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Date:

May 16, 2006

Subject:

Your Signature Needed; Defying Irish Logic; Vermont Governor Veto; Frankencotton; Maze of Mexican Maize; Myths, Lies and Stupidity

 

Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - May 16, 2006

* Need Your Support - Letter to West Australia Minister of Ag
* Irish Field Trials of GM Potatoes
* Governor Vetoes GE Seed Liability Bill
* Frankencotton, the Shirt: Coming Soon to a Wardrobe Near You
* Cartagena Protocol: Debate Goes On
* Cuba's Organic Bounty?
* Maze of Mexican Maize
* Variability of Toxin Expression in Indian Bt Cotton
* International Symposium on Molecular Farming in Plants
* Kenyan Village Boy Who Conquered the World Through Technology
* Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity
* Borlaug would love to help dehydrated babies. Why don't you?
* Babies Often Die of Diarrhea
---

Need Your Support - Letter to West Australia Minister of Agriculture

- Rick Roush, rtroush.at.ucdavis.edu

Dear All: I am writing to ask for your help in demonstrating to a politician that scientists stand strongly behind widely agreed principles in research conducted to inform public safety and policy.

As you may know, the state government of Western Australia (WA) has funded an anti-GM activist group to conduct a study on the safety of a few commercial GM foods. Nature Biotechnology summarized this situation and its history very well in an editorial "Genetically modified mush" in January 13, 2006 http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v24/n1/full/nbt0106-2.html

In November, WA Minister of Agriculture Kim Chance awarded the funding for the study to the Institute for Health and Environmental Research in Adelaide (http://www.iher.org.au/). Nature Biotechnology wrote "This institute consists of three people with no scientific expertise in long-term feeding studies and a clear agenda against anything remotely connected to a transgene. So much for an independent study".

There is clear evidence that the principal of IHER, Judy Carman, is closely aligned with Greenpeace in anti-GM activities (http://www.greenpeace.org.au/media/press_details.php?site_id=8&news_id=907 ). As recently as April 12 of this year, despite earlier expressions of outrage from scientists over her objectivity, Carman was identified as a Greenpeace spokesperson in another attack on GM carried by Sky TV. see http://www.agbioworld.org/carmen.html

Carman knew very well that she was under criticism for such links, dismissing the concerns in a newspaper report on December 15.

Western Australian scientists wrote to Minister Chance objecting to this study and have been ignored. Several of us wrote a letter to the Western Australian Premier, which I show below. On April 12, WA Minister Chance attacked both the Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the national food regulator, and the authors of the letter.

In Parliament, Chance said "Since the government announced it would fund quite a small animal feeding trial to determine the safety of genetically engineered foods, it has received this huge wave of protests from what amounted to eight or nine American scientists. They sent letters to the Premier and to me. They sent e-mails and a whole chain of information saying what a terrible thing it was that we had appointed an independent person to carry out this work. I thought those eight or nine people were obviously eminent scientists who had an issue, so I did some checking of their backgrounds. Every one of those eight or nine scientists is in the pocket of the GE companies. They are all recipients of grants from Monsanto, Bayer or another such company. Let us acknowledge, first, that no authority does any testing on food safety or GM food, and has never done in the history of Australia."

First off, there were more than 9 signatories, they weren't all American, and aren’t in the pocket of GM companies. Some of us have never had any funding from GM companies, others only a trivial amount. Although it may be particularly galling to be accused of being "in the pocket" by a politician, the larger problem here is that Chance and his government are dismissing the objections raised by us and Nature Biotechnology on the grounds that we are a small minority.

Further, as you read the letter below, we clearly did not object to another independent study. We just wanted the study to be truly independent and undertaken by qualified researchers. We wrote "We are sure that there are far better qualified and unprejudiced scientists in Australia, including in Western Australia, who could carry out this research."

Key farmer groups in Western Australia have been outraged by Chance's claims and are challenging Chance over this decision and his attacks on the scientific community. I am writing to ask you to join in support of the efforts of these farm groups.

If you are willing to add your name to the letter below, please write to me at -rtroush@ucdavis.edu-. I will collect the names and send them to the WA farmers who will make sure that they are brought to Chance’s attention, including in Parliament.

Thanks,

Rick Roush

=======
The Hon Dr Geoff Gallop, BEc MA MPhil DPhil MLA

Dear Dr. Gallop:

We were shocked and disappointed to see media reports that Agriculture Minister Kim Chance will fund a long-term animal feeding trial with the Institute for Health and Environmental Research in Adelaide. We note that Mr. Chance's website confirms your government will fund an "independent" study to gain data on the safety or otherwise of GM food crops.

