Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - March 1, 2006
* How to Turn the World Against GM Technology
* Stirring Public Fears Without A Valid Scientific Basis
* What on Earth is JIGMOD and What Does Science Have to Say About It?
* Need Help with Irish Potato Risk Assessment
* Full WTO Report Leaked to Activists and Now Posted Online
* Biotech Expert With Stiff Upper Lip
* Food or Oil: Which is More Precious?
* Crops for Cars: Fuels of the Near Future
* Australia: New Top Scientist Favours GM Food
* Unlocking the Potential of Ag Biotech - ABIC'06 - Melbourne
* UNESCO Fellowships
* Knowledge Millennium Summit: Biotech and Nanotech
* India Bt Cotton Documentary Now Available
* Expanding Biotech Research to Countering Bioterrorism
* Development Perspectives on Biotechnology, Trade and Sustainability
* The Manifesto Club
How to Turn the World Against GM Technology
- Tawanda Zidenga, AgBioView, March 1, 2006 http://www.agbioworld.org
For a technology that merely refined long practiced techniques, biotechnology has stirred much unanticipated controversy the world over. In being a controversial technology however, biotechnology is not alone, for many technologies, including our beloved computers have met with some resistance.
What sets biotech different from the many myriad of controversies we know however, is how the reasons for its rejection change with season, geography……and even perhaps political affiliation. That, on the surface, should not be surprising. What will surprise an observer is that the major groups that have been known to influence negative opinion of this technology will deliberately play this geographical (and perhaps racial) card in encouraging people to resist the technology.
For example, if you are in Africa, they will tell you that GM foods are an act of imperialism, that you are a guinea pig. They know that because of your recent history, the word imperialism mean so much to you. They will tell you also that profit-oriented multinationals are out to reduce your choices to zero. Profits are bad. How can anyone make profits while poor people are suffering? Of course they will not tell you that the major advancements in history are made by people trying to make profits, that the world survives on profits, that a seed company may not like you, but they like you to buy their seed, so it is not in their interests to make that seed poisonous.
If you are in America, they will not tell you about imperialism (is it a type of a burger?). That does not appeal to you. They will tell you that GM foods will super-size you, because they know you are concerned about your weight.
If you are an organic fanatic living next to Prince Charles, they will tell you that GM foods will "contaminate" your organic food. Of course no one will give you an official definition of contamination. Who needs it anyway? They will tell you that all this stuff is "not natural". Nobody tells you that agriculture is essentially a human-driven enterprise, that if you want "natural" foods you are better off searching for wild fruits.
If you are religious, they will tell you that scientists who make GM products are playing God. And this one is my favorite.
If you are a college student or a biology major, they will tell you the names of professors who are opposed to GM foods, as if that magically explains how bad they are.
Movie fan? We have something for you – welcome to the Frankenstein world!!
Zidenga, a native of Zimbabwe, is a PhD Student in Plant Cellular and Molecular Biology at Ohio State University; zidenga.1(at)osu.edu
Third Floor Perspectives... 'Stirring Public Fears Without A Valid Scientific Basis'
- Dr. Roger Beachy, Commentary from the President, The Leaflet, Fall 2005. Donald Danforth Plant Science Center http://www.danforthcenter.org/newsmedia/leaflet/fall_05/fall05.pdf
The United States has led the world in innovative plant science, as well as in developing technologies that ensure a safe, secure and relatively inexpensive food supply. Yet, this same American innovation is under attack, not only by those outside our country but also by assailants within the U.S. who deliberately exploit unfounded public fears.
The process of scientific research is immensely difficult, fraught with countless roadblocks and frequent failure. Scientists work very hard to ensure that their results are trustworthy and that public safety is never compromised. After all, as members of the public, scientists themselves and their families could be affected adversely if scientific findings were not soundly based or if regulatory policies were not carefully considered.
Given the hurdles and difficulties of scientific research, it can truly be discouraging when useful agricultural technologies are attacked by those with no evidence to support their claims. Today, even though the United States Department of Agriculture has certified genetically improved crops as safe for consumption based on innumerable scientific studies and critical peer review, protest groups loudly denounce these crops as unsafe, using utterly implausible "what-if" scenarios to twist the facts.
