GM materials.
This may result in market segmentation with GM labelled foods being considerably cheaper and capturing a larger market than those niche products that carry no GM label or a "GM-free" label. This is an interesting possibility, and possibly not one desired by those who have advocated mandatory labelling of GM-containing foods."
Denis J Murphy
University of Glamorgan UK
- Letter to the New Scientist,
You report that sweet potatoes genetically modified to resist a virus in Kenya proved no less vulnerable than ordinary varieties (7 February p 7).
If this is true, it is disappointing but perhaps unsurprising, given the complexity of sweet potato diseases. It is clear that the aetiology and epidemiology of such diseases must be understood and taken into consideration in future research.
Fortunately, well-targeted research on sweet potato virus disease in East Africa has been funded by a range of donors, including the crop protection programme run by the UK Department for International Development. This programme recognises that sweet potato is an important food security crop for poor farmers in this region, especially women. There is also an increasing demand for it in the expanding urban centres, both as fresh tubers and also as processed foods.
Researchers at our university led an international team which showed that sweet potato virus disease is actually caused by the interaction of two viruses, sweet potato chlorotic stunt virus (SPCSV) with sweet potato feathery mottle virus (SPFMV). Natural resistance to SPFMV alone failed when plants were pre-infected by SPCSV.
It is therefore interesting that genetically engineered resistance to SPFMV on its own also failed. Perhaps it will be necessary to include resistance to both SPCSV and SPFMV viruses for improving sweet potato yields in Africa.
Frances Kimmins and Richard Gibson
Aylesford, Kent, UK
EU prepares for verdict on safety of gene rapeseed
- Reuters, 26 February, 2004
BRUSSELS, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Europe's top food agency should deliver a verdict next week on the safety of a genetically modified type of rapeseed, its second such assessment of biotech food, agency officials said on Thursday.
The rapeseed, engineered to resist the non-selective herbicide glyphosate, is made by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto MON.N . Known as GT73, the oilseed would be used in the EU in processing and animal feed -- not for growing.
"The opinion is being finalised on the oilseed rape so there will be a decision forthcoming...it's probably days, rather than weeks, so most likely next week," a spokeswoman for the European Food Safety Authority
The agency, based in Brussels but soon due to move to the Italian city of Parma, issued its first biotech safety assessment in December -- giving a clean bill of health to the NK603 modified maize type, also manufactured by Monsanto MNSN.BO .
That decision has yet to be put to EU ministers, who are deeply split on whether to end the bloc's five-year effective ban on new biotech foods and crops, the focus of a bitter trade dispute with the United States.
EFSA's views are key to the debate since it is independent and non-political.
EFSA specialists are analysing two other Monsanto products, maize types MON863 and the hybrid MON863/MON810, which have been submitted as one request for evaluation.
"They've asked for further information on the Monsanto hybrid maize," the spokeswoman said. It is not yet clear when the agency will publish its opinion on these two applications.
EU procedure allows for member states to lodge objections on environmental or human health grounds against proposed new authorisations.
If an objection is not withdrawn by the end of a specified period, EFSA is asked for a risk assessment, which it must deliver within 90 days.
Farm ministers from the bloc's 15 states are due to decide by late-April whether to approve another gene-modified product, canned Bt-11 maize.
This would not be for growing, but approval would end the EU's biotech moratorium.
UN announces new measures to boost safety in trade of genetically modified organisms
- UN News Centre, 27 February 2004
Efforts to promote the safety of international trade in genetically modified organisms received a new boost this week with the adoption of labelling and documentation requirements, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today.
Under the new system adopted by the 87 member States of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety at a weeklong meeting in Malaysia attended by more than 1,000 delegates and observers, all bulk shipments of living or genetically modified organisms (known as LMOs, or GMOs) intended for food, feed or processing (such as soybeans and maize) 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.
Although the new system is binding on countries that are party to the Protocol, many key agricultural producers, such as the United States, have not endorsed that pact.
“Now that a system for identifying and labelling GMO exports has become operational, countries can enjoy the benefits of biotechnology with greater confidence while avoiding the potential risks," the Protocol's Executive Secretary, Hamdallah Zedan, said.
