Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - July 12, 2006
* What Next for Humanity? - Enlightening the Future 2024
* India: Market Forces Should Decide GM Seed Prices
* Home Kits for Biotech
* A Seed of Sterile Thought
* Is European Union Really Anti-Biotech?
* "The Man Who Fed the World" is Out!
* Fruit Genetics Set to Create New Natural Flavours
* Rifkin Redux
* Crop Improvement Workshop in South Africa
* Problems with the Cartagena Protocol
* Environmentalism: The Oldest Profession
What Next for Humanity? - Enlightening the Future 2024
- Mick Hume, spiked, July 12, 2006 http://www.spiked-online.com
Enlightening the Future 2024 is a survey of experts, opinion formers and interesting people from across many sectors, initiated by spiked with the modest ambition of challenging the downbeat spirit of the age.
Ours is a time of widespread cultural anxieties and insecurities. As a society, we now seem to live in permanent fear of the future, worrying about whether we can survive the next threat, be it terrorism, global warming, avian influenza, or even an asteroid strike.
At the same time, our society appears uncomfortable with the achievements of its own past. The science and technology sectors, so often the means to human advancement, now find themselves operating under a cloud of public suspicion. Industries such as food and pharmaceuticals, which have helped to create a situation in which people live longer and healthier lives than ever before, are today widely mistrusted.
Disenchanted with the past yet fearful of the future, we appear stuck in a today where a mood of miserabilism and low expectations influences discussion and developments on many fronts - where human activity is often seen as the problem rather than the solution. This irrational insight goes against the grain of history, which teaches us that human ingenuity and endeavour have propelled society from the caves to something approaching civilisation. It not only risks wasting the gains of the past, but also missing opportunities for future advancement.
Read on at http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/1012/
"spiked, in collaboration with Orange, has conducted a major survey of experts, opinion formers and interesting thinkers. Our aim was to identify some key questions facing the next generation - those born this year, who will reach the age of 18 in 2024 - and to start a discussion about some possible answers. "
It will be necessary to produce much more food, on less land, with less water. Agro-biotechnology could play a key role, if not burdened by unjustified restrictions. The outstanding restriction is ‘extreme precautionary regulation’ of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), preventing the potential of public research and development to deliver products. Progress in science presents a powerful basis for the development of crop plants being nutritionally optimised, pest- and disease-resistant, resistant to drought and flooding, saline and heavy metal environments, and with higher potential for the exploitation of natural resources. But this powerful potential will reach a dead end, if society does not solve the following problems:
1. De-demonize GMOs and inform the public that these are perfectly ‘normal’ plants. (There is not a single crop plant which has not been extensively ‘genetically modified’ by traditional interventions!)
2. Reform GMO-regulation such that it evaluates ‘traits’, not GM-technology, and takes decisions on balancing ‘benefits’ versus ‘risks’. (Because of the time and financial requirements of present regulation, no public institution can afford to take a single transgenic event to the marketplace.)
3. Establish public funding schemes for ‘product development’ and ‘deregulation’. (Humanitarian problems are problems of the public sector and should not be expected to be solved by the private sector.)
4. Encourage establishment of ‘public-private-partnerships’ for the solution of humanitarian problems. (The private sector has the necessary experience for solutions of practical problems.)
5. Establish a rewarding system for those in academia, who sacrifice their academic career by contributing to solutions of humanitarian problems. (Academia receives much of its funding because the public believes that it is helping to solve humanitarian problems.)
Prof. Potrykus is chair of the Humanitarian Golden Rice Board and Network, and emeritus professor of plant sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
One reason why we seem to have difficulty in facing up to the future is because we are confused about the relationship between humanity and the making of history. When the Twentieth Century began we regarded the future with optimism and enthusiasm. Most social scientists believed that human progress would ensure that the world would be a better place at the end of the century than at its beginning. This consensus had as its premise the belief that purposeful human activity could change or improve people’s lives for the better.
This perspective acted as a general guide for evaluating many of the social and moral problems facing the world. Today we are far less certain about the ideal of human progress and as a result we are hesitant about engaging with uncertainty. Consequently we tend to be trapped in the present and frequently regard the future as a dangerous territory that we would rather not enter.
There is no simple formula for confronting our confusions about the relationship of society to its future. However, one line of approach for tackling this problem is to engage in a grown up dialogue about what it is that we would like to achieve in the 21st century. Having an ideal of where we want to go can at least stimulate a debate about what can be done to influence developments in the future in a positive direction.