For example, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal unabashedly assailed genetically modified corn as contaminating organically-grown corn. The authors imply that such pollen transfer, if it occurs, would create a hazard to public health, when in fact all available data show otherwise. Such exploitation of public perception is completely reprehensible.
Fortunately, the general public discounts this fear-mongering and understands the importance of plant science. For example, voters in Sonoma County, California resoundingly supported biotechnology and recently rejected a ballot initiative to ban biotechnology. But the battle is certainly not over.
The imagination of scientists and their willingness to overcome failure constitute the ultimate basis for new technologies that improve our standard of living, help us to live longer, healthier lives, and ensure that we and our children will have an adequate supply of safe, nutritious food.
When the huge natural barriers to achieving these goals are further complicated by those who deliberately stir public fear without a valid scientific basis for their concern, we risk compromising the security of our own lives and the lives of our children.
What on Earth is JIGMOD and What Does Science Have to Say About It?
8th of April 2006: Joint International GM Opposition Day (JIGMOD). 100 international organizations from more than 40 countries are now announcing April 8, 2006 as a Joint International GM Opposition Day. The day will feature major public events in several of these countries to demonstrate continuing global opposition to genetically modified foods and crops .....( more details at the end)
Anti-GMO organisations seem to be staging a big talk-fest in Paris April 2006. Good time, Good place, the Pundit would love to be there, and maybe even attend some of the conference.
It will be interesting to see though whether this is pure street theatre, or whether there is any scientific substance to the stream of press releases, letters, and long signature lists that will flood the media around that time.
People associated with JIGMOD have been circulating a MEMORANDUM containing a list of scare stories about GM technology. Almost all of this MEMORANDUM is wrong or misleading, or is based on unsubstantiated newspaper stories started by the sponsor's of JIGMOD
The assist appreciation of how these Green scares are mostly misleading, RED colour coded of rebbutals are provided within the text of the MEMORANDUM reproduced below. A more detailed annotation of the MEMORANDUM is given here.
In this JIGMOD document here is only one case where the science quoted in this Green listing of scares is substantial enough to allow a realistic GM issue risk to be raised. This issue concerns the Australian CSIRO GMO pea which is not in any case proceeding further as a commercial project, and about which there is no dispute about the main scientific findings.
Because of the known properties of the digestion-antagonist (transgenic inhibitor) used in the CSIRO pea experiments, which was originally present in beans, special attention was placed on the evaluation of its safety by reguatory guidelines, and this attention was merited by the known history of similar inhibitors. In the Pundit's view, this case shows that cautious introduction of GM crops is proceeding with appropriate attention to safety.
Generally speaking, the current generation of genetically modified (GM) crops have been shown to greatly reduce risks to the health of the population and the environment, and, indeed, to make positive contributions to both. Present knowledge is sufficient to safely and predictably modify the plant genome, and the proof is, these crops have been planted on over hundreds of millions acres worldwide and have reliably performed just as intended. These crops perform so well in fact, that farmers in Brazil, India, China, Mexico, France, Russia and Thailand have defied government bans and turned to the black market in order to access this technology.
Read on at
Need Help with Irish Potato Risk Assessment
- Shane Morris - shane.morris(at)rogers.com
Dear AgBioView Readers: I have a St. Patrick's Day request. Currently in Ireland the Irish EPA is considering approving experimental field trials of blight resist potatoes. These are small trials that fall under EU regulations.
However the Anti-GMO folks are heavily touting Prof. Joe Cummins as an "Leading geneticist" and independent expert who has written a "risk assessment" see below or at http://www.gmfreeireland.org/potato/info/JoeCummins.pdf
This has had considerable media attention.
I have my own views on this "risk assessment" however I am only one voice and its not my exact area of expertise. In the absence of a peer review process that Mr. Cummins did not put his work through I would like comments and critical reviews on the text to be sent to me by St. Patricks Day (March 17th) as I am making an effort to collect the opinion of others onthe Cummins "risk assessment".
