Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





July 27, 2004


AGBIOVIEW: Greens Would End Farming; GM Against Crop Failure; Defending Biotech in Pak; Revolution to Save Lives; Corn War Star Science; Suicide by Pseudoscience


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - July 27, 2004:

* Australia: Complaints from Fear
* Hunger in Kenya: UN to Make International Appeal
* Pakistan: Biotechnology Defended
* A Revolution to Save Lives
* The Continuing Bt Corn War Star Science
* Intellectual Property Rights and the Public Good
* Genetically Modified Planet: Environmental Impacts of GE Plants
* Testing Whether GM DNA is Detectable in Dairy Milk or Beef
* EPA Symposium on Monitoring Insect-Tolerant GM Crops
* Suicide by Pseudoscience


Australia: Complaints from Fear - Brown

Country News, July 26 2004 http://www.countrynews.com.au/story.asp?TakeNo=200407263860160

State farm organisation leaders were silvertails more interested in politics than representing everyday farmers, Australian Greens senator Bob Brown has said in response to criticism from the VFF. VFF president Paul Weller complained the Greens effectively wanted the end of farming, labelling the greens groups as farmers' number one threat.

NSW Farmers Association president Mal Peters used his association's annual conference to attack what he termed were koala-suited urban types who dominated green organisations. Senator Brown said it was obvious the pair were "running scared". He said the complaints were signs the groups recognised the growing importance of the Greens to people living in rural areas.

Senator Brown said farm groups had stood by and watched government policy changes hurt country areas and were more focused on the Greens and their alternatives.

"The farmers federations said nothing when those $14 billion in tax cuts went to the rich against their interests, draining money from the potential for better services like better educational opportunities in the bush," he said. "These federations are doing a great injustice to the average person in rural and regional Australia who is not doing very well. "It's about time they started representing the majority of lowincome earners in the bush and not just the silvertails from Collins St and Pitt St."

Senator Brown said the stance of farming groups on issues such as genetically modified crops showed they were out of touch with everyday farmers. He said even if people did not completely agree with the Greens, they at least recognised the role it played in keeping the major parties honest.

The rush of complaints about the Greens was being driven by a fear it was better representing rural interests, Senator Brown said. "They are worried because the green vote is growing very rapidly in the bush," he said. "I think what's happening here is that more and more people in the bush feel left out and unrepresented by these silvertails and they are seeing the Greens are a really vigorous alternative."

Senator Brown said if farming groups did not change, they may find their support bases disappearing completely. "If they don't (change), we will see new organisations coming along and becoming much more powerful that are going to represent the true interests of people in the bush," he said.


Hunger in Kenya: UN to Make International Appeal

- The East African Standard (Nairobi), July 27, 2004

The United Nations will soon appeal for international aid to assist Kenyans hit by hunger. The announcement, which was made by the UN office for the coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, comes three weeks after President Kibaki called for assistance from the donor community over the critical hunger situation in the country.

According to reports by the world organisation, nearly one million Kenyans already have too little food, and estimates are that 2.3 million will require a total of 136,000 tonnes of food aid over the next six months. However, the number could rise to 3.3 million if the rains expected in October fail.

The number could also rise due to the fact that more poeple will lack food following the poisonous substance affecting grains in parts of the country, Aflatoxin B1. The latest discovery was at the Garissa food reserve operated by the National Cereals Produce Board. In pastoral areas, the raging drought has exposed close to one million people to starvation.

Thousands of Anglican faithful in Eldoret have resolved to forego a day's meal each to assist hunger victims in Turkana and West Pokot districts. Bishop Thomas Kogo of the diocese said the move was part of the church's campaign to raise food and other donations to assist the victims.

The Government has been asked to urgently adopt modern farming techniques as a solution to the current food crisis in the country. Farmers from Homa Bay District yesterday suggested that genetically modified crops were the only solution to the current crop failure.