The key to tackling this question is to succeed in developing a more positive account of human achievement so far. The main issue that we need to tackle is the powerful mood of misanthropy that afflicts cultural and political life.
Society needs to come to terms with its history and develop a more powerful capacity for affirming positive achievement – past and present. Although we pay lip service to knowledge and creativity – there are powerful cultural influences that call into question the status of science, civilisation and humanity’s capacity to do good.
These influences encourage us to be cautious, conservative and risk averse – attitudes that lower expectations rather than help us to make the most of opportunities in the future.
Professor of sociology at the University of Kent (author of The Politics of Fear)
India: Market Forces Should Decide GM Seed Prices
- Financial Express (India), July 10, 2006 http://www.financialexpress.com
Let the markets determine the prices of transgenic Bt cotton seeds instead of the state trying to play its role of Big Brother and dictating prices. Take the recent notice of enquiry issued by the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) to the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) and its multinational partner Monsanto, for reducing the trait value of transgenic Bt cotton seeds by a mere Rs 20.
On June 11, Mahyco-Monsanto had reduced the trait value for a 450 gram Bt cotton seed packet from Rs 900 to Rs 880 following an order by the MRTPC. What has upset the MRTPC--it is looking into the matter following an application by the Andhra Pradesh government--is that though it wanted the rates to be brought down to a level equalling those prevailing in China, this hasn’t happened.
In China, Monsanto charges trait value equal to Rs 40. While it it necessary to protect the interests of farmers where genetically modified (GM) crops are concerned, surely the MRTPC would do well to first understand the pricing issue for GM Bt cotton seeds in-depth. If China has a lower trait value, it is owing to the play of market forces amidst a lot of competition. Importantly, an estimated 64.5% of cotton sowings in China are varieties developed by state-owned research bodies. With Chinese scientists having developed 22 varieties of transgenic cotton, this has helped keep prices low. Indeed, in China around 65% of its five million cotton farmers have chosen to sow transgenic seeds developed by state-run research institutes.
As opposed to this, all transgenic cotton varieties grown in India are based on technology developed by Monsanto. While it was reported some months ago that cotton plants have been grown from GM seeds developed by IIT Kharagpur and a private company and had got the government’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, we need to have many more such indigenously developed GM cotton varieties.
And the government needs to lend its backing to both research institutes and private enterprise to make transgenic cotton a viable commercial option.
Home Kits for Biotechnology
-Drew Kershen, dkershen.at.ou.edu, University of Oklahoma College of Law
I read with interest the comments on AgBioView about the home kits for those who want to tinker with biotechnology. I want to point out something of which most are likely unaware.
Several counties in California have banned or proposed to ban biotechnology – the creation, use, or growing of transgenic micro-organisms, plants, or animals. While each ordinance, as adopted or proposed, is different [and I do not have the precise wording of each in front of me as I write], some of these ordinances make it a crime to engage in biotechnology except under very limited and strictly-controlled circumstances. If a home hobbyist were working with biotechnology in one of these limited and controlling California counties, they may be committing a crime.
Again, depending on the precise wording of the ordinance, as proposed or adopted, the most limited and controlling ordinances may also make it a crime for teachers to create, use, or grow transgenic micro-organisms, plants, or animals in biology classes at the high-school or college level. Teachers would thus be at risk if they purchased a home-kit or purchased the materials on several websites offering high-school curricular offerings in biotechnology.
Ditto home gardeners who purchase transgenic seed. Home gardeners and home hobbyists seem likely to be overlapping groups for biotechnology.
A Seed of Sterile Thought
- Paul Jacob, Free Liberal July 10, 2006 http://www.freeliberal.com
Sometimes it's the people with the best intentions who spread the wildest rumors. There's a movement gaining strength around the world, especially in Europe and Africa, to ban forever genetically engineered foods. For at least five years I've been reading and hearing complaints about something called "terminator seeds," and much of what I've read is ludicrous.
In most modern farms, farmers buy seeds every year. In earlier times, and more primitive places, farmers harvest seeds from their fruits and vegetables, to plant next season. Now, some genetically modified foods are also being engineered to produce sterile seeds in the produce. So farmers using those seeds could not harvest the seeds as a recycling effort.
Now, the reason most farmers in the first world don't do harvest seeds any more is that the better hybrids decay over time, thus the seeds they'd harvest wouldn't produce as well as newly produced and bought seeds. Besides, it's something of a hassle to do that extra work. For many farmers, cultivating strains and seeds is "somebody else's job." And with this division of labor comes efficiencies.
