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March 6, 2006


Movers and Shakers in Biotech; Humans Need GMO; Irish Famine-Proof Potatoes; Environmental Wackoes At It Again; Green God


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - March 6, 2006

* Do Humans Need GMOs? -- A View from a Global Trade Market
* Why Would the Irish Protest Famine-Proof Potatoes?
* Who's Who in Biotech - Nature Selcts Movers and Shakers..
* Potrykus and Beyer - Who's Who in Ag Biotechnology
* Trade Related Intl. Regulations of GM Food - Effects on Dev Countries
* EU Approves New Type of GM Maize
* Getting Facts on Altered Crops
* Environmental Wackoes At It Again
* In Thrall to the Green God
* Grants - International Foundation for Science
* 'Nature' Who's Who in Biotech - short list of nominees


Do Humans Need GMOs? -- A View from a Global Trade Market

- Chi-Chung Chen and Wei-Chun Tseng (National Chung-Hsing University, Taichung, Taiwan) Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, Vol. 8 (1), 147 (Via Vivian Moses) http://www.jaabc.com/

Excerpt below.... Full document (sans tables and figures) posted at http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/articles/biotech-art/need-GMOs.html

As the population of the world continues to increase, it will be accompanied by an increase in the demand for food. Since the total acreage planted is no longer increasing, unless new production technology is adopted, such an increase in demand that is unmatched by an increase in supply in the world food market will raise food prices and lead to food shortages, especially in underdeveloped countries.

In this study, a spatial equilibrium (SE) model is applied to create a world trade model. The products simulated in this study are corn and soybeans since they are the major food grains and also the most widely adopted GMO products in the world. The empirical results reveal evidence of the adoption of GMO production technology increase the quantity traded and lessen the upward pressure on food prices, although it is the major trading countries that obtain most of the benefit.

Malthus predicted that the population would grow at a faster rate than the food supply. His prediction, however, did not prove true. Thanks to the green revolution in agriculture, the production of food per capita on average rose by nearly 0.5 percent per year from 1961 to 1999 and this caused the real prices of agricultural food ingredients to fall by nearly 2 percent per year over that same period.

However, recent statistics show that the acreage planted on a global basis is no longer increasing due to development and climate change. If no new production technologies are developed and adopted, the food supply curve will no longer shift. Furthermore, as the world’s population continues to grow, this will cause the demand for food to increase. Such an increase in demand that is not matched by a corresponding increase in supply in the market for food will lead to an increase in world food prices.
Concluding Remarks

In response to the question: "Do humans need GMOs?", the results of our simulation indicate that they do.

The adoption of GMO production technology in relation to corn and soybeans could increase the quantity traded and reduce the upward pressure on food prices, although the major trading countries would stand to benefit the most from adopting a GMO production technology.

There are some limitations to this research. The first is to assume that all exporting countries fully adopt (i.e. adopt 100%) the GMO production technology, while the importing countries do not adopt such technology. If the importing countries were also to adopt the GMO production technology, the scale of the impact would be larger than that suggested by the above simulation results.

The second restriction relates to the percentage change in the crop yield or the crop production cost when the GMO production technology is adopted. A 3.2% increase in the corn yield and a $3.2 per hectare reduction in the production cost of soybeans may underestimate what would happen in the future if the GMO production technology were to be promoted. Therefore, the above simulation results are underestimated.

Finally, the external effects of adopting GMOs are not considered in this study. This will surely become a very important GMO-related research topic in the near future.


Why Would the Irish Protest Famine-Proof Potatoes?

- Dennis T. Avery, AgBioView, March 6, 2006. www.agbioworld.org

In Ireland where the 1840's potato famine killed a million people and made millions more homeless why are hundreds of Irish men and women protesting against the new genetically engineered blight-proof potato?

Can the modern Irish have forgotten the biggest disaster in their history? A million Irish men, women and children starved because the late blight disease suddenly destroyed the vital potato crop. Millions more Irish lost their homes and farms and wandered the roads, subsisting on tree bark, weeds and whatever else they could find. One million Irish emigrants boarded what became known as "coffin ship," sailing ships too often infested with typhus and cholera, fleeing Ireland for the hope of better lives in the U.S. and Canada.