Pakistan: Biotechnology Defended

- Ijaz Ahmad Rao, Dawn, July 26, 2004 Via Agnet

The Bt cotton, first transgenic non-food crop, is designed to protect crops from pests and cut the spray costs. It contains a strand of genetic mater al from the naturally occurring soil micro-organism Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) , and is being successfully grown since 1996 in the US, Australia, China, India and elsewhere.

Before the Bt technology, farmers could only combat pests like the bollworm known as "sundi" with pesticides. The Bt provides 100 per cent control of sundies, while supplemental foliar insecticide sprays are occasionally required to keep away the sucking pests like jassid, white fly, etc.

It is worth knowing that no Bt cotton seed developer has ever claimed that it would also control sucking pests. Therefore, it is wrong to say that the Bt cotton's cultivation of non-approved varieties in Sindh is not providing protection against jassid and leaf curl virus (CLCV) disease which cause huge damages in cotton fields.

Currently, a systematic propaganda is being carried out to create ambiguity through misleading information about the Bt seed technology. In past few years, the average number of bollworm treatments applied to the Bt fields in Australia, India, China, the US ranged from 0.27 to 1.22 treatments per field, lower than 5 to 16 sprays applied to control bollworm/tobacco budworm on the non-Bt fields.

Despite strong resistance, none cannot deny the reality about its success and growth around the world. The safety of plant biotechnology is evident from the fact that there isn't any documented case of illness caused by foods developed with the biotechnology since mid-1990s.

An EC report concludes that the use of more precise tech nology and greater regulatory scrutiny (over biotech foods) probably make them safer than conventional plants and foods".

Today more than 3.6 billion people around the world are directly or indirectly consuming the genetically modified (GM) food. It is worth knowing that there is no GMO or the Bt in refined edible oil from any Bt crops and these crops are as safe as the non Bt. That was why the EU in May 2004 lifted the five-year ban on the GM food.

In March 2004, the UK also approved commercial plantation of the GM crops. Tests showed that these crops could be more beneficial to wildlife when compared with the conventional. According to the economic review there were few short-term benefits for the UK in pursuing the technology but there could be long-term benefits for farmers and consumers from crops that were better suited to British climate and which had boosted the nutrients.

The science review has said that the risks to human health from the GM were very low. Similarly, nowadays trials of the genetically modified crops are underway throughout Germany.

The cotton crop in Sindh and South Punjab districts was attacked by the CLCV. One cannot blame it on the Bt technology; varieties susceptible to the CLCV will be infected regardless of other traits (e.g., Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)) incorporated. Under the Seed Act 1976 and Plant Quarantine Rules 1967 no one is allowed to cultivate the imported Bt, conventional or hybrid cotton seeds or plants without an approval. Those having information about such an activity should report it to concerned agency.

A mafia is exploiting the demand for such technology amongst farmers despite the propaganda. This is a clear indication of the farmers' confidence in the technology, therefore, the government of Pakistan should understand the farmers' aspirations and approve the Biosafety guidelines or else the technology will get a bad name due to its pirated version being illegally presented by the unscrupulous traders.

According to The Times of India (2 July, 04): "Cultivation of the BT cotton is expected to increase 10 times this year with more farmers preferring the varieties. This cotton not only increases the yield but also avoids use of pesticides. It is popular because it provides results within 45 to 90 days compared to normal seeds which take around 120 days. There are farmers preferring the BT cotton to increase the yield.
Out of 17 lakh hectares, the BT cotton is used in nearly one lakh acre". Similarly, according to The Hindu Business Line (June 2004) "This year higher cotton crop size is largely due to an increase in sowing of the Bt cotton seeds".

It is a fact that performance of the Bt cotton is dependent on agro climatic conditions, genotype of the hybrids and management of crop. In some areas, certain Bt varieties may be inappropriate for local growing conditions and may fail to produce satisfactory yields. For example under high night temperatures and under hot dry conditions, bolls may drop off the plants; some farmers in India reported that bolls set erratically or in irregular patterns.

