* Borlaug to receive Congressional Medal
* Scientist urges GM crops rethink
* China extends agro-tech training to Africa
* Monsanto looks beyond Bt
* BP's Biotech Bet
* Deaths in Andhra Pradesh
* Terrorists are activists
* HT Soybean Equivalent to Conventional
WFP Founder Norman Borlaug to receive America's highest civilian honor
Congressional Gold Medal will be given to "Father of Green Revolution" on July 17
- World Food Prize Foundation (press release), June 28, 2007
Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, Congressional Gold Medal of Honor Recipient(DES MOINES, IA, USA) - President George W. Bush and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will award World Food Prize Founder and 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug with the Congressional Gold Medal, America's highest civilian honor.
The ceremony will take place at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. on July 17, 2007. An original gold medal has been created by the United States mint commemorating Dr. Borlaug's achievements.
On December 6, the United States House of Representatives voted to honor Borlaug with the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor. The legislation was passed in the final days of the 2006 legislative session. The United States Senate first passed the legislation on September 27, 2006.
Dr. Borlaug is believed to have saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived - more than a billion - through his breakthrough work in agriculture. He is widely credited with ushering in the "Green Revolution," the greatest period of food production in human history (see all of Dr. Borlaug's accomplishments at
"Dr. Borlaug is responsible for saving a billion lives around the world," said Representative Tom Latham, R-IA, during the debate on the House Floor. "It is extraordinarily important that we recognize this great humanitarian. Dr. Norman Borlaug truly is an American superhero. He completely altered agriculture as we know it."
In addition to Rep. Latham, Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA), Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) spoke on the House floor in favor of the bill. The Senate resolution to honor Dr. Borlaug was introduced by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA).
"The Congressional Gold Medal is a remarkable tribute to Dr. Borlaug's legacy of feeding the world," said Amb. Kenneth Quinn, President of the World Food Prize. "It is said of Dr. Borlaug that he has saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived. We are extremely grateful to members of the Iowa Congressional delegation for their bipartisan leadership effort to pass this resolution in recognition of Dr. Borlaug's accomplishments."
In 1986, Dr. Borlaug founded the World Food Prize to recognize life-saving achievements that increase the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. Now celebrating its twentieth anniversary, the award is often referred to as the "Nobel Prize of Food and Agriculture."
Now 92, Dr. Borlaug was born in the small northeast Iowa town of Cresco. He continues to work for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico, as well as the Sasakawa Global 2000 program in Africa. He travels extensively most of the year, returning to the United States each fall to teach a course at Texas A&M University and to participate in the World Food Prize activities in Des Moines.
"Dr. Norman Borlaug is an American citizen that fits all of our definitions of a hero," Leach said during the debate on the House floor.
The first Congressional Gold Medal was awarded in 1776 to General George Washington. Dr. Borlaug now joins an illustrious list of recipients including Thomas Edison, Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King Jr, and President Ronald Reagan.
Scientist urges GM crops rethink
- BBC News, July 4, 2007
One of Scotland's top agricultural scientists has warned the country will pay a heavy price if it turns its back on genetically modified crops.
No GM food has been grown in Scotland since protests against trials held at three farms in 2003 and 2004.
Professor Howard Davies, from Invergowrie-based Scottish Crop Research Institute, said it made no sense to ignore a whole new industry.
He recently received funding to examine possible side effects of GM.
The new SNP government is opposed to GM crops, and many farmers and environmentalists believe altering the genetic makeup of plants could be dangerous.
But Prof Davies said the GM food industry was worth about $5bn (£2.5bn) worldwide, with more than 100 million hectares of GM crops being grown by 10 million farmers.
He added that it would make no sense for Scotland to snub the technology when there was no evidence that GM food was unsafe.
Prof Davies said: "The fear is understandable because it has been fuelled by a lot of misinformation over the years.
"We are now entering the 11th year after the first introduction of GM crops worldwide and so far there has been no indication of any safety issues, either to humans, animals or the environment.
"Having said that, no technology is risk free - even traditional breeding has its issues from time to time."