"This rigorous system for handling, transporting, packaging and identifying GMOs is in the best interests of everyone - developed and developing countries, consumers and industry, and all those who care deeply about our natural environment," he added.
The Cartagena Protocol, which entered into force last September, is designed to ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of GMOs that may adversely effect the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. It forms part of the Convention on Biological Diversity negotiated under the auspices of the UNEP and signed by over 150 Governments at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.
Over the next year an expert group will further elaborate the documentation and handling requirements for bulk agricultural shipments. Key issues still to be resolved include the percentage of modified material that these shipments may contain and still be considered GMO-free and the inclusion of any additional detailed information. A decision on these matters will be considered at the next meeting of the treaty’s Parties, to be held in 2005.
World Awaits More GM Crops as Safety Debate Rages
- Reuters, Feb 27, 2004, By Jeremy Smith
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The global sowing of genetically modified (GM) crops will continue rising in the next few years, gaining more of a foothold in the world's food supply, but millions still need convincing that the food is safe to eat.
For once, green groups can agree with the biotech industry on one thing: with Brazil and China now part of the growing family of major GM producers, the area of land devoted to gene-spliced crops across the world must inevitably rise.
The United States, Argentina, Canada and China are the world's leading growers of biotech crops. More than half of China's cotton crop, for example, is now genetically modified.
But there are doubts about how far the expansion can go, with questions lingering on China's commitment to GM crops and whether famine-hit Third World nations really want GM food aid.
In 2003, six countries grew 99 percent of the world's transgenic crop area, according to ISAAA, a nonprofit group that backs biotechnology's role in the war on hunger.
"In the next five years, biotech crops are expected to grow to 100 million hectares (247 million acres) planted by 10 million farmers in 25 or more countries," said Clive James, ISAAA's chairman and founder.
Most of those using the technology would be small Third World farmers. Maize and cotton would drive the growth, with soy production likely to rise after Brazil's recent approval of herbicide-tolerant beans.
ISAAA's estimate for the global GM crop area in 2003 was 167.3 million acres, 15 percent higher than in 2002.
"There is a need for more acreages of grain. That will come from Asia to some extent, but also Latin America, Africa and Australia possibly as well," said Christian Verschueren, director general of CropLife International, a Brussels-based network representing the plant science industry.
Australia, which does not regulate GMO use in animal feed, approved its first GM food crop, canola, in July. Commercial GM crops are blocked by short-term bans by state governments.
India approved three varieties of Bt cotton in 2002 for commercial production and is conducting field trials for several crops including mustard, rice, potatoes and cauliflower.
FULL ARTICLE at: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=ourWorldNews&storyID=4455100
BRRI to innovate super hybrid Golden Rice
- February 25, 2004, Daily News Monitoring Service (Via Agnet)
The Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) is working on innovating vitamin-A-enriched super hybrid ‘Golden rice’, State Minister for Agriculture Mirza Fakhrul Islam informed the parliament Tuesday. Replying to a question, he said that the BRRI was also working on innovating super nutritional hybrid rice enriched with zinc and iron. The new types of rice plants would be able to withstand the pest attack and salinity, he added.
MEDIA COVERAGE OF BIOTECH ISSUES IN KENYA INCREASES
- ISAAA, Feb 27, 2004
Coverage of biotechnology by Kenyan newspapers has increased significantly over the last two years. This was stated in a recent research conducted by the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF), and the Kenya Biotechnology Information Center (KBIC). A content analysis of biotechnology issues published between 1998 to 1999, and 2000 to mid-2003 in the country's leading newspapers - The Daily Nation, The East African, East Africa Standard, and The People Daily concludes that biotechnology is becoming a regular agenda among media personnel.
Biotech-related issues were covered under broad thematic areas in agriculture, environment, policy and industry. An interesting finding of this study is that prior to the formation of ABSF in the year 2000, newspapers depended more on foreign sources for biotechnology stories, which in most cases tended to be unbalanced and highly sensational. Between 1999 and 1998, for example, The Daily Nation only sourced 6% of its biotech news locally. Most of its news stories came from foreign sources (27%). The situation was reversed, however, after the formation of the ABSF - with the said newspaper sourcing 46% of its news internally and only 20% externally.
