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February 23, 2005


EU Asked to Dismantle Barriers; Costly 'GM-Free Utopia'; Mexico Wises Up Finally; Organic Quest Dangers; March of Unreason


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : February 23, 2005

* US Ag Committee Chief Asks EU to Dismantle Biotech Barriers
* A Costly 'GM-Free Utopia' Down-under
* Mexico Approves Planting and Sale of GM Crops
* Americans' Perceptions of Genetically Modified Foods
* Dangers of the Organic Quest
* GMOs: Africa's Possible Solution to Perpetual Food Crises
* United States is Key Provider of Food Aid for World's Poor
* Ag Interests Should Embrace Biotechnology's New Frontier
* More on Public Research Initiatives..
* To Know Science is to Love It
* The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy, and the New Fundamentalism


Goodlatte Asks EU to Dismantle Biotech Barriers
Meets with European Officials to Discuss Agriculture and Trade Issues

- News from the US House Agriculture Committee U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Agriculture. Feb 23, 2005

WASHINGTON, D.C. Ė Chairman Bob Goodlatte met with several European Members of Parliament, government officials, and industry leaders this week regarding biotechnology and trade barriers to U.S. agriculture exports to the European Union. The EU's refusal to import biotech products costs the United States roughly $300 million a year in corn exports alone.

At each meeting Chairman Goodlatte stressed the safety of biotech foods and safety measures used in the U.S. to validate the safety of food. "I offer myself and 290 million Americans as examples of people who have consumed biotech products for the last ten years," the Chairman said to Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel and members of the EU Parliament.

Several biotech industry representatives cited grocery retailers in Europe as the largest obstacle to biotech products making it onto the shelves. The European Commissionís Traceability and Labeling regulations set up a system to trace biotech products, introduced the labeling of biotech feed and reinforced the current labeling rules on biotech food, with labeling threshold of 0.9 percent. According to many, these regulations impose a great financial burden on agricultural and food businesses in the U.S., presenting a significant trade barrier to the United States.

"The U.S. has enjoyed the benefits of biotech agricultural products for the past 10 years. We are able to produce crops that are resistant to insects and disease and therefore provide higher yields for our farmers and lower prices to our consumers, all the while providing a vast safe, nutritious selection of food products. We are also able to donate this food to other countries who need food aid to feed their people. Unfortunately, in recent years, Europeís unfounded and misplaced mistrust of biotech food products has spread to the governments of some developing countries that have refused biotech food aid and chosen the alternative of hunger for their people. This is both unreasonable and tragic," said Chairman Goodlatte.

In 2004, 80 percent of all soybean and 40 percent of corn acres in the U.S. were planted with biotech seed varieties. Between 1998 and 2004, the EU and its member states approved no agricultural biotechnology products. As of January 2005, over 20 biotech products or crops were awaiting approval. While two biotech products have been recently approved, the EU is obligated under WTO rules to maintain timely approval processes and make decisions based on science.

The process continues to remain slow and opposition to biotech products has not been based on science. "Biotechnology provides many advantages for people all over the world from increasing crop yields and economic stability in developing countries to feeding the hungry. Dr. Norman Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner and architect of the green revolution once said "The affluent nations can afford to adopt elitist positions and pay more for the food produced by so-called natural methods; the 1 billion chronically poor and hungry people of this world cannot. New technology will be their salvation, freeing them from obsolete, low-yielding, and more costly production technology." I could not agree more. We have the technology to assist developing countries and we cannot permit the inaccurate assumptions made by some elitist nations to guide the decisions of these developing countries," Chairman Goodlatte said.

Along with Chairman Goodlatte, Agriculture Committee Members Tom Osborne, R-NE, Gil Gutknecht, R-MN, Robin Hayes, R-NC, Mike McIntyre, D-NC, Bob Etheridge D-NC, and Stephanie Herseth, D-ND, participated in the meetings with European officials and concurred with the Chairman's position.