Prof Davies predicted GM crops would become increasingly attractive to Scottish farmers because of the challenges posed to the industry by climate change and the need to use more pesticides.
He added: "The fact that we in Scotland are not using the technologies will have its price to pay."
Prof Davies has been awarded a share in a £400,000 project to develop new techniques to track the side effects of GM.
Duncan McLaren of environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth accused Prof Davies of having a "vested interest" in championing the safety of GM crops.
Mr McLaren said: "There are a whole host of vested interests in the GM business so I am not surprised to hear another one putting their head above the parapet.
"What Scotland needs for its economic success is a reputation as an unspoiled environment."
Environment Minister Mike Russell said the Scottish government would be standing by its pre-election commitment to a GM-free country, as was the case in countries like Ireland and Austria.
He warned that rushing into using GM simply because other countries were doing so would be the "height of folly" because of the potential threat to the environment.
Mr Russell said: "Scotland has to be very careful indeed. There are huge issues of Scottish biodiversity and indeed the health of the whole Scottish environment at risk here.
"The SNP stood on a manifesto which was for a moratorium on GM crops and that is entirely what we believe in."
China holds agro-tech extension training course for African officials
-Xinhua, July 4, 2007
BEIJING -- A training course on the extension of agricultural technology for African officials, held by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, opened here on Wednesday.
A total of 35 agricultural officials from 21 African countries attended the training course, which was billed as the "2007 International Agro-Tech Extension Seminar for Africa".
The course will include lectures on genetically modified cotton and seed production technologies and the use of water-saving and biological technologies in agriculture.
"The seminar offers us a unique opportunity to understand how the Chinese do their work and how we do it, which areas we can improve. Our institute and the country will benefit from it ... and we'll be able to help our people," said Lagu Charles from Uganda's National Agriculture Research Organization at the opening ceremony.
Mohamed Salah, from the Egyptian Agricultural Ministry, said Egypt and China cooperated in several fields, especially in food security, animal production, animal health and plant protection. "We hope (to see) more cooperation between China and different countries in Africa," he said.
Agricultural cooperation was one aspect of the eight steps to offer major assistance and strengthen investment, trade and other key cooperation projects with Africa, announced by Chinese President Hu Jintao at last November's China-Africa summit.
China will set up ten special agricultural technology demonstration centers in Africa and send 100 senior agro-tech experts to help with Africa's agricultural development.
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Agriculture had jointly sent five working groups to 14 African countries to make investigation for the setting up of agricultural technology demonstration centers and had worked out the plan of sending agricultural experts, which will be carried out in the next half of the year, according to sources with the Ministry of Commerce.
The first agricultural technology demonstration center was launched in Mozambique in February.
Monsanto looks beyond Bt, to launch new tech
- Business Standard (India), Jul 5,2007
Hyderabad - Monsanto Biotech India, a subsidiary of American seed giant Monsanto, is currently working on the introduction of Roundup Ready Flex (RRFlex) technology, a herbicide-resistant trait in cotton, in India.
Raj Ketkar, joint managing director, Monsanto Biotech India, said it would take at least four more years to complete the mandatory procedures to market the technology in the country. RRFlex allows farmers the flexibility of using a spectrum of herbicides at various stages of plant development for killing weeds without affecting the crop.
RRFlex, which was introduced in the US and Australia among other countries in 2006, is offered both as a stand-alone trait and in combination with Bt 2 technology that protects the plant from bollworms.
Bt cotton was first introduced in India with Monsanto's transgenic technology in 2005, and the company came up with Bt 2, the two-gene product last year. Farmers in many parts of the country adopted the new technology as it helped them save huge costs on account of pesticides.
The acreage under Bt cotton crop is estimated to further expand by 30-40% during the ongoing kharif season as compared with 8.7 million acre covered in the last kharif across the country.
BP's Biotech Bet
The energy giant has become the biggest investor in some of the most out-there genetics research.
- Matthew Herper, Forbes, July 3, 2007
Oil companies are better known for burning fossil fuels than splicing genes. But BP, the energy giant formerly known as British Petroleum, has made leading-edge technologies like custom engineered bacteria a linchpin of its strategy to face up to global warming.