But the terminator seeds that some major companies want to sell have caused quite an uproar. You hear about poor, illiterate farmers not being able to handle the alleged "pressure" to buy the new seeds.
I don't know about you, but I raise my eyebrow when people assume that farmers are stupid.
But food purist activists are another matter! In nearly every discussion of terminator seeds I've come across recently, there's this section devoted to the spectre of terminator seeds spreading throughout the farm stock, making other strains sterile. Listen: sterile seeds can't spread their sterility.
Talk about a sterile argument!
Is European Union Really Anti-Genetic Engineering?
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, India http://www.fbae.org
Ignoring a number of pro-genetic engineering (GE) developments in the European Union (EU), anti-tech activists assert that the EU has closed its doors to GE, but facts speak otherwise.
GE Product Development: Despite a very vehement and active anti-tech propaganda, the European Commission (EC) has approved over 190 GE crops for field-testing during the past three years. In 2006 it self, the EC has approved 98 GE crops for field-testing in Spain (38), France (19), Germany (10), Hungary (7), Portugal (5), Sweden (4), Czech Republic (3), Poland (3), Denmark (2) and Ireland (1). The traits include herbicide tolerance, pest tolerance, high enzyme levels, high yield, photosynthetic efficiency, explosive detection and others, in transgenic corn, potato, rye, rapeseed, cotton, tobacco, flax and sugar beet. Both public institutions and biotech corporations are involved in developing these transgenics.
Changing Policy on Import of GE Products: The EU had imposed a de facto moratorium in 1998 on GE crops and foods, under pressure from anti-tech lobbies. Europe also has very strict labeling rules. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has now ruled that the EU, by an effective ban on biotech foods, breached its commitments with respect to 21 products, including oilseed rape, maize and cotton. WTO held that Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg, violated international trade rules. The EU lifted the moratorium in 2004 and ever since has approved the import of about 25 GE corn varieties for use as feed, to be in line with its WTO obligations.
EU's Pro-Active Attitude: The EC issued guidelines for the development of strategies and practices to ensure the co-existence of conventional and GE crops and organic farming. A meeting on June 20, 2006, in Helsinki, by the Finnish and Austrian Governments in collaboration with the European Commission Directorate General Research, Joint Research Center (http://bio4eu.jrc.es/), discussed 'Consequences, opportunities and challenges of modern biotechnology for Europe'. Issues such as competitiveness, the impacts of biotechnology, regulation of biotechnology and public perceptions of biotechnology, were on the agenda.
Pro-Active Governments: The French Government (June 7, 2006) has licensed two sites for GE crops to produce pharmaceuticals ahead of legislation to deal with crop contamination and liability. Two out of 17 new test sites involve GE maize and tobacco to produce pharmaceuticals.
The Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (March 31, 2006) agreed to pay Euros 9.9 million, to the Wageningen University to develop a GE potato with resistance to late blight. The Dutch government has also issued over 30 licenses for field trials of biotech crops in 2006, of which five relate to GE potatoes, one to GE apples, and one to GE carnation.
Law Catches Up: Greenpeace is charged under section 306 of the criminal code of the Danish Terror Law (May 12, 2006) over a protest action against GM Crops, a lot more serious action than individual fine. An amendment of the terror package by the Danish parliament made it now possible to charge the entire Greenpeace organization for the conduct of a few activists. On June 27, 2006, a French Court of appeal convicted 49 activists for destroying a crop of GM maize, quashing an earlier court ruling.
Affirmative Scientists: The Commission on Green Biotechnology is a constituent of the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities. The InterAcademy Panel (IAP), a worldwide network of 92 Academies of Sciences, with its Secretariat in Trieste/Italy, advises citizens and politicians in their home countries on current problems of global relevance.
A workshop jointly conducted by these two academic bodies in Berlin (May 27-29, 2006), declared that a) foods from approved GM crops are safe for humans and animals, b) approved GM crops do not pose environmental hazards, c) small-scale farmers, not just large scale farmers or multinational corporations, profit from the adoption of GM crops, which in turn contributes to the alleviation of poverty, d) GM crops pose no irresolvable conflict with either non-GM crops or organic farming, e) GM crops can make major contributions to the quantity and quality of food in the world, and f) freedom of choice should apply to all farmers and consumers, not just to some of them.
Healthy Biotechnology Industry: According to Ernst & Young, the European biotechnology sector has now experienced the second-strongest financing year on record, with Euro 3.2 billion in raised capital. In 2005, the revenues of Europe's publicly traded biotech companies increased by 28 per cent, as against the world's 18 per cent.