Even today, Ireland is dotted with "famine cottages"-- little two-room stone houses, whose thatched roofs have long since rotted away. Their walls still stand, however, as grim reminders of one of history's biggest crop disease disasters.

Ever since 1845, plant breeders have been urgently seeking blight-resistant potatoes. Potatoes produce more food value per acre than any other crop, and they are rich sources of vitamin C and other micronutrients. Countries such as China, Bangladesh and Rwanda in the Central African highlands have become more and more dependent on potatoes to feed their increasingly dense populations.

But the late blight has continued to worsen. Chemical sprays have been less and less successful as the blight acquired resistance, and a virulent new strain of the blight appeared in 1994. American potato growers have recently had to spray their potato crops as many as 12 times per season. In warmer climates like Mexico, up to 25 sprays have been needed. Organic farmers have had to use heavy applications of toxic copper sulfate, preventively.

For the past 50 years, a genetic solution has been in hand—but unusable. A gene for late blight resistance had been found by plant explorers in a wild Mexican potato relative, Solanum bulbocastanum, which apparently evolved along with the late blight microorganism. Unfortunately, plant breeders could never cross-breed the wild potato relative's blight resistance into a domestic potato.

In the past decade, researchers finally seized the problem by the scruff of its DNA and inserted the resistance gene directly into domestic potato using biotechnology. The University of Wisconsin, the University of California/Davis and Wageningen University in the Netherlands have all released blight-resistant varieties. "So far, the plants have been resistant to everything we have thrown at them, says Dr. John Hellgeson who led the Wisconsin research team.

The Irish protestors say biotech potatoes would ruin their export market for potatoes--but Ireland is not a major potato exporter. The protestors say the blight-proof potatoes would put Irish farmers at the mercy of big corporations. However, blight-resistance patents are held by public universities. Chemical corporations make the pesticides, such as metalaxyl and copper sulfate, on which potato growers currently depend. With resistance built-into the potato, they'd be less dependent on chemical solutions.

Totally missing from the Irish potato protests is any empathy for the millions of their ancestors who died or fled because of the late blight; Or compassion for the farmers currently trying to grow potatoes in the face of virulent new late blight spores; Or sympathy for the million Rwandans who hacked each other to death in 1994 primarily for fear the country's limited farmland and dependence on blight-susceptible potatoes would lead to famine.

For a hundred years the Irish condemned the English overseers for exporting Irish grain while the Irish starved--now, in a grim irony, the Irish are trying to prevent a famine solution for themselves and billions of poor people around the world.

At the next Irish potato protest, however, somebody should park a sound truck playing the haunting Irish folk songs recalling the desperate wanderings and continuing torments of the Irish potato famine's millions of victims.
Dennis T. Avery is a senior fellow for Hudson Institute in Washington, DC and the Director for Global Food Issues (www.cgfi.org). He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. Readers may write him at Post Office Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421.


Who's Who in Biotech

- Nature Biotechnology, Published online March 6, 2006.

'Nature Biotechnology's readers select some of biotech's most remarkable and influential personalities from the past 10 years.'

Category 1: Society and ethics - Bill and Melinda Gates
Category 2: Policy and regulations - Rita Colwell
Category 3: Biopharmaceuticals - James Shapiro and Ray Rajotte
Category 4: Agricultural, environmental and industrial biotechnology - Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer
Category 5:Technology- Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell
Category 6: US biobusiness - Arthur Levinson
Category 7: European biobusiness - Dan Vassella
Category 8: Biobusiness in the rest of the world - Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

As part of its 10th anniversary celebration, Nature Biotechnology has gathered here a gallery of portraits of the most notable personalities in biotech in the past 10 years. Rather than focusing on personalities that have commonly featured in the mainstream press, our intention was to identify thought leaders and technology pioneers known within the industry to have made significant contributions to the science and business of biotech. To accomplish this task, we turned to those who know best: our readers.

During the month of January, Nature Biotechnology's e-mail registrant list and website visitors were asked to vote for the people they viewed as most influential in eight categories of biotech. These categories were: society and ethics; policy and regulations; biopharmaceuticals; agricultural, environmental and industrial biotech; technology; US biobusiness; European biobusiness; and biobusiness in the rest of the world. The poll, posted online from January 12 to 31, 2006, included 291 nominees, shortlisted by the editors of Nature Biotechnology (Box 1) (From CSP - see a select list of this at the bottom of today's AgBioView). In some cases, multiple individuals were grouped for a particular scientific contribution or business activity. Readers also had the opportunity to suggest additional nominees for inclusion in the poll.

