Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: April 7, 2005
* Redesigned AgBioWorld Website
* Australia - GM Bans Costing Farmer: Report
* Kim Nill's question
* GMO Cotton Boosts Yields In India - Monsanto
* Pakistan: Biotechnology Solution to Agri Problems
* Greenpeace's Anti-Rice and Anti-Science Campaign
* DNA Modification A High-Stakes Game
* Genetic Modification Brings Benefits
* Reith Talks Focus on Technology
* Future of Food: Value Vs. Risk in the Biotechnology Debate
* GM Crops are Scientifically Unsound
* Life Lessons
* Perils of Organic Food
Redesigned AgBioWorld Website
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Australia - GM Bans Costing Farmer: Report
- Sydney Morning Herald, April 6, 2005
Australian consumers, farmers and the scientific community would be left behind if state governments maintained their bans on genetically modified food crops, a new report has found. Compiled by two academic experts for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, the report found Australia risked being an agricultural backwater if it resisted the wider scale introduction of GM crops.
And it found that non-GM crops would ultimately become a niche market similar to organic produce today and fail to deliver major financial benefits to the country.
Australia grows two genetically modified crops at present, cotton and carnations, although approvals have been given for GM canola. However, most state governments have put a moratorium on commercial GM crop plantings because of concerns it may risk Australia's markets for non-GM crops in other markets.
There are also concerns about segregating non-GM crops from their GM counterparts. But the corporation's report, from University of Adelaide researchers Kym Anderson and Lee Ann Jackson, found the bans may be doing more long-term damage to Australian farming and consumers in general.
They found Australia would be $37 million a year better off if GM crops were adopted and the European Union dropped its effective ban on the technology. Even with the EU, Australia would be $20 million a year better off.
Although conceding these were small gains, the researchers found benefits would flow on a range of fronts, from lower costs for the farming community to a more concerted research program by the nation's scientists.
As more GM crops came into the market, and displayed tendencies that were demanded by consumers, this benefit would grow.
They said as the costs of segregation fell, more countries adapted GM technology, and consumers dropped their resistance to genetically altered foods, opposition to the technology had to fall.
"Continuing a ban on GM production is becoming less defensible as these conditions change," they found.
The report found there would be huge global gains if China and India start planting GM wheat and rice (which have yet to hit the commercial market). The world economic gain with these two crops, on top of existing GM crops such as canola and soybeans, would be in the order of $5 billion.
The EU ban leaves consumers and the economy across Europe around $4 billion a year worse off. The report also found Australia's moratoriums could drive scientists, and with them vital research, to overseas countries more supportive of GM technology.
"Australia's biotech research and development industry - a potential export earner in its own right - will be held back the more Australia limits production of GM crops, and as a result many scientists may choose to migrate to more-stimulating research environments abroad," they found.
"It needs to be kept in mind that maintaining GM-free status will likely lead to a bias toward more traditional agricultural research that will tend to be slower and hence less rewarding."
The report also found that those opponents of GM crops who believe remaining with traditional technologies will produce a financial benefit may be wrong. It found non-GM crops would become niche products and have the same market share as organic produce.
Kim Nill's question
- "Charles M. Rader"
Kim Nill doubted that a 1% increased efficiency in water use in an arid country could save 200000 L of fresh water a hectare, a year, for drinking water.
It is true enough that 20 cm annual rainfall over a hectare (Mongolian steppe average) is only 2,000,000 liters per hectare, and one percent of that amount is only 20,000 liters, not 200,00 liters. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the drinking water that falls on an arid hectare of land could be recovered for drinking.
But Kim Nill has performed the wrong calculation. We have to assume that the hypothetical farmer is supplementing the natural rainfall with irrigation, which means that he is transporting water already collected, either in rivers, reservoirs or underground aquifers, to put on his field. Saving the 200,000 liters is consistent with assuming that the farmer would irrigate his land with either 20,000,000 liters (ten times the natural rainfall) before efficiency, or 19,800,000 liters after a 1% saving.
In well watered Iowa, the average annual rainfall is about 90 cm, not including snowfall. Yet some Iowan farmers supplement this rainfall with irrigation. This is nine times as much as Mongolia. It doesn't seem unreasonable to me that a Mongolian farmer seeking to grow Iowa-type crops would have to irrigate with 19,800,000 liters/hectare.