There is universal support among all major scientific societies around the world for the safety of the regulatory system and all currently registered GM foods. Contrary to the assertions in Mr. Chance's media release, these current food assessments (including those by Food Standards Australia New Zealand) do actively and intensively review the possibility that "when a gene is taken out of one organism and put into another, the protein expressed by that gene may be different."

There is substantial scientific evidence confirming the safety of currently approved biotech crops, and absent new questions, there is little or no basis for further animal studies. Nobody, of course, will object to properly conducted further studies if your government wishes to fund them. Our concern is that Mr. Chance has apparently decided to award funds for this research to a group with a well-known agenda against GM crops, and worse, apparently with no technical expertise, no reputable scientific track record and no facilities suitable for conducting the study!

In his media release, Mr. Chance expressed concern that adverse effects from a novel type of GM pea "had only come to light recently, despite 10 years of research and development." The project has been underway for ten years precisely because GM research is undertaken in great detail and products are not rushed to market. Mr. Chance seems unaware that CSIRO has been conducting other safety tests on this crop for a number of years, including some in the 1990s in collaboration with anti-GM critic Arpad Pusztai; the detrimental effects found were minimal (citation below). The facts remain both that the current review process did find the problems in the GM peas and that no foods with this specific insecticide resistance gene are grown anywhere in the world other than in well-controlled, small-scale experiments.

Most of us became aware of the Institute for Health and Environmental Research (SA) (www.iher.org.au) in 2003, when their leading figure, Dr. Judy Carman, toured around with UK activist Dr Mae-Wan Ho to speak against GM crops and food safety. Ho has a relentlessly anti-science agenda against GM crops (and modern Darwinian theory) (www.i-sis.org.uk).

The Institute for Health and Environmental Research seems to consist of two other people in addition to Carmen, and a website. None of them have scientific records in conducting or analyzing long term feeding studies, certainly no refereed papers in this area (or many in any other area of science), which is the usual measure of scientific quality. Moreover, the bios on the IHER website reveal the clear anti-biotech bias of all three.

We are sure that there are far better qualified and unprejudiced scientists in Australia, including in Western Australia, who could carry out this research. We are therefore alarmed at an apparent lack of adherence to scientific norms in awarding this project to the Institute for Health and Environmental Research. Following reports that Mr. Chance has previously declared that he would not eat GM food, we are deeply disturbed about the objectivity of the agenda being pursued by Mr. Chance.

In sum, Mr. Chance's decision gives us great concern for the respect your government shows for scientific enquiry, peer review, international standards and the processes of competitively awarding research funds. We look forward to hearing from you that proper, internationally upheld standards will be observed in awarding this research competitively to qualified researchers, if the research is to be undertaken at all.


Sincerely,

Prof. Dr. Klaus Ammann, Honorary Professor University of Bern, Director of the Bern Botanic Garden
Professor Bruce M. Chassy, Campus Biotechnology Center, University of Illinois, Urbana
Professor Bruce D. Hammock, Distinguished Professor of Entomology & Cancer Research Center
Dr. Martina Newell-McGloughlin, Director University of California Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education Program, and Co-Director NIH Training Program in Biomolecular Technology
Professor Vivian Moses, CropGen, London
Dr. Alan McHughen, Biotechnology Specialist University of California, Riverside
Dr. Drew L. Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law, University of Oklahoma
Dr. Tom DeGregori , Professor of Economics, University of Houston
Mr. Alex Avery, Director of Research, Center for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute
Dr. Rick Roush, Director of University of California Integrated Pest Management and Sustainable Agriculture Programs
Dr. Henry Miller, MD, Fellow, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University [Founding director of the U.S. FDA's Office of Biotechnology,1989-1993]
Dr. Piero Morandini, Department of Biology, University of Milan
Professor C. S. Prakash, Director, Center for Plant Biotechnology Research, Tuskegee University

------
Reference Cited: Pusztai A, Grant G, Bardocz S, Alonso R, Chrispeels MJ, Schroeder HE, Tabe LM, Higgins TJV. Expression of the insecticidal bean alpha-amylase inhibitor transgene has minimal detrimental effect on the nutritional value of peas fed to rats at 30% of the diet. J Nutr 1999; 129: 1597-603.

**********************************************

Irish Field Trials of GM Potatoes

- Irish Times, Letters to the Editor, May 15, 2006 http://www.ireland.com

Madam, - The Irish Environmental Protection Agency recently gave the German Agrochemical company BASF the go-head to test its blight-resistant potatoes on a one-hectare field in Co Meath. On May 6th, the media reported that Green Party leader Trevor Sargent and others were going to oppose this trial.