A Costly 'GM-Free Utopia' Down-under

- Roger Kalla, Director Korn Technologies, Australia; stenroger@kalla.name

Greenpeace Pacific Australia recently claimed victory in its long campaign to stop imported GM soy to enter Australia. This campaign has been fought by the motley crew of the Rainbow Warrior in the Tasman Sea and storm-troopers dressed in Super-sized Chicken suits outside our supermarkets informing Australian customers of the alleged ill-effects of 'Genetic Engineering' on our Aussie chickens. The local poultry producers have finally agreed to feed their chickens 'Genetical Modification -free' soy meal under the provision that they will be able to find a suitable source for this increasingly scarce commodity.

However the supposed 'market driven demand' down-under for absolute zero tolerance for any GM ingredient in chicken feed doesn't make any scientific or economic sense. DNA testing methodology is the only realistic way to determine the minuscle quantity of GM ingredient that will disqualify the GM -free label that is the market demand according to Greenpeace.

DNA testing is costly and involves technology that demands the outmost rigour in its application to avoid misleading results. To test for the presence of any DNA down to the levels of detection requires the levels of skill and know-how developed by forensic scientists through many years of training. On top of that comes the requirement for expensive cutting edge technology backed up by a quality assurance system that picks up any mistakes.

The actual cost of this technology is from $100 to $250 a test which in the end will have to be recovered by the regulatory authority or the marketing organisation serving the purported 'market driven demand' for assurance of absolute zero levels of allowed GM ingredient in our foods.

To put things into context the level of testing accuracy and associated costs that food producers and regulatory authorities now are required to meet in order to satisfy 'market demand' is on the same scale that is required for powerful biological toxins such as Dioxin. Small amounts of dioxin was used in the poisoning of Victor Yushenko-President of Ukraine with devastating effect on the health of the Presidential candidate.

The BBC online news service (news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4182029.stm) recently ran a story about Dioxins found in free-range organic eggs in the EU. This is a serious public health issue and no cost (including the costs for analysis of large numbers of samples of suspect eggs) was spared to resolve this issue by the German authorities.

I for one would much rather pay to have my organic free-range eggs tested and labelled 'Dioxin free' than pay for the chicken feed being tested for the presence of any infinitesimal amount of GM so that the eggs or fillets can be labelled 'GM free'.

This is a real chicken and egg dilemma for Australian regulatory authorities and food producers that has the potential to cost more than 'chicken feed' to the Australian taxpayer and consumer.


Mexico Approves Planting and Sale of GM Crops

- Karla Peregrina and Javier Crķz, Scidev.Net, February 22, 2005

Mexico has passed legislation that authorises the planting and selling genetically modified (GM) crops. The Mexican congress's upper house (the Senate), passed the law on 15 February, with 87 votes in favour, 16 against and 6 abstentions.

Since it was proposed, the law has created considerable debate in Mexico and has practically split the country's scientific community in two. The Senate drafted the law in April 2003 with input from the Mexican Academy of Sciences (AMC), the country's leading science organisation. However, some academy members were critical of the process and the academy's involvement.

"Any omissions we may have made in selecting the committee which represented the academy before Congress were without malice," said the academy's president, Octavio Paredes, in an interview with SciDev.Net. "At the time I did not sense any serious difference of opinion from within the academy."

Renť Drucker, coordinator of scientific research at Mexico's National University (UNAM), and former president of the AMC, disagrees. "[The law] will bring no benefits to our country in the future," wrote Drucker in a letter to La Jornada last year following the law's approval by Mexico's lower house, the Chamber of Deputies.

Another letter to the same newspaper mocked the law, suggesting it should be named the "Law of Genetic Colonisation for the 21st Century". It was sent by Ignacio Chapela, the US-based Mexican biologist who first claimed that genes from other species had entered wild maize in Mexico (see GM maize found 'contaminating' wild strains).