That's why approved varieties of the Bt cotton tested in different agro-climatic conditions must be cultivated. One should refrain from sowing the "non approved" variety. It is important to know that so far most attempts of introducing non- approved Bt cotton have failed to deliver the desired results. Main reason behind this is the selection of wrong variety of cotton seeds which may be not fit under local environments.

In short biotech products are being used for human consumption all over the world. Most industrialized countries and many developing countries have native biotechnology crop research and development programmes like the NIBGE in Pakistan.

There are currently no globally-accepted biotech standards or guidelines for the evaluation of safety of such products. Therefore, in the absence of broadly accepted standards, most of the countries have adopted their own regulations.

Development of bio-safety standards and procedures by many countries have helped traders, growers and manufacturers, while preventing foreign firms from entering into markets unlawfully.

Rather than blaming, we must understand the promises this technology holds by acting moderately. It is a fact that the increasing use of the Bt Cotton around the world substantiates that it has more advantages than disadvantages.


A Revolution to Save Lives

- Dean Kleckner, Truth about trade & technology, July 22, 2004

With global attention so recently focused on the international AIDS conference in Thailand, it's easy to forget that malnutrition is an even bigger problem in many parts of the developing world--and one that's made even worse by the scourge of AIDS.

Consider the case of Africa, where an estimated 28.5 million people are HIV-positive. Undernourishment is the continent's most significant health problem, and it's been made worse by the fact that AIDS has killed some 7 million African farmers. Growing enough food to meet everybody's need would have been a big enough challenge before these deaths. It's much more difficult in their aftermath.

The good news is that biotechnology offers solutions to the twin challenges of food and AIDS--and that many leaders are starting to see the connection.

At a summit of African leaders in July, UN secretary general Kofi Annan issued a bold declaration: "Let us generate a uniquely African Green Revolution--a revolution that is long overdue, a revolution that will help it in its quest for dignity and peace."

The last Green Revolution, led by Norman Borlaug, transformed agricultural practices in the 1960s a nd 1970s, making it possible for farmers to keep up with a booming world population. Although many African farmers adopted new and more productive techniques, others were completely untouched by these developments. Their methods remain relatively primitive. The benefits of the Green Revolution, which include important advances in seeds, irrigation and fertilization, must be brought to them. The benefits of the next Green Revolution--the one going on right now -- will perhaps be better understood as the Gene R evolution.

The advent of biotechnology and its genetically enhanced crops is transforming agriculture in countries like the United States, Canada, Argentina, and South Africa. Yields are up and production costs are down. There's also less stress on the environment. When an acre of biotech soybeans in Brazil produces more food than an acre of non-biotech soybeans, it's easy to see why local farmers would want to adopt it--and how their decision will help feed more people and reduce pressure to convert rainfore sts int.o farmland.

The same phenomenon would work in Africa, if only its political leaders would embrace biotechnology. So far, they haven't been too trusting--in large part because they look to Europe for advice and counsel. Many European consumers, scientifically illiterate and insulated from the despair of malnourishment, remain skeptical of biotechnology. To be sure, there are signs of hope. Ethiopia's Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, has embraced biotechnology. The Southern African Development Commu nity has recommended accepting aid in the form of genetically modified food (as long as it has been milled). The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which traditionally has taken a strong interest in farmers in the developing world, has endorsed agricultural biotechnology.

I'm also encouraged by the ongoing activism of several energetic Africans, including Dr. Florence Wambugu of Africa Harvest, Professor Norah Olembo of the Africa Biotech Stakeholders Forum, Professor Jocelyn Webster of AfricaB io, and Joseph Wekundah of the Biotechnology Trust Africa. Their advocacy has been indispensable not only in winning hearts and minds on their native continent, but also in helping those of us who don't live in Africa to understand both the magnitude of the plight as well as the sign.ificance of the opportunity.

The true potential of biotechnology goes far beyond putting food in people's mouths. It also offers hope in the fight against AIDS. If we're ever going to beat this disease--not just learn to live with it, not just contain it, but truly beat it--we'll have to rely heavily on biotechnology. If and when a cure or a vaccine becomes available, I'm certain that biotechnology will have made its discovery possible.