In the process, germs would be souped up to make ethanol, biobutanol or other fuels from plants like corn. Scientists would embed the genomes of bacteria with genes taken from termites, sheep guts or microbes that live on your lawn. The very plants they consumed would also be bioengineered, and even more re-engineered bacteria might produce gasoline or similar fuels directly.
Still more newly discovered microbes that live in oil or natural gas wells might increase the efficiency of existing drilling and mining. Our economy is based on fossil fuels, the remains of long dead organisms. But in the future we might rely on life forms that have never before existed. BP declined to comment directly on its biotech strategy.
"BP is not doing this because they want to fund basic research," says Aristides Patrinos, the former director of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research and now president of biotech startup Synthetic Genomics. "This revolution in biology is ushering in new tools that, by revisiting old tricks, can make energy production a lot more effective."
The most prominent bet being made by BP is a plan to spend $500 million over 10 years to fund the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a proposed laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. The neighboring Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign are also involved in the project. The project will look at bioscience approaches from agriculture to economics, and will also study the ethical implications of all this new biotech work.
But already, before the institute is built or the contract even signed, the EBI is drawing controversy on the Berkeley campus.
One worry is that the new science of synthetic biology, the souped-up form of genetic engineering that involves radically modifying organisms or even someday designing them from scratch, is both more promising and more dangerous that the technology that has been around for two decades and gave birth to Amgen, Genencor, and Monsanto. Another concern is that BP will get significant intellectual property rights to the work being done at Berkeley, including the right of first refusal to a flood of IP that could result.
But perhaps the biggest red flag is the potential for conflict of interest, as a small number of researchers look to start up what could be a big new research field for academics and industry alike.
Chris Somerville, the Stanford plant geneticist who has been tapped to run the big project, is himself the co-founder of two biotech firms that will work in the same field as the institute. In one, the plant biotech startup Mendel Biotechnology, he has a significant interest, he says; he has less interest in the second, a biofuel startup called LS9.
Somerville has given up any control in either and is in compliance with Berkeley's conflict of interest policies. But he says he cannot afford to give up his stakes in the companies; they would be difficult to trade at a fair value because the firms are not public.
But the connections don't end there. Mendel also has a deal with BP, as does another biofuels play, Amyris Biotechnologies, which was founded by Jay Keasling, a Berkeley synthetic biology whiz who initially sought to make cheaper malaria medicines. (That effort got him a $43 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.) But now Amyris is in the biofuels biz. John G. Melo, the former head of BP's biofuels unit, is its chief executive.
Synthetic biology is such a small field right now that Keasling and Somerville were both initially involved with LS9, but left, leaving Harvard researcher George Church as the main scientific founder. Now Church says that LS9 is making significant progress, engineering E. coli to produce hydrocarbons. The idea is that bacteria could somehow efficiently make fuels that resemble gasoline, but with fewer environmental costs.
"These things don't get immediately disentangled," says Church, who worked in the medical biotech business as a researcher in the early days of Biogen, now part of Biogen Idec, before coming to Harvard. "In any meteorically rising field, the number of people is going to be small, and they're competing against each other at a commercial and academic level."
Another company that has a deal with BP is Synthetic Genomics, which was founded by human genome pioneer J. Craig Venter. The firm recently made headlines by showing that the genome of one bacteria species could be transplanted into a similar one--a step toward making a germ with entirely man-made genes.
But the company's tie-up with BP focuses on another area: using the sequencing technologies that Venter has pioneered to examine the microbes that are found inside natural gas and oil wells. Jonathan Eisen, a researcher at UC-Davis who is not working on the project, says that although that might not produce new kinds of fuels, these undiscovered species could make the discovery of existing fuels more efficient.
Venter says the goal is to discover the "thousands and thousands" of different organisms found in fossil fuel sites, from coal beds to oil wells.
These environments are super-hot, and exactly what kinds of microbes live in them is basically unknown. Patrinos helped launch efforts to learn how to collect living things from such otherworldly environments while he was at the DOE.