GMO Cotton Boosts Yields In India - Monsanto
- Reuters, April 6, 2005, http://www.reuters.co.in/
Yields from genetically modified (GMO) cotton hybrids were 58 percent higher than conventional seeds in India last year, a survey commissioned by a Monsanto joint venture said on Wednesday. The study of the cotton-growing southern and central regions conducted by market researcher IMRB International said GMO cotton yielded 802 kg per acre, compared with 507 kg from traditional crops.
The survey was commissioned by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Ltd -- a joint venture between India's Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. (Mahyco) and U.S. biotech giant Monsanto Co. The worth of biotech grains is debated worldwide, with advocates saying they could lead to a more secure future for food while critics say they could produce new toxins and allergens.
India opened the door to GMO technology in 2002 after years of trials. Mahyco, 26 percent owned by Monsanto, was allowed to sell GMO cotton for sowing in southern and central states. Last month, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the main regulatory body, approved new varieties of transgenic cotton for Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.
India's cotton production in 2004/05 (Oct-Sept) is estimated to have risen to more than 21 million bales from 17.7 million a year ago, mainly because of the use of transgenic cotton in large areas, government officials and traders say. "We have been getting a good response from farmers and we expect the area to increase three-fold in the coming season," Bipin Solanki, deputy managing director of the joint venture firm, said. He said Bt cotton was sown on 1.3 million acres last year.
Bt cotton, widely grown around the world, contains a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium species. When ingested by bollworm, a pest, it causes lethal paralysis in the digestive tract. Net profit of farmers who grew GMO cotton was 163 percent more than those with non-GMO varieties, the survey said.
Pakistan: Biotechnology Solution to Agri Problems
- Dawn (Pakistan), March 31, 2005
Islamabad - Federal Minister for Food, Agriculture and Livestock Sikandar Hayat Bosan here on Thursday said Pakistan was all set to enter the era of genetically-modified cotton.
He was speaking at the concluding session of an international conference on " Biotechnology for Salinity and Drought Tolerance in Plant". The four-day event had been organized by the National Commission on Biotechnology (NCB) in collaboration with Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), United States National Science Foundation (USNSF), Comstech, and Higher Education Commission.
As many as 45 national and international scientists exchanged views regarding measures to fight back the disastrous effects of salinity on crops and come up with drought mitigation strategy. Mr Bosan said the developments made in cotton biotechnology by the country's scientists were quite impressive and that Pakistan was set to enter the era of genetically-modified cotton once the bio-safety guidelines, to be issued by the Ministry of Environment, were put in place.
The minister said six million hactares in Pakistan were affected by salinity and water logging, owing to which 25 per cent productivity of crops had been affected. Biotechnology, he said, was the only solution to the problem.
He said during the last four years of persistent drought, the canal water availability had reduced by 45 per cent, resulting into billions of rupees losses. This situation posed a formidable challenge to the country's scientists to come with a solution.
Mr Bosan said Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had instructed the Ministry of Environment to finalize the bio-safety guidelines so that different transgenic crops varieties evolved through our research could be released for commercial multiplication.
He said during the last few years, the government had spent about Rs600 million on education and research on biotechnology. In his welcome speech, Dr Kausar Abdullah Malik, NCB secretary and PAEC member Bio-Sciences, said the conference had evoked enthusiastic participation by international scientists.
Greenpeace's Anti-Rice and Anti-Science Campaign
- Dirk Maxeiner. April 7, 2005
Genetically manipulated rice? A warning from Greenpeace. But Die Welt journalist, Dirk Maxiener, warns against Greenpeace and critically reviews a current press release from Greenpeace.
Researchers have developed a new genetically modified rice variety with a particularly high content of provitamin A – good news for people in many developing countries but apparently bad news for the opponents of genetic modification. In the journal "Nature Biotechnology" the scientists reported a 23 times higher beta-carotene content than in the first generation of the GM rice variety. Greenpeace did not even wait to see the content of this study before reaching its final verdict. "Ineffective. Superfluous." This publication exemplifies the thinking and methods of the Hamburg Association – deconstruction of a Greenpeace press release.
"Genetically manipulated rice: ineffective and superfluous." Greenpeace publishes new studies. Hamburg, 17.3.2005. Genetically manipulated rice with a higher content of vitamin A cannot combat vitamin A deficiency diseases in the countries of the South. Studies published by Greenpeace today prove this."
But they do not prove it at all. Two of the studies are devoted to the vitamin A deficiency situation in general with a passing mention of "golden rice." A third study presents no new scientific knowledge, but merely contains a selection of extracts from previous studies, some of which are already out of date. There is even reason to fear that projects which are already successfully fighting vitamin A deficiency will no longer receive the necessary support as vastly exaggerated expectations have been stoked up around 'golden rice'".