During the month of January, Nature Biotechnology's e-mail registrant list and website visitors were asked to vote for the people they viewed as most influential in eight categories of biotech.

We hope that in the next 10 years, the individuals highlighted here will inspire many of our readers to follow in their footsteps. The diversity of personalities listed reflects what is unique about this industry: the mix of individuals across a wide range of expertise, and the importance of the interface between business and science. Indeed, biotech is a sector where it is not unusual for venture capitalist to discuss business models with a Nobel laureate over coffee.

Bill and Melinda Gates

- Jim Ruymen

"The world is failing billions of people. Rich governments are not fighting some of the world's most deadly diseases because rich countries don't have them. - Bill Gates"

Bill Gates is the kind of person who, when attending the World Economic Forum, will pass up a dinner with foreign dignitaries to sit down with a bunch of scientists. Although he sometimes contends that science research is only a hobby, the founder of Microsoft (Seattle, WA) is fascinated with biotech. And he has decided to spend some of the wealth he accumulated through his company to finance research for neglected diseases—an initiative that has inspired biotech companies to latch on to some of those development projects.

Since the creation of their eponymous foundation in 1995, Bill and his wife, Melinda, have strived to cure the maladies plaguing developing countries. But they realized their calling at different moments. For Melinda, it was during a vacation to Zaire, where she was struck by the extreme poverty of the women she met. For Bill, it was reading that millions of children die every year from preventable diseases.

"When we started to look at where the largest inequities are, global health really stood out, because by every measure, if you can improve people's lives through health, you improve all measures of society," Melinda told Time magazine in November 2005.

The couple used their knowledge and compassion to endow their foundation with $29 billion. The Gateses specifically intended that the types of drug developed by the foundation would not be the typical blockbuster produced by the pharmaceutical industry. Large disease markets like obesity and heart disease don't particularly interest them. "The world is failing billions of people," Bill said in a speech to the World Health Assembly in Geneva in 2005. "Rich governments are not fighting some of the world's most deadly diseases because rich countries don't have them."

For this reason, their money targets neglected diseases such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis. In fact, the Gateses will only sponsor research for diseases that meet three criteria: widespread, neglected and representative of the public health disparities between developed and developing countries. Over the past decade, their Seattle-based foundation has given more than $6 billion in public health grants. So far, research programs for new vaccines, clinical drug studies and programs that try to prevent the spread of infectious diseases have benefited from the Gates' monies.

The couple often delves into the science behind projects and they personally approve every grant over a million dollars. Bill also taught himself some basic biology by talking with researchers and devouring books on science. Some of his light reading includes AIDS in the Twenty-First Century by Tony Barnett, and Molecular Biology of the Gene by James Watson.

Although Bill and Melinda are trying to tackle some of the world's most intractable public health issues, they take a business approach to their philanthropy. They know that third-world afflictions aren't the most attractive arenas for biotech. They also know that companies aren't exactly eager to roll out medicines for people who can't afford to buy them. So their idea is to use funding dollars to create leverage. Their money helps mitigate risk so that governments or biotech and pharmaceutical companies will take over development of drugs at later stages (Nat. Biotechnol. 21, 1254, 2003).

"[The Gates Foundation] has energized research into global health, made that work a credible career choice and attracted politicians to the cause," wrote former president Jimmy Carter in a profile of Bill Gates in the Smithsonian. "Perhaps most important, the confidence Bill has brought to the field has stimulated much more funding."

Honorable mentions:
Michael Fernandez. Executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, which has sought to stimulate and showcase diverse viewpoints on the application of agbiotech.


Who's Who in Agricultural, Environmental and Industrial Biotechnology

- Kendall Powell, Nature Biotechnology, March 2006. www.nature.com/nbt (Reproduced in AgBioView with the permission of the editor)

'The coinventors of Golden Rice and founders of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Projects have been nominated for their contributions to agricultural, environmental or industrial biotech research and development.

Ingo Potrykus, Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, Basel and Peter Beyer, University of Freiburg, Germany. Coinventors of Golden Rice and founders of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Project.