As an outsider to your country it strikes me as ironic that people in Ireland, which suffered most from potato blight over the past 200 years, are now opposing tests to improve control of this disease with modern plant-breeding methods.

Scientists depend on field tests in order to decide whether a new crop variety is more appropriate than the older ones, for instance by requiring less fungicide and still giving a good yield.

The attitude of the opponents to GM crops reminds me of the idea behind a wonderful old Guinness advert: "I don't like Guinness because I never tried it".

It is sad that green parties all over Europe have allowed themselves to be dragged into fundamental opposition to genetically modified crops, while these crops are spreading all over the world and more and more farmers are planting them. - Yours, etc, RICHARD BRAUN, Bern, Switzerland.
----

Madam, - The strident opposition of GM Free Ireland and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association to proposed field trials of genetically-modified blight-resistant potatoes (Irish Times, May 6th) defies logic.
Modern farmers use systemic fungicides against blight. These are "organic" compounds (in the original chemical sense of the word), are usually heavy-metal free, and biodegrade in a few weeks. Organic growers also have to spray, as it is the only effective control against blight. Ironically, however, their rules restrict them to traditional (19th-century) copper-based sprays. Copper is a poisonous and persistent heavy metal, with long-term environmental effects, and copper-based sprays are soon to be bannečd completely by the EU.

There is negligible danger of cross-contamination of conventional crops by pollen from GM potatoes since, as every gardener knows, potatoes do not set true seed but are propagated solely by vegetative tubers (literally, cloned chips off the old block).

A blight-resistant potato has been the Holy Grail of plant breeders for the past 150 years. At last, modern biotechnology has the prospect of producing such a potato, which will require no chemical spraying - something that one would expect to be welcomed wholeheartedly by environmentalists, organic growers and consumers. - Yours, etc, CON O'ROURKE, Park Lane, Dublin 4.

**********************************************

Governor Vetoes GE Seed Liability Bill

- Lisa Rathke, Associated Press, May 15, 2006

Vermont governer James Douglas on Monday vetoed a bill that would have made seed manufacturers liable for damages caused by genetically engineered seeds that drift into the fields of farms that do not want to use them.

Douglas said the measure was unnecessary and divisive and would have caused manufacturers to raise prices or restrict the seed sales in Vermont. "It is with regret that I veto this bill," Douglas said. "I greatly respect how passionate the arguments are around the issue of genetically engineered crops and the work of the Legislature in attempting a compromise. However, S.18 fails to find a middle ground between the competing interests, but instead dives into new legal territory that may only promote needless litigation that pits farmer against farmer and neighbor against neighbor."

The applause from the crowd of largely conventional dairy farmers showed how passionate the debate had become. Some farmers and consumers are opposed to the use of seeds that can be scientifically altered to resist pests or disease. Others say the seeds are needed to control pests and keep food affordable.

"What irritated me the most was the organic and conventional farmer were split. We'd always gotten along before," said Bernard Dubois who owns a 1,000-cow farm in Addison. "With the obstacles that we face we certainly don't need to have our feed taken away from us or sold to us at an elevated price," said Bill Rowell, a dairy farmer in Sheldon.

Margaret Laggis, a lobbyist for the biotechnology industry, who opposed the bill, said her clients had not determined if they would change their seed sales if the bill had passed. "All the companies were really looking at the issue of selling in that climate," she said.

Douglas said the discussion about the use of genetically engineered seeds in Vermont would continue. He said he'd asked the agriculture secretary to bring together conventional and organic farmers to try to resolve the issues related to the seeds' use. "I look forward to working with the farming community in continuing this discussion," he said.

**********************************************

Frankencotton, the Shirt: Coming Soon to a Wardrobe Near You

- James Gorman, The New York Times Company, May 16, 2006

Genetically modified foods have caused no end of anxiety and distrust. But not genetically modified shirts. Why?

Readers may imagine the reason is that there is no such thing as a genetically modified shirt, and they would be half right. The shirt genome has yet to be mapped, and the heritability of sleeve length is not widely accepted in either the textile or molecular biology community.

That doesn't mean there are no genes being fiddled with in the making of that oxford cloth button down. Genetically modified cotton, also known as Bt, or transgenic, cotton, is grown all over the world and is present in unknown numbers and styles of garments.

Many consumers want food that is made from genetically modified plants labeled at the very least, so they know what they are getting. And yet, what is more personal? Corn? Or shirts? Well, perhaps corn. But how about underpants? How would the world feel, how do you feel, knowing that at the moment you are reading this you may be wearing transgenic underpants?