And biotechnology may also provide the key to its dissemination. It is one thing to produce a single dose of medicine in a lab, and quite another to manufacture it in enormous quantities at a reasonable price. The embryonic science of pharmaceutical farming--also known as "pharming"--may make it possib le for us to create special crops that do the job for us.

A couple of years ago, one African president called GM foods "toxic." How ironic that this "toxic" technology may in fact restore the continent's lifeblood. But it will only happen if we're willing to let it.


The Continuing Bt Corn War Star Science

- Benigno D. Peczon, Ph.D., Philippine Star, July 15, 2004
Via SEARCA Biotech, http://www.searca.org/~bic

In 2001, President Arroyo issued a National Biotechnology Policy-"(The Philippines) shall promote the safe and responsible use of modern biotechnology and its products as one several means to achieve and sustain food security, equitable access to health services, sustainable and safe environment, and industry development." In April 2002, the Department of Agriculture released Administrative Order No. 8, which provided rules and regulations for the importation and release into the environment of plants and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology. In December 2002, the Bureau of Plant Industry approved the commercial propagation of Bt corn MON810.

In 2002, about 120 hectares of Bt corn were planted. Because of the significantly increased yields obtained, by mid-2004, 12,000 hectares had been planted on various islands. In the planting season ending in May 2004, one farmer obtained 10.2 tons of shelled corn per hectare in his village have planted over 300 hectares of corn. One advantage this farmer mentioned is the capability to plant corn three times a year. Previously, no more than two crops could be planted per year because moisture patterns saw massive infestations of the third crop by borers.

The Philippines annually imports about one million metric tons of corn or corn substitutes. With the potential of Bt corn to significantly increase yields, for the first time in many years, there is the strong likelihood that the Philippines will not only stop importing corn, it could divert more of this corn to increasing value-added produce in the form of increased production of chicken, pork and other agricultural outputs.

This potential to improve food security and to directly address malnutrition that still exists in the country can be adversely affected by FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) tactics. Media printed the pronouncements of Norwegian scientist Terje Traavik on Feb. 22, 2004 at the first Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Traavik was reported to have said that 38 people in Kalyong, a village in Mindanao, carried increased levels of three different target antibodies, which he considered as evidence of an immune reaction to the Bt toxin built into the Bt corn to combat pests. Traavik was also reported to have said that "there's no literature or scientific studies that could prove GMO safeness to human health and environment." During an early March visit to Mindanao, media reports said that when pressed as to whether the traces of Bt toxin in the blood samples were the result of the natives' exposure to Bt corn, Traavik was quoted as saying, "It's difficult to completely conclude if the Bt toxin, indeed, came from the Bt corn. We need to conduct further researches on that. However, this alarming finding should serve as early warning that it could be harmful to our health."

Within days of the pronouncements, Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. called for an investigation. Dr. Artemio Salazar, director of the Department of Agriculture's corn program, was reported to have explained that the claims of Traavik are not in consonance with the tenets of modern science. Nina Gloriani Barzaga, M.D., Ph. D., professor of medical microbiology and microbial immunology at the University of the Philippines' College of Public Health, was quoted as saying that Traavik should show pertinent scientific data supporting his claims before publicly releasing them and causing undue panic.

On March 23, 2004, a widely circulated newspaper reported that 14 scientists and professors, mainly from United States, challenged Traavik to publish on the Internet the full details of his study so it could be completely discussed by other experts in the field.

Government healthcare professionals in the area where the alleged ill-effects of exposure to Bt corn occurred expressed the opinion that the reported illnesses are unlikely due to Bt corn. A private sector team involving physicians, which subsequently visited the place, confirmed the conclusions of the government health are professionals. Thus far (mid-May 3004), Traavik has failed to provide the raw data supporting his findings.