But linking a scientific innovation with hopes for the greater well being of mankind, does not amount to "stoking up exaggerated expectations." That same criticism might equally have been levelled against Justus von Liebig, Paul Ehrlich or Robert Koch. Nor is there any reason not to engage in competition to discover the best means of providing assistance. Otherwise Unicef, for example, would have to cease its work because it might make aid to prevent world hunger obsolete.
"Evidence is also produced to show that this rice conceals a serious risk to mankind and the environment." The serious risk does not come from rice but from vitamin A deficiency. According to the WHO, one in five children worldwide is suffering from this deficiency and some one million die from its sequels every year while half a million go blind. Greenpeace regards hypothetical residual risks as more important than concrete risks to millions of human beings. By the same logic, drinking water treatment should be halted because secondary effects of the substances used in the treatment process cannot be completely ruled out.
"In response, scientists have already announced new publications for April 2005 about genetically modified rice which is now said to contain up to ten times more provitamin A." The rice contains up to 23 times more provitamin A. Just 70 grams of it would be sufficient to meet the daily need. "The industry is talking up this project because it hopes that it will bring a higher acceptance of GM food, comments Christoph Then, genetic engineering expert at Greenpeace."
Golden rice is indeed likely to enhance the acceptance of green genetic engineering. The invention of aspirin also helped to increase the acceptance of pharmaceuticals. The term "industry" does not designate organized crime but companies with thousands of employees. The inventors Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer have in any case done nothing to exploit their innovation for commercial purposes. They made it available without charge to small farmers in the developing countries. And they have even succeeded in persuading genetic engineering companies to waive their patents for this purpose.
The latest results published by Syngenta researchers have also been handed over to the "Golden Rice Board". "Genetically engineered rice is no way of fighting dietary deficiencies in the countries of the South, however much provitamin A it may contain."
In other words, however many facts and arguments may be put forward they do not count. One might equally say: people may eat as much as they like but they will still go hungry if Greenpeace says so. "A precise study of existing publications about genetically engineered rice shows that the technical problems are played down and the possible benefits vastly exaggerated."
Greenpeace has not investigated "golden rice" but previous publications including its own pamphlets. Even if just one per cent of the people suffering from vitamin A deficiency could be helped, that would mean tens of thousands fewer deaths and cases of blindness each year.
The fact that researchers encounter difficulties in their work is perfectly normal. "It is not clear how much and which kinds of carotene the plants form and whether they can be of any use to human beings in this form."
The quantity of carotene which the body converts into vitamin A depends on the individual constitution and on diet. Estimates suggest between 50 and 10 per cent, but even in the most unfavourable assumption a substantial contribution would still be made to dietary improvement. A meaningful conclusion could only be reached after lengthy comparative studies of rice consumers. Greenpeace is using all the means at its disposal to prevent that from happening by torpedoing research and planned tests plantations.
"What is more, unexpected substances have also been found in the GM plants." They do not say "dangerous" or "suspicious" but "unexpected." A typical smoke screen. The intention is simply to insinuate that they are dangerous. Genetically engineered plants undergo far more stringent tests for the presence of allergens or suspect substances before their use is authorized than conventional foods. For instance, a perfectly normal raspberry would have no chance whatever of authorization because of the many natural substances contained in it which present problems of their own. For years now millions of people have been eating food made with genetically modified maize or soybeans without any health problems ever arising.
"From the point of view of the consumer, this rice cannot be regarded as safe. Once it has been planted it may spread to neighbouring fields and risks to the environment and health can then no longer be halted."
Note: the risk is not to the people who eat vitamin A rice to improve their diet but to "consumers" in the rich western countries who are bothered about airborne pollen reaching Asian rice fields.
Professor Klaus Becker of Stuttgart-Hohenheim University, one of the authors of the Greenpeace studies warns: "The large scale introduction of golden rice might even make dietary deficiency more acute and endanger food safety. Because it would promote an eating habit based solely on a single intensely bred plant variety. Instead better use should be made of biological diversity – with existing plants which contain various vitamins and mineral substances and are cheap and readily available."