The Irish public deserve the facts and not spin from either side of this important debate.
Go raibh maith agat (- Thank you in Gaelic)
- Shane Morris, http://www.gmoireland.blogspot.com
Genes from a Wild Plant Solanum bulbocastanum Used to Resist Potato Blight Fungus
- Prof. Joe Cummins, January 28, 2006
The German company BASF Plant Science GmbH is planning to test genetically modified (GM) potatoes by deliberately releasing them into the environment at Arodstown, Co. Meath, Ireland. The field trial is planned for the five year period 2006 - 2010. The GM potatoes are modified using a gene from a wild Mexican plant, Solanum bulbocastanum (related to potato), along with marker genes including a gene for resistance to a herbicide.
The potatoes are modified to be resistant to the fungus causing late blight disease No environmental and health studies appear to be planned (1). Animal feeding studies on the GM potatoes do not appear to have been done. Any environmental release of untested GM crops to the environment is unwise because the transfer of single genes even between related plants has resulted in unexpected toxicity of the transgenic gene products resulting from altered structure and immunogenicity of the modifying gene product (2).
When single genes from plants such as a bean were used to modify another plant, the pea, it was assumed that such transfers could not produce toxic products in the plant being modified. However, the unexpected prevailed. The people and wildlife of Ireland should not be exposed to inadequately tested genetic constructions.
More at http://www.gmfreeireland.org/potato/info/JoeCummins.pdf
WTO Report Leaked to Activists and Now Posted Online
Friends of the Earth today made available online a confidential World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling on the trade dispute on genetically modified (GM) foods.
The 1000-page report, distributed earlier this month only to the countries involved in the dispute, was leaked to Friends of the Earth.
Biotech Expert With Stiff Upper Lip
- Hindustan Times (India), Feb 25, 2006
When Graham Brookes speaks, it's evident that you are listening to a Brit with a stiff upper lip. His replies are pointed, explanations pithy and statements terse.
Brookes is an agricultural economist who analyses the worldwide financial implications ('benefits' in his words) of using genetically-modified (GM) seeds. But he brooks no further argument that biotech farming is still highly controversial and considered unsafe by the majority of the world's farming community.
"The safety of mobiles phones has not been conclusively established yet. So, do we stop using them?" he says. Fair enough. But we don't subsist on mobile phones. GM crops are capable of changing the very definition of food and what is edible and what is not. Brookes says GM crops go through a regulatory approval that is "far more rigorous that any other approval process".
So, why is the majority of the world's farmers against biotech seeds? Today, 1.4 billion people rely on seed saving for farming. Threatening them are MNCs, who are buying, patenting and investing heavily into biotech. Three powerful agro-chemical MNCs - Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta - now control a quarter of the world's seed supply. In their hands, the humble seed has become a powerful tool for control and profit. A "monoculture of genetically uniform hybrids" could trigger natural crop failure, experts say.
Diseases could spread faster, once the buffer of diversity is removed. And "genetic engineering shrinks diversity" even further. Specific genes become more important than the plant itself.
To these charges, Brooks comes up with statistics that sound good. World over, farmers, including those in India, have made US$ 27 billion of extra income from GM crops, Brookes found in his latest survey coinciding with 10 years of GM food. Biotech seeds are genetically modified to repel pests, cutting down the use of pesticides. In the past decade, Brookes claims there has been 14 per cent reduction in environmental hazards resulting from the use of pesticides. Moreover, no-tillage crops mean fewer fumes from tractors. So why are farmers and NGOs on the boil? "It's purely an ideological war."
How does India benefit? "Well farming of BT Cotton is already big. And there's great hope in drought-resistant crops, which are in early stages of development. Farmers in India need to be educated and make their own choice."
At his London office, Brookes is mostly engaged in massive studies funded by big biotech firms. And he vouches for the objectivity of his studies. "Prove us wrong," he says, signing off in his forceful British demeanour.
Food or Oil: Which is More Precious?
