Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - June 30, 2004:
* What is Science?
* INDIA, U.S. TO COOPERATE IN BIOTECHNOLOGY
* EU Council Fails to Reach Agreement on GM Maize
* O'Malley Comments on Genetically Modified Foods
* Protesters destroy Finland's study on GM trees
* GM protesters deny ship 'danger'
Date: Wed, 30 Jun 2004 09:50:53 +0930
From: "Chris Preston"
Subject: The Scientific Method
>From: "Lance Kennedy"
>Subject: What is Science?
In response to your question about science and what it is. I usually don't try to define "Science" as such, but instead refer to the Scientific Method. The Scientific Method underlies all of what we loosely call science, but can also be applied to other situations. In brief the scientific method is an organised approach to the acquisition of knowledge. It starts with one, or more, observations. From these observations, a hypothesis is developed. The hypothesis is an explanation (educated guess) of the underlying causes for the observations. The hypothesis has to be rejectable. That is, you must be able to test the hypothesis and find it false. From the hypothesis predictions can be made. These are of the form: "If the hypothesis is true, then ..." If the predictions holds, the hypothesis cannot be rejected. If the predictions do not hold, the hypothesis is rejected and an alternative hypothesis is developed. An experiment is conducted to test the predictions, the data collected are analysed and a decision is made about the hypothesis. There are only two possible decisions: The hypothesis is rejected or the hypothesis is not rejected.
Whilst we stick to the scientific method all goes well. However, scientists do often argue amongst themselves. When they do so it is usually over analysis (interpretation) of the data or over hypotheses that we do not yet have the technical tools to test. Of course, there can also be problems with experimental design that result in incorrect data analysis. The other aspect of the Scientific Method is that it needs to be repeatable. You should be able to explain the process to another scientist who can copy what you did and come to the same conclusion about the hypothesis.
The opponents of GM technology develop a lot of hypotheses and make a large number of predictions. However, this is where they usually stop. You simply get these predictions asserted as fact. Even where others (myself included) test the predictions, find them wanting and so reject the hypothesis, the opponents of GM technology will continue to assert their predictions are factual. The opponents of GM technology also work from the particular to the general, rather than the other way around. An observation is used to assert that a hypothesis is true, rather than developing a hypothesis from the observation and making specific testable predictions. Lastly, the opponents of GM technology have mastered the art of playing on the unprovability of hypotheses (not their own I might add). Hypotheses can only ever be disproved. The opponents of GM technology often talk about the unknowns in the technology. No matter how often you demonstrate that predictions of damage are wrong, they can still come up with more predictions - or just wave their hands around about unpredictable effects.
We also need to remember that most opponents of GM technology claim to be uninterested in science and the Scientific Method and in fact do their utmost to demonise scientists (except for those very few who agree with their views).
Dr. Christopher Preston
Senior Lecturer, Weed Management
University of Adelaide
INDIA, U.S. TO COOPERATE IN BIOTECHNOLOGY
- FHIN. June 30, 2004
India and the U.S. today signed a letter of intent to enhance cooperation in research and development in agricultural biotechnology. The U.S. Ambassador, David C. Mulford, and Secretary, Department of Biotechnology (DBT), M. K. Bhan, signed the document in the presence of the Union Science and Technology Minister, Kapil Sibal.
Under the agreement, the DBT and the USAID will collaborate in creating new partnerships that bring together public and private institutions in the two countries for pursuing projects in agricultural biotechnology. The scope of the pact includes technology development, technology diffusion, bio-safety and related policy activities. The process would involve joint workshops, conferences, scientific exchanges and training of scientists.
The projects taken up under the agreement would particularly focus on developing crop varieties that are drought, saline and heat resistant. The technologies to be used would be an appropriate mix of traditional plant breeding approaches and modern tools of biotechnology. According to a U.S. Embassy release, the aim of the programme would be to increase the range of safe and environmentally sound options for producers and consumers by improving productivity as well as the nutritional quality of crops.
EU Council Fails to Reach Agreement on GM Maize
- USAgNet, 06/30/2004
European Environmental ministers have failed to reach an agreement in favor of or against the Commission's proposal to authorize the import and processing of the genetically modified maize NK603 in the European Union.
In the absence of a Council decision, the file will now go back to the European Commission for final decision. The decision is expected within the coming weeks. The maize has been modified for increased tolerance to the herbicide glyphosate by the company Monsanto. If authorized, the maize would be used as any other maize, except for cultivation and food uses.
Its authorization would be for 10 years and it would have to be clearly labeled as being genetically modified. The approval for food uses is pending decision under EU GM Food legislation.
O'Malley Comments on Genetically Modified Foods
- Limerick Post, June 30, 2004
Mr Tim O'Malley TD, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with responsibility for Food Safety, today (29th June 2004) welcomed the recent discussion held in the Seanad on Genetically Modified Foods at which the Minister spoke on the Government's position on GM Foods and the public concerns and media reports concerning the
issue. Minister O'Malley stated "Since taking office, this Government has attached great importance to the issue of food safety and to the concerns of consumers in particular. It recognises the need for uncompromised and independently verifiable assurances on food safety to ensure consumer confidence. This is particularly the case in the approach taken to GM foods."