From the large number of reports from many newspapers regarding the pros and cons of GMOs, and the results of an independent survey showing popular print media as one of the major sources of information regarding these crops, it is clear that media plays a huge role in bringing down unwarranted barriers to international trade and in promoting science-based understanding and implementation of agricultural biotechnology.

Although media can be attracted by FUD newsmakers, it can also be utilized by responsible government officials and scientists to address relevant issues as quickly as possible to dispel doubts. Knowledge dissemination through daily broadsheets can augment the ongoing information campaign by entities such as the biotechnology Information Center, the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines Inc., the Philippine National Academy of Science and Technology, the Department of Agriculture's Biotechnology Program Implementation Unit and other groups.

Another potential problem for the adoption of GMOs is too stringent government regulations. To comply with the requirements of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is crafting a National Biosafety Framework. In a March 2004 national workshop on the development of the Philippine Biosafety Framework, DENR Secretary Elisea Gozun pushed for the ratification by the Senate of the Cartagena Protocol, saying that the Protocol "creates an enabling environment for the environmentally sound application of biotechnology, making it possible to derive maximum benefits from the potential that biotechnology has to offer, while minimizing the possible risks to the environment and to human health." While acknowledging the positive impact of modern biotechnology on food security, she noted its potential impact on human health and environment". "The use of biotechnology and its products must therefore be practiced in a safe and sustainable manner that minimizes the possibility of these adverse effects," Gozun said. She added, "We must follow precautions and take into account socio-economic and cultural considerations in making biosafety decisions."

While GMOs may provide advantages for producers and the public, FUD tactics and too stringent government regulations can slow down their adoption.

Benigno D. Peczon, Ph.D. in Chemistry, is a Balik-Scientist who has performed both basic and applied research. He currently serves as the president of Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines Inc. For queries or comments on this article, e-mail at bdpeczon@bcp.org.ph


Intellectual Property Rights and the Public Good

'Universities have obligations to developing countries'

- Ronald L. Phillips, Jim Chen, Ruth Okediji, and Dan Burk, The Scientist, Vol.18, Issue 14, p8; July19, 2004

The granting of intellectual property rights is intended to stimulate innovation. The twin goals of encouraging innovation and promoting access to inventions require a balancing act between the scope of protection and limits on proprietary rights. In the United States and elsewhere, the government subsidizes research extensively.

For developing countries, access to new products, particularly drugs and seeds, is often a question of life and death. The market power inherent in intellectual property may restrict access by poorer consumers. Furthermore, coordination problems and the transaction costs involved in negotiating terms of access to patented innovations invariably raise the cost of producing and distributing inventions in developing nations.

One example is "golden rice," which is enhanced for beta carotene (provitamin A). It provides hope for alleviating the severe vitamin A deficiency that causes blindness in a half-million children every year. Extensive patenting has hampered delivery of this rice to those in need; forty organizations hold 72 patents on the technology underlying its production. Problems with access to golden rice and essential medicines have stimulated debate on the obligations of American universities to facilitate the provision of goods for the public benefit. A recent symposium1 at the University of Minnesota addressed this question.

Six companies hold 75 percent of all agricultural patents. Such concentration exacerbates the challenge of delivering agricultural inventions to the neediest segments of the world's population. One solution could be the compulsory licensing of patented inventions that have failed to reach the neediest markets. But there is another solution: While the public sector holds less than three percent of all patents, it does have 24 percent of agricultural biotechnology patents. Universities and other public organizations enjoy unique opportunities to deliver affordable pharmaceutical and biotechnological innovations.

What factors influence the impact of patents? First, different forms of intellectual property, such as utility patents, plant patents, plant variety certificates, trademarks, and copyrights, have distinct transaction costs and effects on downstream research and target markets. Second, national and international policies that affect the distribution of public materials are in flux. Third, multilateral treaties have limited access to research tools and finished products. The Convention on Biological Diversity, for example, has transformed plant genetic resources from a global commons into a commodity subject to national sovereignty. The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has likewise subjected an important subset of plant genetic resources to the sovereign control of source nations. Meanwhile, import restrictions on genetically modified foods and other restrictions by developed countries on agricultural imports from developing countries impose additional complexity on efforts to improve the well-being of poor countries.