Industry Speaks Up: In an interview about 'green biotechnology' with EU Politics (June 2, 2006), the CEO of BASF said that if there are individual EU countries, which do not want GE crops, they should leave the EU. He said that if consumers do not like it they will not buy it and that a situation, whereby these products are proved safe and then countries say we do not want this product, cannot be accepted. He further stated that if 25 countries agree to give a certain authority to Brussels and entrust them to take a decision and they agree that the new technologies enter into the EU, and then it should not be up to countries to prevent that.
Changing Public Attitudes: In the Eurobarometer 2005 survey, 52 per cent of 25,000 Europeans believed that biotechnology would improve quality of life. Eurobarometer surveys on biotechnology were conducted in 1991, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2002 and 2005.
Most Europeans seem to favour medical and industrial applications of biotechnology, but about 58 per cent are still skeptical about agricultural biotechnology. Nevertheless, biopharming, the use of GE plants in the production of pharmaceuticals, is widely supported, along with biofuels and bioplastics.
Public confidence in the EU's regulation of biotechnology (78 per cent) is more than in their own Governments. A vast majority expressed trust in University and industry scientists and wants the politicians to rely more on the advice of expert scientists.
The claim that the European public opinion is more technology-adverse than in US and Canada, is dispelled. Optimism about biotechnology's contribution to improving society has grown significantly since 1999. Nevertheless, efforts still needed to bring science and technology closer to people and foster communication between scientists and the public.
The Man Who Fed the World
The Biography of Norman Borlaug is Just out. Do not forget to get your own copy, recommend it your library and also order more - it makes a great gift! (-CSP)
"Unsung Hero: The Man Who Fed the World
by Leon Hesser; Durban House Publishing, June 2006, hardcover, $24.95
To request a copy of The Man Who Fed the World or to schedule an interview with Leon Hesser, please contact Diana Oleskow, publicist, at (239-293-1585) or dianabob2(at)comcast.net" ; to Order http://www.manwhofedtheworld.com/purchase.htm
From the day he was born in 1914, Norman Borlaug has been an enigma. How could a child of the Iowa prairie, who attended a one-teacher, one-room school; who flunked the university entrance exam; and whose highest ambition was to be a high school science teacher and athletic coach, ultimately achieve the distinction as one of the one hundred most influential persons of the twentieth century? And receive the Nobel Peace Prize for averting hunger and famine? And eventually be hailed as the man who saved hundreds of millions of lives from starvation—more than any other person in history?
What is it that made Norman Borlaug different? What drove him? What can we--especially our youth--learn from his life?
Those questions are answered in Leon Hesser’s authorized biography, The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger
This biography of one of the greatest men of our time is written in the same fast-paced, common sense style that has characterized the amazingly creative life of Norman Borlaug. By revolutionizing food production across the developing world, our highly esteemed Nobel laureate has redeemed the lives of untold millions of people. No one can tell this story of Dr. Borlaug better than his fellow agriculturist and development authority, Dr. Leon Hesser. - George McGovern
Dr. Borlaug’s scientific achievements saved hundreds of millions of lives and earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and the distinction as one of the 100 most influential individuals of the 20th century. - Jimmy Carter
Borlaug is a complicated man, somehow balancing contradictions. He is the scientist and the dirt farmer; the advocate of common sense and the master of political subtleties; the humanitarian and the pugnacious fighter; the idealist and the consultant to governments of every political ideology. He has been called a peaceful revolutionary, and the tension in that term—between benevolence and aggressiveness—seems particularly apt.- Paul Dienhart, University of Minnesota
Dr. Borlaug’s scientific achievements prevented mass starvation and death in South Asia and the Middle East. I have been particularly impressed by his work in Africa, …Dr. Borlaug is an American hero and a world icon.
- George H. W. Bush
Fruit Genetics Set to Create New Natural Flavours
- Dominique Patton, Food Navigator, July11, 2006 http://www.foodnavigator.com
A vast bank of fruit genes identified by researchers in New Zealand is set to give rise to new nature-identical flavours for use by food makers. New Zealand plant research institute HortResearch says its scientists can now accurately determine which genes create the individual flavours and fragrances found in fruits and flowers.
Their breakthrough findings will allow flavour houses to recreate natural flavour compounds using traditional fermentation techniques, rather than having to resort to chemical synthesis or costly extraction processes. "We were interested in finding out which genes make flavour and aroma compounds so that breeders know how to maintain them," explained Dr Richard Newcomb, industrial biotechnology scientist at HortResearch. "We used microarrays to learn which of the genes in our database switched on at the end of the ripening process - the time when flavour comes into fruit."
