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January 10, 2005


As Safe As..; Failing to Exploit Science; Pew is OK; Debunking Misconceptions; Green Haven NZ; Jared Diamond Erupts; Enviro Wackos Rejoice


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : January 10, 2005

* GM Foods 'As Safe As Plant-Derived,' Finds EU Group
* Failure to Use Science 'Letting Down World's Poor', Says UN
* Safety of Biotech Foods: Peter Raven Comments on Pew Critics
* ..... Greg Conko Responds
* Report Debunks Misconceptions on Biotech Research in Poor Countries
* Biotech-led Green Revolution On Cards
* Openly Regulate GMOs
* New Zealand: Green Haven for Biotech?
* Adding More Value to Production Agriculture
* ISB News Report, Janaury 2005 Issue
* Diamond Shoots from the Hip: 'Disasters Waiting to Happen'
* ... Dude, What Happened to Jared?
* Jared Diamond's Pessimism
* Technology and Happiness
* Enviro Wackos Rejoice over Tsunami Devastation

GM Foods 'As Safe As Plant-Derived,' Finds EU Group

- Nutra Ingredients, January 10, 2005 http://www.nutraingredients.com/news/news-NG.asp?n=57170-gm-foods-as

Brussels addresses the issue of consumer cynicism and fear of agricultural biotechnology in European citizens, setting up a thematic network on the safety risk assessment of genetically modified food crops, the Entransfood project, in order to stimulate the debate.

A reflection of consumerís poor regard for GM foodstuffs, in total Europe has planted about 58,000 hectares of GM maize in Spain, lagging far behind the US, Canada and Argentina that have planted millions of hectares of GM crops.

Funded under the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), Entransfood sought to identify prerequisites for introducing agricultural biotechnology products in a way that is largely acceptable to European society. "It is important to explicitly address public concerns and to develop new methods for stakeholders' involvement and public consultation," states the project consortium, consisting of 65 partners from 13 different European countries, including representatives from academia, regulatory agencies, food manufacturers, retailers and consumer groups.

According to CORDIS, the project has already evaluated issues of the safety of GM crop derived foods and paid attention to issues like detection and traceability and public attitude towards GM food crops. "Risk assessment of GM foods has focused on adverse health effects for humans and the environment, but public concern is much broader, focusing not only on risks, but also on who benefits, what are the needs and how does it contribute to a sustainable agriculture," adds the consortia.

CORDIS reports that the project found existing test methods for safety assessment of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) 'are efficient and ensure that GM foods that have passed the test are as safe and nutritious as plant-derived foods.'

The EU-funded project has recommended however, that in the future: 'based on our improved understanding of molecular biology, toxicology and nutrition, further improvement of test methods may be considered that will render the safety assessment of foods even more effective and informative.' In addition, the group proposed the development of novel methods to predict the allergenicity of food components.

The project noted that process-based labelling of all foods containing GM crops is a necessity in order to dispel the fears of EU citizens, but recognised that difficulties are unavoidable in implementing the EU's labelling requirements. They quote the example that it will be a challenge to achieve international agreement on standards for the labelling and traceability of foods originating from or containing GM crops across countries and even businesses.

On the subject of detection of 'unintended effects and gene transfer,' CORDIS writes that Entransfood emphasised there is no indication that 'unintended effects are more likely to occur in GM foods or that there is any inherent risk in the transfer of DNA between organisms, since DNA is not toxic.'

It did, however, call for further development and validation of profiling methods before they are used in routine risk assessment. The project also recommends that the use of bacterial DNA in elaborating GM plants should be kept to a minimum in order to reduce the risk of gene transfer to the microbial population in the gut. Finally, the EU group recommended the creation of an evaluation and discussion platform combining a range of diverse perspectives on new food technology to formalise public engagement and consultation in the GM debate.


Failure to Use Science 'Letting Down World's Poor', Says UN

- David Firn and Fiona Harvey, Financial Times, Jan 7, 2005 http://news.ft.com/cms/s/ff2c6758-6051-11d9-bd2f-00000e2511c8.html

Governments and development organisations are failing to exploit science and technology to alleviate poverty, United Nations experts cautioned yesterday. Development experts told a conference in London that the failure to disseminate and benefit from scientific information threatened to derail the UN's millennium development goals.

However, some developing countries are fostering homegrown biotechnology industries in response to the lack of new drugs marketed for them by western pharmaceutical companies, according to a recent study.

Calestous Juma, professor of international development at Harvard University and author of a UN report on science, said: "We have seen with the challenges which Southeast Asia has faced ... that scientific and technical capabilities determine the ability to provide clean water, good health care, adequate infrastructure and safe food. "The terrible devastation caused by the tsunamis last week raises the question of whether enough was invested in adopting existing technologies which could have reduced the scale of the disaster."