Developed countries spend about $5 in research and development for every $100 in agricultural output; developing countries spend only 66 cents. Because of the low level of research in developing countries, wealthier countries must take the lead in fostering a suitable atmosphere for creating, protecting, and using crop biotechnologies. New organizations such as Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (www.pipra.org) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (www.aftechfound.org) will rationalize the huge proliferation of patents, especially in plant biotechnology. These organizations will develop a freedom-to-operate information database and facilitate the delivery of patented technologies to poor farmers while limiting patent holders' liability.

What else can be done? Improved assessment of the impact of the expiration of key patents would help. A humanitarian use exemption for special situations would be useful, and public institutions should clarify their intellectual policy policies. A recently developed clause provides a model for public institutions to modify their intellectual property policy statements.2 Other possible measures include the raising of patentability standards, evaluating the apparent loss of universities' so-called research exemption from patent infringement liability, adapting licensing policies within the public sector, and revitalizing stewardship of intellectual property. In the long run, building scientific and institutional capacity in developing countries may be the most important means by which American universities can discharge their moral obligation to the world at large.

Ronald L. Phillips is director of the Center for Microbial and Plant Genomics at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. Jim Chen, Ruth Okediji, and Dan Burk are faculty members at the University of Minnesota Law School.

1. http://www.lifesci.consortium.umn.edu/conferences/ip.php
2. R.N. Beachy, "IP policies and serving the public," Science, 299:473, 2003.


Genetically Modified Planet: Environmental Impacts of Genetically Engineered Plants

- Author: C. Neal Stewart, Oxford University Press July 24, 2004 (Via Agnet)

Genetically Modified Planet, a new book written for lay audiences about the environmental impacts of genetically engineered plants

The prevailing notion among many people and in the press is that environmental impacts of biotechnology are negative. After examining the science, Neal Stewart argues that there are indeed real and potential risks of growing engineered crops, but that there are also real and overwhelmingly positive environmental benefits. The potential problems with growing today's crop of genetically modified plants include the possibilities of insects evolving resistance to plant produced insecticides, increased weed tolerance to herbicides, and gene flow from crops to weeds or wild relatives. However, as of late 2003, over thirty-eight trillion engineered plants have been grown in the United States with no measurable negative effects, and no environmental disasters. In fact, these plants have provided laudable environmental benefits: millions of gallons of insecticide have not been sprayed and tons of soil have not eroded, largely because of biotechnology. The future holds the promise of new plants designed to actually clean up environmental problems and restore endangered species. Stewart concludes that due to these benefits, genetically modified plants are not the monsters they are made o ut to be.



Determining Whether Transgenic or Endogenous Plant DNA is Detectable in Dairy Milk or Beef Organs.

- Jennings, J., Whetsell, A., Nicholas, N., Sweeney, B., Klaften, M., Kays, S., Hartnell, G., Lirette, R., Glenn, K. 2003Bulletin of the International Diary Federation No 383 . 144(2): 41-46.

The fate of transgenic DNA in products derived from farm animals fed genetically modified feed was assessed. Sensitive methods were developed to analyze milk for the presence of transgenic and plant DNA from cows fed a diet containing conventional or transgenic cottonseed or maize. Genomic DNA was extracted from milk and analyzed by PCR followed by Southern blot for fragments of the cry1Ac transgene and an endogenous cotton gene, acp1, from cows fed a diet containing whole cottonseed. Additionally, milk, liver, kidney, and spleen were assessed for fragments of the cry1Ab transgene and an endogenous maize gene, sh2, from animals fed a diet containing maize grain.

No sample was positive for transgenic or plant DNA fragments at the limits of detection for the assays following detailed data evaluation criteria. Results for sh2 analyses of milk were, however, indeterminate. A fragment of a bovine gene, prl, was amplified from each DNA extract to show that all preparations were amenable to PCR. These results indicate that DNA, whether derived from conventional or transgenic feed, is not present at detectable levels in bovine milk or organs.