Honorable mentions: Asis Datta. Pioneered the technique for nutritional enhancement of cereal crops using genes isolated from amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus). His work led to India's first field trial of a GM crop potato; Frances Arnold. For application of directed evolution to proteins for use in industry.

Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer met on a trans-Atlantic flight as they both headed to New York in the early 1990s for a rice biotech brainstorming meeting of the Rockefeller Foundation. The meeting would discuss the possibility of genetically engineering rice to include beta-carotene, or pro-vitamin A, to target malnutrition in developing countries.

A doctoral student working with Potrykus on rice genetics introduced them after he had sought out Beyer as an advisor on the beta-carotene biosynthetic pathway. Beyer's and Potrykus' matching expertise turned into a decade-long collaboration--resulting in the creation of Golden Rice in 1999 and the first genetically engineered product created specifically for humanitarian purposes.

"If, as a basic scientist, you find out that you could make a contribution to the real world, that you have some tools in hand that might make a change, you go for it," Beyer recalls thinking after the meeting. Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) results in about 6,000 deaths per day worldwide and 500,000 cases of blindness per year. It predominantly affects young children in poor areas of Asia with rice-based diets.

In 1999, the duo finished the first proof-of-concept Golden Rice strain (Science 287, 301–305, 2000). The spotlight on Golden Rice as a cure for VAD made it both the champion genetically modified (GM) product and the chief target of anti-GM critics. The media attention and the nearly universal adoption of precautionary European agricultural biotech regulations made the trip from bench to field much tougher than either Potrykus or Beyer anticipated.

The invention also signaled a move into a product development phase—a phase not supported by traditional public research funding. "We would have quickly run into a dead end road if we had not been able to create an alliance with the private sector," notes Potrykus. The team brokered a unique agreement with Zeneca (now Basel-based Syngenta) in 2000. The company would shepherd the development of a second generation Golden Rice containing higher levels of beta-carotene as well as provide know-how on advancing through regulatory hurdles.

The key to the agreement, Potrykus says, was drawing the line between the company's commercial interests and the humanitarian efforts--farmers with an annual income of $10,000 or less would be given the seed for free.

With Syngenta's help, a new strain, dubbed Golden Rice 2, was created that could provide the daily recommended allowance of vitamin A with a 70-gram portion of rice (Nat. Biotechnol. 23, 482–487, 2005). Potrykus and Beyer also oversaw the first field trial in Louisiana in 2004 to show that Golden Rice grows like conventional rice.

Although that was a major milestone, Beyer and Potrykus both express frustration that Golden Rice seeds are not already in farmers' hands. Both say current regulation is unreasonably cautious and not scientifically based. Potrykus' view goes even further and he notes that even if the deregulation process goes smoothly, Golden Rice won't reach the fields until 2010, representing a six-year delay of the technology.

"By an extremely conservative calculation, this delay is responsible for 67,500 deaths. If our society does not change GM [organism] regulation, then our society is responsible for crimes against humanity," Potrykus argues. But Potrykus remains both optimistic and obstinate--two qualities he says carried him through the past 16 years of the project.

In five years, Potrykus expects the first Golden bananas, Golden sorghum and Golden cassava to be produced. Genetically engineered crop varieties to address drought, poor soil, pests and other nutritional deficits are in laboratory pipelines all over the world. In 2005, Beyer headed up a consortium funded by $11.2 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop rice that, in addition to high beta-carotene, also includes vitamin E, zinc and iron. These products will take the dedication and ingenuity of researchers like Beyer and Potrykus. But, the duo points out, these products will also need changes in the regulation of GM organisms to become realities.

"All technology needs development," says Beyer. "The first airplane didn't go very far. All we are asking is for the same right to develop the technology."
Honorable mentions:
Asis Datta. Pioneered the technique for nutritional enhancement of cereal crops using genes isolated from amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus). His work led to India's first field trial of a GM crop potato.

When AgBioWorld congratulated Ingo Potrykus for this recognition, he replied "To win by the votes of your colleagues is the greatest honor to my mind."


An Analysis of Trade Related International Regulations of GM Food and their Effects on Developing Countries

- Guillaume P. Gruere, Intl Food Policy Res Inst, Feb. 2006

This paper reviews current trade-related regulations of genetically modified (GM) food and discusses their effects on developing countries. There is a large heterogeneity in current import approval and marketing policies of GM food worldwide. At the international level, the harmonization efforts are led by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the World Trade Organization.