Developing countries are stepping into the breach opened by the dominant North American and European pharmaceutical industry and are becoming adept at importing technology to tackle their healthcare needs, said a three-year study by the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics. Some of them have developed thriving export businesses in the sector.

Abdallah Daar, who co-wrote the Toronto study, says developing countries need: a government with the political will and long-term vision to create a biotechnology industry; a niche untouched by established western industry; inspired individuals who can bring scientists, financiers, companies and politicians together; and a strong private sector. "Unless you have a strong private sector that is interested in biotechnology, you can do a lot of research and it will go nowhere," he says.

Dr Daar says Cuba's biotechnology industry might not have succeeded if it had not been backed by Fidel Castro, who allowed vaccine development to be sheltered from the harsher anti-entrepreneurial aspects of the communist regime.

"For these kinds of countries it is easy to import technology initially and then to become innovators," says Dr Daar. Biotechnology can thrive in countries with per capita income of $4,000 and good basic education infrastructure, the report says.

Sub-Saharan Africa risks falling ever further behind other developing countries, as they reach the required per capita income. Dr Thorsteinsdůttir says that apart from South Africa, the region has failed to exploit biotechnology. But "south-south collaboration" can help it, she says.

See also http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1835&language=1


Safety of Biotech Foods: Response to Miller and Conko's "Pew's Parallel Universe"

- Peter Raven, Washington Times, January 9, 2005

Henry Miller and Gregory Conko's effort to paint the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology as an anti-biotechnology activist group ("Pew's parallel universe," Commentary, Thursday) is both wrong and regrettable.

I've participated in several of the Pew Initiative's conferences and read its reports, and I've always found it to be balanced, unbiased and informative. Indeed, I believe that the work done by the Pew Initiative is exactly the kind of painstaking, thoughtful work that is going to have to take place if biotechnology is going to be accepted throughout the world. If Mr. Miller and Mr. Conko truly believe there is no "genuine controversy" over biotech foods, I wish they had attended with me the workshop sponsored by the initiative in Mexico City in 2003. I can assure them that Mexican citizens were very concerned about reports that native strains of maize had been "contaminated" with genetically modified varieties. The Pew Initiative workshop was the first to bring together leading U.S. and Mexican scientists and other experts in a public session to discuss the issues in an open, balanced and constructive way. I can think of few other groups with the credibility to have brought such diverse voic es together.

No unbiased observer sampling opinions in Mexico or Europe could possibly conclude that there is no "genuine controversy," regardless of how senseless they might believe that controversy to be. Indeed, those who make such assertions seem themselves to be living in a "parallel universe," out of touch with the reality of public opinion.

Certainly, public fears over the safety of biotechnology are largely misplaced, and the public's lack of information about biotechnology is regrettable. But that's precisely the reason we need more activities such as those supported by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology not fewer. But belligerence, inflammatory language, name-calling and labeling people trying to improve the situation by providing reliable information "putrescent activists" are certainly not going to help make the situation better. Passion is fine in its place, but people need more thoughtfulness, civility and consideration if they are going to be able to make objective decisions for themselves.

- Dr. Peter Raven, Director, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO


Response to Peter Raven from Greg Conko

Although I agree, and I believe that Henry would also agree, with Peter Raven that there is genuine public controversy over agbiotech, the point we were trying to make (and which appears to have been edited awkwardly) is that there is no genuine "scientific" controversy over the premise that rDNA does not itself confer any new or unique risk, and that the riskiness of an organism is solely a function of its genotype and phenotype, not how or even whether it was modified. As Henry and I note in the article -- and as I believe we state quite clearly in our other writings on this topic -- Pew's approach has consistently been to address the risks (real or imagined) that may arise from rDNA-modified organisms in isolation, as though the very same risks were not also present in classically modified organisms.

If some organization were to hold dozens of conferences and write countless reports about whether, for example, organically-grown crops were or were not a human health hazard because organic crops contain thousands of phytochemicals, many of which are known to cause cancer in lab animals, then surely Dr. Raven would agree that it is appropriate to point out that ALL crops contain carcinogenic phytochemicals. Would he not?

Yet, despite the fact that we and others have repeatedly pointed out the importance discussing the risks of rDNA technology within the relevant context of how those same risks arise in classical genetic modification, the Pew Initiative on Food and Agriculture persists in omitting such context, except on rare occasions. Not only is it appropriate to point this out, but after nearly three years of Pew's doing this, I think it is also perfectly appropriate for us to question Pew's motives.