When the researchers identified the genes responsible for flavour production, they tested whether they continued to produce the same compounds when inserted into bacteria or model plants. Finding that they caused the same effect in other organisms, the scientists proposed that the genes could be used to generate large amounts of the flavour compounds for harvest by industrial means.
"Using starter compounds already in bacteria, you can then use enzymes to reproduce these during fermentation. The compounds end up floating into the airspace above the bacteria, where it can be harvested," explained Dr Newcomb. When the flavour compounds are harvested, they are guaranteed to be 'nature-identical' - with the same molecular make-up - as those found in fruit because they are produced by the same gene, he added.
There are clear advantages for flavour houses from using such a technique over chemical synthesis to mimic natural flavours and fragrances found in fruit and vegetables, particularly at a time when consumers are increasingly demanding that food ingredients are natural. "Chemical synthesis requires heat and pressure, so is reliant on increasingly expensive and polluting fossil fuels for energy. What's more, chemical synthesis can never truly recreate nature; the flavour or fragrance will typically be slightly different to that found naturally in fruits and flowers," he said.
And extraction of compounds from fruits, while resulting in a 'natural' flavour, is expensive and produces only limited quantities of product, he added. Biofermentation techniques, on the other hand, can produce large amounts of a desired compound at a low cost and with little environmental impact.
While the possibility of 'fermenting' genes to produce compounds has been well understood for many years, science has generally lagged behind in identifying which genes are needed to produce the desired outcome. But new techniques that help determine which genes create each compound, and how those compounds combine to create a flavour or fragrance, has allowed the HortResearch scientists to gain a groundbreaking insight into flavour production in nature.
To test its concept, the company has recreated a fruit compound called alpha-farnesene, responsible for the distinctive aroma of green apples. It has filed international patent applications on the use of the applicable gene in creating the fragrance, and is in talks with flavour houses to license the technology.
Bringing the flavour, and others resulting from the genetic research, to market will depend upon how much it currently costs to produce the same flavour through extraction, suggests Dr Newcomb, although extraction tends to be more expensive. However with consumers paying more for 'natural' foods, the market looks ripe for novel, natural flavours.
Dr Newcomb will present details of the research at the World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology taking place in Toronto, Canada this week.
- Henry Miller, Washington Times, July 9, 2006 http://www.washingtontimes.com
Mendacity and misrepresentation are nothing new from anti-meat, anti-technology, anti-capitalism activist Jeremy Rifkin. His statements about biotechnology threatening "a form of annihilation every bit as deadly as nuclear holocaust" and civilization standing perilously "on the cusp of a frightening new era of cloning, genetic engineering and eugenics" are absurd. No less so his speculations in the early 1980s that a small-scale field trial of a gene-spliced soil bacterium could change weather patterns and disrupt air-traffic control.
Mr. Rifkin has moved on in recent years to make predictions and speculations in other realms -- that Americans' consumption of beef causes domestic violence, and that Europe is becoming ascendant while America is languishing, for example -- none of them credible or correct. Or even interesting.
Like a dog digging up an old bone, he has returned to his bete noire: plant biotechnology. The new wrinkle is he now touts a technique for plant breeding called "marker assisted selection" (MAS) as a replacement for the far more precise, predictable and powerful technique of gene-splicing, which enables plant scientists to move genes from one source to another.
According to Mr. Rifkin, MAS offers all the advantages of genetic improvement without the supposedly significant risks to human health and the environment posed by gene-splicing applied to plants, a "primitive" technology.
But the risks are Mr. Rifkin's enduring fantasy; and MAS is a blunt instrument, incapable of transferring genes from one species to another or of custom-tailoring genes -- to program a plant to synthesize a new vitamin or pharmaceutical, for example. MAS is a method of conventional plant breeding in which researchers locate DNA sequences in a plant's genome consistently associated with desired traits, such as higher yield or disease resistance. These can then be used to screen for and predict the presence of the desired traits in progeny of traditional crosses.
Characteristic of any Rifkin exposition, the proposal makes no sense to those with expertise in the field. "This tract is typical Rifkin material," according to Alan McHughen of the University of California, Riverside. "He still twists information to fit his agenda."
Mr. Rifkin's agenda remains opposition to biotechnology. His disparagement of gene-spliced crops and foods derived from them was ridiculous and unfounded 20 years ago, and it is delusional today. These crops have drastically reduced use of chemical pesticides and encouraged agronomic practices that reduce soil erosion. They have enhanced yields and both increased revenues to farmers and offered them some insurance against catastrophic losses from pests and diseases.