Just because BP is being so public about its research by investing in biotech firms and academics doesn't mean its rivals aren't quietly making their own investments. Chevron, for instance, formed a biofuels business unit last May. One disadvantage to BP's approach is that university researchers won't keep their work secret, as in-house scientists might.
In the past, biotech has never succeeded in areas like mining or manufacturing in the same way it did in medicine. Now, with new technologies that allow scientists to find and alter microbes in ways that were never before possible, a new generation of biologists is looking to change that.
And BP is funding them.
Sheep, goat, cattle deaths in Andhra Pradesh
- All India Crop Biotech Association (press release), July 5, 2007
Hyderabad: In the recent past there have been a series of reports which have appeared in various sections of the media on the adverse effects of Bollgard (Bt) cotton on sheep/goat/cattle. The All India Crop Biotech Association (AICBA) would like to present some factual and scientific information with regards to these allegations.
This is with reference to the issue on the deaths of sheep/goats/cattle after eating Bt cotton crop waste in Andhra Pradesh:
Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), in its 77th meeting on May 19, 2007 gives clear indication that Bt cotton released for commercial cultivation has been approved after evaluation of biosafety data, which includes feeding studies. The 90-day animal feed studies conducted at the Industrial Toxicology Research Center, Lucknow, feeding studies conducted at GB Pant University of Agriculture, Pantnagar, on lactating Buffalo, on chicken at Avian Research Institute, Izatnagar, and fish at the Central Institute of fishery Education, Mumbai, all indicate no toxic effect. The fact is that in over ten years of global Bt cotton experience, there has not been so much as one instance of harm coming to an animal that has grazed on Bt plant material
The GEAC however requested the Member Secretary to forward the report of the Directorate of Animal Husbandry, AP, to the members of the Scientific Investigation Committee constituted by the Ministry for their comments. The Committee desired that the views received from the experts may be placed before the GEAC in the next meeting
GEAC reviewed the reports received from Joint Director, Centre for Animal Disease Research and Diagnosis, IVRI, Rae Bareilly, in its 78th meeting held on June 22, 2007. The report indicates that the limited studies conducted in the institute in goats and in laboratory rats fed with Bt cotton left over indicated no untoward clinical effects. The Toxicology laboratory of the Centre, showed absence of HCN, Nitrate/ Nitrite, Alkaloids and Glycosides in the samples analysed. Although the histopathological studies in laboratory rats are under process, based on the available facts, the Centre is of the view that there is a possibility of other diseases prevailing in the area during the occurrence of mortality.
GEAC also reviewed some of the scientific reports published in international journals and views expressed by Punjab State Agriculture University, Ludhiana and Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education and conclude that "None of the reports or analysis concludes that Bt toxin is responsible for sheep mortality in Adilabad and Warangal in Andhra Pradesh"
GEAC was also informed by the IVRI centre of its request to NGO, ANTHRA to provide suitable samples from animals (serum, blood, and tissues from dead cases) for differential diagnosis, which has not been received. GEAC has decided to forward the copy of the report of IVRI to the State Department of Agriculture and Directorate of Animal Husbandry, Govt. of Andhra Pradesh for necessary action
We would also like to draw your attention to the acute toxicity studies conducted in the USA:
The acute oral toxicity study of Bt protein in mice conducted at the Agriculture Group/ Environmental Health laboratory, USA, concluded that there was no treatment related adverse finding in any of the groups administered B.t.k. HD-73 protein (Bt protein) by oral gavage at dosages up to 4200 mg/kg. The oral LD50 for B.t.k HD-73 (Bt protein) protein in mice is greater than 4200 mg/kg and the no-observed effect level is 4200 mg/kg. Further, mice gavage studies have shown that an intake of 4300 mg Cry1Ac / Kg body weight had no ill effect on the mice.
Assuming a similar upper safe limit for goats, in order to have an intake of 4300 mg. of Cry1Ac/Kg of body wt., the goat should eat (assuming the goat weighs 15 kgs) 24,339 kg of leaf/50,300 kg of boll rind, which is not practically feasible.
Additionally, media reports mention that organophosphorus compounds, nitrates, and nitrites have been detected in the viscera of sheep. These compounds are in no way associated with Bt cotton.