Yes. As Dr. Raven writes, the public lacks information about biotechnology. But, by ignoring one very important attribute of rDNA modification, Pew certainly is not providing the kind of information that would allow the public to come to any reliable conclusions about biotechnology. It is because of this that Dr. Raven's assertion that we need more Pews is wrong. It is one thing for Pew to bring together skeptics and supporters of rDNA technology. But if that kind of forum is ever to produce any constructive outcome, then discussions have to include ALL the relevant points.


New Report Debunks Misconceptions About Biotech Crop Research in Poor Countries

- U.S. Newswire January 8, 2005 http://news.yahoo.com

In developing countries, public institutions are conducting ground breaking research to produce genetically modified (GM) crops, according to an article published today in Nature Biotechnology. The article highlights the results of a new IFPRI study on the development of genetically modified crops by research institutes in 15 developing countries. The first of its kind, this study assesses the state of biotech crop research, the types of genes being used, and the biosafety and regulatory challenges poor countries face.

"Our study debunks many misconceptions about biotech crop research," said Joel Cohen, IFPRI senior research fellow and author of the article. "Many people assume that large multinational corporations control the global development of genetically modified foods, but the reality is that poor countries have their own vibrant programs of public biotech research. Often this research draws upon indigenous plant varieties to cultivate improved crops for local use by small-scale farmers."

According to the study, current biotech research has the potential to reduce the use of pesticides. In the future, biotech crops may increase drought tolerance and resistance to saline soils and improve the nutritional value of staple foods. The study documents biotech research on 45 different crops, including cotton, corn, cacao, and cassava. The majority of this research focuses on improving resistance to diseases and pests which can devastate yields for farmers in poor countries. However, most of the research is currently being developed in laboratory, greenhouse, or confined field trials. Very little is currently available for use by farmers.

"Unfortunately, most poor countries lack the knowledge, capacity, and funding to develop and comply with biosafety regulatory requirements. As a result, GM crops face difficulties moving from the lab to farmers' fields," noted Patricia Zambrano of IFPRI, who contributed to the study.

While previous reports have examined biotech crop research in developing countries, this study is the first to draw the connection between regulation and specific crops and genetic traits, showing the policy implications of the research. This information will be critical to policymakers for improving biosafety regulation.

"Poor countries are often unwilling or unable to test commercial GM crops because of national policies or regulatory systems that are not prepared to grant approval for general use," Cohen explained. "Researchers in industrialized and developing countries need to work together to provide science-based information for decision makers, so that they can enhance the clarity of regulatory policies and procedures."

The study recommends an increase in small-scale, confined field trials to test crops and receive feedback from farmers. It also stresses the need for improved information sharing among developing countries. "The information in this study will assist developing countries to strengthen the effectiveness of research and regulation, so that they can maximize benefits to small-scale farmers," said Mark Rosegrant, director of Environment and Production Technology at IFPRI.

Download 'Poorer Nations Turn to Publicly Developed GM Crops' by Joel I. Cohen, Nature Biotechnology, January 2005 Vol.23, No. 1, Pp. 27-33.

at http://www.ifpri.org/media/biotech20050106.htm


Biotech-led Green Revolution On Cards

- Business Standard (India), January 05, 2005 http://www.business-standard.com/bsonline/storypage.php?&autono=177285

India is set for another green revolution with special focus on biotechnology, which is the key for the twenty-first century, said Asis Datta, director, National Centre for Plant Genome Research, on the second day of the 92nd Indian Science Congress in Ahmedabad today.

"Various agriculture problems can be solved with the effective use of biotechnology. This will be very useful to usher in another green revolution in our country," he said. "The National Centre for Plant Genome Research (NCPGR) has identified and patented two genes -- Amaranth, which enhances protein value, and Auxullatic, which is a toxic producing gene. The centre is also working on various other genes that it has identified and would file patents soon,"said Datta. However, he did not mentioned the name of those genes.

Datta lamented that, in spite of the impressive agricultural progress, nearly 250 million people remain under-nourished in our country. "Our population is still growing at a fast rate, with nearly 17 million additional children being born every year. Over 50 per cent of our population still remains under-nutrition and we are working to improve the nutrition value of our crops. There are several issues before getting patented as USFDA asks for the origin of the gene and toxicity of the gene amongst others," said Datta.

"Apart from enhancing productivity, we need nutritional security at the individual level. To achieve this, we need a shift in planning and implementation from the concept of food security at the national level to nutritional security at the individual level. The NCPGR is working to enhance the nutritional value of our crops" said Datta. "Over 10 per cent production of the 40 crops across the world are destroyed with a single fungus, and if it can be prevented, it would result in enhancing agricultural productivity by over 10 per cent. Over 55 per cent of the population in our country are still dependent upon agriculture, which gives 23 per cent output," said Datta.


