Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : November 1, 2004
* German Chancellor Campaigns for Genetic Engineering
* Tricks or Treaty?
* On Nobel Laureate Maathai's U Turn on Biotech
* CIMMYT Director General Iwanaga Talks Biotech
* Continuing the Effort - Roger Beachy
* What's the Holdup?
* India Joins the Biotech Club
* Designing Genes
* Can the Sciences Help Us to Make Wise Ethical Judgments?
* Powerpoint Slides for Biotech Teaching
* Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunger
* Radicals Get a Greenpeace of His Mind
* Fussy Can be Dangerous
German Chancellor Campaigns for Genetic Engineering
'Technological Skepticism is Damaging Our Position in World Markets.'
- Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; Translation: Robert Derham,
Checkbiotech.org, October 29, 2004
BERLIN -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called for more
open-mindedness towards the use of genetic engineering. "There is no
ill-will towards the technology in Germany, rather an extreme
reluctance to implement genetic engineering."
"In comparison to Americans, Germans think about the risks first."
But, Schroeder noted during a convention for the Council for
Engineering Sciences at the Union of the German Academies of Science
and Humanities (Acatech) that he is hoping that within German society
a new awareness of the possibilities from genetic engineering will
Schroeder complained before the German Federal Council that there is
a too restrictive stance that stems from the mindset of environmental
movements, traditional technology skepticism and Christian
motivations. "This is leading to a situation that weakens our market
position and does not promote German innovation," said the German
Schroeder noted, he is not demanding a change in the situation,
"rather it requires a new discussion." He further added that the
German society finds itself in an important transition phase, in
which "many painful social reforms" are necessary, whose positive
effects would be realized with time.
The President of the German Research Society, Ernst-Ludwig
Windnacker, warned about a drop in Europe's scientific
competitiveness with America. For years now, Europe has clearly
received less Nobel Prize winners as America has. The difference
between funding for research and development in America and the
original 15 EU countries has increased from 21 billion to 140 billion
euros over the recent years.
Tricks or Treaty?
- Dave Wood, AgBioView, Nov. 1, 2004; www.agbioworld.org (Genetic
Resource Policy Consultant, )
Three years ago RAFI (now ETC) published a commentary on the newly
agreed International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources. RAFI asked
'Trick or Treaty?' (1).
The Treaty came into effect 29th June 2004 (2). The Interim Committee
of the Treaty meets in Rome, 15 - 19 November. This is a key meeting
for global agriculture: it will decide rules for access to global
genetic resources and subsequent benefit sharing.
Was RAFI playing with words again, or is there indeed a trick in the treaty?
We have managed to find at least three tricks, all three of which
have RAFI's fingerprints.
Trick 1: About ten years ago the World Bank realized it was sitting
on more than a trillion dollars of assets in the form of genetic
resources in the genebanks of the International Agricultural Research
Centres. At their Mid-Term Meeting, 1994, the individual CGIAR
Centres transferred policy control over these collections to the
World Bank. There were financial inducements from the Bank, which
controlled 15% of the entire CGIAR funds.
But the World Bank could not sell, rent, or charge for access to
these genetic resources, widely regarded as a 'heritage of
humankind', 'a global common resource' with guaranteed free access to
all. How was the Bank to cash in on these assets?
Now the Trick: apparently under extreme pressure from RAFI, the Bank
did a rapid deal with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the
UN. In 1994 the CGIAR collections were 'brought under' the FAO (3).
FAO members then finalized the Treaty, which introduces a tax for
access to CGIAR collections, with some of this tax funding the CGIAR
to carry out the objectives of the Treaty. Thus a UN organization,
FAO, was tricked into acting as rent collector for the World Bank.
Trick 2: The World Bank designated Treaty negotiations to one CGIAR
institute, IPGRI, located in Rome. IPGRI then hired a co-founder of
RAFI as its chief negotiator for the Treaty (4). IPGRI then placed in
the Treaty article 13.2.d (ii), which discriminates against countries
with the latest version of international plant breeders' rights
legislation (known as UPOV 1991) (5. at p. 29). These countries,
including the US, the UK, Japan, Australia, Sweden, Germany, and the
Netherlands, subscribe two-thirds of the CGIAR annual budget of
around $350 million. Hitherto all countries had entirely free access
to CGIAR collections. Now UPOV 1991 countries will have to pay.