Professor Becker wrote a study for Greenpeace entitled "On rice, Biodiversity and Nutrients." When asked, he commented: "Golden rice is not a focus of that study." He went on to say "I want to make it clear that I do not play down Mr Potrykus' achievement. On the contrary, I have always held the scientific achievement in high esteem." Becker is mainly concerned about the good potential of old rice varieties which often remains unused. Nobody is asking for golden rice to be grown everywhere as the sole variety. In addition, scientists in India, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Ghana are performing research into locally appropriate varieties. Why not leave the decision to the farmers themselves? In the best tradition of neo-colonialism, Greenpeace seems to think that they are too immature to look after themselves.
"It is a fact that vitamin A deficiency has been significantly reduced in recent years with vitamin A preparations and dietary programmes."
Vitamin A tablets and dietary programmes regrettably reach far too few people. The farmers could grow golden rice themselves. "Beta-carotene for example is present in carrots, green leaf vegetables, sweet potatoes, mangos and papayas."
These are neither affordable nor accessible for many people. The argument is reminiscent of Marie-Antoinette: "If they have no bread, let them eat cake." "In countries like Bangladesh, the risk of blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency in children has been almost completely eradicated."
But the global figures for malnutrition are as catastrophic as ever. "What is more, scientists like Professor Becker have also found traditional rice varieties which not only show traces of beta-carotene but also contain substances such as iron, high quality protein and fats, which are needed to enable beta-carotene to be absorbed"
There cannot be enough different strategies for a solution and growing traditional varieties is one of them. Here, Greenpeace could provide concrete financial assistance. In the past ten years, the rich organization has collected around one billion dollars (!) worldwide. So far it has spent some 20 million dollars on its campaign against genetic engineering. That is about three times as much as Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer together spent on the development of "golden rice."
DNA Modification A High-Stakes Game
- Daniel Cosgrove, Centre Daily Times, April 7, 2005
Fifty years ago, biologists discovered how DNA encodes the instructions for building living organisms. That fundamental discovery has led to many biotech innovations valued today at hundreds of billions of dollars. Sweeping changes are taking place in medicine, agriculture, food processing, forensics and other fields, with more innovations just around the corner.
While most of these changes have occurred smoothly and with little public interest, a few have generated public controversy, even violent conflict.
One of the hottest debates concerns plants and animals that have been modified by DNA technology to possess desired characteristics, such as resistance to insects or viruses. Biologists view such "designer" plants and animals as logical applications of biological knowledge toward a good end, improved food production.
Critics, on the other hand, have dubbed them "Frankenfoods," an allusion to Mary Shelley's tale of a man-made monster gone amuck, and have called for bans of these plants and animals and their products. Such critics have been loudest in Europe, where they effectively stopped the planting of biotech crops and drove European biotech companies to foreign shores or to other pursuits.
Here in the United States, biotech foods have found wide acceptance. Nevertheless, there are detractors. Coalitions have organized to oppose biotech crops. Extremists have even destroyed research fields and firebombed university laboratories.
What's it all about? To understand the issues, imagine a board game with many characters, each with different viewpoints, motivations and goals. At the risk of caricature, let me list the main players in this game:
1. Biotech companies, which hope for profit by making and marketing new varieties of plants and animals.
2. Farmers, who hope new types of crops and livestock will improve quality and reduce labor, insecticide use, soil erosion, etc.
3. Average consumers, who want a variety of healthful foods at reasonable costs but otherwise can't be bothered with the details.
4. Food companies, which buy farmers' crops and sell processed foods to the consumer (think of packaged foods in supermarkets and fast foods); they want low prices and high quality of the crops they buy and no hint of controversy.
5. Government regulators, who aim to foster economic growth while ensuring food safety.
6. Scientists and biotechnologists, whose knowledge and ingenuity are harnessed to produce plants, animals and microbes with desired characteristics.
7. Staunch opponents, who resist biotech crops on ideological grounds (as un-natural). Many biotech foes oppose the industrialization of agriculture and fear control of the world's food supply by a handful of companies; in short, they oppose globalization.
8. Organic farmers, who feel threatened by the widespread adoption of biotech plants and animals. At the same time, biotech products create a market niche (organic products at higher prices) for them, so it is not all bad for them.
9. Other interested parties, which worry about unforeseen risks associated with biotech plants and animals or which see biotechnology as a solution for their problems.
This is a high-stakes game, involving major economic rivalries among companies, nations and economic blocs. For the 2003-04 year, the global value of biotech crops was reported to be $44 billion, with essentially all of the value produced in only five countries: the United States, Argentina, China, Canada and Brazil. The lion's share, 63 percent, came from the United States and was based on only four biotech-enhanced
products: soybeans, cotton, corn and canola. Meanwhile, Europe's and Japan's resistance toa biotech crops leaves developing countries in a
quandary: If they grow biotech crops, they'll lose Europe as a market.