- Owen Roberts, Guelph Mercury (Ontario, Canada) Feb. 27, 2006
I finally saw Syriana on the weekend. The Middle East-based cloak-and-dagger epic is nominated for an Academy Award for George Clooney (best actor in a supporting role), but I doubt if he'll take home an Oscar. His role is beyond "supporting," it's obscure; the movie's plot is too ambitious and confusing, mixing oil, greed, religion, espionage and capitalism together with poorly developed characters and subplots -- sound like Hollywood?
But for me, it certainly served a purpose: it made me wonder why we don't think of food as a precious resource, like we do oil. The world carries on like it has lots of oil, and those who need it mostly get it. But not so for food. The world produces lots of it, but 800 million people are starving. Why? It's dirt cheap. Farmers practically give it away.
It's frustrating. At the same time I was watching Syriana, conference attendees at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St. Louis were being told that by 2015, another 100 million people will join the ranks of the hungry. The United Nations had set a goal of halving hunger by 2015, but speakers at the conference said that's likely unattainable without new technologies and greater financial investment.
Globally, new technologies are political minefields. Those who watch international developments were either pleased or disgusted recently, when the World Trade Organization ruled that Europe had unlawfully banned new technology crops for the past several years. The ruling didn't go as far as to demand Europe open its doors to genetically engineered commodities -- soybean and corn, among them -- from countries such as Canada and the U.S. who had complained about Europe's position, but it said Europe was wrong.
Fine. So what? Does that mean Europeans will suddenly develop a taste for genetically modified foods? Not likely. But some say it's not Europeans who are anti-genetic modification, it's European farmers. Naturally, they're quite happy if they have less competition, which was the upshod of the ban. There's no question some Europeans hold extreme political views against genetically modified foods -- although in Germany, an anti-genetic modification stronghold, they wavered in the last election -- but they're also moving towards a very price-conscious food system. Competition in the low-priced food sector is fierce, and it's questionable whether consumers who patronize low-price outlets really care whether the cheap food they're buying is conventional or genetically modified. Either by necessity or choice, price is more important to them.
Europe has kept out commodities from some of the major world grain traders, but it's tried to be open to commodities from developing or under developed countries, offering access with no tariffs or restrictions. However, delegates in St. Louis were told how this backfired last year, when east Kenya faced a famine. West Kenya had an excess of corn, but it was shipped to Europe instead, because neither the means nor the money was available to get the corn to those in the east.
The delegates were told developing countries must increase their commitments to ending poverty and hunger. In principle, that's a great directive. However, it's going to be tough for nations to send more development money abroad for food-related initiatives, when farmers at home are going broke. Indeed, there needs to be a balance, and support for international development. But there also needs to be effective domestic policies in place to support a healthy farm economy. You can't feed people abroad and help them develop their own agri-food sector if yours -- or at least highly vocal and visible parts of yours, such as the 1,000 farmers who demonstrated in Guelph recently -- has trouble written all over it.
Food is a precious resource, at home or abroad. Maybe we can't grow food without oil -- or some energy source -- for transportation, processing and manufacturing. But without food, who needs oil? One answer is to grow crops for both food and energy, which is possible in Ontario, like the advocates of biofuels propose. They're on the right track. A movie like Syriana, even though it's all Hollywood, reminds me of how vulnerable we are to Big Oil. Biofuel movement, godspeed.
Owen Roberts teaches agricultural communications at the University of Guelph.
Crops for Cars: Fuels of the Near Future
- Darryl D'Monte Feb 28, 2006 Excerpt... Full story at
It isn't often that venture capitalists (VC) stray into anything connected to the environment. Indeed, their concerns are usually diametrically opposed, since the VC invests in anything that turns in a profit, while hard-core environmentalists look to the needs of people at the bottom of the pyramid rather than the bottom line.
In Khosla's simple arithmetic, with irrigation and other inputs, it was possible to grow 20 tons of crops per acre with each ton of crop yielding 100 gallons of ethanol. Thus 50 million acres would generate as much as 100 billion gallons. Corn was expensive as the choice of crop; it would do only in the short run. He recommended switching over to a tall grass called miscanthus in the US, which would yield a higher profit. Khosla mentioned how President Bush had cited ethanol in his recent State of the Union message.