While internationally harmonized guidelines for safety approval have been finalized, we show that there is no clear consensus on labeling regulations for GM food, and there is an increasing risk of conflicts among international agreements. We analyze the GM food regulations of two large rich importers, Japan and the European Union (EU) and discuss their differences and their potential impact on international trade.

We also show that the effects of international and domestic trade related regulations critically depend on the type of traded products and their intended use: food and unprocessed products are subject to more stringent regulations than animal feed and processed products.

Finally, we identify the main spillover effects of national and international regulations on developing countries' policy making, and suggest four policy arrangements on GM food to enable developing countries to satisfy production, consumption, international trade, and risk management objectives simultaneously while complying with their international obligations.

Download Full Discussion Paper at http://www.ifpri.org/divs/eptd/dp/eptdp147.asp


EU Approves New Type of Genetically Modified Maize

- Reuters, March 6, 2006

BRUSSELS - The European Commission on Friday authorised the marketing of a new type of genetically modified (GMO) maize, known as pioneer line 1507, despite a deadlock among EU member states.

"The authorisation means that this maize type will now be allowed to be marketed in the EU as food, food ingredients or derived products, such as oil and starch," Commission spokesman for health and consumer protection Philip Tod told a briefing. "In line with EU labelling and traceability rules, any product containing it will have to clearly indicate its genetically modified nature," he said.

The executive Commission was forced to make the decision after European Union member states failed to reach agreement on the issue in December. The maize is jointly made by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a subsidiary of DuPont Co, and Dow AgroSciences unit Mycogen Seeds. The 1507 maize is modified to resist certain insects and herbicides and would not be for cultivation, although Pioneer/Mycogen have also requested this use under a separate application still pending in the EU authorisation process.

In March 2005, the European Food Safety Authority said it was safe to grow the maize, while in November it was given the green light to be used in animal feed. GMOs have become a thorny issue for the EU with the World Trade Organization ruling last month that the 25-member bloc and specifically six member states had broken trade rules by barring entry to genetically modified crops and foods.

The countries named in the report were France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg and Greece.
Countries bristled at the ruling that touches on national sovereignty with some saying they would do their level best to keep farming GMO-free. European environment ministers will hold a public hearing on the subject when they meet in Brussels on Thursday next week. Top of the agenda will be the way in which the EU's 25 countries make decisions on GMOs. Ministers currently must decide by qualified majority. However, next week's hearing will discuss the possibility of reaching a decision by simple majority.


Getting Facts on Altered Crops

- Sacramento Bee, March 5, 200, http://www.sacbee.com

Re last Sunday's letters on genetically modified crops:

Consumers should base their opinions and decisions on facts, not perceived risks or rhetoric.

The University of California provides science-based information on biotech at www.ucbiotech.org, and the European Union launched http://www.gmo-compass.orgto provide independent, science-based information on biotech foods.

I used the UC biotech site to provide the following comments on some specific points raised in reader letters:

* Monarch butterflies: "The EPA concluded that there is a very low probability of risk to monarch butterflies at 12 feet beyond the edge of a BT corn field."

The oft-cited studies force the butterflies to eat milkweed coated with far more corn pollen than would occur naturally or deprive the butterflies of milkweed, their principal food source, and forced them to feed on the BT corn.

* Biotechnology crossing DNA that wouldn't occur in nature:

"We share about 40-60 percent of our genes with a tomato ... and about 99 percent with chimpanzees. All these genes are made up of the same four chemical units; they are written in a universal chemical language understood by all living organisms."

To be perfectly clear, biotechnology actually crosses genes, not DNA.

Biotechnology is supported by scientific bodies such as the American Medical Association, American Dietetic Association, World Health Organization; 25 Nobel Prize winners; and more than 3,400 international scientists.

Perhaps the most telling is the adoption of the technology by the end users - the farmers. More than 8 million farmers in 21 countries have adopted biotech crops. Farmers have grown these seed varieties on more than a billion acres in the past 10 years, because the seeds have helped them increase productivity and environmental sustainability.