Apparently you don't care, or there would have been a great grass-roots, or cotton-roots opposition movement to Bt cotton, which has been modified to include genetic material from a bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt. Maybe it sounds scary, but Bt is generally thought of as a good toxin. It is widely used by organic gardeners as an alternative to stronger pesticides. What Frankencotton does is produce its own Bt toxin, which makes life easier for the farmer, and harder on the pests.

Despite some opposition to genetically modified crops, even ones not grown for food, Frankencotton has been so successful that it is now grown all over the world, including the United States. It is particularly popular in Asia.

According to a recent report in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by researchers at the University of Arizona, farmers who grew Bt cotton reduced their use of pesticides and increased the diversity of their insect populations, while protecting crops against the dread pink bollworm.

A similar genetic modification in corn has caused an uproar. Many countries have rules about labeling food that contains genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O. Zambia, for instance, has refused to import transgenic corn. But cotton has faced no such trade barriers.

The obvious reason is that people tend not to eat their shirts. Also, clothes, unlike foods, have not evolved the way corn and cows and kohlrabi did, so we don't expect them to be natural and unsullied. They don't even reproduce, although I have wondered whether socks mate in the drawers at night. More likely, they kill and eat each other while I'm sleeping, because when I wake up all I find are sock widows and widowers.

Another explanation for the difference between our attitudes toward corn and cotton is that humans prefer their food, particularly staples, to stay relatively the same, while they actively seek out mutations in their clothing. Modern styles change rapidly. And history shows the great diversity of clothing that humans have worn, from the loincloth to low-rider jeans, from the toga to the tail coat.

So consumers are not likely to demand warning labels on their clothes. But labels could be a selling point for some manufacturers and designers. Some consumers might enjoy having clothes labeled as genetically engineered, even though the cotton and not the shirt is what has been modified. Risks that would be shunned in corn bread might be embraced in a pullover. G.M.O. T-shirts could be a big seller at the CalTech gift shop or the National Institutes of Health.

They could become cult favorites of the multiply pierced. For the small, though probably fervent, number of people seriously worried about transgenic underwear, there is a label you can look for. Organic cotton, as defined by the Department of Agriculture, can't be genetically modified.

Manufacturers may, however, use all sorts of chemical in the processing of organic cotton, so if the briefs are water repellent and permanent press, think twice.

**********************************************

The Cartagena Protocol: The Debate Goes On

Could GM foods help to alleviate the suffering of famine-stricken communities in Africa?

- SciDev.Net, May 12 2006

Arnoldo Ventura, science advisor to the prime minister of Jamaica argued in an article last month that the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is wasteful and unnecessary (see Do we still need the Cartagena Protocol?).
Many SciDev.Net readers responded to his views on genetically modified (GM) crops......
----
* Dennis J. Murphy, University of Glamorgan, Wales, United Kingdom:

Much of the debate on GM technologies in developing countries misses key points. One is that there is no robust evidence that GM technology creates crops that are any more dangerous to the environment or human food chain than varieties developed using other approaches.

Another is that GM crops are different in that they have been developed largely by a handful of private companies that have benefited from an exceptionally favourable patenting regime, giving them much better legal protection than for crops developed in other ways. Yet GM crops are also subject to very stringent regulations that can impede their entry into markets. This favours larger companies, and is a disincentive to overall market innovation.

Several other points also tend to be missed in the debate. The present generation of commercial GM crops has little to offer by way of solving the fundamental agricultural problems in developing countries. In the short to medium term, these countries would be better off spending their money on conventional breeding strategies and improving the economic and physical infrastructure of their agricultural sectors.

A key component of such a strategy should be reforming global trade, especially the subsidy/tariff regimes imposed by richer Northern countries on the poorer, but potentially more efficient, producers of the South. The Cartagena Protocol has its place, but it is largely a distraction to the wider picture of improving agriculture in developing countries.
--------

* Bonto Faburay, head of institutional project development and application of biotechnology, International Trypanotolerance Centre, The Gambia:

The enormous amounts of attention, time and resources that have been dedicated to discussions about implementing the Cartagena Protocol are unjustified -- particularly for Africa.

GM technology offers a unique opportunity that African policymakers and scientists must seize to address the numerous production constraints affecting African agriculture, such as drought, pests and soil salinity.
Developed countries and some developing Asian countries have successfully had their green revolutions and become self-sufficient in food. But many African policymakers and, sadly, scientists still remain skeptical about GM crops despite an overwhelming lack of evidence of any harmful effects on human or animal health.

The criterion for accepting or rejecting any modern technology must be based on a measure of its potential benefits weighed against its potential risks.

I am confident that the GM foods consumed in North America for years would help to alleviate the suffering of famine-stricken communities in parts of Africa.