The change was even more dramatic in the case of the East Africa Standard, which sourced 17% locally, and 13% externally between 1998 and 1999 as compared to the 61% local and 39% foreign in the period 2000 to mid-2003. This showed that sensitization of biotechnology activities locally widened the journalists’ scope of sourcing relevant issues for public consumption. The report stated that the findings are consistent with the long-held view that biotechnology would only flourish in Africa if the continent is allowed to set its own agenda.
Results further showed that biotech stories have been given more prominence and are comparatively balanced over the last two years - a trend that could be attributed to the concerted efforts of different stakeholders to train local journalists in science reporting. The report also acknowledged the importance of targeting local journalists in activating public debate from an informed perspective.
For more information about the research, please email Dr. Margaret Karembu at email@example.com.
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Quarry has promise for life science work
Underground greenhouse is entrepreneur's vision of biotech lab of future
- The Indy Star, By Norm Heikens, February 26, 2004
MARENGO, Ind. -- Doug Ausenbaugh has big plans for a 60-acre former limestone quarry 200 feet below the surface of this area's knobby hills.
The 39-year-old Indianapolis entrepreneur envisions building a futuristic factory deep within the quarry where his Controlled Pharming Ventures can raise corn and other crops bioengineered for drugs.
The site, not far from Marengo Cave National Historic Landmark, will isolate the crops far from pollens and other outside contaminants and, conversely, prevent pollens from the new crops from reaching the outside.
If Ausenbaugh succeeds with the small prototype factory, and then with plunking copies in underground sites around the world, he will demonstrate that manufacturing can benefit from the push for life sciences economic development.
He also will show that areas of the state far from the Indiana life sciences centers of Bloomington, Indianapolis and West Lafayette can be players in the anticipated revolution.
"We hope to help Indiana become a hub of biotech research," Ausenbaugh said. "There is a lot of expertise here."
Life sciences is one of four segments targeted for economic development by both the state and Central Indiana business groups. The other three are advanced manufacturing, distribution logistics and information technology.
In forums this month, Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., called for more companies in the life sciences to create good jobs in his Southern Indiana district.
Ausenbaugh, a former banker who headed strategy at the Carmel technology firm RealMed before it was sold in 2001, is trying to catch a wave in which experts anticipate proteins needed for pharmaceuticals will be grown at lower cost and in larger quantities in crops than in animal cell cultures.
Mike Hall, vice president of CEA Systems, an Ithaca, N.Y., controlled-farming joint venture with Cornell University, said the Marengo project works in theory if costs don't get out of line.
CEA is developing Cornell technology that precisely controls light needed by lettuce and other plant species, enabling plants to grow more quickly than in conventional greenhouses.
Underground crop production can't take advantage of free sunlight, Hall said. Thus, a key to Ausenbaugh's idea will be to minimize costs for artificial light.
Hall compared the pioneering work under way by himself and Ausenbaugh to aviation early in the past century, which produced some winners and lots of losers.
"It's an exciting proposal," he said. "It's high-risk because it's new."
Ausenbaugh started the company in his home last summer and expects it to remain headquartered in Central Indiana.
He's still its sole employee, though he won't predict how many jobs he will create or when. A couple of dozen positions ranging from scientists to technicians to support staff might work at the Marengo site.
Controlled Pharming Ventures has received initial approval for $2 million in funding from the 21st Century Research & Technology Fund, a state program that encourages innovation by cooperation between business and university researchers. Final approval from the State Budget Committee could come within two months.
Ausenbaugh learned of quarry owner Marengo Warehouse & Distribution Center in his search for a place where he could entice universities and drug companies to propagate the highly specialized pharmaceutical crops.
A tiny part of the space has been converted into rooms in which tires and other products are stored.
Ausenbaugh is working with Purdue University experts in controlled environments and an Indiana University expert in workplace safety issues.
IU professor Dominic Cooper is most interested in how humans are affected by working in environments with ongoing high concentrations of biotech crops.
The university experts and representatives of a Canadian company specializing in controlled environments were wowed by a windshield tour of the quarry this week.
Illuminated only by headlights, the motorcade wound through seemingly endless caverns and limestone pillars the size of houses left by miners to keep the roof from collapsing.