Chapela's letter said the law served the interests of Mexico's elite, "which in turn represents economic and political interests from within and outside the country". The law was also criticised by other researchers who oppose the import, distribution, release and consumption of genetically modified organisms in Mexico. Seventy researchers signed a full-page statement in the 8 December edition of La Jornada that said it was regrettable that the recommendations of a lengthy study by the Environment Cooperation Commission for North America had been ignored. The study said action should be taken to reduce the risk of foreign genes spreading and to conserve the biodiversity of maize varieties in Mexico.

Mexico's senators did, however, seek the advice of the scientists before drafting the law. Francisco Bolivar Zapata, another former AMC president and a senior researcher at UNAM's Biotechnology Institute, says that the chair of the Senate's science and technology commission, Rodimiro Amaya, explicitly asked the Mexican Academy of Sciences for advice.

Bolivar adds that the academy put together a group of 40 of experts "from all areas of knowledge and from various institutions" to prepare a draft of the biosecurity bill. After three months of work, a document titled Basis and recommendations for a Mexican law on biosecurity of genetically modified organisms was presented to the Senate, which then incorporated the recommendations and approved the draft bill (in April 2003) before sending it to be debated by the Chamber of Deputies.

As well as permitting planting and sale of GM crops, the law covers the conservation of genetic resources, and calls for a special protection regime - yet to be determined - for varieties of maize native to Mexico, the crop's centre of diversity. It also requires all GM products to be labelled according to guidelines to be issued by the Ministry of Health.


Americans' Perceptions of Genetically Modified Foods

I am pleased to share with you the press release announcing the results of our most recent national survey on American's perceptions of Genetically Modified Foods. You can download a copy of the survey report for free at:


Helen Aquino, Food Biotechnology Program, Food Policy Institute
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey


Dangers of the Organic Quest

- Vic Robertson, The Grocer (UK), February 19, 005

Consumption of fruit and vegetables could be hit by a "double whammy" if the drive towards organic systems continues, a scientist at the University of Edinburgh has warned.

Organic produce is more expensive and it carries a higher risk from the natural pesticides that develop within the varieties of produce, according to Anthony Trewavas, a professor at the university's Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology.

"It is well known that a diet high in conventional fruit and vegetables cuts cancer rates by about half," he said. "But price determines consumption, and fruit and vegetable consumption needs to be increased, not decreased, which a general push towards higher priced organic food would incur."

In addition, pesticide regulations were restricted to synthetic chemicals and regular monitoring had shown that exposure to the traces in conventional food to be virtually zero risk. However, the major chemical exposure of all human beings was to natural pesticides, designed by the plants themselves for protection and honed to toxicity by evolution. "There are many thousands of chemicals and every day we consume several thousand natural chemicals, all of which hover on the levels of toxicity," Trewavas told a Cambridge farm conference. "The amounts consumed are tens of thousand-fold higher than synthetic pesticide traces."

In aiming for yield, conventional breeding has reduced substantially the levels of natural pesticides and correspondingly rendered food safer for human consumption. "Organic associations claim that the higher levels of some natural constituents in organic food make them healthier. But only balanced diets are healthy and conventional produce provides all that is necessary for excellent health."


GMOs: Africa's Possible Solution to Perpetual Food Crises

- Judicate Shoo, PST, Guardian (Tanzania); IPP Media, 2005-02-20 23:02:35

Despite strong resistance and persuasive campaigns against the implementation of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) crops in most developing nations, Tanzania finally opened doors on Friday officially allowing, for the first time, confined field experiment on transgenic crops to be conducted on its land.

The going was set at the end of a day's training seminar for dozen-plus members of the National Biotechnology Advisory Committee (NBAC) - the country's authoritative organ responsible for biotechnology application and biosafety.