Independent scientific advice provides no evidence that the GM foods authorised within the EU pose a risk to human health and that no product consisting of, containing or derived from GMOs can be authorised for marketing without first having undergone appropriate safety assessment.
The EU has one of the most rigorous regimes for the assessment of GMOs as well as food and feed derived from GMOs. In this regard only GM foods which satisfy the highest standards of safety are allowed on the market. This is combined with comprehensive safeguard measures on traceability and labelling.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is the competent authority in Ireland for the enforcement of this EU legislation. The FSAI carries out checks on the marketplace for compliance with GM legislation.
Minister O'Malley said "Consumer safety and consumer choice are paramount in the approach taken to GM foods, as reflected in the extent of the legislation developed to deal with this sensitive area.
Consequently, I am satisfied that appropriate arrangements are in place to ensure the safety of authorised GM foods, or foods containing GM ingredients placed on the market in Ireland."
Genetic modification techniques have opened up new possibilities for growth in sectors such as agriculture and industry, and have made a significant contribution to modern healthcare. Genetic modification techniques are widely used in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, including the production of valuable medicines such as human insulin for use by diabetics. Genetic modification is also central to the development of new gene therapy treatments to combat serious disease and disability. The benefits from these developments, particularly in the medical area are well documented and widely accepted as a significant benefit for those requiring such treatment.
Minister O'Malley said "I am satisfied the proper safeguards are in place and that labelling requirements provide a satisfactory and acceptable means to allow consumers become fully informed at all times of the content of the food they are purchasing. I am keeping the matter of genetic modification of foodstuffs under continuing review and am determined to ensure that public health and the rights of consumers are fully protected in this regard."
Protesters destroy Finland's study on GM trees
- Cordis News, 2004-06-24
Finland's only field study on genetically modified (GM) trees in Punkaharju in the eastern part of the country has been attacked and destroyed.
The 400 GM birch trees were chopped down or torn up by their roots. This has obliterated the nation's only research into the environmental impact of genetic modification on forests, deplored officials.
'The research investigated the possible environmental effects of doing field studies using genetically modified materials. It would have been extremely important to find out about these issues,' said Juhani Haggman, head of the Punkaharju site.
'We lack research on how genes work,' Mr Haggman added. 'We are talking about several hundreds of thousands of euro in losses. The highest estimates that have been aired have been close to a million euro. Then there's the value the research results we would have had,' said Mr Haggman.
Both the Finnish bioindustry and the forest industry have been keen to conduct research on genetically engineered trees, hoping genetic modification would reduce paper-making costs and improve products by producing trees with appropriate traits. The research had been seeking methods to maintain a functioning transgene to begin the production of cloned and sterile 'ge-trees'.
It is believed, however, that some environmental groups and anti-GM protesters feared GM trees might permanently contaminate food crops and wild species.
This was the other issue the research was investigating.
GM protesters deny ship 'danger'
- BBC, June 30, 2004
Greenpeace protesters have denied illegally boarding a ship carrying GM crops in the Bristol Channel.
Magistrates in Barry, south Wales heard them deny causing a public nuisance and conduct endangering a ship's structures or individuals.
The MV Etoile was boarded last week in the Bristol Channel last week to prevent it unloading GM animal feed.
Magistrates declined to try the group and there will be another hearing in September for crown court committal.
The court heard that protesters on board the vessel were arrested after a police helicopter landed officers on its deck.
Other demonstrators were arrested on support vessels in Penarth marina near Cardiff.
The ship was carrying a cargo of GM maize destined for dairy farms supplying milk to British supermarkets.
John Edwards, prosecuting, told the court that the Etoile, one of the largest vessels in the world, had set sail for New Orleans in the United States.
Protesters boarded the ship as it waited for a pilot to navigate her into Avonmouth docks near Bristol.
Mr Edwards said: "This was methodically and professionally planned in relation to the setting up of the event.
"There were orders dictating the plan and its execution."
The ship was carrying a cargo of GM maize destined for dairy farms supplying milk to British supermarkets.
There are ten men and three women accused.
They are: Benjamin Ayliffe, 26, of London, N1; Nicola Cook, 36, of Harleston, Norfolk; Sederick Coumord, 27, of no fixed address; Francis Hewetson, 39, of Kensal Rise, London; Timothy Hewke, 43, of Sittingbourne, Kent; Jens Loewe, 35, of Islington, London.
Janet Miller, 48, of Buxton, Derbyshire; Rachel Murray, 30, of London; Michele Rosato, 32, of Bow, London; Andrew Taylor, 34, of Stroud, Gloucestershire; Allan Vincent, 41, of Peckham, London; Richard Watson, 39, of London, N1 and Huw Williams, 37, of Buxton, Derbyshire.