As UPOV 1991 spreads to developing countries it will encourage, as
intended, the private sector into plant breeding and seed production.
RAFI - based in Canada - have lobbied against UPOV 1991 for ten
years. Canada itself is a member of UPOV 1978, joining just before
the deadline in 1991. The Director of IPGRI at the time of the Treaty
negotiations was Canadian. In 2000, another Canadian worked as
special advisor on the Treaty to a Vice President of the World Bank
(who happens to be Chairman of the CGIAR) then in 2001 became senior
Canadian negotiator to the Treaty. Somewhere along the line RAFI and
the World Bank have tricked major donors to the CGIAR in favour of
Trick 3: The Treaty allows varieties under development to be excluded
from the Treaty (Article 12.3.e). All CGIAR varieties are 'varieties
under development' which are finished by national plant breeders.
These varieties are exceptionally valuable, as they are the direct
precursors of 'Green Revolution' varieties that have fed billions
over the past four decades.
Yet the CGIAR is now planning to place all these varieties within the
Treaty. The tax generated to access these varieties will only benefit
the minority of countries who are Treaty members.
Where is the trick here? The CGIAR acceptance of the Treaty is
entirely voluntary. There is no legal obligation whatever to accept
the Treaty (and many practical reasons for not accepting the Treaty,
not least resultant damage to important CGIAR partners).
The CGIAR is on the brink of following damaging advice from the same
co-founder of RAFI who was charged by the CGIAR with negotiating the
Treaty (6). This advice includes placing all products of CGIAR
research within the Treaty. The advice also included this gem:
'Centres should apply the provisions of the Treaty in every possible
circumstance, and thus avoid placing themselves in the position of
interpreting the Treaty in regards to if or when its provisions might
apply legally.' This is the 'precautionary principle' gone mad,
especially when the least damaging course is for the CGIAR Centres to
keep entirely out of the Treaty.
Note that Canada -- but not the US nor other key CGIAR donors - will
get free access forever to this trillion dollar bonanza.
There are RAFI fingerprints all over this trick.
But has RAFI thought all this trickery through? Likely outcomes of
the CGIAR involvement in the Treaty may dismay RAFI.
There could be a transfer of plant breeding and seed companies to
UPOV 1978 countries, many of which are developing countries. This has
been predicted by a UN Expert Group (7). US food security may depend
on seed from Mexico and Canada.
But increased access to locally-available new varieties from local
seed companies would lead to further loss of farmers' varieties in
developing countries. RAFI has been posturing against this loss for
two decades. The trick here is on RAFI. It is local seed production
and not Plant Breeders' Rights that destroys local varieties (there
was no PBR in India during the 'Green Revolution').
There would be disquiet amongst Treaty members. For example, Ethiopia
will have to supply free genetic resources to another Treaty member,
Canada, which is exempt from payments into the Treaty. Ethiopia would
then step out of the Treaty and insist on bilateral negotiations for
Canadian access to Ethiopian barley, wheat and oilseeds needed for
Canadian plant breeding and future crop exports. Another trick
against RAFI as it tries to protect Canadian agriculture.
The US could react against being repeatedly tricked and set up a crop
development system parallel to the existing CGIAR (while asking
elements of the CGIAR to help). One possibility is a far greater
emphasis on biotech in Africa. This would not draw on Treaty samples
nor pay a tax to the Treaty. There are wild African grasses of
immense value to biotech that African countries have already excluded
from the Treaty.
A nucleus of biotech in Africa, with links to the existing efforts in
Brazil, India, and China, could provide a 'Treaty-free' pattern of
crop development for the future. Again, this enhancement of biotech
in developing countries is a trick against RAFI, with its pronounced
hostility to biotech (or anything else that will increase
agricultural production in developing countries).
Given the tangled web of tricks played on the CGIAR and most of its
partners, the CGIAR should stay out of the Treaty -- as it has an
absolute right to do -- until major conflicts affecting CGIAR
partners and global agricultural development are resolved.
2). Treaty text at ftp://ext-ftp.fao.org/ag/cgrfa/it/ITPGRe.pdf
3). Diversity 10(2), p. 10, 1994.
4). Charles, D. 2001 Seeds of discontent. Science 294, 773-775.