Gazing slack-jawed at the 30-foot rock ceiling, Conviron greenhouse specialist Dann Adair muttered, "This is . . ."
"Unbelievable," finished Bill Mukanik, sales and marketing vice president.
Though the quarry smells like a musty root cellar, it isn't damp like many caves because it has a thick ceiling of rock that doesn't leak water.
Adair and Mukanik, whose company operates in 85 countries and supplied equipment to the Indianapolis crop chemical and biotech firm Dow AgroSciences, envision a facility far from quarry entrances where every aspect of the environment is controlled.
Outside temperature swings would be buffered by the underground location, and heat from artificial lighting could be recycled through the sealed facility. The ability to grow several crops a year would render seasons outside the quarry irrelevant.
IU's Cooper said that though genetically modified organisms probably pose no problem to workers, no one knows for sure.
"It may be a public relations concern," Cooper said, his breath puffing into the 55-degree air.
Ausenbaugh hopes to generate preliminary results by early next year and know definitively within two years whether the idea will work.
Marengo residents gathered over lunch at Marcy's Kitchen had mixed feelings about the project.
Robert McIntosh, a lifelong resident who retired from Louisville (Ky.) Gas and Electric Co. three years ago, quipped that the underground location could shield marijuana growers from prying eyes.
But he doubted the community would benefit from any well-paying jobs Controlled Pharming Ventures would create. Few Marengo residents have enough education to qualify for scientific positions, McIntosh said.
But his wife, Brenda, thought she might like to work for Controlled Pharming Ventures taking care of the crops.
When her grandson enters school in a couple of years and she no longer has child-care responsibilities, she said she will be ready to try something else.
Science-Based Reasoning or 'Dark Age' Beliefs?
- Hon. Ken Shirley, MP (Deputy Leader; Research, Science & Technology Spokesman, ACT New Zealand), BioScience News and Advocate, Feb. 27 2004
Something very weird has happened in New Zealand over recent years. Superstition, fantasy, fiction and fable have crept into our social and legal frameworks challenging fact, reality and science based reasoning.
History teaches us that civilisations flourish and fade according to the aspirational goals and values that their people hold. The Babylonians, Egyptians, Athenians, Romans and Moors all had their day in the sun. These civilisations all retrenched when they either abandoned or had stripped from them the achievement values underpinning their success.
The Renaissance and Age of Reasoning brought new values and new principles, which propelled Europe out of the Dark Ages replacing witchcraft, suspicion and superstition with open rational thinking. The enlightenment evolved over many centuries and under constant challenge from entrenched conservative elements within society.
The success and pre-eminence of today's western societies is based on the classical liberal values and freedoms that were honed by dramatic events such as Magna Carta, the French Revolution and the US Declaration of Independence. A democratic secular state and tolerant free society are the key components of a modern, liberal society.
Science and innovation have evolved with and contributed greatly to the success of modern society. Proven scientific method should not be subjugated to vague and nebulous concepts such as "alternative world views" which too often are used euphemistically to promote the acceptance of irrational thinking and a return to Dark Age mentality.
In a tolerant liberal society individuals and groups should be free to believe in pixies, elves, hobgoblins, taniwha, Santa Claus, leprechauns, the tooth fairy or whatever, but they should not have the right to impose these beliefs on others. A secular Government certainly should not be complicit in that imposition through its lawmaking.
While many Governments proudly proclaim science and innovation to be the building blocks of a modern knowledge economy they paradoxically often subject science to traditional spiritual beliefs that hamper and constrain scientific endeavour and achievement.
I believe geo-political mantras, often driven by international fora, are proving to be another challenge to science based reasoning particularly where political agendas are allowed to pervert established and proven scientific methods.
The self-perpetuating anthropogenic climate change industry is a classic example where political agendas masquerading under the banner of science have captured and distorted an extremely important issue. The Kyoto Protocol is a political document consumed by its own bureaucratic process. We know that if it is fully implemented it will reduce global prosperity by hundreds of billions of dollars while failing to meet the stated objective.
Eco-fundamentalism is yet another area where science is abused and metaphysical slogans are paraded as scientific fact to fulfil political agenda.