African governments and the UN should direct their energy away from endless discussions and towards pooling their resources to develop much-needed biosafety frameworks and create the necessary capacity, both human and technical, to monitor the potential risk of GM foods in Africa.

All responses at http://www.scidev.net/Opinions/index.cfm?fuseaction=readOpinions&itemid=498&language=1

**********************************************

Cuba's Organic Bounty?

From CSP - Recently we had some conversations here on the productivity of Cuban agriculture. Anti-GM activists such as Peter Rosset have touted the urban organic agriculture in Cuba as a model for other developing countries.

Let us look at some facts:

* 1.8 million people in Cuba are reported by the FAO to be undernourished; since the loss of the USSR as a trading partner the malnutrition rates in Cuba have soared.

* Cuba has fewer calories available per person than Iraq and Haiti.

* A 2003 World Food Program malnutrition assessment showed Cuba in need of emergency food aid.

* A 2005 study reported by the Journal Nutrition showed: "The frequency of undernutrition in Cuban hospitals was 41.2%, and 11.1% of patients were considered severely undernourished."

* A University of California assessment of Cuban agriculture notes: "The decade of the 90s has been extremely difficult for Cuban agriculture. Productivity and total output of many commodities declined sharply in the first half of the decade and only recently have begun to recover. One result has been continuous government-imposed rationing of food staples - rice, sugar, beans, and dairy products – for Cuban consumers" ".
"Virtually all such production (in cooperative urban gardens) is organically produced in part because of the scarcity and relatively high prices of commercial production inputs, such as fertilizer and pesticides."

Sources:

http://members.allstream.net/~dchris/CubaFAQ108.html

http://www.usaid.gov/press/speeches/2003/sp031004.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=15811770&dopt=Abstract

http://ucanr.org/devserv/Retiree_Relations/Cuban_Agriculture_-_A_Struggling_Industry_by_Kenneth_Farrell.htm

**********************************************

The Maze of Mexican Maize

http://whyfiles.org/240GM_1/index.php?g=3.txt

One issue that has bedeviled agricultural biotechnology is the chance that pollen of genetically modified (GM) crops will "pollute" the genes of related plants, which are essential to plant breeders. Pollen's job, after all, is to move genes and fertilize eggs in other plants. The issue made headlines in 2001, due to a report that genes from Bt corn had been found in Mexico's crop.

Mexico and Central America are the crop's homelands. Mexican farmers have cultivated their own "land races" of corn for hundreds of years, which are considered an invaluable genetic bank for the species.
Land races of Mexican maize, seen here, are threatened by gene flow from biotech crops. Photo: North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation

So the report in Nature, by Ignacio Chapela of the University of California, caused a scandal. For one thing, GM corn was never approved for planting in Mexico. For another, corn is a source of national pride and a symbol of Mexico's indigenous heritage.

And then came a deluge of criticism, directed at Chapela's research methods, and at Chapela personally. Nature partly retracted the article. The issue was stuck in limbo until 2005, when Allison Snow of Ohio State University reported finding no evidence of Bt corn genes in the same part of Mexico. After screening 150,000 seeds from 125 fields in 18 villages in Oaxaca State, Snow said, "We did not find any transgenic seeds " (see "Absence of Detectable ..." in the bibliography).

Cultivated corn was domesticated from teosinte more than 6,000 years ago. During the process, corn lost the ability to survive in the wild, but gained valuable agricultural traits. This stuff is flinty and hard on the teeth. Graphic: Nicolle Rager Fuller, NSF

One tenet of science is that you can't prove a negative, so what should we make of the study? It's at least theoretically possible that GM genes were lurking in the 150,001st seed. "The interpretation is a challenging thing to put into a sound bite," admitted Snow, a professor of evolutionary, ecology and organismal biology.

"Our interpretation is that they are absent, or extremely rare in the fields we sampled. We don't know if they are present elsewhere, and this could change over time."

That's not going to be enough to silence some skeptics of biotech. Jason Delborne, a post-doctoral fellow in rural sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has studied how mainstream science and industry have responded to questions about biotech. He says Snow's paper "does not counterbalance all the studies showing that there is plenty of transgenic maize DNA in Mexican corn." At a 2003 meeting in Mexico, he says, government officials said they considered the appearance of transgenic genes in land races "a given."

Research by the government of Mexico, Delborne adds, "said there was widespread contamination," but the scientists who worked on these studies "were unwilling to have their names attached " to them due to the risk of public scorn and attack by the biotech industry.