- Sara E. Miller, director of communications for the Western Plant Health Association, Sacramento


Environmental Wackoes At It Again

- Harry Cline, Western Farm Press March 4, 2006 http://westernfarmpress.com/

The environmental wackoes are at it again. The same old group of warm and fuzzy-sounding organizations have filed suit in federal court in northern California demanding the government rescind its approval of herbicide-resistant alfalfa.

The Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club, the Cornucopia Institute and others of similar ilk want to toss out at least two decades of research and years of field trials. They cite the same old lame and scientifically unfounded allegations of pollen contamination from GMO crops and are even tossing in concerns that herbicide-resistant alfalfa introduced this season will harm alfalfa export markets. The mass media will pick up the press release and you can read all the inflammatory quotes and half truths there - no questions asked.

It is more revealing to find out who these people are trying to protect you and me. One of the best places I have found to get the facts on these environmental whacko groups is the Web site http://ActivistCash.com.

Here is what ActivistCash says about the Center for Food Safety:
The Center for Food Safety (CFS) is a project of the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA). CFS is headed by Andrew Kimbrell, who was mentored by Jeremy Rifkin at the Foundation on Economic Trends. Next to the Unabomber, Rifkin is perhaps America's most notable anti-technologist. CFS's current focus is large-scale agriculture - specifically, food technology. It is a major partner in the "Keep Nature Natural" campaign, which receives funding from the organic food industry. CFS often participates in food scare projects managed by Fenton Communications, a Washington, D.C., public relations firm often used by anti-industry activists.

In 2004, CFS was the single largest financial contributor to a campaign to ban biotech crops in Mendocino County, Calif. The spokesman for CFS is identified as Charles Margulis. ActivistCash.com calls him "essentially a public relations spokesman for Greenpeace's anti-biotech smear campaigns. Margulis waged a PR blitz that tried to show Kellogg's Corn Flakes to be unsafe, without any supporting scientific evidence. Margulis is credited with coining the term "FrankenFood."

More from http://AboutCash.com:
As part of an interview for the public-television special "Harvest of Fear," a PBS reporter asked Margulis about his organization's position regarding biotech foods. "You're not interested in better regulation?" PBS inquired. "You'd like to just eliminate [all genetically improved foods]?" Margulis responded, "That's absolutely correct."

Forbes magazine once described it (Greenpeace) as "a skillfully managed business" with full command of "the tools of direct mail and image manipulation - and tactics that would bring instant condemnation if practiced by a for-profit corporation." But Greenpeace has escaped public censure by hiding behind the mask of its "non-profit" status and its U.S. tax exemption.

With each cry of "wolf," Greenpeace seems to up the ante while ignoring the real-world consequences of its rhetoric. The group has warned that genetic crop engineering would cause new and horrible food allergies (it hasn't), and that biotech corn would endanger monarch butterflies (whose numbers have increased substantially since the introduction of biotech corn). And completely forgotten by the "Frankenfood" protesters is the tremendous potential for biotech foods to solve many of the Third World's famine-related problems. Tanzania's Dr. Michael Mbwille (of the non-profit Food Security Network) said it best. "Greenpeace," he wrote, "prints and circulates these lies faster than the Code Red virus infected the world's computers. If we were to apply Greenpeace's scientifically illiterate standards [for soybeans] universally, there would be nothing left on our tables."

Dr. Patrick Moore, who has spoken to agricultural and consumer groups many times in California, was a co-founder of Greenpeace in the basement of a Unitarian Church in Vancouver. As eco-activists in general found themselves suddenly invited into the meeting-places of business and government, Greenpeace made the decision to take even more extreme positions, rather than being drawn in to collaboration with their former enemies.

Moore left Greenpeace with this turn to extremism, and has emerged as an articulate critic of his former brainchild. He has referred to Greenpeace's "eco-extremism" as "anti-human; antitechnology and anti-science; anti-organization;" and "pro-anarchy; anti-trade anti-free-enterprise; anti-democratic;" and "basically anti-civilization."

Writing in Canada's National Post in October 2001, Patrick Moore offered the following critique: "I had no idea that after I left in 1986 they would evolve into a band of scientific illiterates. Clearly, my former Greenpeace colleagues are either not reading the morning paper or simply don't care about the truth."

Now you know who is filing suit to get the government to rescind approval of herbicide-resistant alfalfa. We only hope they are as successful as they have been in the past stopping progress.