The second stumbling block cited by some critics of biofuels is whether farmers employ more energy (by way of irrigation, mechanization, fertilizer, and pesticides) in producing these crops than is produced by them. In other words, an energy audit would reveal, perhaps, that there would be more calories expended in growing miscanthus than in the ethanol produced. The economic costs are distorted by the hidden subsidies in growing many crops.
A California-based company called Ceres had developed biofuel crops which are tolerant to increased drought, heat, and salinity, all of which phenomena are to be expected with climate change in future. What is more, the by-product of producing ethanol was animal feed. As is well known, countries like India export a substantial amount of animal feed to industrial countries. According to Khosla, just 6 percent of India's agricultural waste would supply the country's petrol needs if converted to ethanol.
At an average output of 15 tons of biomass per acre, 1 billion acres would replace all the world's oil. The US by itself has an area twice as large and, with increasing productivity (and presumably the use of genetically modified crops), the yield would increase, requiring less acreage.
Australia: New Top Scientist Favours GM Food
- Samantha Maiden, The Australian, Feb. 28, 2006 http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/
Australia's new chief scientist is an award-winning molecular plant science expert who preaches the benefits of genetically modified foods. After a nine-month search to fill the vacant post, CSIRO scientist Jim Peacock, 68, will take on the role of the nation's top adviser on science.
Former chief scientist Robin Batterham resigned in May after a storm of controversy over his part-time role and claims of a conflict of interest with his private-sector employment as chief technologist at mining giant Rio Tinto. Dr Peacock is almost certain to take on the job full-time after previously criticising Dr Batterham's part-time role.
Described as one of the CSIRO's "living treasures", Dr Peacock led one of the organisation's most successful sections, the plant industry division, for 25 years. He has scotched arguments that GM crops could become eco-vandals by rejecting claims genes could "jump the fence" and infect neighbouring crops with GM-modified genes.
One of his passions is the secrets behind the genes that control when a plant flowers - the key to developing GM crops. The agri-scientist warned last year that state government bans on the planting of GM canola crops were costing the economy hundreds of millions of dollars worth of exports.
"We can change our foods so our most common staple foods will help guard against the onset of these diseases and will make a significant contribution to reducing the enormous expenditure on therapeutic medicine," he told the National Press Club at the time "Diabetes is the epidemic of the 21st century. If the important starch component of these cereals had a low glycemic index, we would be a long way to reducing the incidence and severity of diabetes."
In 2004, Mr Peacock also slammed the Howard Government's attempts to back money-spinning science at the expense of basic, "public good" research. "If you attempt to lay unique emphasis on innovation in industry without taking care of the discovery process, it's a short-term view," he warned.
Also see http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2006/s1581186.htm
"Dr Peacock acknowledges the community concerns about GM crops, but he believes if Australians understand the technology better, they'll also realise its benefits.
JIM PEACOCK: I think the integration of these technologies into our agribusiness will be essential for the future."
Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference: Unlocking the Potential of Agricultural Biotechnology
- August 6 – 9, 2006, Melbourne, Australia http://www.abic2006.org
The Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) is the major global conference for agricultural biotechnology. First held in 1996 in Canada by the ABIC Foundation, Melbourne Australia will host the first conference to be staged in the Southern Hemisphere.
ABIC 2006 will bring together leading international researchers in the AgBio sector with industry partners and investors. The theme for ABIC 2006 will be 'unlocking the potential of agricultural biotechnology', and appropriately, the focus will be on both the innovation and the commercialisation, two processes that must go hand in hand. In other words, how do we take smart ideas from the laboratory bench to the market place where it will have maximum benefit for society?
Without a doubt, two of the most important challenges in the AgBio sector are:
(i) The public perception of what "biotechnology" means; and
(ii) The lack of effective commercialisation of innovative technologies.
ABIC 2006 will address these two challenges......
Short term duration (6 months max) and for specialized training at the postgraduate level. Priority for those from underdeveloped countries who seek to undertake advanced research.