Openly Regulate GMOs

- Technology Review, Feb. 2005 http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/05/02/issue/readme_newzealand.asp

New Zealand has recently become one of the worldís most inviting places to create, exploit, and market genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It did so by enacting responsible and effective regulations. Hooray for the New Zealand government.

The benefits of GMOs are only beginning to be felt, in the form of higher crop yields and a handful of experimental protein-based pharmaceuticals; their long-term impact could be much more significant. But public opposition to the notions of tinkering with the genomes of living things, releasing transgenic creatures into the environment, and using GMO products in food is very real. In Europe, the outcry over genetically modified crops from Monsanto, Aventis, and other companies culminated in outright bans on some genetically modified foods. In the United States, public fears over what some have called "Frankenfoods" have led some companies to pull products from the market and rein in R&D. Indeed, why invent products like new variations of pest-resistant potatoes or corn when huge multinational companies such as McDonaldís and Frito-Lay wonít dare to buy them?

But as we learn from the case study in, "New Zealand: Green Haven for Biotech?", the level-headed folk of New Zealand may have found a way around such impasses. There is nothing magical about their solution. It relies on regulations laboriously devised to address the concerns of environmentalists, scientists, and businesspeople alike. The regulations' goal, in the words of Marion Hobbs, New Zealandís environmental minister, is to "provide a practical framework for proceeding with caution in the management of new organisms (including GMOs) while preserving opportunities." In a country often noted for its strong environmental sensibilities, it seems compromise has won out.

First and foremost, the regulations, enacted in 2003, ensure public involvement in the approval and monitoring of field releases of GMOs. They also demand spot checks of active projects and regular publication of status reports on the Web. At the same time, the regulations require that biotech companies respect the customs of indigenous Maori tribes, who have both particularly strong beliefs about the sanctity of the natural world and growing political power in the country. One result of the new laws is that the regulations help to keep GMO research on track even in the face of preŽmptive legal attacks over potential harms, attacks that have slowed field tests and drained biotech companiesí coffers in other countries. These provisions are attracting the attention of biotech manufacturers and investors, who are pleased to have discovered an environment with clear--and politically legitimate--research guidelines.

Every country must weigh the medical, agricultural, and economic opportunities presented by genetically modified organisms against the potential risks. Governments should go out of their way to regulate GMOs in a way that is fully transparent and open to public comment. But thatís only half of the formula: companies and investors will be more willing to take financial risks on biotechnology products if a government "seal of approval" carries real weight. If businesses and regulators want to stimulate GMO research in their own countries, they should keep an eye on the antipodes.


New Zealand: Green Haven for Biotech?

- Stephan Herrera, Technology Review, Febuary 2005

The life science industries need a new prescription. Pharmaceutical makers, who say their high drug prices are necessitated by the huge cost of developing new medicines, are on the defensive as U.S. politicians talk about price controls and even patent reforms favoring makers of generic drugs. But if there is one group feeling particularly besieged, itís the biotechnology companies applying genetic engineering to crops and farm animals. Trade conflicts between Europe and the United States over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are now spreading to Brazil, India, and China. Despite the potential of so-called agbio technology to produce new medicines and conquer malnutrition, rules governing firms developing GMOs are frequently ill defined, difficult to implement, and hotly contested. For most, wooing investors has become exceedingly difficult.

Itís not a lack of promise thatís getting in the way. Production of genetically modi?fied crops jumped 20 percent between 2003 and 2004. Genetically modified plants, which include corn, wheat, cotton, tobacco, rapeseed, soybeans, tomatoes, rice, potatoes, and poplar trees, are engineered to produce higher yields, grow in harsher soil conditions, and require fewer herbicide and pesticide treatments. The milk from genetically modified cows, goats, sheep, and rabbits is being used to produce therapeutic proteins for hard-to-treat conditions such as antithrombin deficiency, which leaves sufferers vulnerable to deep-vein thrombosis. But given the chaotic state of regulation and public opinion, developing a new agbio product has become a gamble.