In Thrall to the Green God

- Martin Livermore, BBC News, March 3, 2006 http://news.bbc.co.uk

'Environmentalism has become a religion, writes Martin Livermore in this week's Green Room; humans should take off their hair shirts, and enjoy the lifestyles which progress has created.'

We humans have an uneasy relationship with the natural world. It seems to me that one of the main reasons for this is that we regard ourselves as apart from Nature; as unnatural by definition.

In reality, Homo sapiens is just one more species. Admittedly, a few key evolutionary advantages make us remarkably adaptable and, currently, the ultimate generalist; but it still makes us part of Nature, and our use of human ingenuity is every bit as natural as a spider's web or a swallow's migratory pattern. Nevertheless, our very intelligence sometimes makes us realise how little of the natural world we truly understand, and puts us in awe of the forces of Nature.

In past times, this awe would have been ever-present. In modern cities we may be less aware, but it only takes a hurricane or tsunami to remind us. This feeling of powerlessness before the forces of Nature led to early forms of religion. Although they were replaced in time by the current great world religions, in a strange way we are returning to our earlier beliefs.

Deifying Nature
In the West, with the decline of organised Christianity and the discrediting of Marxism, environmentalism has taken the place of religion for many. In the words of Frank Lloyd Wright "I believe in God, only I spell it Nature". Googling "environmentalism as religion" returns 854,000 hits.

The new orthodoxy teaches that Mankind is guilty of Original Sin by despoiling Eden (the pre-Industrial world). This guilt must be assuaged by repairing the damage and protecting all other forms of life.

For the deepest Greens, the only real solution is the disappearance of our species from the Earth - the ultimate sacrifice - and for many others a much smaller "optimum" population of humans is a desirable goal.

I have to admit that, in this case, the word "natural" doesn't seem appropriate; what other species would want to become less rather than more successful?

Progress made
In fact, all species affect their environment to a greater or lesser degree. Termites build complex homes, beavers construct dams to alter the flow of streams and grazing animals profoundly alter the balance of plant species. People do the same. The difference is that we have a uniquely greater capacity to do so.

But, as this capacity has grown, so has our awareness of the consequences, and our ability to make rational choices between options.

So, in the last half-century, environmental quality in the developed world has improved greatly by almost any measure.

Britons may regret the death of the whale which swam up the Thames recently, but a generation ago it would probably have died in the polluted water well before it got within sight of London. Clean air and clean water are things we would all reckon to be good things. But in most other respects, it is really impossible to say that an effect on the environment is either "good" or "bad".

At the risk of sounding post-modernist, these terms just represent value judgements; why is a dormouse better than a rat? And when we try to manage the environment actively - to do what is "right" - the result isn't always what we expect.

Well-meant but misguided efforts to conserve bison in Yellowstone Park by culling wolves led to an unsupportable population increase followed by collapse. Today, wolves are being encouraged once again.

Actively preventing forest fires (because they are "bad") causes a build up in brushwood. When this inevitably does catch fire, the results are far more destructive than if periodic blazes had been allowed. We may think that hill farming or low-input arable farming are good because they create ecological niches for wildlife and landscapes which are visually pleasing; but they represent profound changes to the "natural" environment.

Organic farming creates as much dislocation to the ecology of a field as does more conventional management.

So, let us get our perspective right. We are as much a part of Nature as any other species, and we need to stop feeling guilty about our impact on the environment.

Not many of us, given the choice, would encourage the wanton destruction of habitats or species, but surely our first priority must be the needs of poorer members of our own species.

That is the law of Nature.

Martin Livermore is an independent consultant, with a background in industry, covering a range of science communication and policy issues.
Do you agree with Mr Livermore? Is environmentalism just a religion? Should people forget about 'saving the world' and concentrate on human problems?

Make your comments and also see Readers' comments at http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread.jspa?threadID=1227&&edition=2&ttl=20060304131130


Research Grants - International Foundation for Science


Applications for IFS Research Grants are welcome from young scientists in developing countries to do research on the sustainable management, use or conservation of biological or water resources. This broad statement covers natural science and social science research on agriculture, soils, animal production, food science, forestry, agroforestry, aquatic resources, natural products, water resources, etc.