Deadline for Submissions of Applications: April 30, 2006
Fields of Study for Fellowships 2006-2007 include: Capacity-building in the basic and engineering sciences, the formulation of science policies and the promotion of a culture of maintenance; Promoting the application of science, engineering and appropriate technologies for sustainable development, natural resource use and management, disaster preparedness and alleviation, and renewable sources of energy; ethics of science and technology, with emphasis on bioethics; Promoting communication development; Advancing the use of ICTs for education, science and culture Plus more....
India - Knowledge Millennium Summit: Biotechnology and Nanotechnology
March 26-28, New Delhi, India http://www.assocham.org/nanobio
.... Building Bridges between Science and Technology
At the culmination of the 3rd Knowledge Millennium summit, the Indian Biotech industry was on the arrival mode. With revenues now soaring up to INR 32.65 billion in the year 2003-04, a threshold has now been crossed. India is now fast developing as one of the top clusters for biotechnology including biopharmaceutical products, bioindustrial products and bioservices.
India is currently positioned 8th in the global biotechnology industry. In the Asia-pacific region, India is ranked at second, right after Australia, and followed by China and Taiwan. This growth is based on several factors that could be attributed to a rapidly expanding biotechnology community, internationally renowned academia, highly productive and qualified manpower, state-of-art research labs, strong pharmaceutical sector, rich biodiversity and demography.
India Bt Cotton Documentary Now Available
ISAAA and the South Asia Biosafety Program (SABP) have released "The Story of Bt Cotton in India". This 20-minute documentary captures the history of India's first commercial approval of a genetically modified crop.
It focuses on the roles of various stakeholders in bringing Bt cotton to farmers' fields and recounts the experiences of farmers, including an objective treatment of some of the challenges and opportunities that have arisen with the deployment of Bt cotton. In addition to English and Hindi, the video is available in six other regional languages: Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada.
For copies, please contact Bhagirath Choudhary of the ISAAA South Asia office at b.choudhary(at)isaaa.org or Purvi Mehta-Bhatt of SABP at P_Mehta_Bhatt(at)rediffmail.com
Experts: Expanding Biotechnology Research in Developing Countries Key to Countering Bioterrorism
- University of Toronto Joint Center for Bioethics; February 26, 2006; Via Agnet
Experts at the Canadian Program on Genomics and Global Health warn that global efforts to combat bioterrorism are on a potential collision course with legitimate biotechnology pursuits that hold the promise of improving life for millions of the world's poorest people.
In a report released Feb. 27, DNA for Peace: Reconciling Biodevelopment and Biosecurity, the CPGGH, part of the University of Toronto's Joint Centre for Bioethics (JCB), calls for a global network of scientists to both promote biotechnology research to fight disease, hunger and poverty, especially in the developing w orld, and to keep vigil against the misuse of biological science.
The report, online at http://www.utoronto.ca/jcb/home/news_bioterrorism.htm, calls on world leaders at the G8 meeting in July 2006 to establish a global network to help resolve potential conflicts between bioterrorism control and biotechnology development.
"The need to foster bioscience for development, and the pursuit of biosecurity are in a delicate balance," says study co-author Peter A. Singer, MD. "Our report says: lead with biodevelopment, and biosecurity will follow. Lead with biosecurity, and we may end up with neither. It recommends industrialized countries invest in scientific facilities and personnel abroad, to gain legitimacy to also ensure that those facilities, and bioscience facilities more generally, take appropriate precautions against sciensce misuse.
The CPGGH report says investing in and fostering biotechnology development internationally – building the capacity to discover new vaccines or drugs to combat HIV-AIDS and malaria, for example, to reduce pollution or improve crop yields – will create the environment and conditions within which to fight bioterrorism, especially in the developing world, by building the network of experts needed to spot attempts to misuse the science. According to Dr. Singer, the proposed international network strategy is akisn to asking public transit riders or airport travelers to be alert to and report suspicious activities.