7). Para 34 of http://www.fao.org/ag/cgrfa/docsmta1.htm
Nobel Laureate Maathai's U Turn on Biotech
- S. Shantharam, email@example.com
It is heartening to note that Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai
has had a change of heart about agricultural biotechnology is now
supporting capacity building to handle biotechnology in Africa and
other parts of the world. In fact, that is what a host of global
institutions and organizations have been doing at a huge cost all
around the world.
I am now serving as a biosafety expert at one such biosafety capacity
building workshop in Kenya. Almost all the scientists and policy
makers here strongly felt that Dr. Maathai was completely mistaken or
misinformed when she had opposed GM crops and had or already have
written o her to give her facts and figures about biotechnology and
In fact, a new delegation of Kenyan scientist are planning a visit
to Dr. Maathai to once again brief her about the kinds of efforts
that are under sway in Kenya and other parts of Africa to ensure
transfer of safe biotechnology to Africa. I hope better sense will
prevail in African environmental community and that Dr. Maathai will
provide that much needed leadership to lead Africa into economic
prosperity through appropriate and safe technology intervention that
will also protect the environment.
We still have to persevere with Dr. Maathai regarding her notion that
HIV AIDS was created by Western Scientists to control African
population. But, that is another battle. I am told by a lead
researcher of HIV Research at CDC that efforts are afoot to send Dr.
Maathai, a letter from CDC and also from International Union of
Virologists to correct her wrong impressions about the origins of HIV.
Interview with Masaru Iwanaga, Director General of CIMMYT
- IFPRI Newsletter 'Forum', Oct. 2004
Full interview at
Masaru Iwanaga, director general of the International Maize and Wheat
Improvement Center (CIMMYT), talks to IFPRI Forum about the role of
maize and wheat in world agriculture.
FORUM: Wheat was a key crop (along with rice) in the Green Revolution
that unfolded about three decades ago. How relevant is wheat today
and for the future, in the changing world of food and agriculture?
Iwanaga: Although maize is expected to bypass wheat in terms of total
production in the next ten years, wheat will be the number one food
crop. People in developing countries consume 85 percent of the wheat
they produce. In contrast, animals consume most of the maize
produced. As for rice, wheat will tend to displace it as incomes
rise. Wheat's central and growing role in food consumption means that
developing-country production of this crop will have to increase by
almost 50 percent by 2020, from the current 300 million tons to 440
million tons, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of
the United Nations.
Because of its inherent characteristics, wheat has certain production
advantages over rice and maize. It is far more efficient in the use
of water, producing more grain per unit of water, and its geographic
range greatly exceeds that of either rice or maize, spanning cold
(winter wheat) to moderately warm (spring wheat) locations. Should
production conditions for cereals become less favorable due to global
warming or other environmental factors, wheat yields would be
affected less than those of other major cereals. Wheat's importance
in developing countries would also increase if developed countries
removed farm subsidies, enabling prices to rise in low-income
FORUM: How important is biotechnology to the contribution that maize
and wheat can make to food security in developing countries? In what
way is it important?
Iwanaga: Much of the controversy regarding biotechnology is related
to genetic engineering and the production of genetically modified
organisms. This approach, however, is 'just' one biotechnology tool
for developing improved germplasm. At CIMMYT, for example, activities
related to genetic engineering represent about 20 percent of the
biotechnology effort and a small fraction of the Center's total
budget. Most of our resources are allocated to the discovery of
suitable DNA markers to incorporate numerous genes for target traits
or environments into improved crop varieties.
Biotechnology will significantly influence our understanding of
biological processes in many plant species and research to understand
how genes work will help us to improve the performance of wheat and
maize under diverse conditions. The challenges faced by public
research centers such as CIMMYT include (1) how to develop the
capacity to access and extract knowledge from the vast amount of
information produced by genomics research; and (2) how to exploit
this knowledge to meet the needs of our clients. CIMMYT should
consider positioning itself as a global leader in the use of genetic
information in order to provide innovative solutions to global
problems and experimental frameworks for rigorous hypothesis testing
in relation to traits and genes of interest.
Biotechnology is unlikely to bring "magic bullet" solutions for the
sustainable production of wheat and maize, but biotechnology
researchers working across disciplines can significantly enhance key
traits in maize and wheat to make these cropping systems more
productive and sustainable.
FORUM: The controversy over genetically modified organisms shows no
signs of abating. How does this affect the prospects for better maize
and wheat varieties?