**********************************************

On the Variability of Cry1Ac Expression in Commercialized Bt Cotton Varieties in India

-S. Shantharam and C. Kameswara Rao, Current Science, vol. 90, no. 9, p1170; May 10, 2006

This is with reference to the article by Kranthi et al. Though the authors observed that 'the Bt transgenic technology has thus far proven itself to be one of the most environment-friendly methods of bollworm management', their major conclusion was that the quantitative levels of Cry1Ac Bt toxic protein in the floral and fruiting parts of eight varieties of Bt cotton that they tested during the 2003 season, 'are clearly inadequate to confer full protection to the fruiting parts'.

This unwarranted conclusion, based on their experiments and results, is being used as a lightening rod to denigrate the performance of Bt cotton in India. Kranthi and coworkers rebutted implications made out by the critics of Bt technology, and adduced that they are reading the article out of context and are completely misinterpreting it.

This article would not affect the scientific community's perception of the potential of Bt technology. Bt technology is being unnecessarily maligned, since the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur is a public institution under the ICAR regime, and the authors are termed 'Government Scientists' as Gospel truth, and conclusions in this paper are being projected as those of the Government of India. Several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) have demanded withdrawal of all Bt cotton varieties and take action against the purveyors of the Bt cotton seeds based on the article by

Read on full letter and the response from Kranthi et al. at
http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/may102006/contents.htm

**********************************************

International Symposium on Molecular Farming in Plants

- June 13-15; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

http://www.cebar.um.edu.my/ISMFPSProg.htm

To promote the vital exchange of knowledge, ideas and information on the newest developments and applied technologies in field of the molecular farming which encompasses the production of pharmaceuticals and technical proteins in plants.

Plants are fast gaining widespread acceptance as a general platform for the large-scale production of recombinant proteins which include recombinant therapeutics, diagnostics, industrial enzymes and green chemicals....

**********************************************

Village Boy Who Conquered the World Through Technology

- Caleb Atemi, Standard (Kenya), May 7, 2006. Excerpt below... Full article at http://www.eastandard.net/hm_news/news.php?articleid=1143952150

From the hills and valleys of western Kenya, a snot-nosed boy rose to become a world-class intellectual and scientist. Caleb Atemi brings you the riveting story of Calestous Juma, Professor of International Development and Director of the Science, Technology and Globalisation Project at Harvard University's Kennedy School.

Professor Calestous Juma with a running nose and tearful eyes, the boy ran down a rocky path. He gasped for breath and was gripped by fear with every step that took him closer to his home. Darkness was descending fast and he still had to cross a valley, go over a ridge and climb a hill before nightfall. Today, aged 51, Calestous Juma is a Harvard professor and a sought after global consultant. He relishes his childhood games and fondly remembers the laughter and shouting.

His is a story of hope and a tale of inspiration. One that says that we can become what we want to become.

He believes that Kenya has great potential for greatness with the strengthening of its research base, organising economic development around technological innovation and creating a demand for scientific and technical development. He says that unlike 10 years ago, Kenya is now in the right mental frame to compete globally.

"Kenya already has most of what is required to industrialise. We do not have to invent anything. We need to start a programme to fund that knowledge base and make our markets right by getting the universities involved."

When he recalls his fathers struggles with hammer and nails, Prof Calestous Juma says that our universities should delve more into researching and improving our products and industries.

The carpenter's son says that the panacea to Kenya's industrialisation lies in the participation of the private sector in improving technologies adaptable to our local conditions.

**********************************************

Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity

- John Stossel (ABC news, 20/20), Publisher: Hyperion; May 2006; 320 pages; ISBN: 1401302548. amazon.com price: $14.97. Excerpt below.....

MYTH: The media will check it out and give you the objective truth.
TRUTH: Many in the media are scientifically clueless, and will scare you to death. We don't do it on purpose. We just want to give you facts. But the people who bring us story ideas are alarmed. Then we get alarmed, and eager to rush that news to you.

We know that the scarier and more bizarre the story, the more likely it is that our bosses will give us more air time or a front-page slot. The scary story, justified or not, will get higher ratings and sell more papers. Fear sells. That's the reason for the insiders' joke about local newscasts: "If it bleeds, it leads." Also, raising alarms makes us feel important.

If we bothered to keep digging until we found the better scientific experts, rather than the ones who send out press releases, we'd get the real story. But reporters rarely know whom to call. And if we did, many real scientists don't want to be bothered. Why get involved in a messy debate? It might upset someone in government and threaten the scientist's grant money. "I'd rather be left alone to do my work, and not have to babysit dumb reporters," one told me.