Development Perspectives on Biotechnology, Trade and Sustainability
- Edited by Ricardo Melendez-Ortiz and Vicente Sanchez, £22.95 ISBN 184407028X; October 2005
224 pages http://shop.earthscan.co.uk
* A unique collection of leading-edge development perspectives on biotechnology, biosafety, sustainable development and trade * Bridges the gaps between stakeholders in the South and the North, and between regulatory activities and academic research
Sustaining the new bioeconomy requires a global biotechnology governance regime to bring a large number of developing countries into the global trading system. Failure to do so will create a ‘genetic divide’ among countries and is likely to intensify public opposition to biotechnology. This unique interdisciplinary collection of perspectives from the developing world on the debates over the relationships between biotechnology, biosafety, sustainable development and trade seeks to bridge the gap between the different areas of regulatory activities and academic research, and between the various stakeholders in the debate.
Leading experts, writing for the influential International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, examine: the risks and opportunities of biotechnology; biosafety; intellectual property rights and related issues of access to genetic resources, benefit-sharing and traditional knowledge; biotechnological development; capacity building; the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety; relevant WTO provisions; and developing countries’ options in the WTO context.
Contents: Part I: Constraints and Opportunities for Developing Countries in Biotechnology and Trade • Developing Countries' Participation in the New Bioeconomy • From Biotech Innovation to the Market • Biotechnology: A Turning Point in Development or a Missed Opportunity? • Agricultural Biotechnology • Biotechnology Impacts on Industry Competitiveness in Developing Countries • Case Study: Meeting Colombia's Agricultural Needs through Biotechnology • Part II: Regulatory Framework for Biotechnology, Biosafety and Trade • Intellectual Property Protection • Closing in on Biopiracy • The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety • Building Sound Governance Structures for the Safe Application of Biotechnology • Mapping the Connections of the SPS and TBT Agreements to Trade in Biotechnology • Addressing Developing Countries' Concerns Related to the WTO • Looking Forward •
The Manifesto Club
As the twenty-first century unfolds, humanity appears to be experiencing a profound crisis of nerve. Despite the significant achievements of the past two centuries, Western societies are gripped by a powerful mood of cultural pessimism, suspicion towards science and technology, and a disturbing sense of misanthropy. Across the world there are new forms of prejudice and irrationalism; a growing attachment to identity politics and victim culture; and the loss of belief in progress and fear for the future.
The Manifesto Club invites all those who are concerned about these retrograde developments to collaborate in formulating a positive alternative. We seek to reclaim the questioning and creative spirit of the Enlightenment, particularly the idea that human beings can make their own history.
The Manifesto Club is being initiated by Frank Furedi, Josie Appleton, Brendan O’Neill, Bill Durodie, Dolan Cummings, James Panton, Munira Mirza and Sandy Starr. Our objective over the next few months is to gain agreement on a series of basic humanist principles, and to draw up a manifesto for our times. Debates will occur online and at evening events, culminating in a conference in central London on 6 May 2006.
As a starting point, we offer the following principles:
1. We are committed to the pursuit of freedom, free speech and genuine tolerance.
2. We support experimentation in all its forms - scientific, social and personal.
3. We support the development of the human potential and individual self-determination.
4. We uphold a human-centred perspective, which recognises the ability of people to confront the challenges they face through reason and subjectivity.
5. We uphold a universalist orientation to the problems facing the world.
6. We seek to reclaim the Enlightenment and the legacy of the Enlightenment.
There is a Manifesto Club online discussion forum to debate the content of these points. If you are interested in becoming involved, contact the convenor of the Manifesto Club, Josie Appleton at info(at)manifestoclub.com.
Human beings work best when they understand that their lives have meaning, and that they possess the capacity to change and improve their world. Everything that is distinctly human has come about through learning from experience and expanding our power to reason. Through the wonderful adventure of making ourselves we have learned to treasure the freedom to ask difficult questions, and the courage to face down uncertainty and danger. Questioning, experimenting and taking risks are some of the principal qualities that have served to expand our humanity. Daring to know and daring to be free have never been easy. And the temptation to conform has always distracted people from engaging creatively with the challenges they faced.