New Zealand, of all places, may have found a solution, proving once again that the best ideas pop up where they are least expected. This nationís four million inhabitants form arguably the most politically and environmentally correct society on the planet--and one might think, therefore, among the most staunchly anti-GMO. New Zealand is a nuclear-free zone. Its two main islands have a small but politically powerful population of indigenous Maori, who are newly emboldened and empowered after generations of repression, and who consider plants and animals to be their kinfolk. The Green Party enjoys enormous influence in government. The country is as famous for the verdant, rolling hills of the north island and the rugged alps of the south island as it is for its high-quality, disease-free farm products--chiefly dairy, beef, and lamb. New Zealandís economy is far more dependent on agriculture than those of its Western peers; farming accounts for 4.8 percent of the countryís gross domestic product, compared to .9 percent in the United Kingdom and 1.4 percent in the United States. So itís not surprising that until recently, New Zealand was on its guard against anything that might sully its pristine image. Only four years ago, the country essentially told Monsanto that its biotech wheat was not welcome there.

But against long political odds and at considerable risk to the countryís clean-green image, New Zealandís parliament concluded just over a year ago that the potential rewards from GMOs outweigh the risks. To keep its economy growing, lawmakers reasoned, the nation would need to find ways to produce more (and more valuable) dairy and forest products on less and less acreage. The key would be, not to turn away from GMO technologies, but rather to manage them wisely with a transparent, enforceable, publicly accessible, and scientifically robust regulatory framework. This framework, enacted in October 2003, gives New Zealanders more power to participate in the approval process for local GMO research and development projects than any other people in the world. At the same time, the laws protect biotech firms that meet the new standards against litigation, a problem that has been a major damper on GMO projects in other countries. Environmentalists still worry that New Zealandís protocols arenít fail-safe, and biotech firms complain that they are too costly and time consuming. But both sides agree that the country has made a start. In fact, New Zealandís GMO regulations are now considered among the worldís most functional. Says one veteran biotech investor in San Francisco, "Now anybody who is investing in agbio* is paying attention to New Zealand."

Read on more at http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/05/02/issue/brief_newzealand.asp


Adding More Value to Production Agriculture

- Ventura, CA; Feb.13 to 18, 2005 Gordon Research Conference; Co-Chairs - Ann Hirsch and Keith Wing http://www.grc.org/programs/2005/agsci.htm

The Agricultural Sciences are diverse, encompassing scientists from a broad range of disciplines and organizations. Industry, academic and government scientists have traditionally come together at the Agricultural Sciences Gordon Research Conference to discuss agricultural research that ultimately affects food and fiber production. Our broad program reflects this scientific and sociological diversity. In planning the theme for 2005, "Adding More Value to Production Agriculture", we looked to expand this focus and discuss how agricultural science is leading to societal and economic improvement in the 21st century, and where we could do better.

In addition to discussions on improving crop efficiency and yield enhancement, we have included a round table discussion on increasing yield sustainability, several sessions on improving plants for human nutrition and sustainable agriculture as well as the economic, social and environmental impacts thereof. New to this year are two sessions on Agromedicine, broadly defined as the utilization and improvement of plants for human health. Throughout the conference, both transgenic and non-transgenic approaches will be discussed.

If you are a grad student or postdoctoral fellow and would like to apply for money to help defray the costs of registration, please apply to the chair Ann Hirsch (ahirsch@ucla.edu).


ISB News Report, Janaury 2005 Issue

at http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2005/news05.jan.html#jan0505

* Long Distance Pollen-Mediated Gene Flow from Creeping Bentgrass
* Genetic Acclimation for Freezing Tolerance
* Engineered Ribosomal Protein Limits Plant Resistance to Mycotoxins
* Approval for Genetically Engineered Bentgrass Creeps through Agency Turfs
* Symposium on Biosafety of GMOs: Highlights


Disasters Waiting to Happen

- Jared Diamond, The Guardian, January 6, 2005. Excerpts below....
Full commentary at http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/feature/story/0,,1383672,00.html

'The tsunami may have been an act of nature, but further environmental catastrophes caused by humans will be much worse, says Jared Diamond'

The events of Boxing day have shown us all how fragile our existence is. The tsunami was an unavoidable natural disaster, which could happen anytime. But not all disasters are so beyond our control. Our own actions may provoke global catastrophes just as forceful as those in the Indian ocean.

Today, just as in the past, countries that are environmentally stressed, overpopulated, or both, become at risk of getting politically stressed, and of their governments collapsing. When people are desperate, undernourished, and without hope, they blame their governments, which they see as responsible for or unable to solve their problems. They try to emigrate at any cost. They fight each other over land. They kill each other. They start civil wars. They figure that they have nothing to lose, so they become terrorists, or they support or tolerate terrorism.

However, there are many reasons commonly advanced to dismiss the importance of environmental problems. These objections are often posed in the form of simplistic one-liners. Here are some of the common..

"The environment has to be balanced against the economy"
- This portrays environmental concerns as a luxury but puts the truth backwards. Environmental messes cost us huge sums of money both in the short run and in the long run; cleaning up or preventing those messes saves us huge sums.