To give the government blessings for the application of this new technology, the official opening of the seminar, which was conducted by four world-class scientists on biotechnology and biosafety from the United States (US) - the world's biotechnology mother country, was officiated by the Principle Secretary (PS) in the Vice-President's office (VPO) Raphael Mollel.

Giving the country's biotechnology scientists long awaited pronouncement, the PS said: "Currently, Tanzania has decided to embark on the research and/or application of genetically modified (GM) crops."

The VPO is the country's focal point on biosafety since it is the authority responsible for environment, while the rest of the technological handling rests squarely on the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.

One of the four visiting US scientists on crop biosafety who were in the country for two weeks helping to put final touches to the requirements for the conduct of confined field trials of genetically engineered plants, declared last week that whether or not one likes it, agro-biotechnology has come and will dominate the 21st century.

Dr Sivramiah Shantharam, President of the USA-based Biologistics International Corporation, noted that a lot of developing countries have squandered obvious opportunities to enhance their productivity due to mere negative sensitivity.

"The major challenge facing implementation of GMOs is the public controversy that surrounds it, but by hooks or by crooks, agro-biotechnology has come and is here to stay," Dr. Shantharam at the public lecture on 'Implementing Genetically Modified Crops in Tanzania: Opportunities and Challenges', which was organized by the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) and held at the Karimjee Hall, in Dar es Salaam. He said that the motive of the activists against GMOs is that transgenic crops will negatively impact on the environment and human health.

Last week, Tanzania Organic Certification Association Board Chair Fred Machange, was quoted in the local press as advising Tanzanians not to accept and use GMO foods but instead promote natural foods that are produced locally.

But Dr. Shantharam assured his audience that since the introduction of the GMOs over a decade ago, no single negative impact to environment and human health has been confirmed. "Agro-biotechnology is one of the most important trans-formative technologies along with information technology that emerged since last century. "Tanzanians should be convinced beyond doubt that GMO is a million times more precise, has a socio-economic impact, helps protect environment and has also been proven to help poor and subsistence farmers in developing countries," he explained.

Dr.Shantharam, who said had hosted similar lectures in several African, Asian and European countries, stated that cultivating GMO crops could be another possible solution to the continent's perpetual food crisis. It could also help increase farmers income base and combat diseases and pests more effectively than any current technology, he said.

The Indian-born expert said it was very unethical and immoral to deliberately promote something that is proven harmful to human health. Dr. Shantharam then urged Tanzanians not to remain behind but to join the rapidly progressing agro-biotechnology, citing his base, USA, where 70 per cent of all the food produced and consumed is Genetically Modified food.

"Tanzania which principally relies on agriculture cannot afford to be left behind modern technologies that improve crop yields, reduce farm expenses and boost profits," he said.

According to the scientist, 33 million hectares were planted with biotech crops worldwide last year, representing an increase of 20 per cent from 2003. Director of Research Co-ordination and Promotion at COSTECH, Dr Rose Kingamkono, told The Guardian that GMO was just one of the many tools of advancing agricultural output, and it was essential that every person understands it fully before rushing to conclusions.


United States is Key Provider of Food Aid for World's Poor

- All Africa.com, February 9, 2005 http://allafrica.com/stories/200502100297.html

The United States is the major player in feeding the world's poor through bilateral, private, and especially multilateral food distribution programs around the globe, according to Tony P. Hall, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Hall, who is known for his long commitment to alleviating poverty around the world, highlighted the scope of U.S. humanitarian efforts at the American University School of International Service February 7, noting that the United States supplies more than half the aid being distributed by United Nations organizations.

"If you put it all together -- what we give U.N. organizations, our bilateral help, what we give as individuals, through churches and temples, through remittances -- it's incredible.¬ It's something like $56 billion a year," Hall said. Despite all this aid, he said, "we are still only [feeding] about 20 percent of the people in the world today that are hungry.¬ We have a long way to go."