Crops made with gene-splicing techniques are grown by 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries on more than 100 million acres annually. Americans have consumed more than a trillion servings of foods that contain gene-spliced ingredients. Through all this experience, there is not a single documented case of injury to a person or disruption of an ecosystem. Scientists are virtually unanimous that gene-splicing techniques are essentially a refinement of earlier ones and that gene transfer or modification by molecular techniques does not, per se, confer risk. Like robotics, fiber optics and supercomputers, gene-splicing is no more than a widely applicable tool. Yet Mr. Rifkin continues his crusade against existing biotech foods and pharmaceuticals and lobbies to prevent development and testing of future products. He has interfered with -- and even tried to roll back -- the research, development and marketing of products that feed the planet and prevent and cure fatal diseases.
He has condemned crop plants that will require smaller amounts of agricultural chemicals and water for cultivation. And all the while, he has distorted facts extravagantly and often made them up. His suggestion that MAS could replace gene-splicing is tantamount to suggesting drum brakes and conventional tires should now replace disk brakes and radials.
The late Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, by his own admission, tried to be sympathetic to Mr. Rifkin's views toward biotechnology but was overwhelmed by the "extremism" and "lack of integrity" in Mr. Rifkin's anti-biotechnology diatribe, "Algeny," and concluded Mr. Rifkin "shows no understanding of the norms and procedures of science."
Mr. Gould, a renowned scholar, was appalled at Mr. Rifkin's poor distortions: " 'Algeny' is full of ludicrous, simple errors -- I particularly enjoyed Mr. Rifkin's account of Darwin in the Galapagos. After describing the 'great masses' of vultures, condors, vampire bats and jaguars that Darwin saw on these islands, Mr. Rifkin writes: 'It was a savage, primeval scene, menacing in every detail. Everywhere there was bloodletting, and the ferocious, unremittent [sic] battle for survival. The air was dank and foul, and the thick stench of volcanic ash veiled the islands with a kind of ghoulish drape.' " "Well," said Mr. Gould dismissively, "I guess Rifkin has never been there."
In fact, whether the subject is economics, politics, cosmology, ecology, science or technology, Mr. Rifkin has never "been there." Some of us try in our professional lives to build edifices of one sort or another, to make society richer and more equitable, to make life less "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short," in the words of Thomas Hobbes. But people like Mr. Rifkin devote themselves to retarding progress and to creating only uncertainty and anxiety.
Finally, the coup de grace from professor Gould: "I regard 'Algeny' as a cleverly constructed tract of anti-intellectual propaganda masquerading as scholarship. Among books promoted as serious intellectual statements by important thinkers, I don't think I have ever read a shoddier work." But then he had not seen Mr. Rifkin's later writings.
Henry Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a fellow at the Hoover Institution. His most recent book, "The Frankenfood Myth," was selected by Barron's as One of the 25 Best Books of 2004. He was a Food and Drug Administration official from 1979 to 1994.
Crop Improvement Workshop in South Africa
GCP Databases, Internet Resources, and Bioinformatics for Crop Improvement Workshop in South Africa, 4-7 Sept. 2006
The goal of this workshop is to introduce the participants to bioinformatics resources such as crop-specific databases and literature tools and teach them how to integrate these resources in their own future research. Target participants include crop breeders, crop scientists, and molecular biologists/biotechnologists from National Agricultural Research Institutes in Africa.
The application deadline is 21 July 2006. For more information, Contact: Yoseph Beyene (yoseph.beyene.at.fabi.up.ac.za) see the course website: http://www.bi.up.ac.za/gcp2006/.
Problems with the Cartagena Protocol
- Alan McHughen, Asia Pacific Biotech 10:684-687; 2006 (University of California, Riverside, Ca USA; alanmc(at)ucr.edu)
'The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is doomed to fail. Even worse, Cartagena will help perpetuate the very biodiversity damage it purports to protect.'
Introduction - The Cartagena Protocol was negotiated under the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and came into force September 11, 2003. It covers transborder movement of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs). LMOs are viable GMO products of biotechnology or genetic engineering. LMOs, for the most part, are commodity grains like soybeans, maize and canola. Processed GMOs, pharmaceuticals or other products of genetic technologies are exempt if they are unable to reproduce. To date, 132 countries have ratified the Protocol, which obligates counties to establish extensive bureaucracies to, among other things, identify, monitor, document and track the transborder movement of LMOs. Why have so many countries signed on to the Protocol with its intrusive and expensive obligations?