The expanded use of Bt cotton by an ever increasing population of Indian farmers is overwhelming evidence that the very people who depend upon it for their livelihood feel it is both effective and safe. According to the ISAAA brief, Global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops: 2006, of the 6.3 million hectares of hybrid cotton in India planted in 2006 (70 per cent of all the cotton area in India), 60 per cent, or 3.8 million hectares, was insect protected Bt cotton. This is a remarkably high proportion and clearly demonstrates that farmers are confident of the performance and safety factors of Bt cotton. .
Scientists around the globe have extensively studied the safety aspects of Bt proteins and have deemed them safe for animal consumption. Some of their findings are:
Globally, microbial Bt products have been in use for over 40 years with exemplary safety record; In India these products have been in use since 1990 and were accorded priority registration on account of high level of safety
Safety assessment of insect-protected cotton has been published;
The Bt protein (Cry1Ac) is quickly digested in mammalian gastric fluid and provides a source of amino acids similar to dietary proteins currently fed to animals;
Bt proteins are acutely toxic to target insects due to the reaction of the protein within the cells of the insect. This reaction is proven not to occur in mammals rendering it non-toxic if ingested;
The US EPA requires, as part of registration process, that acutely high dosages of insect-control proteins be administered to laboratory rodents as a safety precaution. Absolutely no adverse effects have been observed in rodents dosed with Bt proteins introduced into commercialised plants. Additionally, no transgenic protein has been detected in the tissues of dairy cattle, growing calves, broiler chickens, or swine when fed biotechnology derived crops;
Specific studies conducted in India all conclude no adverse effects when animals were fed Bt protein in Bt cotton
Bt crops or their byproducts have been evaluated in feeding studies with animals. All studies have concluded that Bt crops are as safe as their non Bt counterparts.
Background of Bollgard cotton in India
After Maharashtra Hybrids Seeds Co Ltd (Mahyco) received regulatory approval in March 2002, Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB)* sold 72,000 acres of the three approved Bollgard hybrids in the first year. In 2003, the second year of launch, the acreage under Bollgard cotton increased three-fold to 230,000 acres. In 2004, Rasi Seeds received approval for one hybrid and Bollgard sales rose to 1.3 million acres, a six-fold increase over the previous year. In 2005, Bollgard was planted across all nine cotton growing states with a million farmers planting it on 3.1 million acres. The year 2006 has witnessed a phenomenal increase in Bollgard acreages across the nine cotton growing states. About 2.2 million farmers have planted Bollgard and Bollgard II hybrids across 8.7 million acres in 2006.
* MMB is a 50:50 marketing JV between Mahyco and Monsanto Holdings Private Limited. MMB has co-licensing agreements with a number of Indian cotton seed companies to bring Bollgard to Indian farmers.
This statement is to clarify any misperceptions that may arise in the readers' mind.
About All India Crop Biotechnology Association (AICBA):
The All India Crop Biotechnology Association (AICBA), an industry association of the major companies engaged in agricultural biotechnology in India, has been formed in 2003 to promote the benefits agri-biotechnology for modernizing Indian agriculture and enhancing the livelihood of Indian farmers. The association has been actively working with the stakeholders, including the regulators, farmers, scientists and media for advocating the cause of GM technology to ensure India's food and nutritional security and to sustain Indian agriculture's international competitiveness. It has been seen as a reliable partner in the growth of Indian agriculture, has, within a short span of its existence, worked with the government to establish the policy framework for rapid acceptance and growth of GM technology.
The Association counts among its members, a total of 15 leading Indian seed companies engaged in agriculture biotechnology including most of the multinationals. Some of them are also technology provider.
The Executive Committee of the Association is headed by Mr M Ramasami of Rasi Seeds as the President. Mr R K Sinha, IAS (Rtd), is the Executive Director, who represents the Association and is responsible for maintaining suitable dialogue with various regulatory agencies/ministries on various industry related issues.