In calling for an even greater effort to assist the poor, Hall described the deplorable conditions facing many of the world's poorest populations.¬ He estimated that 25,000 people a day die from hunger and millions of people earn less than $2 a day.

Hall, a former Ohio congressman who founded the Select Committee on Hunger in the U.S. House of Representatives, said he was appalled by the humanitarian crisis taking place in Darfur, which he recently visited to supervise the distribution of emergency supplies. "Darfur has about 140 [refugee] camps.¬ I've never known of a country that had that many camps," Hall said.¬ "Horrendous things go on there," he said, describing the murders and rapes being endured by men and women of certain African tribes across Darfur.

He stressed, however, that large amounts of food are being delivered, overwhelmingly from the United States, and many lives are being saved, "but it's a very difficult place to work in." Hall also highlighted the devastating effects of poverty and internal conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, "a country that will break your heart.¬ It's incredible -- I've never seen individuals that have had so many human rights [violations] committed against them," he said. Many of the combatants fighting in the Congo are children, he said, estimating that "child soldiers," between 12 and 15 years old, constitute more than half of the combatants in the country.

Speaking from the audience, Tim Lavelle of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) estimated that more than 3 million people have died in the Congo in the past five years.¬ "The number of deaths due to conflict and violence exceeds just about any other place on earth," Lavelle said.

Both Hall and Lavelle lamented the situation in the Congo and expressed doubt that the country could endure much longer in its current circumstances.¬ "The country is still fighting for its life.¬ I don't know whether they are going to make it," Hall said.

Hall also cited President Bush's recent announcements regarding increased funding for HIV/AIDS in the context that proper nutrition, as well as medicine, is essential for saving those afflicted by the disease. Hall spoke passionately about the issue of genetically enhanced food and the promise such food holds for feeding hungry people worldwide.¬ Although he acknowledged the political sensitivity of the issue, he termed the use of -- or, more specifically, the failure to use -- genetically modified foods a "moral issue."

He explained that, while Americans eat biotech food every day that is perfectly safe, it is wrong for the leaders in some countries in Africa, such as Zambia and Zimbabwe, to have obstructed genetically enhanced food aid from entering their countries.

"Anybody who keeps legitimate, good food from hungry people ought to be tried for crimes against humanity" Hall said.


Ag Interests Should Embrace Biotechnology's New Frontier

'Gene-Altered Crops Could Be Beneficial to Today's Growers'

- Jerry Kruger, Grand Forks Herald, Feb 21, 2005 http://www.grandforks.com/mld/grandforks/news/opinion/10952492.htm

WARREN, Minn. - This letter is in response to Paul Overby's letter to Growers for Wheat Biotech. I'm not a member of GWB, but I would like to respond as an interested bystander. I am a mature farmer anchored in the hard red spring wheat-growing region of North America who takes issues with Overby's assertions.

Pink polka dot pickups? Poor analogy. I think it's more like this. We step back in time a bit. The world is flat. Everyone knows this is true well, almost. This fellow, Christopher Columbus, thinks the world is not flat. He approaches Queen Isabella and convinces her to bankroll him to prove it. "What folly" some say. Well, it seems like there always are leaders willing to take unknown risks to make advances on new frontiers. Then there are those who say "no, don't try it. The world is flat and you will surely fall over the edge and be lost forever."

New frontier
Advancing biotechnology and genetically modified organisms is on today's new frontier leading us into an exciting new world to use and explore as Columbus did with his crew and those who followed him. Yes, there are risks involved in traveling uncharted seas. The course may be a bit erratic as it is being charted, but the goal is there and intelligent minds of those encountering the crosswinds will hold to the course and make decisions with the information and facts they have at hand. Fear will not drive t without risk.

Food may be a personal choice, but political posturing, trade barriers and food politics have far more to do with today's trade than genetic manipulation. The perceived personal choices are influenced by various factors that change over time fad diets, powerful suggestive advertising, habits, convenience, fear mongering by special interest groups for their gain, etc.