Today there are powerful forces at work that are estranging us from our humanity. Western society feels uncomfortable with the legacy of human achievement and seeks to distance itself from the values associated with the Enlightenment. Science, rationality, progress, the aspiration for human control and the ideal of individual freedom and autonomy find little affirmation in society. The problems facing the world are constantly presented as being beyond human solutions. Every problem is interpreted through the prism of the worst possible scenario. Viral mutation, biological terrorism and global warming are just some of the dangers that are meant to call into question the capacity of the human species to survive.
Western culture has adopted a pessimistic and negative interpretation of the human. Apparently, at home we abuse each other; in schools an epidemic of bullying plagues children's lives; in communities racism, sexism and homophobia prevail. Human beings are also accused of destroying the animals and plants that inhabit our environment and polluting the world. Such pessimistic accounts of human beings now dominate popular culture and the media. They also inform public policy, the education system and political debate.
Given this view of humanity, is it any surprise that the principle of freedom finds so few supporters today? A culture that equates human action with destructive behaviour is unlikely to celebrate the freedom to pursue human ends. Indeed, many seem to fear unregulated action or speech. We are often discouraged from saying what we feel in case our views offend another.
These are difficult times for anyone who values artistic and scientific experimentation or standards of excellence in culture and education. The prevailing mood of misanthropy also diminishes people's capacity to work alongside one another to transform their circumstances and change their world for the better. Anyone possessing a genuine democratic spirit is likely to be disturbed by contemporary intolerance towards views that dissent from the norm.
In previous times humanism successfully overcame the destructive influence of medieval superstition and prejudice. Today we are confronted with misanthropic cultural forces that will no less test our moral and intellectual resources. The aim of this manifesto is to invite all concerned people to face this challenge. Our first step is to initiate a debate to develop the ideas that can help people challenge the culture of misanthropy. This is an open-ended initiative. At the very least it can draw many of us together to clarify our views and develop our understanding. But we would like to go much further. We seek to encourage greater cultural validation for the spirit of the Enlightenment, and a more future-oriented public culture. We believe that this is an exciting cause worth fighting for.
We Support Experimentation In All Its Forms - Scientific, Social and Personal
Imagine a world without the benefits of science, technology and medicine - from aspirin and blood transfusions to electricity and farming, from space exploration and the telephone to wheels and X-rays. Imagine a world where the founders of the American Constitution stuck to what they knew rather than debated the possibility of a future fit for free citizens. Imagine a world without art or architecture, literature or music.
All of these things derive from the spirit to explore and experiment. It is by testing out our ideas, and making calculated leaps into the unknown, that we can learn more about the way the world works and develop our capabilities.
Today experimentation is seen as dangerous. Contemporary culture warns against trying anything new: 'Better safe than sorry' is the motto of the day. Society fears the unknown and prefers the surety of tried and tested methods. We are discouraged from making experimental leaps, whether in science, politics or in our personal lives.
Science is increasingly governed by the precautionary principle, which rules that you should avoid doing anything if its safety cannot be guaranteed. Since experimentation of necessity involves uncertainty, it is cast beyond the pale. Scientists face a battery of regulation addressing the risky and ethical consequences of their experiments - and as a result, they often spend more time filling in forms than doing science.
Politics is organised around the principle of security, with the whole purpose of government reoriented towards making us safe. Politicians stick to the dull terrain of political consensus: big questions are deemed off limits, and it is rare for new approaches to be debated or tested. It is argued that dramatically new approaches would 'scare voters' or be 'politically unacceptable'.
From science to social projects to personal choice, real experimentation is regulated and curtailed. The need that all individuals and institutions have for a private space within which to explore the parameters of the possible - and to attempt the apparently impossible - is being shut down under a growing obsession with transparency and safety. But far from making the world a less risky place, our reluctance to inquire and innovate actually leaves us exposed. It was 'risky' leaps such as heart surgery and vaccination that allowed us to live better and more secure lives.
Uncertainty remains a fact of life. Humanity can either rise to the challenges this offers or succumb to a growing sense of fear and desire for conformity. The latter would mean putting our head under the covers and hoping that it all works out. Only the former offers us the tantalising possibility of driving beyond the confines of our individual lives.