The Cartagena Protocol's objective is "… to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology." http://www.biodiv.org/biosafety/background2.aspx
World popular opinion supports preserving and protecting biodiversity, even at considerable cost. Environmental degradation is apparent, global climate change is increasingly intense, biodiversity worldwide is diminishing. Popular support for Cartagena, then, is not surprising, as it is a measure intended to protect global biodiversity.
In spite of the near global moral and political support for Cartagena (apart from major exporters including USA, Canada, Australia and Argentina), and vast amounts of money and human resources spent in advancing the Cartagena cause, the Protocol is fundamentally flawed. An unlimited amount of money, political goodwill or international concordance will not enable Cartagena to succeed. Why? The underlying premise is wrong and the implementation is impracticable.
The premise is fundamentally flawed
The underlying assumption, the singular premise of the Cartagena Protocol is that all LMOs and only LMOs pose a threat to biodiversity. If this premise turns out untrue, all the money, efforts, energy and time spent on Cartagena is wasted, and valuable products are delayed or denied to those who need them most. But like the Emperor's new clothes, no one wants to challenge the assumption.
As it happens, there is plenty of objective scientific data relating to the impact of GMOs/LMOs on the environment, including effects on environment and biodiversity. There is great range in origins and perspectives among the scientific studies, from the European Commission sponsored research on the safety of genetically modified organisms (2001) to the US National Academy of Sciences 2002 study titled "Environmental impacts of transgenic plants", and those of many other professional scientific societies. In spite of the geographical, political, and other interests, these studies all came to the same conclusion- that GMO/LMO/ transgenic plants pose no new threats or no greater threats than do conventional technologies. Indeed, the conclusions from these various studies are being borne out in reality. Genetically engineered crops have been grown commercially since 1994 and still are enjoying dramatic growth. The recent report of ISAAA shows GM crops are being grown on almost 100 million hectares by farmers in 21 countries worldwide - www.isaaa.org
There is no documented connection--positive or negative--between LMOs and biodiversity. Of all of the worldwide diminution in biodiversity (and while the extent of loss is argued in academic circles, the fact that there is substantial loss is not in dispute), none of the harm to biodiversity can be attributed to LMOs. Yet Cartagena regulates only those LMOs in international trade, and LMOs have only been in commerce for ten years. How could they be responsible for damage to biodiversity that's been building for many years? And although the rate of adoption of genetically engineered crops by farmers has been dramatic, LMOs remain a relatively small fraction of world trade in living commodities.
In spite of the rapid growth and distribution, there is still not a single documented case of LMOs causing any diminution of biodiversity. With the results of the scientific studies concluding that GMOs/LMOs pose no greater risk to biodiversity than conventional agriculture, and the reality that GMO crops have not yet caused any discernable problem, why does the international political system insist on expending so many scarce financial, regulatory and emotional resources on a phantom threat? The whole foundation of Cartagena is not only shaky, it is dishonest.
The Cartagena protocol is disingenuous on two counts- first, it assumes a scientific foundation when there is none, and second, it misleads world citizens to believe 'something is being done to protect biodiversity', when in fact Cartagena does nothing to address the real and known causes of damage to biodiversity.
In spite of overwhelming international support for the Protocol (as indicated by the rapid ratification of so many countries), only now are we asking the questions that should have been asked during – or before – negotiations. How much will implementation and enforcement cost? Why are none of the major agricultural exporting nations interested? And, most important, how does the Protocol actually protect biodiversity?
Apart from this fundamental flaw, the protocol also suffers severe practical problems. The implementation involves reducing the legislative policy to regulatory action. While the policy to preserve biodiversity sounds nice in theory, reducing it to regulatory practice is causing problems, even in those nations championing the Protocol in the first place. Evidently, the text is written by lawyers and politicians, and is based on the subjective process oriented (biotechnology) origin of products. But it demands analysis of objective products.
Unfortunately, one cannot apply objective science based criteria to solve subjective, process based problems. Senior regulators in several countries have quietly stated their frustrations, that they are given a job to do--implement Cartagena--and are frustrated because it is an inherently unscientific process. The authors of Cartagena are trying to force scientific credibility using a scientific regulatory system. But it can't succeed, because Cartagena is inherently not amenable to science. It's as if the politicians decided it would be a good thing to have a square sphere, and demand their scientific regulators create one. Both sides become angry and frustrated when the desired object fails to materialize.
Cost of compliance
In the January 18, 2006 issue of BusinessWorld, Raul Montemayor, a consultant for the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council, is quoted as saying "The cost of doing these system changes (i.e. implementation of Cartagena) will be borne by the importers and will eventually be passed on to consumers…".