Political maneuverings have led to strange happenings: Two years ago, severe famine in Zimbabwe prompted the United Nations to donate 13,000 tons of U.S.-grown corn to feed hungry Zimbabweans. However, government officials in Zimbabwe, fearful of biotech corn, ordered much of it to be destroyed. In a similar vein, Zambia refused corn shipments from relief agencies. Some see these tragic events as a clash between U.S. attempts to promote biotech products and European attempts to thwart U.S. biotech success.
Want to learn more or express your thoughts on these issues? Read the three columns on this page, and then attend the discussion on this topic organized by the Public Issues Forum for Centre County Citizens. The meeting format is neither lecture nor debate but a discussion, an exchange of views, among local residents. It is democracy in action: people gathering, listening, talking, learning, pondering the different sides of the issue, then deciding together what policies would be best for our society as a whole.
Daniel Cosgrove is a professor of biology at Penn State.
Genetic Modification Brings Benefits
- Centre Daily Times, April 7, 2005 http://www.centredaily.com
Let science and enterprise guide our food system and provide greater incentives for biotechnology innovation to encourage rapid development to benefit humanity by helping to prevent disease, increase productivity and limit environmental damage.
Biotechnology has been used for centuries. Some examples are the use of yeast in the making of beer and wine and the cross breeding of plants to enhance desirable characteristics such as size and flavor. Some genetic modifications have been by chance and others by design. Only in the past century have significant efforts been made to assign ownership of unique strains of plants through the use of patents and to regulate biotechnology products using environmental and health-science-based food-safety standarads. Patent laws have been beneficial to industry, while requirements for testing and analysis of products for safety have presented hurdles for industry and the related scientific community.
But because scientific advances have continued and private enterprise has persisted, technology allows for the benefits of biotechnology to be experienced more rapidly and with greater precision than in the past. In 1982, altered bacteria were used to produce human insulin, thus ending the dependence on pig insulin for treating diabetes. Genetic modification has been instrumental in the production of hardier and more fruitful plants resistant to specific viruses. Farmers use genetically modified seeds thata allow use of pesticides and herbicides without harming the food crop as well as seeds that can flourish in adverse climactic and soil conditions to increase cost-effectiveness.
Scientific and industrial communities have made and continue to make significant efforts to ensure that genetically modified products are safe and healthy. Although there have been no definitive studies linking genetically modified foods to detrimental health effects in humans, any hints of potential problems are responded to promptly. For example, the industry response to the possible inclusion of some genetically modified corn (Starlink) developed for use as animal feed in corn products for human consumpation: The taco shells in question were recalled, mills producing the shells were shut down till the contamination could be eliminated and testing of new loads was required by grain storage silos. All this was done even though no harmful effects had been detected or experienced.
Americans have been using and consuming biotechnology products for many years. Today, more than 70 percent of foods sold in supermarkets have ingredients derived from genetically engineered plants. Opinions regarding genetically modified foods vary considerably depending on the interest group: Environmental groups are concerned about the effect of genetically modified crops on ecological systems and the limitations imposed by patent agreements. Conventional farmers embrace the benefits related to productivaity, while organic farmers are concerned about crop contamination and the potential evolution of insects resistant to natural insecticides. Agricultural companies and food manufacturers are excited about the potential for new and improved ingredients and concerned about increased regulation. Government regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration have reviewed safety data from manufacturers on a case-by-case basis and concluded that "a reasonable certainty of no harm" has been demonstrated.
However, the potential risks are taken seriously by government and industry. It is understood that, for example, the use of antibiotic-resistant genes in genetically modified products could possibly inhibit the effectiveness of antibiotic treatments for illnesses. Although the potential has been examined by scientists in both the United States and France and determined to be unlikely, industry is addressing it by developing alternatives coupled with phasing out the use of antibiotic-resistant genes.
Although a number of concerns have been linked to genetically modified products, many tend to be concerns that are not specific to such products. For example, loss of genetic variation is a threat to biodiversity. However, government regulations meant to protect public health frequently require uniformity of raw materials, which results in deterring biodiversity. It is proposed that pollen drift from genetically modified crops might contaminate fields of organic or non-genetically modified plants. However,a throughout the history of cultivated crops, it has frequently been these same pollen drifts that have resulted in new and better varieties.