EPA Symposium on the Development of Strategic Programs for Monitoring Ecological Impact from Plant-Incorporated Protectants (Pips)

- Washington, DC. August 3-5, 2004


Historically, monitoring programs in association with field releases of crops with plant incorporated protectants (PIPs) have been, explicitly or implicitly, called for as a part of risk assessment/management schemes or regulatory agenda. However, it is often not clear what should be monitored, why, or for how long. Recommendations of objectives and methodologies were made with little understanding of their scientific legitimacy. Monitoring for the development of insect resistance to pesticides-identified as early as 1991-provides the single best example of science based monitoring program development. This is, however, only one of many potential ecological concerns associated with PIP crops, and often the decision as to what to monitor for has depended as much on what was possible to monitor as it has on the identified concern.

While wide-ranging, non-specified monitoring programs to detect new or unique effects of genetic engineering are being suggested (e.g., changes in non-target insect populations), such monitoring may be quite expensive and inefficient. Even if a previously unknown problem were discovered, surely most open-ended studies of this nature will find nothing at great expense. It will be most helpful to decision makers and those who will be charged with the design and implementation of monitoring programs to know explicitly what should be monitored, the reason behind the concern(s) that generated the need for monitoring, appropriate methods for conducting the monitoring, and finally the purpose for the data to be collected. Well-done risk assessments, along with providing the argument for establishing appropriate levels of monitoring, will also address these four categories of information needs.

At this symposium, science experts will discuss the state of the science in environmental monitoring efforts and particularly those related to determination of ecological impact from PIP crop plants. The goal is to determine effective strategies for identifying the key risks of concern and appropriate risk management technologies to mitigate these key risks when the monitoring studies indicate unintended adverse consequences. By focusing on the agroecosystem condition, it may be possible to ameliorate the spatio-temporal problems associated with monitoring large scale planting of PIP crop plants and the natural variability inherent in identifying and tracking ecosystem change. The point is to determine what in-field condition(s) might prove to be indicative of change (as an early warning indicator) or evidence of an ecological impact, e.g., decreasing insect populations. At a minimum, the conference scope will include discussion of:

1. Monitoring principles/objectives for transgenic plants with strengths and limitations. 2. Monitoring studies to date including rationale, objectives, design, conclusions and lessons learned. 3. Criteria for selection and use of indicator species. 4. Use of statistical analyses for developing strategic monitoring plan.

DATES: The symposium will be held Tuesday, August 3, 2004 through Thursday, August 5, 2004, running from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

ADDRESSES: The symposium will be held at the Sheraton Hotel in Crystal City, 1800 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington, VA 22202; telephone 703-769-3946.

A limited number of rooms will be available at the Sheraton Hotel through July 3, 2004, for the special meeting rate of $150 per night. The meeting location is within walking distance of the Crystal City Metro Stop on the Blue and Yellow Lines. EPA supports the goals of green conferencing and strongly encourages participants at this meeting to recycle, reduce the use of paper products and bulk mailings, and use mass transit. More about green conferencing can be found at: http://www.epa.gov/oppt/greenmeetings/.

TN & Associates, an EPA contractor, is organizing, convening, and conducting the symposium. To attend the symposium, please preregister by July 30, 2004. You may register by e-mail by contacting Holly Stoddard at hstoddard@tnainc.com or by calling (678) 355-5550 x0. On site registration will be accepted on a space available basis.

TN & Associates, an EPA contractor, is organizing, convening, and conducting the symposium. To attend the symposium, please preregister by July 30, 2004. You may register on line by contacting Holly Stoddard at hstoddard@tnainc.com or by calling (678) 355-5550 x0. On site registration will be accepted on a space available basis.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For symposium information, registration, and logistics, contact Holly Stoddard; For further information, the EPA contact is Dr. Robert Frederick, telephone: (202) 564-3207; e-mail: frederick.bob@epa.gov


Suicide by Pseudoscience

- Bruce Sterling, Wired, Issue 12.06, June 2004 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.06/view.html?pg=4

The Union of Concerned Scientists in a February report pointed out something the science press has known for years: The Bush administration has no respect for science. Ideologues prefer to make up the laws of nature as they go.