"Technology will solve our problems"
- Underlying this expression of faith is the implicit assumption that, from tomorrow onwards, technology will function primarily to solve existing problems and will cease to create new problems. Those with such faith also assume that the new technologies now under discussion will succeed, and that they will do so quickly enough to make a big difference soon.

But actual experience is the opposite. Some dreamed-of new technologies succeed, while others don't. Those that do succeed typically take a few decades to develop and be phased in widely: think of gas heating, electric lighting, cars and airplanes, television and computers.

New technologies, whether or not they succeed in solving the problem they were designed to solve, regularly create unanticipated new problems. Technological solutions to environmental problems are routinely far more expensive than preventive measures to avoid creating the problem in the first place: for example, the billions of dollars of damages and cleanup costs associated with major oil spills, compared to the modest cost of safety measures to minimise the risks of a major oil spill.

All of our current problems are unintended negative consequences of our existing technology. What makes you think that, as of January 1, 2006, for the first time in human history, technology will miraculously stop causing new unanticipated problems while it just solves those it previously produced?

"The world's food problems will be solved by more equitable distribution and genetically modified (GM) crops"
- The obvious flaw is that first world citizens show no interest in eating less so that third world citizens could eat more. While first world countries are willing occasionally to export food to mitigate starvation occasioned by some crisis (such as a drought or war), their citizens have shown no interest in paying on a regular basis to feed billions of third world citizens.

If that did happen but without effective overseas family planning programs, which the US government currently opposes on principle, the result would just mean an increase in population proportional to an increase in available food.

Genetically modified food varieties by themselves are equally unlikely to solve the world's food problems. In addition, virtually all GM crop production at present is of just four crops (soy-beans, corn, canola, and cotton) not eaten directly by humans but used for animal fodder, oil, or clothing, and grown in six temperate-zone countries or regions (from Prakash - Ha?). Reasons are the strong consumer resistance to eating GM foods and the fact that companies developing GM crops can make money by selling their products to rich affluent temperate-zone countries, but not by selling to poor farmers in developing tropical countries. Hence the companies have no interest in investing heavily to develop GM cassava, millet, or sorghum for farmers in developing nations.

"Just look around you: there is absolutely no sign of imminent collapse"
- For affluent western citizens, conditions have indeed been getting better, and public health measures have on the average lengthened lifespans in the third world as well. But lifespan alone is not a sufficient indicator: billions of third world citizens, constituting about 80% of the world's population, still live in poverty, near or below the starvation level.

"Why should we believe the fearmongering environmentalists this time?"
- Yes, some predictions by environmentalists have proved incorrect, but it is misleading to look selectively for environmentalist predictions that were proved wrong, and not also to look for environmentalist predictions that proved to be right, or anti-environmentalist predictions that proved wrong.

We comfortably accept a certain frequency of false alarms and extinguished fires, because we understand that fire risks are uncertain and hard to judge when a fire has just started, and that a fire that does rage out of control may exact high costs in property and human lives. No sensible person would dream of abolishing the town fire department just because a few years went by without a big fire. Nor would anyone blame a homeowner for calling the fire department on detecting a small fire, only to succeed the fire before the fire truck's arrival.

We must expect some environmentalist warnings to turn out to be false alarms, otherwise we would know that our environmental warning systems were much too conservative. The multi-billion-dollar costs of many environmental problems justify a moderate frequency of false alarms.

"Environmental concerns are a luxury affordable just by affluent first world yuppies"
.... Actually, the rich are not immune to environmental problems. Chief executive officers of big western companies eat food, drink water, breathe air, and have (or try to conceive) children, like the rest of us. While they can usually avoid problems of water quality by drinking bottled water, they find it much more difficult to avoid being exposed to the same problems of food and air quality as the rest of us. Living disproportionately high on the food chain, at levels at which toxic substances become concentrated more rather than less risk of reproductive impairment due to ingestion of or exposure to toxic materials, possibly contributing to their higher infertility rates and the increasing frequency with which they require medical assistance in conceiving.
Professor of physiology at UCLA since 1966, Jared Diamond....is a Pulitzer prize-winning author of bestselling books. Extracted from Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive by Jared Diamond published by Allen Lane


Dude, What Happened to Jared?

- Sandeep Prakash, January 8, 2005 http://sandeepprakash.com/

I cannot believe the author of Guns, Germs and Steel wrote this article appearing in the Guardian. Jared Diamond, who respected as an intelligent and thoughtful guy, has lost my respect (I still like his book, I'll just pretend it was anonymously authored).