Iwanaga: Obviously, improved maize and wheat varieties will continue
to be developed via conventional (non-transgenic) means. There are a
few transgenic products, such as maize with insect resistance based
on gene constructs from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis
that could be delivered to small-scale farmers in developing
countries, but delivery is hindered by the current debate and
regulatory requirements. Thus, the prospect of such products reaching
farmers in developing countries in the next five years are slim. Many
farmers want such solutions, but will have to wait.
There is good reason to field test transgenic crops, but such testing
should only come after developing countries implement regulatory
systems for biotechnology. No field testing of transgenic crops can
or should take place until authorities fully establish such systems.
The global nature of agriculture today also slows testing and
deployment. Given the global nature of the controversy, policymakers
are unsure about the impact their decision on genetically modified
organisms will have on trade, even for non-transgenic commodities, or
on external aid for development projects.
FORUM: What kind of biosafety regulation would both protect consumers
and the environment and allow innovation for poor farmers to take
Iwanaga: Harmonization of biosafety regulations is probably the
simplest and most straightforward approach to protecting consumers
and allowing all farmers access to the technology. The current
situation, where each country or region employs different
requirements, often not accepting data from neighboring countries,
complicates the process and makes seed deployment more difficult.
While there may be good reasons for certain tests to be performed in
a country, many tests are unnecessary. In addition, the type of test
could be standardized.
In terms of what to regulate, more attention to the nature of the
product as opposed to the method of production would help distinguish
when a transgenic product is substantially different from
conventional products. Today, all transgenics fall in the same
category regardless of the trait or gene source, just to name two
factors. In the not-so-distant future, transgenics using genes from
the same species will be available. Appropriate regulatory systems to
allow these to reach farmers should be considered now before the
products are further developed.
Finally, I believe that for regulations to be effective, more effort
should be invested in risk analysis. Depending on the country and the
results, suitable biosafety regulations can then be put in place.
Continuing the Effort
- Roger N. Beachy (Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St. Louis)
AgBioForum, 7(1&2), 1 http://www.agbioforum.org.
Since the emergence of agricultural biotechnology as a bona fide
method for crop improvement, farmers in a growing number of countries
have benefited, some to greater extents than others. The vast
majority of farmers that have used genetically modified or enhanced
crops have realized better yields and increased profits.
Simultaneously, there has been reduced use of pesticides and reduced
tillage of the land, with concomitant reductions in consumption of
The environmental and health benefits that accrue from the use of
biotech crops have been documented in many different settings.
Nevertheless, biotechnologists, crop scientists, and economists all
recognize that biotechnology is only one part of the many components
necessary to meet the challenges of sustainable agriculture and food
production for the growing world population.
Although the successes of the first generation of biotech crops have
been outstanding, the scientific and commercial worlds of agriculture
have seen only a glimpse of what could be delivered to the farmer,
the consumer, and the environment. Many of us in the plant sciences,
agriculture, and environmental sciences anticipate a future
agriculture in which pests and pathogens are controlled through
genetics and biotechnology with reduced use of agricultural
chemicals, a future where drought tolerance in crops reduces the need
for irrigation, and a future where crops produce food that is more
nutritious and safe from mycotoxins and allergens.
To date, agricultural biotechnology has mostly benefited farmers and
consumers in the industrialized countries. It is predicted that by
the middle of this century, nine out of ten human beings will reside
in the world's developing countries. How can the great promise of
this new technology be delivered to these people?
The authors of this volume have focused their reports on technologies
that have increased (or promise to increase) agricultural production
in developing countries. Readers will learn much about the efforts
underway in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and specifically with
regards to the major crop species cultivated within these regions.
Some of the writers describe the challenges that must be overcome
before genetically enhanced crops will be commercialized in
underdeveloped countries. Many of these challenges are the
consequence of lack of scientific preparedness; others are the result
of misinformation and misinterpretation, leading to confusion and
misunderstanding among potential consumers.
It is clear, then, that the work of scientists does not end with
discovery or with product development. Instead, it continues through
the training of the students and postdoctoral researchers who will
become leaders of research teams in developing countries. The work
must also continue to communicate effectively with the public and to
describe how and why biotechnology can be effective to the needs of
farmers and the public at large. As we listen to the questions of the
informed and the uninformed, of the concerned and the cynical, we
must find ways to ensure that our work is directed towards solutions
that are relevant to mankind as a whole.