One real scientist, Dr. Bruce Ames of the University of California, Berkeley, did make the effort. He urged a skeptical reporter (me) to be more skeptical of pseudologic from pseudoscientists: "The number of storks in Europe has been going down for years, the birth rate's going down for years," Dr. Ames pointed out. "If you plot one against the other, it's a beautiful correlation. But it doesn't mean storks bring babies."

We've been swallowing the storks-bring-babies kind of logic for years. (My favorite version: I see fat people drinking diet soda; therefore diet soda must make people fat.) For instance, stories about pesticides making food carcinogenic would fill several pages of a Google search. To the scientifically illiterate, the stories are logical. After all, farmers keep using new pesticides, we consume them in the food we eat, and we keep hearing more people are getting cancer. It must be cause and effect! Get the shovel.

MYTH: Pesticide residues in food cause cancer and other diseases.
TRUTH: The residues are largely harmless.

Ames laughs at the claims of chemically induced cancers, and he should know-he's the one who invented the test that first frightened people about a lot of those chemicals. It's called the Ames Test, and its first use in the 1970s raised alarms by revealing there were carcinogens in hair dye, and in the flame retardants in children's pajamas. Ames helped get the chemicals banned.

Before the Ames Test, the traditional way to test a substance was to feed big doses of it to animals and wait to see if they got cancer or had babies with birth defects. But those tests took two to three years and cost $100,000. So Dr. Ames said, "Instead of testing animals, why not test bacteria? You can study a billion of them on just one Petri dish and you don't have to wait long for the next generation. Bacteria reproduce every twenty minutes."

The test proved successful. It was hailed as a major scientific breakthrough, and today, the Ames Test is one of the standards used to discover if a substance is carcinogenic.

But after getting the hair dye and the flame retardants banned, Dr. Ames and other scientists continued testing chemicals. "People started using our test," he told me, "and finding mutagens everywhere-in cups of coffee, on the outside of bread, and when you fry your hamburger!"

This made him wonder if his tests were too sensitive, and led him to question the very bans he'd advocated. A few years later, when I went to a supermarket with him, he certainly didn't send out any danger signals.

DR. AMES Practically everything in the supermarket, if you really looked at it at the parts per billion level, would have carcinogens. Vegetables are good for you, yet vegetables make toxic chemicals to keep off insects, so every vegetable is 5 percent of its weight in toxic chemicals. These are Nature's pesticides. Celery, alfalfa sprouts, and mushrooms are just chock-full of carcinogens.

STOSSEL Over there it says "Organic Produce." Is that better?
DR. AMES No, absolutely not, because the amount of pesticide residues-man-made pesticide residues-people are eating are actually trivial and very, very tiny amounts! We get more carcinogens in a cup of coffee than we do in all the pesticide residues you eat in a day.

In a cup of coffee? To put the risks in perspective, Ames and his staff analyzed the results of every cancer test done on rats and mice. By comparing the dose that gave the rodents cancer to the typical exposure people get, they came up with a ranking of the danger. Pesticides such as DDT and EDB came out much lower than herb tea, peanut butter, alcohol, and mushrooms. We moved over to the mushrooms as the cameras continued to roll, and Dr. Ames put his mouth where his convictions were.

DR. AMES One raw mushroom gives you much more carcinogens than any polluted water you're going to drink in a day.

STOSSEL So you're saying we shouldn't eat fresh produce?
DR. AMES No. Fresh produce is good for you! Here, I'll eat a raw mushroom even though it's full of carcinogens.

Dr. Ames is widely respected in the scientific community, but he is not on many journalists' electronic Rolodexes. He's the real deal, and no help at all if you're looking for screaming headlines.

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Read the full article for myths about DDT, increasing cancer rate etc. at: http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Stossel/story?id=1898820&page=1

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Blog: Norman Borlaug would love to help dehydrated babies. Why don't you, you fascist b%*#&#?

- Mandi, May 15, 2006 http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=3017569&blogID=121370887

You should check this out before reading further (unless, of course, you find biopharming, GMOs, and the Green Revolution seriously boring...and sometimes it really is). http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/biotech/2006-05-14-biopharming-dilemma_x.htm?csp=34

I can't help but think that Norman Borlaug is a big supporter of Ventria's undertaking. This is one of those issues that I don't have a ready position for. Most people that are opposed to GMOs, industrialized agriculture, and biopharming object to it based on concerns about cross contamination, insecticide and pesticide use, sustainability, crop diversity, and environmental issues (and yeah, I realize that biopharming is way different than the other two and has its own unique and more worrisome set of objections that have to be dealt with, but allow me to lump them together for brevity's sake).