In a subsequent study of the costs of Cartagena implementation to a major food importer (China) and a major exporter (Brazil), the same International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council concluded that meeting the obligations "could prove costly and disruptive". China would bear extreme costs of testing and monitoring incoming grain commodity shipments at her borders, while Brazil would have to establish a reliable identity preservation bureaucracy for export shipments, again at great cost of up to 9% of a shipment's value.
Common sense dictates that in each case, ultimately consumers will pay these added costs. It may well be that consumers are willing to pay extra for food if it can be shown that the additional costs actually do result in documented evidence of biosafety. But until such evidence is presented, consumers are asked to pay more money but receive no value for their sacrifice. It is particularly disturbing that consumers in poorer countries will bear the burden of unnecessary higher food costs.
There are indeed real threats to biodiversity, and real things have caused environmental degradation, but LMOs are not among them. And by focusing all or almost all resources on products of biotechnology, the real threats are left to wreak havoc and continue to degrade the environment and pose risks to health.
In short, even the worldwide implementation of Cartagena will do nothing to slow or reverse the degradation of biodiversity, because LMOs have not caused any of the current damage to biodiversity and have not been shown to be a threat to biodiversity. Cartagena is supposed to preserve biodiversity, but it is doomed to fail because it ignores the true causes of damage to biodiversity, and instead focuses on a group of products of no known threat to biodiversity.
In the final analysis, Cartagena exacts a high price, governments spending limited time and regulatory resources to service it; food handlers spend time, money and resources in paperwork, documentation and compliance measures such as segregation, costly sample testing; and consumers, who face higher prices for all foods, not just LMO containing foods, as part of the overall requirement to assure the provenance of imported foods. Perhaps taxpayers and consumers would be willing to pay such a high price to truly protect biodiversity. But the scientific research and reality shows Cartagena does nothing to protect biodiversity from real threats.
Popular support for Cartagena will collapse as soon as people see the damaging assaults on biodiversity continue unabated in spite of the massive cost and effort charged by the global implementation of Cartagena.
But the greatest damage borne by Cartagena will come later. Subsequent initiatives that seek to contain the actual threats to biodiversity will fail to garner popular support, with many people saying "I gave my support to Cartagena; I've done my bit for biodiversity" and abandon what might be an effective program.
With new and potentially effective biodiversity preservation programs thus denied due to a lack of popular support, biodiversity and the environment will continue to suffer degradation well into the future. In this respect, it may be stated that the biggest threat to global biodiversity today is the Cartagena Protocol itself.
More Environmentalism Humor!
- Activism Humor http://activismhumor.blogspot.com
A professor of psychology was nearing the end of a seminar in advanced psychology and to challenge the students, he proposed a set of symptoms and asked the students to suggest a diagnosis.
"How would you diagnose a patient who walks back and forth screaming at the top of his lungs one minute, then sits in a chair writing morose essays predicting doom?"
Melissa raised her hand. "A manic depressive?" she suggested.
"Quite perceptive," the professor responded. "However, there are other symptoms as well. This patient has extreme distrust of others, suspecting that they have hidden motives or represent a conspiracy. He has a persistent fear of being deceived, and is argumentative and self-righteous. He compulsively seeks proof of deceptions, secret motivations and conspiracies, and interprets any contrary evidence to be a personal attack."
Daniel raised his hand. "Definitely a classical paranoid," he said.
"Also very good," the professor said. "However, there are further symptoms. The patient claims the ability to understand the needs of plants, animals, air and dirt, and says he speaks as their voices."
Patricia raised her hand. "Schzophrenia, absolutely," she announced. "Certainly there are manic and para..."
She was interrupted by Richard, who leaped from his chair and shouted, "This man should not be a patient and should be released immediately! You're all wrong! Can't you see? This seminar is nothing but corporate neoliberal propaganda! This man isn't ill, he's an environmentalist!"
Environmentalism: The Oldest Profession
A doctor, an engineer, and an environmental activist were discussing who among them belonged to the oldest of the three professions they represented.
The doctor said, "Remember, on the sixth day God took a rib from Adam and fashioned Eve, making him the first surgeon. Therefore, medicine is the oldest profession."
The engineer disagreed. "But, before that, God created the heavens and earth from chaos and confusion, and thus he was the first engineer. Therefore, engineering is an older profession than medicine."
Then the environmentalist spoke up. "Yes," he said, "But who do you think created all of the chaos and confusion?"