AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com
Date: Jun 07 2000 22:57:52 EDT
From: Mary Ellen Jones
Subject: the negotiating table
If ag biotech researchers were prepared to come to the negotiation table
with plans to use GMOs to address social or environmental issues, would
the anti-biotech faction come to the other side of the table with helpful
If environmentalists were prepared to come to the negotiation table with
ideas for how GMOs could be used to address social or environmental
issues, would the corporate researchers come to the other side of the
table to listen?
If academic ag biotech researchers were willing to follow the explicit
directions of environmentalists in developing GMOs for use in
environmental protection (as they often do for corporate funded research),
would environmentalists support those researchers financially and help
them through the regulatory red tape so they could bring a rDNA product to
If the answer to any of these questions is "No way!" or "I will, but
'they' won't!" then is this anti-biotech debate really about the safety of
GMOs, or is it about something else? If the answer is "We're already
cooperating in this way!" I'd love to hear from you.
Mary Ellen Jones, Ph.D.
Center for Interdisciplinary Studies
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061-0247
Date: Jun 07 2000 23:52:57 EDT
From:"Robert L. Manning"
Subject: Your exchange with Mark Griffiths; some questions and ideas
It was a real pleasure to read the exchange of ideas between you and Mark
Griffiths. The whole tone of the communication was respectful, temperate
and rational, rather than scornful, hyperbolic and emotional, as seems to
sometimes be the case with messages posted on the site.
I thought that Mark Griffiths, whom I do not know at all, raised some very
important questions, and I was very glad to see that you felt it
appropriate to respond. Your response left me with some additional
questions and I take the liberty of noting them here.
My concerns about rDNA deployment are very similar to those of Mr
Griffiths', your response do not dispel those concerns.
Most would agree with you that there can be no progress without some risk,
but the question of proportionality seems relevant. In the case of the
Wright Brothers risky flight, a disaster would have meant the end of
Orville and Wilbur, but the risk to the rest of the human race and the
natural environment was predictably infinitesimal.
In the matter of rDNA deployment, there seem to be at least a few
competent genetic scientists who believe that our present state of
knowledge is not adequate to ensure that the risk is infinitesimal. In
this case nothing greater than infinitesimal would be acceptable, I
believe. And this seems to me true no matter how great and how certain
the hoped-for benefit.
After all, we are dealing with such a fundamental aspect of life processes
that are the result of billions of years of evolutionary development.
Furthermore, our recently-acquired genomic understanding is impressive,
but as you recognize, it is far from complete. From what I have read, it
is not possible, a priori, to anticipate with certainty the effect of
introduction of a new gene in the genome - either on the organism
receiving the gene or on the diverse organisms, including butterflies and
people, that may ingest the genetically modified product.
And if this risk is not enough, we need to consider the difficulty of
predicting the environmental effects of introduction of transgenic rDNA,
of species that have not and could not have been created through the
evolutionary process or by traditional hybridization techniques. Surely
you would agree that we have only the most limited understanding of the
vast and intricate web of biological and physical processes that
constitute our natural environment, into which these new organisms are to
If the risk is, as I believe, unpredictable but potentially great and even
catastrophic, must we continue to proceed as though it does not exist, or
are there alternative and less risky ways to deal with very real problems
the new biotechnology aims to resolve?
I suggest that we have not made significant efforts to resolve the problem
using much less risky approaches. In general these require political and
governmental policies together with the efforts of the private sector.
The U.S government has been particularly slow in responding to the need.
In part this is, I believe, because we are so strongly committed to market
solutions, which have produced such bounty for our country.
In the absence of a framework of effective and farsighted government
policies, I do not believe the market will ensure long-term protection for
either our health or our environment. The new technologies are too
powerful, and the incentives for short-term financial gain too great.
Among the policies and programs that should be pursued with great urgency
to deal with the global problem of ensuring adequate food supplies in the
developing world are:
- broadened application and further improvement of conventional and
sustainable agricultural practices,
- increased support for political reform and education (which could help
deal with the issue of population growth, improve nutrition and move us
toward more rational and sustainable patterns of consumption), and
- economic aid including incentives and technical and scientific support,
from the wealthy nations
While these policies are being developed and implemented, an additional
role of government is to ensure that powerful new technologies are fully
tested for long-term safety prior to introduction into the food chain or
the environment. I consider this a fundamental responsibility of any
government acting in the interest of its own people and of human life on
Thank you for your work in maintaining the continuing exploration of this
crucially important issue. I would certainly welcome your thoughts on the
questions and ideas I have outlined here.