Genetically modified foods have been beneficial to society, and the potential for future benefit continues to be explored. For example, it might be possible for development of crops with an altered fatty acid content that would lessen the trans fatty acid and result in healthier foods. The partnership of science and industry coupled with government oversight has been effective and successful in shepherding advances in genetically modified foods and will continue to do so.
Reith Talks Focus on Technology
- BBC News, April 6, 2005 http://news.bbc.co.uk/
Technology and its importance to the future is the subject of this year's BBC Reith Lectures.
Each year the broadcaster invites a prominent figure to deliver a series of radio lecturers on matters of contemporary interest. This year, Lord Alec Broers, chairman of the Royal Academy of Engineering discusses how technology is shaping and influencing lives around the globe. "Technology will determine the future of the human race," he says.
Good and bad
"We should recognise this and give it the profile and status that it deserves," he says.
While the advances brought about by computers and electronic communications are "awesome", it is developments in transport, medicine, energy and weaponry that have had the greatest impact - both good and bad - on lives, he argues.
New methods of transport have had revolutionary social consequences in the developed world. Meanwhile, energy technologies have threatened the planet's eco-system, and advanced weaponry has shifted centres of power with unpredictable and unforeseen consequences.
The web has made it possible - in principle - for all of the information possessed by anyone to be available to everyone, he says. Technologists are determining the future of the human race and it is a race Lord Broers urges Britain not to miss out on.
According to Lord Broers, there is a tendency in the UK to rely on pure rather than applied science. "It is time we in Britain, so good at fundamental science, also came fully to appreciate the intellectual challenge behind product development," he says.
He expresses surprise that in a recent poll, which asked the public to rank Britain's greatest inventions, the bicycle was chosen over electricity generation, the jet engine, the discovery of DNA and the invention of vaccinations.
"To place it ahead of the fundamental accomplishments of Faraday, Stephenson, Maxwell, Thomson, Whittle, and Crick and Watson demonstrates in my mind a profound misunderstanding of the contribution of advanced technologies to our lives," he says.
Part of the blame for this, he thinks, lies with engineers and scientists who have not explained the importance of technological inventions in a way lay-people can understand. But there is also a fundamental failure to look forward, he says.
"My contention is that technology is sidelined and undervalued - we become defensive about it and would rather retreat into the past, or into fundamental science, than to strive to stay in the race."
This failure could cost the UK dear in material, social, and intellectual terms, especially according to Lord Broers. Technology has long been a subject close to his heart. His father was passionate about radio and photography and was one of the first to receive the BBC on short-wave radio.
"I have found that the possession of an understanding of technology, just as with an understanding of music, literature, or the arts, brings with it great personal satisfaction," he says.
The Reith Lectures began in 1948 and the first one was delivered by philosopher Bertrand Russell. In conjunction with the lectures, listeners to Radio 4's You and Yours programme are invited to vote on what they think has been the greatest invention of the last 200 years. The first of this year's Reith Lectures is aired on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm on Wednesday 6 April.
Future of Food: Value Vs. Risk in the Biotechnology Debate
- April 15, 2005 at SANTA CLARA University, Calif.
Genetic modification of food -- a hot topic of international debate -- is at the center of Santa Clara University's annual biotechnology conference on the legal and ethical aspects of emerging biotechnologies.
"The Future of Food," April 15, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. addresses the legal and ethical challenges of genetically modified food and will address several
-- Should we pursue the genetic modification of food? -- What is the legal infrastructure?
-- Is genetic modification of food a necessary tool to relieve world hunger?
Genetically modified food, many argue, is the future of food, and can relieve world hunger by producing more plentiful, nutritious, and hardy crops. However, genetic changes in food crops have lasting global implications, which require ethical and legal considerations.
The conference is open to the general public with a registration fee of $50. Santa Clara University students and faculty may attend this conference for FREE, but registration is required. For information on registration, and the panelists, visit http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/focusareas/medical/conference.html.
GM Crops are Scientifically Unsound
- James Macgregor
Dear Professor Prakash
As a former GM crop scientist involved in pest resistance I am intrigued by the comments of Dr. Patrick Moore who states "the campaign of fear now being waged against genetic modification is based largely on fantasy and a complete lack of respect for science and logic". The reason for my intrigue is that I abandoned a career in GM research because I came upon a rather simple idea that appeared to prove that the current generation of GM crops were scientifically unsound. I present it below.
All bio-engineered organisms created in a laboratory environment are done so under strict containment conditions, thus, preventing the escape and proliferation of untested experimental bio-engineered organisms with unknown consequences. These practises are followed in all regulated bio-laboratories for the stated safety reasons.