The good news is we are living in a time of unprecedented technological advancement. The challenges and responsibilities are enormous.
We should not be surprised by the anxiety of uncertainty associated with the rapid changes taking place. What I do know is that we should value our scientists more.
Select Letters to the Times (UK) - Debate
- THE TIMES, February 27, 2004
- James Budd, Stockport
THERE is no "moral, scientific or political authority" for the move to cultivate GM crops, proclaims Michael Meacher, the former Environment Minister (report, February 20). Moral authority comes from the good it will do in reducing pesticide exposure for nature and man. Environmentalists know this. It explains their fury, and why they do not want GM crops to be properly tested. Scientific authority comes from the trustworthy scientific institutions which have endorsed it, such as the Royal Society. Politicmal authority comes from our freely elected government. It makes the decisions - that's what we pay MPs for.
More of the same from Ben Ayliffe of Greenpeace. ". . . no rules in place to stop GM contaminating organic and non-GM crops". The fallacy here is in "contamination". Gene flow between fields has been a problem ever since pure inbred crop hybrids were introduced after the Second World War. When it was called cross-pollination nobody cared, but call it contamination and the credulous will raise their hands in horror.
GM has been employed in agriculture elsewhere for 12 years. Not just in laboratory or field experiments, but with real food, grown on real farms, eaten by real people, in the real world. And with no real harm, except to the doomsayers who were proved wrong, yet again.
Beware the Luddites
- Michael Cole, Edington, Somerset
BEFORE condemning genetic crop modification we should remind ourselves of existing benefits derived from the process. The varieties of brassica and cereal crops, the wealth of variation in flowers such as roses, chrysanthemums and tulips; breeds of dog such as labrador, spaniel and greyhound - not to mention all the varieties of cattle and sheep: these are the result of genetic modification carried out over many centuries by horticulturists, farmers and animal breeders. Geneticists simply accelerate the prmocess.
It is good that we are aware of the risks of environmental contamination. The danger, though, is that this can lead to the development of a Luddite mentality that doesn't always let us see both sides of the argument.
Technology is Not Enough
- Michael A. C. Cowan, Redhill, Surrey
MATTHEW PARRIS'S article about the success of the green revolution suggests that GM will likewise help to feed the world's poor ("The green visionary who has banished famine from the world", Comment, February 21). Oh, that it would.
He also refers to "patent-hogging multinationals": the reason why so many of us are opposed to GM use in its present form. Feeding the world's hungry is not primarily a technical problem; there are issues such as justice, rights to land and dumping by over-subsidised European and American producers. There is a parallel with water, here. The Victorians had the technology for clean water supplies, yet much of the world still does not have healthy supplies of water.
'Heredity' Debates GM
1. GM Nation? Debate - Jenny Jacoby
2. GM Debate: Dispelling myths - Conard Lichtenstein:
3. GM Debate: No trust, no go! - Brian Johnson:
Read these articles at http://www.nature.com/hdy/journal/v92/n3/index.html
Review of 'BioEvolution'
- Weekly Standard, Wesley J. Smith, Mar 1, 2004
"BioEvolution, How Biotechnology Is Changing Our World" by Michael Fumento, Encounter, 486 pp., $28.95
WHAT WE HAVE NEEDED for a long time is a biotechnology advocate to write a book promoting the virtues of the emerging science, without falling into the trap of demonizing biotech-critics and skeptics as so many latter day Luddites who would return us to the bad old days of forty-five-year life expectancies.
In "BioEvolution," Michael Fumento generally accomplishes this task. More than a cockeyed optimist, he is a true believer, prophesying that the biotech revolution will usher in a near-utopian age. By 2025, the author predicts, the most devastating diseases of our times--AIDS, cancer, malaria, tuberculosis--will be "virtually eliminated." Because of biotech, the author claims as a "science fact," the "famines that have ravaged [underdeveloped] nations for centuries" will become "just a bad memory." Malnutrition and infant mortality will all but disappear--more people will be fed on less farmland and the crops "will require less pesticide and fertilizer." The rainforests of South America will be expanding, not shrinking. Toxic waste, including radioactive material, will cease to be of significant concern.