When we succeed in meeting the challenges of increasing the
sustainable production of abundant and safe food, perhaps we can
begin the feel the satisfaction of a job well done, and of knowing
that sound science can, in the end, overcome those who would prefer
that the technology fail.
AgBioForum: Special Issue: Progress, Achievements and Constraints for
Plant Biotechnology in Developing Countries http://www.agbioforum.org
- Guest editors: Nigel Taylor, Lawrence Kent, and Claude Fauquet
Volume 7, Number 1 & 2, 2004
Preface: Continuing the Effort - R.N. Beachy
Plant Biotechnology in Asia - R.A. Hautea & M. Escaler
The Status of Plant Biotechnology in Africa - J.A. Thomson
Agricultural Applications of Biotechnology and the Potential for
Biodiversity Valorization in Latin America and the Caribbean - W.
Roca, C. Espinoza, & A. Panta
Prospects for Bt Cotton Technology in India - R.B. Barwale, V.R.
Gadwal, U. Zehr, & B. Zehr
Global Impact of Insect-Resistant (Bt) Cotton - J.P. Purcell & F.J. Perlak
Rice Biotechnology: A Need for Developing Countries - S.K. Datta
Transgenic Papaya in Hawaii and Beyond - D. Gonsalves
The Potato Story - W.K. Kaniewski & P.E. Thomas
The Challenges and Potential for Future Agronomic Traits in Soybeans
- T. Conner, E.H. Paschal, A. Barbero, & E. Johnson
Progress and Challenges for the Deployment of Transgenic Technologies
in Cassava - N. Taylor, L. Kent, & C. Fauquet
Transgenic Cotton in Mexico - G. Traxler & S. Godoy-Avila
What's the Holdup? Addressing Constraints to the Use of Plant
Biotechnology in Developing Countries - L. Kent
Consumer Acceptance of Genetically Modified Food Products in the
Developing World - K.R. Curtis, J.J. - McCluskey, & T.I. Wahl
Social Constraints on Crop Biotechnology in Developing Countries - G.D. Stone
Why We Partner: Collaborations Between the Private and Public Sectors
for Food Security and Poverty Alleviation through Agricultural
Biotechnology - R. Horsch & J. Montgomery
What's the Holdup?
'Addressing constraints to the use of plant biotechnology in
- Lawrence Kent (2004). (Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St.
Louis) AgBioForum, 7(1&2), 63-69. http://www.agbioforum.org
Agricultural biotechnology offers great potential benefits to farmers
in developing countries, but so far only a small handful of
genetically modified (GM) crop products have been planted in only a
few developing countries.
This paper discusses the reasons why more GM crops have not reached
farmers in more developing countries. It argues that publicly funded
research efforts have largely failed, so far, in developing GM crops
adapted to developing country needs, because of inadequate funding
and insufficient focus on producing products. It argues that
privately created GM technologies such as Bt maize have a better
chance of reaching farmers in developing countries, but the transfer
of such technologies is hampered by high biosafety regulatory costs,
high seed regulatory costs, inadequate intellectual property
protection, and local concerns about losing export markets.
Overcoming these obstacles will require more money and product focus
in public sector institutions, expanded efforts to improve regulatory
environments, and the nurturing of local farmer constituencies for GM
For almost a decade, supporters of biotechnology have presented a
hopeful vision of transgenic plants benefiting poor farmers in
developing countries. The rate at which these technologies have
spread, however, has been slower than what the optimists expected.
Although there have been a few successes--soybeans in Argentina and
cotton in China, South Africa, and Mexico, for example--these have
been the exception rather than the rule. Farmers in developing
countries, for the most part, have not yet been able to access
biotechnologies to improve their productivity, incomes, and lives.
What's the holdup?
This paper discusses two major categories of constraints: (a) those
retarding the initial development of appropriate biotechnology
products for poor farmers, and (b) those blocking poor farmers'
access to biotechnology products that have already been developed,
principally improved seeds. These constraints reinforce each other.
Read on at http://www.agbioforum.org/v7n12/v7n12a12-kent.htm
India Joins the Biotech Club
- John Reifsteck, Truth about Trade and Technology, October 28, 2004
"India is a geographical term," said Winston Churchill. "It is no
more a united nation than the equator."
Churchill's words remain true in one important sense. The
subcontinent is a world unto itself, full of dizzying diversity. Yet
India does appear united in at least one vital way - It's moving fast
toward total acceptance of biotechnology.