However, it is proposed by scientists to release GM crop's into the environment without biological controls on artificial transgene dispersal. Further to this artificial bio-engineered gene constructs will also undergo mutation and evolution to an end we are not aware of, making safety assessment of GM crops a snapshot theoretical exercise lacking in longevity. One cannot safety assess what has not yet evolved.
It appears that the safety guidelines so rigourously practised by scientists under laboratory conditions are not proposed to be expanded and practised in the wider environment in relation to releases of bio-engineered GM crops.
Could you explain this apparent double standard in scientific safety conduct? One might consider that even more stringent safety controls would be enforced in the natural environment than in the laboratory environment, after all we we do not have a backup. Having thought of this it did create rather a scientific conundrum, leading to myself resigning from the field of research on scientific grounds.
Dr. James MacGregor
- Guardian, April 7, 2005.
Select quotes below.... Full article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,5164417-111414,00.html
What is the one thing everyone should learn about science? Spiked asked 250 scientists - here we bring you some of the most provocative responses
Seth Lloyd Professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology "You do not have to be a scientist to do science; you can be a child, a computer, or an intelligent rat. As long as you can verify a result, it is part of science."
Freeman Dyson Emeritus professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton "Science is about uncertainty. We do not yet know the answers to most of the important questions -- nature is smarter than we are. But if we are patient, and not in too much of a hurry, then science gives us a good way to find the answers."
Richard Dawkins Charles Simonyi professor of the public understanding of science at the University of Oxford, and a science writer and broadcaster "I wish everyone understood Darwinian natural selection, and its enormous explanatory power, as the only known explanation of "design". The world is divided into things that look designed, like birds and airliners; and things that do not look designed, like rocks and mountains. Things that look designed are divided into those that really are designed, like submarines and tin openers; and those that are not really designed, like sharks and hedgehogs. Darwinian natural selection, although it involves no true design at all, can produce an uncanny simulacrum of true design. An engineer would be hard put to decide whether a bird or a plane was the more aerodynamically elegant."
Lewis Wolpert Emeritus professor of biology as applied to medicine at University College London "I would teach the world that science is the best way to understand the world, and that for any set of observations, there is only one correct explanation. Also, science is value-free, as it explains the world as it is. Ethical issues arise only when science is applied to technology -- from medicine to industry."
Kathy Sykes Collier professor of public engagement in science and engineering at the University of Bristol "I would teach the world that science is not about truth, but is about trying to get closer to the truth. This is important because, too often, people look to scientists as having the "truth". What we have is wrapped in uncertainties, caveats and simplifications. "
Harry Kroto Professor of chemistry at Sussex University, and joint recipient of the Nobel prize in chemistry "The methods of science are manifestly effective, having made massive humanitarian contributions to society. It is this very effectiveness which the purveyors of mystical philosophies attack, because they recognise in it the chief threat to the belief-based source of their power and financial reward."
John Sulston One of the leaders of the Human Genome Project, and joint recipient of the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine "We have to accept responsibility for the survival of the human race, instead of praying about it. The prize, if we can embrace this humanist philosophy, is an infinite and unimaginably exciting journey ahead of us."
Stanley Feldman Emeritus professor of anaesthesiology at Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School " I would like it to be universally known that whatever we eat, it is broken down into basic building blocks of food in the gut, before it can be absorbed into the blood. The cholesterol in the food you eat is not the same cholesterol as that in your blood. Whatever meat you eat -- whether it be prime organic Angus, or chopped-up scrag end from an old cow -- it ends up as the same amino acids in your blood. No matter what the source of the fat, it is essentially the same fatty acids that enter the bloodstream. We are not what we eat. "
Lynne Frostick Professor of physical geography at the University of Hull, and director of the Hull Environment Research Institute and the Environmental Technologies Centre for Industrial Collaboration "I would like to teach the world about climate change, and the role of every human being in causing it. This is far and away the biggest threat to our planet. We will only fight the more serious consequences of climate change if every individual accepts responsibility, and if every individual modifies their behaviour."
Peggy Lemaux Cooperative extension specialist in plant biotechnology at the University of California at Berkeley "I would nominate the basic formula for photosynthesis: CO2 + H2O + sunlight/chlorophyll —> O2 + C6H12O6. Why is this so important? Because without this chemistry, life on earth would not be possible. Glucose (C6H12O6) is the basic energy source for all living organisms. The oxygen released as a photosynthetic byproduct, principally of phytoplankton, provides most of the atmospheric oxygen vital to respiration in plants and animals. And animals, in turn, produce carbon dioxide (C02) necessary for plants. Therefore, photosynthesis is consid?ered the ultimate source of life for nearly all plants and animals, by providing the energy required to drive their metabolic processes. Without this important reaction, life on this planet would cease."