There are those who hesitate to accept or consume anything considered genetically modified. This is their choice. I remember a raging debate from my childhood about the merits of fluoride in drinking water and its health benefits. A very vocal minority group prolonged a long and nasty campaign abut the ill effects of fluoridation on our children.

Concerns from the past
Go back a few more years. Listen to the heated discussions of moving from animal power to machine power for tillage. The naysayers, "Oh you will ruin your soil by driving those monster machines on the land," or "My, you are too lazy to walk behind the plow."

Fast forward to the 1960s. I sat at a farm meeting and listened while a high-paid speaker told us that farm tractors did not need cabs, there were an unnecessary use of capital that brought no return, no value in creature comfort.

Today, seeds with herbicide and insect resistance have allowed the plants that they are in to grow and produce to their greater potential because of the lack of competitions from these pests. While doing this, the results have been less tillage, less erosion, less fuel used, less total chemical load to the soil and plants and healthier crops.

The concern is of a single global corporation or entity owning the patents on living organisms. An example is GMO Roundup Ready patents by Monsanto, the no-choice pink polka dot pickup. We either need to change our laws because this was decided in the courts years ago, or we accept the fact that investors (stockowners of the huge multinational businesses) need a return for their risk in ownership (i.e. the queen's investment in Columbus.

Well, forbid that I should plant an acre of wheat that may be Roundup Ready so I could save some soil erosion, use less of a harsher chemical, or less tillage saving fuel.

What if the wheat was insect resistant? I might not have to spray for apWow! If the wheat was fungal resistant, I could skip the spray for scab, tan spot, rust and the deoxynivalenol levels would be out of the wheat as a food risk.

I also grow sunflowers. I wish to see the day we have insect-resistant GMO sunflowers to help control the sunflower beetles, midge, head moth and stem weevil. The list could go on.

As we continue, we cannot let fear, real or imagined, control our voyage. Good decisions are made by facts, not fear. We can choose to be a participant in the new frontier or we can stand aside.


More on Public Research Initiatives..

- Klaus Ammann

Public research scientists and institutions who endorse this initiative and who are willing to actively participate in it, for example by peer reviewing discussion papers prepared by the Steering Committee, are invited to inform the Steering Committee through the contact persons: Piet van der Meer (pietvandermeer@cs.com) and Willy de Greef (ibrs@telenet.be).

I urge everybody to actively support this initiative , because it is a unique opportunity for your institution to be informed about important regulatory developments, and it is a unique forum for the public research sector to provide input in the international arena.

with my best personal regards, Klaus Ammann

here a few links

A new SCIDEV policy brief, which looks at the complex relationships between the WTO agreements, the Cartegena Protocol and the Codex Alimentarius, useful for our discussions. Thanks go to David Dickson. Its mirroring again the dominating influence of the NGO's. http://www.scidev.net/dossiers/index.cfm?fuseaction=policybrief&dossier=6&policy=54

A caveat: in the course of the laudable initiative for the public sector research we should not forget that it is still about the distinction between good and bad science, and those distinction lines do not follow always the divide between public and private research: http://www.botanischergarten.ch/PublicSector/Taverne-Guardian-20050218.pdf

and read another opinion (not mine) on regulation politics http://www.botanischergarten.ch/PublicSector/Sue-Mayer-Guardian-20050222.pdf

and see an example on how urgent regulatory problems are in Bulgaria: http://www.botanischergarten.ch/PublicSector/Bulgarian-News-Digest-20050222.pdf


To Know Science is to Love It

- Helen Pearson, Nature Online, Feb 23, 2005 http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050221/full/050221-8.html

Bolstering support for the field remains a thorny problem.

An analysis of studies in 40 countries around the globe proves a long-standing assumption: that the more a person knows about science, the more he or she tends to support scientific endeavours.