Diamond thinks that problems around the world, such as chaos in Afghanistan, genocide in Rwanda, and civil unrest in Haiti are caused by anthropogenic environmental problems. He recognized government in such a way that it is "overwhelmed" by such problems and collapses. The truth has always been and continues to be the same: government overwhelms itself. It's as if he thinks peoples spontaneously form divisions and attempt to kill each other. It is an institution that forces a people into a collective, the State, that pits man against man. When discussing Southern California, Diamond doesn't even mention the problems that extreme regulations have caused to infrastructure and transportation.

This article belies the analytical, reasoned manner of Guns, Germs and Steel. In fact, it is an attack on humans, atavistically deeming Man as empty of reason, rationality, and free will.


Jared Diamond's Pessimism

- Lance Kennedy, Tantec

It is very clear that Jared Diamond is a pessimist in relation to environmental matters. This is a matter of temperament, not science. If we look at the work of people like Julian Simon and Bjorn Lomborg, we can see that a detailed analysis of genuine scientific data leads to a much more optimistic view of humankind, the environment and the future. To follow the teachings of people like David Suzuki, who preach catastrophe in the future, requires an Act of Faith, very similar that that required in religion.

For example : the population catastrophist, Dr. Paul Ehrlich as written a series of books, predicting disaster from over-population. Each time the deadline passes and the disaster fails to happen, he writes another book predicting the problem another decade or two in the future. Some people are slow learners!

All living organisms are, to some extent, ecological engineers, in that they modify and change the local ecosystems. Some, like humans and the African elephant are very potent ecological engineers. The elephant has a habit of pushing down trees to get at the leaves on top for food. The results, over thousands of years, has been disaster for tropical forest, which has been replaced by thousands of square miles of African grassland. Yet the long term results has been an increase in both biological productivity and biodiversity, with the evolution of the wonderful African savannah species, like giraffe, antelope, wildebeest, rhinoceros, lions, cheetahs and many more.

Humans are also potent ecological engineers and change the environment in a drastic way. Should we regard this as disastrous? Perhaps not. If we look at the world in its geological past, we see numerous occasions where massive disasters led to an explosion of new life. For example. three thousand million years ago, the Earths atmosphere was carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen, and other gases, toxic by today's standards. Thousands of species of anaerobic bacteria and archaeans thrived in this environment. Then the cyanobacteria (wrongly called blue-green algae) evolved, and poisoned the air by releasing enormous quantities of that most toxic gas, oxygen. Global air pollution on the most massive scale. Results : probably over 90% of the original species were killed, and replaced by an evolutionary explosion of new life able to make use of oxygen. This led to the development of the eucaryote cell - the progenitor of all advanced life forms.

Snowball Earth in pre-Cambrian times probably also killed most life forms. Then, after warming occurred, in Cambrian times, came another explosion leading the the progenitors of all today's advanced multi-cellular, multi-organed species, including vertebrates.

The Permian extinctions also killed 90% of all life, leading to the development of the largest terrestrial animals ever to live - the Age of Dinosaurs. The Cretaceous extinctions killed the dinosaurs but led to the explosion of bird and mammal species, and to humans. I could give other examples.

Human growth is also causing massive extinctions. For example: Polynesian expansion over the Pacific led to the extinction of an estimated 2000 species of birds between 12000 BP and 800 BP. By comparison modern man is wiping out just over 2 species per year, of plants, animals and fungi.

Modern man is also creating vast numbers of new habitats and new ecological niches. In my own country, New Zealand, 80% was covered with temperate rain forest. Today, that figure is 25%, and there are now grasslands, pine forests, eucalypt forests, urban gardens, wetlands, city buildings and so on that never existed before. This has led to a massive increase in numbers of bird species. For example : about 50 years ago, the Welcome Swallow self-introduced itself from Australia, and has thrived. The reason it was not here earlier? Lack of breeding sites. It requires a sheltered, but inaccessible ledge. Today it builds nests on all sorts of man-made structures, including bridges, under house eaves, multi-storied buildings etc. Human created ecological niches.

I predict that, within 50 years, ecologists will discover that, right now, a massive explosion of evolution is going on, as species everywhere are changing to adapt to the multitude of new ecological opportunities provided by man.

Jared Diamond tries to predict the future, and suggests disaster. Such predictions are a bit like placing your head on the block, and hoping the nice man with the black mask will not trip the guillotine. However, if you are going to make like a prophet, there is a best way.

The wrong way is seen by the Club of Rome, who gathered the world's best minds - scientists, economists and the like, carrying out detailed analyses of resources and exploitation. Their publication, Limits to Growth, proved almost totally wrong. The reason they got it wrong is because : a. The world is too complex to analyse (note that - global warming enthusiasts!) b. They failed to allow for human progress.