Channapatna S Prakash Professor in plant molecular genetics at Tuskegee University, and director of the Centre for Plant Biotechnology Research "I would teach the world not to be afraid of the genetic modification of our crops, and to accept GM crops, as they can help to feed the growing world in an environmentally sustainable manner. There is much apprehension and confusion about this technology, especially in Europe. This has led to the needless slowdown of the application of biotechnology in agriculture.
If the world were to embrace GM crops, then we could conquer hunger and poverty much more easily, cut down the use of chemicals on farms, help mitigate the cutting down of tropical forests to expand the area of agriculture, bring more reliability to farming, make farming more profitable, help developing countries through crops that are hardier and tolerant to drought, improve food safety, and improve the nutrition of crops. GM crops are as safe as conventionally developed crops. The fear of this technology is unnecessarily holding back progress, and is denying the fruits of that progress to the developing world, where it is needed the most."
Matt Ridley Founding chair of the International Centre for Life "Science is not a catalogue of facts, but a search for new mysteries. Science increases the store of wonder and mystery in the world; it does not erode it. The myth that science gets rid of mysteries, started by the Romantic poets, was well nailed by Albert Einstein —whose thought experiments about relativity are far more otherworldly, elusive, thrilling, and baffling than anything dreamt up by poets.
Isaac Newton showed us the mysteries of deep space, Charles Darwin showed us the mysteries of deep time, and Francis Crick and James D Watson showed us the mysteries of deep encoding. To get rid of those insights would be to reduce the world's stock of awe."
Stuart Zola Professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Emory University, and director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Centre "I would teach the world the importance of staying actively intellectually engaged throughout our lives, especially as we become elderly. There are good data now that point to the fact that continuing to challenge yourself late in life -- taking up a new hobby, learning to play a musical instrument, doing crossword puzzles, etc -- actually helps to maintain cognitive function, and protects against the onset of cognitive decline."
This research was carried out by Sandy Starr at spiked and supported by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta). The full results will be published at http://www.spiked-online.com/einstein at the end of April, alongside an online debate and a series of films made by the science communicator Alom Shaha.
Perils of Organic Food
- David James
Director Garcia is obviously keen on organic food. She needs to be warned -- the last famous rock star associated spouse that ate and endorsed organic food all her life, Linda McCartney wife of Beatle Paul, died at the age of 57 from breast cancer.
Besides this, Organic food has already directly caused illness and death in people in the western world. There is medically documented evidence that one child died and several were very ill from eating organic green butter sandwiches in a German kintergarten (article attached). The organic spinach was found to contain the pathogenic microorganism Citrobacter freundiia common contaminant of pig slurry used to fertilise the herb.
In the interests of hygiene and food safety, Agbioworld should make every effort to make sure that the attached article is copied and distributed to people who attend the film.
The more popular that organic food becomes the more likely it is that there will be more deaths. Animal manures will always be potential killers, particularly where children are concerned.
- David James, Maidstone, Kent UK
From Prakash: As the attached document sent by Mr. James was a scanned copy of a newspaper article, I am unable to forward it to viewers. However, I requested Alex Avery to throw some light on it. see below....
From Alex Avery:
The Report was published a journal in 1995. They'll claim the parsley wasn't from "certified organic farm," but rather an "organic garden" and that this is not relevant to public food safety from purchased organic foods.
Tschape H, Prager R, Streckel W, Fruth A, Tietze E, Bohme G. 1995. Verotoxinogenic Citrobacter freundii associated with severe gastroenteritis and cases of haemolytic uraemic syndrome in a nursery school: green butter as the infection source. Epidemiology and Infection.;114(3):441-50 (Robert Koch Institut, Wernigerode, Germany. )
A summer outbreak of severe gastroenteritis followed by haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) and thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura in a nursery school and kindergarten is described. Sandwiches prepared with green butter made with contaminated parsley were the likely vehicle of infection. The parsley originated from an organic garden in which manure of pig origin was used instead of artificial fertilizers. Clonally identical verotoxinogenic Citrobacter freundii were found as causative agents of HUS and gastroenteritis and were also detected on the parsley.