The issue is a fundamental one for scientists and science teachers. They often assume that improving people's scientific literacy will boost support for research, encourage young people to choose science careers and clear up damaging misconceptions about miracle cures or pseudoscience.

In fact, studies that have tested the link between a person's level of scientific knowledge and attitudes towards the field have generated mixed results. "It's been a very vexed question," says sociologist Nick Allum of the University of Surrey in Guildford, UK.

To try and resolve the issue, Allum and his colleagues pulled together the results of nearly 200 surveys carried out between 1998 and 2003 in countries from Australia to Bulgaria. These studies assessed, for example, whether participants knew certain scientific facts and whether they supported developments in genetically modified food or nanotechnology.

Causal concerns
To some extent, the results confirm the belief widely held by science advocates: the more people know about science, the more favourably they tend to view it, regardless of other factors such as age, nationality and formal level of education. Allum presented his results at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC last week. But now this question is cleared up, researchers must begin to tackle more pressing questions, Allum says. "The argument should move on."

His finding cannot, for example, show whether better science education will bump up general support for the field. This is because researchers have yet to figure out whether people who learn more about science then tend to like it or, conversely, whether people who already like and support science are simply inclined to learn further facts.

Taking a stance
And a person's level of scientific knowledge actually goes a very tiny way towards explaining their attitudes towards science, researchers at the meeting said. Allum believes that there are probably far more important factors, such as their moral values, religious beliefs and political leaning.

Many people's stance on embryonic stem-cell research, for example, is thought to be defined by their moral take on the destruction of human embryos, not by their precise understanding of the technique involved.

And people's trust in science may be influenced by how tightly regulated they believe the process to be in their country. This might explain, in part, why those living in different countries tend to hold different attitudes: Europeans tend to be more suspicious of genetically modified crops than those in the United States, for example.

Ultimately, science advocates hope to bolster support for the field, but it looks as if simple science education will not be enough. As Allum says: "It's all horribly complicated."


The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy, and the New Fundamentalism

- Dick Taverne, Oxford University Press, Hardcover, 320 pages (March 2005) ISBN: 0192804855
List Price: £16.99 at amazon.co.uk,

In The March of Unreason, Dick Taverne argues cogently that a pessimism and distrust of science and technology has become rife in society, combined with the growth of irrationality and practices unsupported by evidence, such as alternative medicine. The growth of eco-fundamentalism, arising from a misguided belief that Nature is best has resulted in an enthusiasm for organic farming, a campaign against the MMR vaccine, and above all a concerted effort to block the development and growing of genetically modified crops - a technology that may greatly alleviate world hunger. Taverne argues that this dangerous trend leads to intolerance and a threat to democracy. Only reason and science can form a sound basis on which to build a just and open society.

Our daily news bulletins bring us tales of the wonder of science, from Mars rovers and intelligent robots to developments in cancer treatment, and yet often the emphasis is on the potential threats posed by science. It appears that irrationality is on the rise in western society, and public opinion is increasingly dominated by unreflecting prejudice and unwillingness to engage with factual evidence.

From genetically modified crops and food, organic farming, the MMR vaccine, environmentlaism, the precautionary principle and the new anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation movements, the rejection of the evidence-based approach nurtures a culture of suspicion, distrust, and cynicism, and leads to dogmatic assertion and intolerance. Join Dick Taverne as he argues that science, with all the benefits it brings, is an essential part of civilised and democratic society and offers the most hopeful future for mankind. today, and many experts fear that children's health is being put at risk by a decline in vaccinations.

In this compelling and timely examination of science and society, Taverne discusses topics such as genetically modified crops and foods, organic farming, the MMR vaccine, environmentalism, the precautionary principle, and the new anti-capitalist and anti-globalization movements. He argues that the rejection of science nurtures a culture of suspicion, distrust and cynicism, and leads to dogmatic assertion and intolerance. Science, with all the benefits it brings, is the key to a civilized and democratic society: it offers the most hopeful future for mankind.