"We intend to have a biotech policy as quickly as possible to supply
to the farmers pest-resistant and drought-resistant seeds with high
nutritional value," says Kapil Sibal, the minister of science and
As India joins the biotech club, other countries are bound to sit up
and pay attention. After all, India is a country on the rise. More
than a billion people call it home today--it's the world's most
populous democracy. Some demographers believe India's population will
outnumber China's by the end of the century. There's even talk at the
United Nations about India earning a permanent seat on the Security
Two years ago, India permitted the sale of biotech cotton. And as
Minister Sibal has indicated, more approvals of different products
are in the pipeline right now.
India's decision to embrace biotechnology is bound to reverberate
throughout the developing world, which has so much to gain from
adopting modern agricultural practices. Some nations leaders,
especially in Africa, have decided to go the way of Europe and reject
biotech crops. They've done this even though their farmers stand to
benefit enormously from biotech-enhanced plants. More surprising
still, some countries have remained skeptical of biotech foods that
have been donated to alleviate starvation. At times, this crazy
policy has been labeled as "better dead than fed."
The European leaders may continue to live in denial, but now
developing countries can look to New Delhi for more sensible
leadership. The Indians are wisely casting their lot with progress.
Their choice will influence everything from the policies of
individual governments to world trade talks.
Maybe the Europeans will learn a lesson from the Indians. That's what
British Prime Minister Tony Blair is trying to do. A couple of years
ago, he visited the Indian city of Bangalore and met with a group of
academics. "Europe has gone soft on science; we are going to leapfrog
you and you will miss out," they told him. The prime minister
summarized their view: "They regarded the debate on [biotechnology]
here and elsewhere in Europe as utterly astonishing. They saw us as
completely overrun by protestors and pressure groups who used emotion
to drive out reason. And they don't think we had the political will
to stand up for proper science."
The humorist P.J. O'Rourke once wrote of India that "'sub-' is no
idle prefix in its application to this continent." He meant these
sharp words as a politically incorrect put down. Today, however,
India seems positively forward looking when it comes to
biotechnology. That's why Tony Blair returned to the United Kingdom
and warned his countrymen that they ignore biotechnology at their own
No matter what Europe decides to do, the Indians themselves are ready
to make significant contributions to the science of biotechnology.
The Indian Council on Agriculture Research is studying transgenic
rice varieties that would stave off the yellow stem borer. Scientists
at the Jawaharlal Nehru University are breeding protein-rich
potatoes--or "protatoes"--that will help combat the problem of
"Zero child mortality in underprivileged children would be the goal,"
says Govindarajan Padmanaban, a biochemist at the Indian Institute of
A generation ago, India was a full partner in the Green Revolution.
Its innovations in fertilizers and irrigation have made it possible
for India to feed its burgeoning population. And now that the Green
Revolution is giving way to the Gene Revolution, it's good to see
this up-and-coming country decide that it wants a piece of the new
action as well.
John Reifsteck, a corn and soybean farmer in western Champaign County
Illinois, is a Board Member of Truth About Trade and Technology.
- World Resources Institute (Via Checkbiotech.org)
In a recent report entitled "Designing Genes: Aiming for Safety and
Sustainability in U.S. Agriculture and Biotechnology," the World
Resource Institute in Washington DC evaluated the economical and
environmental values of transgenic in agriculture. The following is a
summary of the report followed by a link to the full report.
The health and productivity of agriculture is vital to U.S. national
interests. Current agricultural practices, however, carry serious
environmental and economic costs, making a shift toward sustainable
alternatives imperative for U.S. agriculture.
Modern agricultural production is based on heavy use of irrigation,
energy, and chemical inputs (pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers)
that degrade the environment and impose considerable economic burdens
on current and future generations. Most commodity farming in the
United States relies on high levels of synthetic chemical inputs and
only modest use of crop rotations and conservation tillage.
Agricultural practices increase greenhouse gas concentrations by
adding carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen oxides to the
atmosphere, contributing to the threat of global climate change.