A better way (there is no 'right way') is simply to project long term trends. For example: Since the input of Sir Francis Bacon in the 17th Century, science and the associated technological capability has grown steadily. Since this is a long term trend, we can, with a high degree of reliability, predict that will continue, and that, 100 years from now, humankind will have much greater scientific knowledge and enormously greater technological capabilities.

Other long term trends include :

human life span increases
improvements to human health and better health care reduction in air pollution in developed countries reduction in water pollution in developed countries increased forest acreage in developed countries a slowing of population growth
increases in standard of living and personal wealth increases in food production
reduction in road deaths per capita
reduction in cancer deaths per capita
adoption of less toxic industrial and agricultural chemicals etc.

Jared Diamond points to a few trends that are negative. Some of these are actually true. For example, we are overfishing the world's oceans. However, most indicators are positive, especially as developing nations achieve first world status. If we wish to see a better world, and a cleaner environment, we should push for both economic and technological development everywhere.


Technology and Happiness

- James Surowiecki, Technology Review, Jan 2005. Excerpts below....Full commentary at

In the 20th century, Americans, Europeans, and East Asians enjoyed material and technological advances that were unimaginable in previous eras. In the United States, for instance, gross domestic product per capita tripled from 1950 to 2000. Life expectancy soared. The benefits of capitalism spread more widely among the population. The boom in productivity after World War II made goods better and cheaper at the same time. Things that were once luxuries, such as jet travel and long-distance phone calls, became necessities. And even though Americans seemed to work extraordinarily hard (at least compared to Europeans), their avid pursuit of entertainment turned media and leisure into multibillion-dollar industries. .

The most important impact of technology on peopleís sense of well-being, though, is in the field of health care. Before the Industrial Revolution, two out of every three Europeans died before the age of 30. Today, life expectancy for women in Western Europe is almost 80 years, and it continues to increase. The point is obvious, but important to note: the vast majority of people are happy to be alive, and the more time they get on earth, the better off they feel theyíll be. (Remember, the point about prosperity and happiness is not that prosperity makes people unhappy; itís that it doesnít necessarily make them happier.)

Now, the picture is a little more complicated than this. Living a few extra years as a geriatric may not be ideal. But until very recently, life for the vast majority of people was (in Hobbes's formulation) nasty, brutish, and short. Technology has changed that, at least for people in the rich world. As much as we should worry about the rising cost of health care and the problem of the uninsured, itís also worth remembering how valuable for our spirits as well as our bodies are the benefits that medical technology and pharmaceuticals have brought us.

On a deeper level, what the technological improvement of our health and our longevity underscores is a paradox of any discussion of happiness on a national or a global level: even though people may not be happier, even though they are wealthier and possess more technology, theyíre still as hungry as ever for more time. It's like that old Woody Allen joke: the food may not be so great, but we want the portions to be as big as possible.

Technology may only improve the taste of the meals slightly, but it makes them a lot bigger, and for most of us, that has the promise of something like happiness.


Enviro Wackos Rejoice over Tsunami Devastation

- NewsMax.com, Jan. 7, 2005 http://www.newsmax.com/archives/ic/2005/1/7/223750.shtml

For most observers the South Asian tsunami disaster appears to be one of the most devastating tragedies in modern history. But some environmentalists are actually celebrating the tidal wave that killed nearly 200,000 people, saying it rid the coastal area of development and other forms of human contamination.

"This whole area was littered with commercialism," regular visitor Greg Ferrando told the Associated Press on Friday as he surveyed the damage in Phuket, Thailand. "There were hundreds of beach chairs out here. I prefer the sand." "Everyone is talking about it. It looks much better now," he added. "This looks a lot more like Hawaii now, where vendors aren't allowed on the beach."

Phanomphon Thammachartniyom, president of the Phuket Professional Guide Association, agreed. "Nature has returned nature to us. I want it to be this way forever," he said. Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said that the tsunami swept away unplanned and possible illegal building, creating an opportunity to regulate growth.

"I have sent a team to collect information on damaged buildings, including hotels, resources and guest houses," he explained. "We need the quick restoration of the tourist facilities there, but we also have to establish restrictions for building."

Moriel Avital, a 24-year-old Israeli who lived on the island for four months, said there was a lesson in the tsunami. "It's telling people not to mess with nature," she said. "Paradise should be paradise and should not become this civilized."

Surin Kaewjan, a 44-year-old fruit vendor on Patong Beach, said the tsnami has hurt her business, but said there was an upside to the disaster. "Honestly, I love this nature," she insisted. "Twenty years ago, it was like this, and full of trees. I haven't seen the beach this white in ages."