I have no such concerns. We can attribute this attitude to an awareness that my life is short; hence, any of the boons derived from me adopting a socially or environmentally conscious attitude are far more likely to be beneficial to strangers of the future than they are to me. That's pretty unacceptable. As for being committed to eating organic foods--a lifestyle change that is arguably more directly and immediately felt in my quality of life--I don't see this as a viable option when we consider the significant monetary investment required and the fact that every other tiny thing in the world is poisoning me already.

When I mentioned this to Ben he said something to the affect of, "But if that's the case then shouldn't you do everything you can to minimize the amount of poison you voluntarily consume?" It's a good question. The only answer I have is this: Yes, I should. And I will certainly do so when I have more than $20 of expendable income a week. Then again, maybe I won't. After all, my entire non-work oriented life is based around how much poison I can put into my body and still cope.

But I'm straying from my point. The concern that I have in regard to GMOs and biotech agriculture echoes the concern that Garrett Hardin has expressed in the past, a concern that compares human beings to cancer. If we produce GM crops of the high yield variety (or if we save a bunch of dying babies from dehydration via diarrhea) then it sure is great that we've saved a lot of lives.

But people, like cancer, spread and are not satisfied. You don't just have to feed them once. The bitches want to eat every day, a couple times a day. Then they'll breed. Before you know it, were all packed in too tightly and no matter how much bio-engineering we do, we won't be able to feed everyone. So why delay the inevitable? The answer is simple: don't. Allow famine to be a natural population check. Harsh? Certainly, but as the argument goes, totally necessary if we want to prevent the eventual death of everyone.

Assuming that I'm on the winning side, I can see the appeal of this argument but I also can't deny that these sorts of predictions, a la Paul Ehrlich, are too full of hyperbole to be taken very seriously, not to mention the obvious slippery slope and the fact that a Malthusian tragedy of the type predicted by Ehrlich never occurred. (Zing to Paul Ehrlich!) Allow me to summarize: GM crops may be bad, not because of environmental or health issues, but because we are only delaying the inevitable and killing everyone in the process rather than simply allowing the poor and unfortunate to die off as they normally would in a famine situation. Plus, poor people are less hot than rich people. Hotties must live and uglies must die. It's nature's way.

You may be clamoring to ask What about our ethical obligation to help people that need our help and that we can afford to help? Well, that's an interesting question. Not only can we come up with strong ethical justifications for supporting the ongoing Green Revolution, but surely we can admit that there are innumerable potential advantages to exploring new GM crops and the alternative uses--other than as food crops--that these items may have.

Also, if it's pretty easy to help millions of people have crops that yield more, grow stronger, and are more easily harvested, shouldn't we do it? While I'm not concerned about others, per se, I do think that if it's just as easy for me (and I do mean "me" in the sense of me personally) to help someone as it is to ignore their problems, I should seek to minimize their suffering whenever possible. You never realized this about me because it's very seldom the case that it's just as easy to help someone as it is to watch bad s#@t happen to them (plus, it's less funny). What's the incentive for us? Well, there's money in it too.

Someone is probably saying that GM crops don't have the same kind of nutritional value as organically grown crops. And that's sort of true. But if we toy with them some more maybe we'll come up with ways to pack good stuff back into them (didn't they do this with golden corn?...also, is it referred to as golden corn?). All I know is, Norman Borlaug's wheat saved the lives of a bunch of starving Indians and for those of you that care about other people this should be a pretty impressive feat.

ehhh...I'm done now.

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Blog: Babies Often Die of Diarrhea

- Dean, http://www.deanesmay.com/posts/1147761856.shtml

My son Jake, when he was just a baby (he's going on 9 now, and an Honors Student 3rd grader) developed a bad case of diarrhea. He was pooping like crazy, which scared the crap (ha, ha) out of my lovely wife and me. His fontanelle was sunken, and he looked horribly thin and was not reacting normally to things. But we worked with our family physician and got him the fluids he needed, and he was okay.

Now here's the thing: even though we're basically working class people, we had good access to doctors and decent health care here in wealthy America. He got real bad at one point but we were able to take him to a first-class American Emergency Room, with consultation with a good family physician, and we got him through it. He's fine now.

But as it happens, in the third world, babies die every single day of this simple malady: Diarrhea. Thousands, tens of thousands, die of it. Every single day, babies die of this. It's no damned joke.
So imagine my reaction when I read this:

A tiny biosciences company is developing a promising drug to fight diarrhea, a scourge among babies in the developing world, but it has made an astonishing number of powerful enemies because it grows the experimental drug in rice genetically engineered with a human gene.

I am completely on Ventria's side. I hate those who say "don't experiment with human genes" this way.

This isn't "frankenfood," this is life-saving stuff.

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