National policies to reduce food prices and expand agricultural
exports through subsidies and high production levels have also taken
their toll on farm profitability over the last half century, with
most U.S. agricultural production now carried out at or near economic
In this context of unsustainable agriculture, genetically engineered
(GE) crops have become a major feature of current U.S. agricultural
practice whose value and desirability is hotly debated. U.S. farmers
strongly prefer the GE varieties of many principal commodity crops,
including corn (45 percent of the annual crop), cotton (76 percent of
the annual upland cotton crop), and soy (85 percent of the annual
Crops genetically engineered for herbicide tolerance and insect
resistance are now planted on over 110 million acres of soybeans,
corn, and cotton in the United States. Scientific assessments show
that GE approaches to crop improvement generate potential benefits in
many arenas of agricultural performance, including reduced volume and
toxicity of agricultural chemical use, increased prevalence of
conservation tillage and no-till practices, and simplified farm
However, many areas of scientific uncertainty and public unease
remain regarding today's GE crop varieties and those of tomorrow.
Public opposition to current GE crops has developed because of
concerns about environmental and health hazards as well as objections
to the agricultural, economic, and political system in which GE crops
have been developed, marketed, and regulated.
The extraordinary pace of technical innovation and farmer adoption
of GE crops has put policy-makers in a reactive mode-often one step
behind new technologies and emerging environmental and social
concerns. Prominently absent from the debate about GE crops is a
long-term research and development (R&D) agenda that connects the
present challenges and future goals of agriculture to those of
Full WRI Report link at
Can the Sciences Help Us to Make Wise Ethical Judgments?
- Paul Kurtz, Skpetical Inquirer, September 2004. Excerpts below...
Full Essay at http://www.csicop.org/si/2004-09/scientific-ethics.html .
"Scientific knowledge has a vital, if limited, role to play in
shaping our moral values and helping us to frame wiser judgments.
Ethical values are natural and open to examination in the light of
evidence and reason."
"Can science and reason be used to develop ethical judgments? Many
theists claim that without religious foundations, 'anything goes,'
and social chaos will ensue. Scientific naturalists believe that
secular societies already have developed responsible ethical norms
and that science and reason have helped us to solve moral dilemmas.
How and in what sense this occurs are vital issues that need to be
discussed in contemporary society, for this may very well be the
hottest issue of the twenty-first century.
Dramatic breakthroughs on the frontiers of science provide new powers
to humans, but they also pose perplexing moral quandaries."
"The fact that science discovers that something is the case factually
does not make it ipso facto good or right." "We ought not to
consider scientific specialists to be especially gifted or possessed
with ethical knowledge nor empower them to apply this knowledge to
"My thesis is that an increase in knowledge can help us to make wiser
decisions. By knowledge, I do not refer simply to philosophical
analysis but scientific evidence."
"I submit that it is time for scientists to recognize that they have
an opportunity to contribute to naturalistic ethics. We stand at an
interesting time in human history. We have great power to ameliorate
the human condition. Biogenetic engineering, nanotechnology, and
space research open new opportunities for humankind to create a
Yet there are those today who wish to abandon human reason and
freedom and return to mythological legends of our premodern
existence, including their impulses of aggression and self-righteous
vengeance. I submit that the Enlightenment is a beacon whose promise
has not been fulfilled and that humankind needs to accept the
responsibility for its own future."
"When our ethical judgments are based on rational and scientific
inquiry, they are more apt to express the highest reaches of
excellence and nobility and of civilized human conduct. We are in
sore need of that today."
Powerpoint Slides for Biotech Teaching
Handy Classroom Resources
Download these free power point slide shows for use in your classroom.
* Biotech Industry Development
Genetically Modified Crops - Slide shows
Regulatory Issues in Biotechnology
* A Day in the Life of a Regulator
* The Role of the FDA
* The Job of a Regulatory Scientist
* Regulating Product Safety
Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunger
A world free from hunger
Our vision is a world without hunger and malnutrition - a world in
which each and every person can be assured of having the food they
need to be healthy and well-nourished. Our vision is a world which
provides for and protects the welfare and human dignity of all of its
people. A world in which all children can grow, learn and flourish,
developing into healthy, active, caring members of society.
While many achievements have been made in alleviating hunger and
malnutrition worldwide, we still fall very far short of having a
world in which all people can be free from hunger. We see education
and information on issues related to world hunger, food security and
nutrition as key success factors for making this global vision a
reality. Thus, we focus our efforts on the young and their teachers.
If children all over the world are introduced simultaneously and
annually, on World Food Day each October 16th, to common teaching
materials about hunger and malnutrition and what needs to be done,
would this help them grow up understanding the interdependence of our
world? If they are taught lessons from different parts of the world,
from different cultures and circumstances, would they be more ready
to work together to solve the problems of hunger and food insecurity?
Are there ways that a generation of young people can be nurtured to
develop responsible global citizenship?
We believe the answers are "YES". As educators, you are in a special
position to instill in young people a sense of caring and commitment
to join in the fight against hunger. The imagination, ideals and
energy of young people represent a vital resource for the continuing
development of their communities and nations. You, their teachers,
can help make a difference through informing, sharing knowledge,
encouraging participation, and showing them they have an important
role to play in achieving a world free from hunger.
We encourage you to join with teachers and students all over the
world and participate in Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunger.
Radicals Get a Greenpeace of His Mind
- Don Curlee, Monterey Herald, October 30, 2004
It's about all any California farmer can do to tolerate the spewings
of even moderate environmentalists.
Imagine the shock when several of them congratulated one of the
founding members of Greenpeace recently after his remarks to a group
of cotton growers. Patrick Moore had offered several suggestions to
the growers in his comments. And the growers, many of whom consider
themselves the original environmentalists, heartily accepted.
What really turned the farmers' favor toward Moore was his assessment
that Greenpeace has been taken over by environmental radicals, who he
said have tragically distorted the original purpose and goals of the
organization. Instead of following his Greenpeace friends into
extremism in the mid-1980s, Moore, now a lobbyist for the plastics,
timber and biotechnology industries, has been preaching the benefits
of trees and intensive agriculture, seeking practical solutions to
keep nature in balance.
That's something hard-core farmers are doing every day.
Speaking of Greenpeace in California Farmer magazine, Moore said, "A
big part of their motivation was in simply feeling superior to
others, and the only way to be anti-establishment once the
establishment agreed with us was to be even more radical in their
demands." That made sense to members of the California Cotton Growers
Association who invited Moore to speak at their annual meeting. They
had no trouble agreeing with him that farmers are at the forefront of
erosion control, streambed stabilization and a productive use of soil
in a sustainable way.
Moore credits timber companies with providing one of the few
renewable sources of energy and building materials. He believes they
have been great at harvesting, replanting and harvesting again the
Another appealing comment to the mainstream farmers was Moore's
assessment of organic farming. He considers it a misnomer, and said
it should be called "primitive" farming. Also he said low intensive
agriculture is the greatest cause of deforestation in the Third
World. "Adopting intensive agriculture in those areas will save the
forests and their biodiversity," he said.
As a supporter of genetically modified organisms, Moore said that the
"golden rice" developed by geneticists could be curing blindness if
it were not for Greenpeace roadblocks. He said roughly 500,000
children annually go blind because of vitamin A deficiency. The
farmers who listened to Moore were surprised and pleased. They
welcomed his comments almost as much as they might cheer the
announcement of an eradicant for lygus bug or pink bollworm.
Fussy Can Be Dangerous
- Raj Persaud, Daily Telegraph (UK), Nov. 1, 2004
Orthorexia - an obsessional interest in the quality and purity of
food - can lead to severe weight loss and social isolation, writes
Never before have we been so obsessed with the quality of our food.
We are concerned about whether it contains too much sugar, is too
processed, whether it is genetically modified, organic or not.
Orthorexic sufferers 'devote great mental energy to their strict
dietary rules concerning food purity'
These widespread worries appear to be producing a new eating
disorder. Orthorexia is the expression used by eating disorder
specialists to describe an unhealthy fixation with the purity and
quality of food. This can lead to such an obsession with healthy
eating that sufferers avoid most foods and have their lives seriously
Among the many consequences is a severe and dangerous loss of weight,
though, more often, an orthorexic's fussy demand for nothing but
"perfect" food leads to social isolation, as the sufferer won't
indulge in the everyday dishes that friends and colleagues eat.
You can get a sense of the new epidemic of milder forms of orthorexia
when you try to order a meal with a group in a restaurant. More and
more of us specify particular ingredients or the strict removal of
others, or grill waiters as to exactly how the dishes are prepared
and where the ingredients came from.
But beneath the surface of milder orthorexic thinking lurk cases of
more hardline sufferers, who devote great mental energy to their
strict dietary rules concerning food purity and spend hours worrying
about whether the next meal is going to measure up to their rigid
Read on at