Special Call for Team Applications from West and Central Africa
IFS, in collaboration with CORAF/WECARD, calls for applications for Team Research Grants for young scientists in West and Central African countries working in areas of Food Security and Productivity, Crop-livestock integration or Agricultural Policy and Commercialisation. Deadline: 15th June, 2006

Special Call for Research Group Applications from Sub-Saharan Africa
IFS, in collaboration with CODESRIA, calls for applications for research grants from research groups in Sub-Saharan African countries working on the role of under-utilised traditional food crops in African agriculture, or on biotechnology and food in Africa. Research groups should be interdisciplinary and composed of both social scientists and natural scientists. Deadline: 31st May, 2006

Links at http://www.ifs.se


The Nature Biotechnology Who's Who - short list of nominees

We present below the 291 nominees, shortlisted by the editors of Nature Biotechnology, as personalities who have made the most significant contribution to biotech in the past 10 years. See full list at http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060306/full/nbt0306-291a.html
Below are few names associated with Agbiotech and/or that I could recognize ..CSP

Society and ethics
* Ronald Bailey. Science correspondent for Reason magazine, and a keen proponent of the integration of new biotechnologies.
* Arthur Caplan. Perhaps one of the most visible and accessible bioethicists in debates about biotech applications.
* Greg Conko. A commentator on public health and consumer safety issues in biotech.
* Gordon Conway. As president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Conway has been a proponent of public-private partnerships to resolve some of the barriers to developing world farmers gaining access to new technologies.
* Richard Jefferson. Leader of the open-source biology movement that attempts to circumvent problems with traditional patenting.
* Cardinal Renato Martino. A religious leader who has supported the use of agbiotech for hunger and health.
* Henry Miller. Former founding director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology who in his position at the Hoover Institute is a vocal proponent of the free market and opponent of biotech critics and regulatory proliferation.
* Florence Wambugu. CEO of the A Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI), who campaigns for the use of biotech in developing countries.

Policy and regulations
* George W. Bush. His Aug 2001 decision to deny federal funds to research on new embryonic stem cell lines put moral and ethical debates center stage and spurred international competition.
* Dan Glickman. Former US Department of Agriculture secretary who oversaw the implementation of a regulatory framework for genetically modified crops that includes voluntary labeling.
* Willy de Greef. Consultant, former Head of Regulatory and Governmental Affairs at Novartis Seeds, who has sought to fight the implementation of nonscientific regulation in Europe.
* Marc Cantley. Adviser in the Directorate for Life Sciences in the EU's Directorate-General for Science, has long raged against proliferation of nonscientific biotech regulations.

Agricultural, environmental and industrial biotechnology
* Charles Arntzen. Pioneer of transgenic plant vaccines.
* Roger Beachy. Pioneer in creating new virus-resistant crop varieties; now as president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a vocal critic of patent/license stacking.
* Nam-Hai Chua. Responsible for characterization of cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter, which has been used in the vast majority of transgenic plant lines; more recently the developer of alternative selection strategies to antibiotic resistance markers.
* Luis Herrera Estrella. Head of the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity of the Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute, Irapuato, Mexico, who has worked on plants better adapted to growth in acidic or suboptimal soils.
* Richard Flavell. Instrumental in creating agbiotech research center John Innes Institute in Norwich, UK; later to become CSO of Ceres, a California-based plant genomics company.
* Jikun Huang. Director of the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, he is developing genetically modified rice in Chin.
* Pal Maliga and Henry Daniell. Developed the technology for plastid transformation in higher plants.
* Melvin Oliver. USDA scientist who was inventor of so-called 'Terminator' technology making crops sterile to ensure containment and the need to buy new transgenic seeds each season.
* C.S. Prakash. Director of Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University; through (AgBioWorld) has unified international agbiotech community.
* Roger Salquist. As CEO of Calgene of Davis, California, until 1996, oversaw the development of Flavr Savr, the first transgenic tomato product to reach the supermarket with longer shelf life.
* Krishna Ella. Chairman and managing director of Bharat Biotech International. A pioneer who, upon his return from the US in 1995, chose to build a vaccine plant in a barren area 40-km from Hyderabad in India, that eventually became the genome valley of today.
* Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. CEO of biopharmaceutical company Biocon, one of India's most dynamic biotechs.
K.K. Narayanan. Managing director of METAHELIX Life Science Private, Bangalore, homegrown company developing products in the agbiotech sector.