Presidential science adviser John Marburger complained that the UCS's account sounded like a "conspiracy theory report." That's because it is one. As the report amply documents, the Bush administration has systematically manipulated scientific inquiry into climate change, forest management, lead and mercury contamination, and a host of other issues. Even as Marburger addressed his critics, the administration purged two advocates of stem-cell research from the President's Council on Bioethics.

When politicians dictate science, government becomes entangled in its own deceptions, and eventually the social order decays in a compost of lies. Society, having abandoned the scientific method, loses its empirical referent, and truth becomes relative. This is a serious affliction known as Lysenkoism.

Trofim Lysenko was Joseph Stalin's top stooge in Soviet agricultural science, a field that was mercilessly politicized by fanatics. His specialty was inventing nutty schemes - things like stimulating the evolution of trees by overcrowding them to get them to cooperate, as though they were communist minions. This totalitarian huckster spent his whole career promising exciting results and bringing about only disaster. But the party never judged itself on results, so he always got a free pass.

Politics without objective, honest measurement of results is a deadly short circuit. It means living a life of sterile claptrap, lacquering over failure after intellectual failure with thickening layers of partisan abuse. Charlatans like Lysenko can't clarify serious, grown-up problems that they themselves don't understand.
State-sponsored pseudoscience always fails, but slowly, like a wheat field choked with weeds. (This is a particularly apt comparison, because Lysenko claimed that the weeds infesting Soviet wheat fields had evolved from the wheat itself.) It fails in predictable ways, and these are the very ways in which the Bush science policy is going to fail.

The rot begins to set in when honest local institutions, appalled by high-level misdeeds, denounce federal policy as corrupt and corrupting, just as the UCS has done. There will be much more of this: congressional investigations, high-minded committees. Government officials will temporize by getting scientists to "compromise" and "split the difference" between actual science and partisan jiggery-pokery. This will fail because science just isn't politics. You can't legislate that E=mc2.

Before long, the damage will spread beyond our borders. International scientific bodies will treat American scientists as pariahs. This process has already begun in bioethics, meteorology, agriculture, nuclear science, and medicine, but doubts will spread to "American science" generally. (In Lysenko's heyday, when scientists abroad came across a halfway-decent Soviet scientist, they would charitably offer to publish his books offshore, then maybe help him defect to someplace where he could get serious work done.)

Meanwhile, gaps will open between research establishments in the US and other countries, much like the one that now yawns between American and Korean stem-cell producers. US science will come to have a stodgy, old-fashioned, commissar-style inability to think and act freely. Yankee initiative and ingenuity will bow to bulging pie-in-the-sky superprojects like unproven antimissile systems, hot-air broadband initiatives, and swashbuckling moon shots.

Eventually the whole vast bubble will burst of its own fairy-tale unreality. Few will be held accountable. The quackeries will be purged, forgotten, hushed up. Except, that is, for the lasting effect on the health, morale, and self-esteem of the American people.

Trofim Lysenko was a funny case. He had the authority to reduce a major scientific-research power to a dismal Burkina Faso with rockets; he left behind practically no scientific achievement or discovery. As a scientist, he was a nonentity, but his menace is universal. Wherever moral panic, hasty judgment, arrogance, fear, brutal partisan ignorance, slovenly standards of research, overcentralization of authority, conspiratorial policymaking, jingoism and xenophobia, and spin-centric travesties of disinformation can flourish, Lysenko's spirit will never die.


AgBioWorld http://www.agbioworld.org; PO Box 85, Tuskegee Inst., AL 36087

Email your response to agbioworld@yahoo.com

SUBSCRIBE / UNSUBSCRIBE at http://www.agbioworld.org