That's a tall order. But Fumento is convinced biotechnology will bring us to this temporal Nirvana--and here he almost falls into the usual trap--if only "fearmongers" and "professional futurephobes" don't interfere. After all, he claims, techno-naysayers of the past opposed pasteurization of milk, and the smallpox vaccine caused outright fear. (Apparently it still does, considering the resistance to President Bush's plan to vaccinate health care workers against smallpox in case of a biological terrorist
attack.) The answer to such irrational resistance to progress, he claims, is "education" and the "success of the [biotech] products themselves."
As for the substantial moral issues raised by biotechnology, Fumento believes they can be simply skirted, for example by using adult stem cells rather than embryonic sources or human cloning in regenerative medicine. That would be swell, but the notion of self-restraint seems thus far not to have occurred to the National Academy of Sciences or the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
Still, compared with most books of this type, Fumento's advocacy rarely bashes those with whom he disagrees. Indeed, much of his time--sometimes too much of his time--is spent describing the astonishing range of biotechnological research performed by thousands of entrepreneurial bio-research enterprises. What's more, "BioEvolution" demonstrates that for all of the Sturm und Drang over issues such as human cloning, the vast amount of biotechnological enterprise does not pose a threat to human dignity, although it may offend environmental purists. For example, biotech companies are seeking to find vaccines for cancer and developing "plantibodies," in which fruits and vegetables are genetically modified so that they can treat medical conditions such as hypertension or prevent many disease scourges. In early human trials, eating genetically modified potatoes led to a pronounced increase in resistance to the potentially deadly E. coli bacteria.
BECAUSE FUMENTO is so eager to impress us with the vast, energetic enterprise that biotech has become, he often doesn't linger long enough on the research being conducted to give us a complete view. For example, at one point he describes how "transgenic" goats have been developed that contain genes from spiders so that ewes produce silk protein in their milk. This technique may allow us to harvest spider's silk in industrial amounts potentially leading to the development of a product so strong that "a woven cable as thick as your thumb can bear the weight of a Boeing 747 airliner."
This is interesting, but it produces a flood of questions: How many transgenic goats would be needed, and what would the harvesting process be like? What obstacles do the researchers face in achieving their goal? Would there be a danger of mixing these goats with "natural" herds? How would the product potentially change industry? What might it cost, say, in comparison with producing steel? But other than illustrating how it would improve body armor for soldiers and police officers, Fumento doesn't say. After spending a handful of paragraphs drawing the reader into the project, in a frustrating act of interruptus, like a honeybee in a field of flowers, he buzzes off to the next example of amazing research, and the next, and the next.
On the question of genetic modification in food, however, he does spend the time to develop the material. Genetically modified foods are controversial among environmentalists. I am agnostic myself and bemused that those who seem the most upset about it--Jeremy Rifkin excepted--often express scant concern about making such alterations in human beings. Fumento makes reasoned points about how some opposition to genetically altered crops actually produces profoundly antihuman consequences.
While famine threatened Zambia in 2002, for example, environmentalists, declaring modified food to be "poison," persuaded the government to refuse to distribute 17,000 tons of donated corn because about 30 percent of it was transgenic. People were starving, but that mattered little to those who put saving human lives beneath "saving the planet" from abuse. "They can play games with Europeans who have full stomachs," said a disgusted Andrew Natsios, the U.S.A.I.D. administrator, "but it is revolting and despicable to see them do so when the lives of Africans are at stake."
Many of the biotech research activities reported by Fumento could help clean up the planet. There is a bacterial enzyme that converts the poisonous metal mercury into its least toxic form, for instance. I was also struck by how so many of the hoped-for biotechnological advances require the humane use of animals--either as living sources of potentially potent medicine or to determine whether experimental procedures are safe. This is not the point of "BioEvolution," but it effectively dismantles the PETA propaganda that doing away with the use of animals in research would advance human welfare.
Michael Fumento is far too gullible about the potential for biotechnology to banish most human suffering. And he skirts the moral controversies surrounding human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research, which are at the heart of the debates swirling around biotechnology.
Nonetheless, his research shows the vast scope of contemporary biotechnological research. Fumento's "BioEvolution" is as good as the case for biotech gets.
-- Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and author of "Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder."