Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - July 5, 2006
* 'ASK-FORCE' Launched: To Promote Agricultural Biotechnology
* 1600 Dead Sheep in India? What a wonderful headline for the opponents of GM cotton!
* Biotech Advances Are Making Foods Healthier
* Filipino Scientists Join Effort to Develop 'Golden Rice'
* Understanding the Bt Cotton Maze
* Bt Cotton In India: A Status Report
* GM Cotton: World Bank Analysis of Economic Impacts
* Indian Field trial to Demonstrate Bt Eggplant Benefits
* How The West's Health Fads Kill The Poor
* A Nasty Mother
* Bad Cow
'ASK-FORCE' Launched: To Promote Agricultural Biotechnology
- Prof. Klaus Ammann, former Director Botanic Garden, University of Bern, Switzerland; http://www.efb-central.org/index.php/forums/viewthread/17/
Friends, this is about the launch of the ASK-FORCE, a new initiative called ASK-FORCE to promote agricultural biotechnology. It will replace the Berne Debates witch I moderated from 1999 to 2005.
The new element in this effort is that it should be more interactive, this is why we have chosen a forum type of programme structure, where everybody as a member can log in and produce comments. I will carefully choose the topics, so that we do not just reproduce the avalanche of good and bad news poured everyday on cybernauts and print media readers.
I firmly believe that the there is progressive quality from INFORMATION to KNOWLEDGE - which eventually can mutate into WISDOM - in combination with EXPERIENCE. In order to avoid double postings, we arrange a steady cross checking of the mailing lists of EFB (4500) and ASK-FORCE (2700)
I encourage participants of the ASK-FORCE to register for free to EFB under http://www.efb-central.org/index.php/Main/join_us It is also possible to register for the ASK-FORCE alone under my email klaus.ammann(at)ips.unibe.ch; You should also take notice of the link to the newsletter: http://www.efb-central.org/Newsletter/newsletterforum.htm, open to EFB members
This is why this forum is meant as a learning process, which means that we will work in the spirit of discursive processes, where some rules are important: Symmetry of Ignorance, reduce hidden agendas, respect towards different kinds of knowledge, participation of those who are part of the problem etc.
Those rules are explained with some necessary background information in the below given link. A further important element in this forum will be to foster a transition from the usual habits of being PRO-REACTIVE to be more PRO-ACTIVE. It is time that we do not wait for the next activist hoax like hyptnotized chicken, but we should actively support and promote the good news. Alas - it will be inevitable to also ASK QUESTIONS to the activists, and a special effort will be made to confront activists with old (and new) scaremonger stories which are dead today and which they would prefer to forget.
The ASK-FORCE will also try to answer with scientific documentation questions coming in from members, thus fully justifying the name of the new forum.
For a broader view on how I see the ASK-FORCE, please read the following text with more information and scientific citations. Comments welcome. http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Ask-Force/ProjektASKFORCE-20060616.pdf
Links to important activities
I have also the intention to closely work with PRRI (Public Research and Regulation Initiative, see http://www.pubresreg.org), to which a special information blog will be dedicated. This new initiative works for a more scientific argumentation within international negociations such as for the Cartagena Protocol, MOP and COPMOP meetings.
A further element of close collaboration will be the efforts in biofortification of the Bill- and Melinda-Gates Foundation, especially with the project SuperSorghum of Africa Harvest, see http://supersorghum.org/. This is a very successful project in its first year with the purpose of improving the nutritional values of Sorghum, an important crop in Africa for some 200 Million people.
Within PRRI, Africa Harvest, the EFB and worldwide in other organizations there are a number of well known scientists, who - according to my encouraging contacts, are willing to help to build up a group of specialist who can anwer questions. This would then complete the environment of a full-fledged ASK-FORCE in action. The list is still in working, and serious offers of collaboration with an indication of special knowledge are most welcome.
The moderator of ASK-FORCE is also involved in the Faculty of 1000, an organization for the promotion of scientific knowledge, see http://www.facultyof1000.com/ it is the intention to give hints about important publications within the topics of this forum.
1600 Dead Sheep in India? What a wonderful headline for the opponents of GM cotton!
This is Message No.2 about the 1600 Dead Sheep, another false but professionally spread scare story of Indian activists, taken up without any hesitation and critique by Greenpeace.
The 'news' has been spread in many media, especially those critical to modern biotechnology in agriculture. Two well known scientists in the field have carefully scrutinized these newspaper articles, taking the pseudoscientific bla bla apart. The claim, that 1600 sheep have died by feeding on abandoned Bt-cotton fields is not validated by scientific review of the two authors below.
Dr. Shanthu Shantharam is the president of Biologistics International (USA) and an independent biotechnology consultant with expertise on the safety of biotech crops. Dr CS Prakash is a professor at Tuskegee University (USA) and president of AgBioWorld Foundation
The original column Bt is Not the Culprit has been published in Biospectrum India June 15, 2006 http://www.biospectrumindia.com/content/columns/10606151.asp
Here is a link with the same text with a few added citations of scientific articles mentioned in the column. http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/Bt-is-Not-the-Culprit-AF.pdf We recommend Greenpeace International to read the above article, in particular also the scientific papers cited.
QUESTION TO ACTIVISTS
We ASK GREENPEACE: Why do we see on your webpage of Greenpeace international those scaremongering accusations without any scientific scrutiny? We cite out of the original Greenpeace report :
>"The impact of GM technology on human health and biodiversity remain unpredictable, untested and irreversible. Despite this, the government is on the verge of approving large scale field trials of GM brinjal (eggplant) - the first GM food crop in India," said Rajesh Krishnan, Greenpeace genetic engineering campaigner. "Indians will be the first people in the world to eat GM brinjal. It is vital that the Agriculture Ministry first address the question raised by the cows and sheep today - Can GM Foods kill?" http://www.greenpeace.org/india/press/releases/investigations-to-check-for-ge
Obviously, the Greenpeace representatives writing such alarmist stuff really believe what they write... (frankly: I can hardly imagine - I rather believe that this new scaremongering is part of the campaign to prevent the approval of large scale field trials by the Indian government, where facts don't count anymore. The real purpose is to strike fear into the heart of the population and government officials in order to get more financial support.)
To read the full article and post your reply [ http://www.efb-central.org/index.php/forums/viewthread/13/ ]enter the EFB Forum. Please note that you will need to log in as an EFB member in order to be able to post your message.
Prof. Klaus Ammann
Chairman of the EFB Section on Biodiversity & Moderator of the EFB Ask-Force Forum
Biotech Advances Are Making Foods Healthier
- James M. Taylor, Heartland Institute, June 29, 2006 http://www.heartland.org
Most people know fish is one of the healthiest foods on the market. Omega-3 fatty acids, abundant in fish and in little else, are proven to improve heart health, alleviate hypertension, ease arthritis, and lower cholesterol.
However, many people dislike the taste of fish; many more people are decidedly neutral about the taste of fish; and still more people skimp on eating fish because it generally does not lend itself to fast and easy cooking. Moreover, fish can be relatively expensive for people on a limited budget.
Soybeans with Omega-3
Science will soon provide a tastier, more convenient, and less-expensive way for people to get their omega-3 fatty acids. Researchers at the University of Maryland announced in April that they have discovered a way to genetically modify soybeans to produce omega-3 fatty acids.
Preliminary results show oils extracted from the omega-3-enriched soybeans have a pleasant taste and no fish taste. If the oil proves stable enough, the soybeans can be used to produce cooking oil that will carry the benefits of the omega-3-enhanced soybeans. Those cooking oils will be able to improve the health effects of a whole range of foods, including salad dressing, margarine, yogurt, and many processed foods.
"We have a lot of excitement about this," said Robb Fraley, chief technology officer for Monsanto, a leading biotechnology company. "We now can open the door to a whole new way of delivering omega-3s in the diet through food."
Fewer Pesticides Needed
The good news about genetically improved crops does not end with their health benefits. The results of a two-year study published in the May 4 online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed genetically improved cotton successfully resisted the harmful pink bollworm while having no impact on ants, beetles, and other benign insects.
Through this use of genetic enhancement, farmers were able to protect their crops against harmful insects while avoiding many of the potential negative impacts pesticides can have on the environment. In addition, the genetically improved cotton produced higher yields than conventional cotton.
Success Stories Proliferating
These two recent developments are merely the tip of the iceberg of biotechnology success stories. Around the world, genetic enhancements are improving crop yields, reducing the need for pesticides and herbicides, and cutting the amount of land needed to be cleared to grow food.
Importantly, there has never been a documented case of a genetically improved crop causing any human or environmental harm. Actually, this stands to reason: Throughout history, crops have cross-pollinated and mutated in nature, with mere chance and happenstance determining what direction such changes will take. With today's scientific advances, humans can take a more active role in shaping the future of crops, ensuring the plants and resultant food carry the most desirable traits without any negative complications.
Activists Thwarting Advances
Despite these advances, anti-technology activists have targeted genetically improved crops, seeking to ban them from the market. Holding to the dubious notion that anything "natural" or selected by natural variation is superior to anything that can be selected or improved by man, anti-technology extremists are seeking forcibly to impose their belief system on the rest of society.
Activists have launched a state-by-state campaign to ban the farming of genetically improved crops. When the campaign fails to gain traction at the state level, activists go county-by-county, hoping to pick off enough scattered counties to throw the state in chaos and slow down or stop the farming of genetically enhanced crops in the state.
Farmers unsure of which crops to plant may shy away from genetically enhanced crops if those crops may soon be illegal. Anti-biotech laws recently passed in Mendocino and Marin counties in California have forced the California Farm Bureau and numerous county farm bureaus to spend precious resources defending farmers' rights to grow genetically enhanced crops, redirecting those resources away from other important programs.
Where efforts to impose an outright ban on genetically improved crops have failed, activists seek onerous labeling laws, giving consumers the misleading message that these crops are a health risk rather than a health benefit.
Another favorite activist tactic is to seek laws forcing farmers of genetically improved crops to pay damages to farmers not utilizing biotechnology if pollen from the genetically improved crops drifts onto farms not utilizing biotechnology. The irony of this is that the pollen-drift method of cross-pollination is exactly the form of natural selection ostensibly favored by the anti-technology extremists.
In some forward-thinking states, legislators have proposed laws requiring a uniform, statewide policy toward genetically enhanced crops. Such laws ensure that science is more likely to trump scare campaigns and deliberate misstatements of fact in the determination of what rules and regulations should apply to the growing of genetically improved crops.
Laws to this effect have been passed in more than 10 states, and many other state legislatures are currently considering such measures. Legislators know voters prefer healthier foods that can be grown with the least possible adverse impact on our environment.
Filipino Scientists Join Effort to Develop 'Golden Rice'
- Carlos D. Marquez, Jr. BusinessMirror, June 28, 2006
Selected cientists from Germany, US, China, Vietnam and the Philippines are making rice nutrient-dense grain-food to save about 10 million children in poor countries from dying everyday due to malnutrition.
By 2015, as envisioned, a cup or 160 gram of what would be genetically engineered cooked rice can give the poor - who would often content themselves with rice alone for their diet - the combined nutrients from a slice of steak, a piece of prawn, a fried egg, some vegetables and fruits.
"The overall goal is to engineer rice with increased levels of provitamin E high quality protein, zinc and iron," explains the Golden Rice Project web site. The Golden Rice, notable for its yellowish color resulting from the high concentration of betacarotene in it, was first developed in 1999 by German scientist Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg. Now, the project ProVitamin A Rice Consortium, has been formed to fortify it further with protein, vitamin E, zinc and iron.
To achieve the goal, the consortium, funded by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, gathered molecular biologists, biochemists and plant breeders from Albert-Ludwigs University, Freiburg, Germany, Michigan State University and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, USA, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) in Muñoz Science City, Philippines.
This current research, which aims to fuse vital nutrients and achieve a balanced composition of the needed amino acids, is part of the Grand Challenges in Global Health Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in collaboration with plant breeding and crop protection multinational Syngenta.
The consortium is led by German scientist Peter Beyer, the acknowledged "principal investigator" of the Golden Rice project. Each of the consortium members has an assigned task in completing the rice project.
The University of Freiburg and Michigan State University are in charge of the multigene stacking and for transformations; Baylor College of Medicine with Michigan State University identifies quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for iron bioavailability and assess bioavailability in model systems as well as the human iron acceptability studies; Chinese University of Hong Kong enhances the protein quality and lysine content of rice; CLRRI and PhilRice do the introgression of the needed nutrient into their respective local varieties; while IRRI takes charge of the latter task in the rice varieties in other Southeast Asian countries.
"Hopefully, we can develop one single line per country containing all the essential micronutrients," said Dr. Rhodora R. Aldemita, chief science research specialist of PhilRice and a genetic engineering expert. She is the PhilRice principal scientist for the Golden Rice project.
Aldemita had her postdoctoral fellowship at the Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg, Germany, from June 2003 to December 2005 and PhD in Botany from Purdue University, in Indiana, USA, in 1996. She obtained her Ms in Agronomy from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños, Laguna.
Aldemita conducts breeding studies to incorporate the provitamin A genes into PSBRc 82 and Mabango 1together with Dr. Antonio A. Alfonso, a molecular plant breeder and geneticist who heads PhilRice's Plant Breeding and Biotechnology Division.
Antonio is crossing the female parent of the two Philippine rice varieties, selected for their popularity, taste and other attributes with the male parent donor SGR1, or the Syngenta Golden Rice 1, which contains around 8 mg per gram of beta-carotene.
After producing an F1, or the resulting progeny, it will then be crossed again with the two recurrent parents PSBRc82 and Mabango 1. The process, Antonio adds, will be done repeatedly until a uniform line, with the same agronomic characteristics of the parent is obtained.
Another study deals with the incorporation of the Golden Rice characteristics into the locally adapted tungro-and bacterial blight-resistant varieties.
"PhilRice already has conventionally bred varieties which contain these disease-resistant traits and adding vitamin A through conventional breeding and backcrossing is a very important endeavor. The product will become a new variety with all the desired genes in it," Aldemita said.
SGR1 contains the important genes to convert the precursor geranyl-geranyl pyrophosphate present in the rice endosperm into beta-carotene. The daffodil gene phytoene synthase, and the phytoene desaturase from a common soil bacterium Erwinia uredovora were introduced into the variety Cocodrie through Agrobacterium tumefaciens - mediated transformation. This led to the production of high amounts of beta-carotene in the endosperm which is available for food.
In the latter course of the five-year project, Aldemita will introduce multinutrient constructs to include genes for vitamin A, E, high lysine, and possibly iron zinc into rice through genetic engineering. "Achieving this will be the realization of an ultimate goal, that of improving the nutrient and protein quality of the staple rice," she confided.
"Golden Rice and other engineered rice lines with stacked traits will be incorporated into ongoing breeding and seed delivery programs for developing countries," said the Golden rice web site. When fully developed, the engineered variety will be made available to farmers.
Understanding the Bt Cotton Maze
- Subramaniam Vincent, India Together, June 1, 2006
The Bt Cotton debate is a vexing one. Proponents praise the technology, while NGOs charge that it has failed farmers and is too risky. Dr Ronald Herring teaches political economy and political ecology at Cornell University and has been studying the transgenic movement in India. He talked with India Together's Subramaniam Vincent.
01 June 2006 - In January 2006, UK-based P G Economics reported that Bt cotton had on balance performed better in India than non-Bt counterparts, despite higher input costs. The findings were contested heavily by NGOs, who for some years now have been vocal in showcasing failures of Bt cotton crops - or put more accurately, cotton varieties with the Bt trait - around the country.
The criticism was predictable; the Bt Cotton controversy (or debate if you like) is a vexing one that increasingly wears polarised colours. Proponents of Bt praise the benefits of the technology, while a range of pro-sustainability NGOs charge that Bt has failed farmers and that its environmental risks far outweigh the benefits. But the debate itself not so simplistic. In a number of areas related to cotton crop failures -- the science of Bt, farmers experiences on the ground, positions taken by NGOs on transgenics and spurious seeds -- views, research and outcomes are fiercely contested. There isn't a clarity that gives watchful citizens the sense that they understand what's really going on.
Ron Herring is Professor of Government at Cornell University, New York and also Director/Convener of the Program on Nature and Development there. He teaches political economy and political ecology. His current work includes state property in nature and politics of genetically engineered organisms (on which he is editing a special issue of Journal of Development Studies, Transgenics and the Poor). His articles have appeared in Frontline, Times of India, Financial Express, Economic and Political Weekly, and other Indian publications. He has also been consultant to the U.S. State Department, World Bank, UNDP, and other international organizations.
Professor Herring has a particular interest in Bt Cotton in India. He has been a regular visitor and has spent extended amounts of time conducting research. He is also currently one of the advisors of Devparna Roy, a Ph D student in Development Sociology at Cornell University whose forthcoming dissertation is on Bt cotton. Herring is skeptical of the NGO-led environmental movement in India. He argues that the NGOs are out of touch with Indian farmers. Subramaniam Vincent talked with Professor Herring for his sense of the news reports of Bt Cotton failures in A.P. and Maharashtra in 2005 and 2006.
Read on at http://www.indiatogether.org/2006/jun/ivw-herring.htm
Bt Cotton In India: A Status Report
The Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology (APCoAB) has published "Bt Cotton in India - A Status Report", which gives details of the events that led to commercialization of Bt cotton in India, adoption of Bt hybrids in cotton growing zones, performance of the commercialized hybrids under experimental and farmer managed conditions, and the economic benefits realized from the adoption of Bt technology in India. Based on the experiences gained, strategies have been suggested for achieving improved pest resistance in cotton, revised protocols for large-scale field trails, and better economic benefits especially to small and marginal farmers.
Access the full report at http://www.apcoab.org/documents/bt_cotton.pdf.
For more information, contact email@example.com. (via ISAAA Crop Biotech Update; isaaa.org)
Recent and Prospective Adoption of Genetically Modified Cotton: A Global CGE Analysis of Economic Impacts
- Kym Anderson, Ernesto Valenzuela and Lee Ann Jackson; World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3917, May 2006. Summary and Conclusions below. Full paper at http://econ.worldbank.org/resource.php?type=5
This paper provides estimates of the economic impact of initial adoption of genetically modified (GM) cotton and of its potential impacts beyond the few countries where it is currently common. Use is made of the latest version of the GTAP database and model.
Our results suggest that by following the lead of China and South Africa, adoption of GM cotton varieties by other developing countries – especially in Sub-Saharan Africa – could provide even larger proportionate gains to farmer and national welfare than in those firstadopting countries. Furthermore, those estimated gains are shown to exceed those from a successful campaign under the WTO’s Doha Development Agenda to reduce/remove cotton subsidies and import tariffs globally.
Conclusions: Adaptation and adoption of new genetically modified (GM) cotton varieties are within the powers of developing countries themselves. Unlike the Cotton Initiative in the WTO’s Doha Development Agenda, governments in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere do not need to wait until that round concludes to boost the incomes of their cotton farmers.
Indeed the above results suggest that developing country welfare could be enhanced by more from allowing GM cotton adoption than by the removal of all cotton subsidies and tariffs. Furthermore, our results support the notion that the gains to developing countries from the Doha Cotton Initiative will be even greater if GM cotton is adopted first, providing yet another reason not to delay approval of this new biotechnology.
Those developing countries with well-developed public agricultural research and extension systems (such as India) are well placed to benefit promptly from the new biotechnology by working in partnership or in parallel with private biotech and seed companies. Approving investments in those activities by the private sector – and the overall investment climate – will allow the process of adaptation and adoption to move forward. The experiences in China, India and South Africa all indicate that rapid and widespread adopt is then possible, including by small farmers.
Many of Sub-Saharan Africa’s low-income countries have poorly developed public agricultural research and extension public research agencies and unattractive investment climates though. As those systems and associated intellectual property rights are improved, so the payoff from R&D spending to adapt appropriate local crop varieties will be enhanced. The potential benefits shown above from this new biotechnology should make that expenditure even more affordable now.
Moreover, the fear of adverse environmental or food safety issues have not been vindicated during the first decade of adoption by those countries and the US and Australia, not least because scientists and regulators have found ways to manage those risks. Indeed farmer, water and soil health have all improved thanks to the lesser pesticide needed with Bt varieties of GM cotton. Nor does GM cotton carry the stigma that GM food carries in high-income countries of Europe.
If embracing GM cotton helps developing country governments to streamline also the process of approving the release of GM varieties of food crops (given the steady flow of scientific reports such as by King (2003) concluding that there is no evidence that GM foods are harmful either to the environment or to human or animal health), these economies would be able to multiply that $2 billion gain from GM cotton adoption by at least two, according to the numbers presented in Anderson and Jackson (2005) and Anderson, Jackson and Nielsen (2005).
Indian Field trial to Demonstrate Bt Brinjal (Eggplant) Benefits: Scientists
- Indo Asian News Service July 4, 2006 http://www.dailyindia.com/
New Delhi, (IANS) Genetically modified (GM) brinjal - awaiting government nod for large-scale field trials - is expected to help farmers increase yield and lower pesticides use, scientists said here Tuesday.
In an effort to win over environmentalists and NGOs opposing government plans to promote GM food crops like Bt brinjal, scientists involved in the USAID-funded project for development the pest-resistant brinjal said it would reduce agriculture losses due to fruit and shoot borer larva.
Initial studies show that insect-tolerant Bt brinjal reduces the need for spraying pesticides to a minimum, the scientists working with the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII) told media here.
'The large-scale field trials, which are under review by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), will demonstrate the benefits of Bt brinjal. It could be available to farmers for commercial cultivation by 2007, pending regulatory approval,' said K. Vijayraghavan, regional director of ABSPII.
Several public and private institutes of India, Bangladesh and the Philippines are involved in the ABSPII project, including the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) and the University of Agricultural Sciences at Dharwad.
'The benefits to farmers in the three countries where brinjal is the common man's food will be in the region of $600 million because of higher income to farmers and the saving on pesticides usage,' said Vijayraghavan.
P. Balasubramanian, director of TNAU, stressed that the 'insect-resistance management strategy has been developed in consultation with all partners, and is a proactive measure to ensure that technology is deployed in a sustainable manner'.
Despite the involvement of Indian agricultural universities with the project, environmentalists are apprehensive about any adverse impact on the environment as also the health of both animals and humans.
Taking cognisance of their apprehensions, the GEAC has given time till July 15 to submit their objections to the application for large-scale field trials of Bt brinjal, which has been developed using the same gene as that used in Bt cotton of seed major Mahyco.
How The West's Health Fads Kill The Poor
- Mark Weston, Business Day (South Africa), July 3, 2006. Full article at http://allafrica.com/stories/200607031196.html
..... The fashionable and romantic campaign against genetically modified (GM) foods is another fad in the west that is fatal in the south: Zambia rejected food aid from the US in 2002, right in the middle of a famine, because it contained GM maize -- the same maize Americans and Canadians had been eating for a decade. Most poor countries ban GM crops, especially for food, saying it might conceivably be harmful, with no evidence.
This is what activists call the "pre-cautionary principle": even if no harm has ever been demonstrated, assume that it is harmful if you cannot prove that it cannot harm you in any way. This principle is enshrined in much new United Nations and European Community law.
As the DDT and GM experiences show, leaders facing pressure from activists or the media are quick to invoke the "precautionary principle" in banning a technology, even when scientific evidence of a threat is weak or completely absent.
In the developed world, such over-caution is merely an irritant to health and wealth. In developing countries its effects are murderous. ----
Weston is a policy consultant specialising in international development, including public health, HIV/AIDS, demography, education and corporate social responsibility.
A Nasty Mother
- Lee Silver, The Scientist, July 2006. Excerpt below. Full article at http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/23827/#abstract
Think only the religious right is anti-science? How about the spiritual left?
"Post-Christian western cultures, in particular, want to believe in a Mother Nature that is feminine and benevolent, always promoting her biosphere in positive ways. Life will thrive unless, according to Greenpeace International, foolish human beings persist in "... throwing the world's climate 'out of its natural balance' and into chaos." [my emphasis]
The assumption is that if we just left Mother Nature alone to follow her own path, everything would turn out for the better. The retreat of the glaciers, which led to the blossoming of human civilization, is consistent with this view. A once-upon-a-time green Sahara wiped out by natural - not human-induced - climate change doesn't fit the whole-earth spiritual picture, and does not become incorporated into the public consciousness.
What if biotechnology could be deployed to sustain and expand a self-regenerating Sahara forest that could benefit humankind in many ways? Ecological alterations of such large magnitude - whether natural or human-induced - always have effects on other regions of the globe. Computer modeling will help future societies determine whether a green Sahara would be better or not for humankind and the biosphere as a whole.
The ultimate question, though, is who should we trust to make such future choices: global society or Mother Nature? Mother Nature, without our help, turned gigantic vibrant ecosystems into lifeless deserts. Mother Nature, without our help, "ruined ancient civilizations and socio-economic systems." Mother Nature, without our help, covered Canada in mile-deep glaciers, and she would certainly do it again if all human industry disappeared."
"In fact, the natural world hews closer than any modern democracy to Adam Smith's laissez-faire model of human economic activity. Nature has no central authority of any kind to which species are beholden. Organisms don't abide by any rules of competition, and no safety net exists for losers. Through rational analysis alone, anyone able to accept the idea that a complex and "vibrant" economy can evolve in the absence of a unified spirit should also be willing to accept the idea that complex ecosystems can evolve in the absence of any overarching multi-organismal spirit of any kind.
Yet, at an emotional rather than a rational level, non-scientists and scientists alike can sometimes be led astray by the holistic conceptualization of Mother Nature's creatures living primarily in peaceful harmony with each other.
If neither scientific theory nor scientific facts provide support for a coordinated Gaia super-organism, we are faced with two questions. First, whose interests are organisms working for if not Gaia? Second, how does an emotional attachment to the spirit of Mother Nature color one's views concerning the morality of using biotechnology to genetically alter plants and animals for the benefit of humankind, or the biosphere itself?"
Visit Lee Silver's website at http://www.leemsilver.net
(From the book 'Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life' by Lee M. Silver © 2006 HarperCollins)
Lee Silver's Challenging Nature: an important new book
- Gilbert Ross, American Council On Science And Health June 16, 2006 http://www.acsh.org
Last night Dr. Lee M. Silver, Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, launched his new book at the New York Academy of Sciences. The full title is Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life.
Dr. Silver, a new member of ACSH's board of trustees, gave a mesmerizing talk about this most important subject. His main points were well-illustrated with informative and often bizarre (yet relevant) illustrations of some of the inconsistencies and hypocrisies rife in the anti-technological, anti-science movements so active in both the U.S. and Europe today.
He noted on several occasions how the "back to nature" attitudes of many "environmentalists" based largely in the EU have agendas which are wildly at odds with...nature! One such was illustrated with a slide of a beautiful farm and valley in the Loire region of France, "all natural," as per the enviro's there. Yet, the acreage illustrated was entirely the result of human intervention! The real effect of Mother Nature was shown in a ancient Mayan ruin, once a bustling city: once abandoned by that civilization, jungle overgrowth took over within a few years. He also illustrated the change wrought by nature in northern Africa, where what was once fertile farmland devolved into the Sahara desert without mankind's intervention.
Dr. Silver also took on the anti-biotech food advocates by showing how our ancestors "genetically modified" the grains we are so familiar with today by the slow process of plant breeding. The pre-agricultural forms of corn and wheat look nothing like today's nutrition-packed varieties--completely due to human genetic manipulation of the slow and imprecise variety. Yet, the anti-genetically modified (GM) groups fear and ban the precision-guided genetic modifications which would allow the dramatic increase in food yields needed to feed the earth's increasing population. Most perversely, the genetically-modified crops would allow for these higher yields with LESS application of the pesticides the enviro's attack as earth-unfriendly. No matter--no GM, no pesticides, end of discussion. Result: hunger and starvation among the world's poor, unless the new techniques discussed by Dr. Silver are allowed to flourish. (See also ACSH's Biotechnology and Food).
But he doesn't give the anti-science fundamentalists in our own country a pass--not by a long shot. Dr. Silver shows how the religious right has impeded the progress of stem-cell research (using a quotation from one of his oft-quoted Princeton colleagues) to illustrate how those adherents think: a clump of cells, or even one cell, is either entirely human, or it's not. There's no grey area allowed, leading to the conclusion that a one-celled zygote or 8-cell blastocyst should be treated the same as a newborn baby. Slides illustrated the scientific facts: there is a continuum between cells and real human beings, no "bright line" separating non-human from human. Dr. Silver advocates full research into the potential benefits of stem-cell therapies for human diseases; beyond that, he asserts that such research will be done regardless of any "moral" objections--the real questions being by whom, and how rapidly will the research bear fruit? (see also ACSH's Politics and the Debate Over Stem Cell Research).
Dr. Silver's conclusion is that both the Old World, with their "Gaia Hypothesis" and retrograde romantic pseudo-naturalism, and the New World, with our religious impediments on research based on subjective obeisance to "God's Will," are both standing in the way of human progress. However, he noted, the Asian "Tigers" of China and India and their neighbors may well lead the way towards the goal of science and objective research supplanting both the U.S. and Europe in technological prowess and progress. He illustrated the fact that the Buddha, the spiritual guide of the East, is not a "god" in our sense of the term, but rather a teacher--like Dr. Silver's description of himself. Thus, the concept of "playing God" has no meaning to many Asians, one main reason why their progress may well outstrip ours in the not-too-distant future.
- Andrew Apel
This is a joke, but so is the July 3 press release of the UN FAO.
A representative of the UN FAO dropped by to visit a farmer in Sub-Saharan Africa and gave him a few seeds. "These seeds are genetically modified to resist insects and drought," the representative said. "You should try them."
So the farmer tried them on a small part of his land. They worked so well that the next year, he used the seed on his entire farm and the crop produced so well that after harvest, he was able to buy a cow.
Shortly after planting another crop, all of which was genetically modified, a government representative dropped by, saying he was in charge of enforcing a new directive based on policy recommendations of the UN FAO.
"Please thank them for the genetically modified seeds," the farmer told him. They have brought prosperity to me and my family, and we have even been able to buy a cow."
"You must destroy your entire crop," the government man said.
"Why?" asked the farmer, aghast at the notion.
"The GM seeds have obviously replaced local crops on your farm," the man explained. "And we're taking your cow, too."
"But why the cow?" asked the distraught farmer.
"Because an increased number of cows leads to increased grazing, which leads to habitat change. What's worse, that cow is a species foreign to Africa."
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (Press Release)
Helping developing countries make better use of biotechnology tools
New FAO publication on agricultural genetic resources
3 July 2006, Rome - Developing countries should be enabled to fully exploit biotechnology tools, when appropriate, in order to stop the decline of agricultural biodiversity and to use their wealth of genetic resources in a sustainable way, according to FAO.
Many of these agricultural genetic resources are endangered for reasons such as overexploitation, replacement of local crops and livestock with foreign species or breeds and habitat change and destruction.