For further information, please contact:
Indroneel Roy / Puneet Rai
09811224689 / 09948203024
Terrorists are activists who renounce non-violence
- Sarah Reichard, Thomas M. Hinckley & H. D. Bradshaw, Jr., Nature 448, 22 (5 July 2007) ; College of Forest Resources, University of Washington
Sir. As faculty members whose research was affected severely by a 2001 firebomb attack by the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), we object to the assertion in your Editorial 'Unwise branding' (Nature 447, 353; doi:10.1038/447353a 2007) that charging ELF arsonists with terrorism could amount to erecting an "unbreachable wall" to dialogue between them and scientists.
The ELF and its sister the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) use violence against civilian targets to further a political viewpoint: this is the definition of terrorism. Calling the ELF and ALF terrorist organizations is a simple statement of fact. There is no need to mince words in a vain effort to placate groups whose members, through a dangerous combination of wilful ignorance and willingness to enforce their world view 'by any means necessary', eschew reason in favour of senseless violence.
Some ELF and ALF apologists believe that 'property damage' (including destruction of research buildings at universities) does not qualify as terrorism. Perhaps the ELF statement from which we quote below will give those apologists a glimpse of the perspective shared by those of us whose names and addresses have been posted on ELF or ALF websites (which link to instructions on firebomb construction and deployment). After the firebombing of a US Forest Service laboratory in Pennsylvania in 2002, the ELF declared: "segments of this global revolutionary movement are no longer limiting their revolutionary potential by adhering to a flawed, inconsistent 'non-violent' ideology. While innocent life will never be harmed in any action we undertake, where it is necessary, we will no longer hesitate to pick up the gun to implement justice, and provide the needed protection for our planet that decades of legal battles, pleading, protest, and economic sabotage have failed so drastically to achieve."
Simply put, ELF and ALF members are anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-human fundamentalists - certain that they have privileged access to some universal truth, deaf to alternative arguments, blind to evidence and determined to intimidate those who disagree with them. They are self-righteous in firebombing the very institutions (such as ours) that sponsor research and open discourse to understand and improve the state of the Earth for all its inhabitants. ELF and ALF terrorists have built the wall of naive, intolerant fundamentalism between themselves and us - only they can breach it. Rational people are, and always have been, waiting on the other side in the hope of receiving some form of communication other than a bomb or a bullet.
Activists: arson risks killing innocent people
- Mike Fainzilber, Nature 448, 22 (5 July 2007) ; Biological Chemistry, Weizmann Institute, Rehovot, 76100 Israel
Sir, Your Editorial 'Unwise branding' (Nature 447, 353; doi:10.1038/447353a 2007) is against equating animal-rights activism with terrorism. In it you state that "there is no such objective thing as a terrorist". This statement is yet another example of the moral blindness invading public discourse in the United Kingdom.
It is straightforward to define terrorism in an objective and legally egalitarian manner, for example by defining as a terrorist any person who uses violence to further his or her ideology, without taking into consideration the likelihood that innocent people may be injured, maimed or killed by such violent acts. Arson fuelled by ideology would certainly fit this definition of terrorism, and the animal-rights arsonists discussed in your Editorial were apparently not deterred by the possibility that people might be injured or killed in the fires they set.
Your second concern, regarding "who will be willing to publicly break bread with a terrorist, reformed or otherwise", is answered by current reality in Northern Ireland, South Africa and other places around the globe.
(The original editorial)
- Published online: 23 May 2007; | doi:10.1038/447353a
Equating animal-rights activism with terrorism increases the penalties for offenders and will please many of their victims. But it is not in the interests of science.
Terrorist is not a word you throw around lightly. And it is certainly not a word you apply to anyone with whom you would like to have a civil conversation. A US tendency to apply the label to militant activists who are against animal research or genetic engineering slams shut a door that might be difficult to reopen - to researchers' cost.
In a courtroom in Eugene, Oregon, last week, federal prosecutors asked for a 'terrorism enhancement' on the sentencing of ten environmental activists. The activists have admitted to a string of arson attacks in the western United States in the late 1990s and the start of this decade. They torched places where things were done of which they disapproved, including a lab that they believed was growing genetically engineered poplar trees. If the judge applies the requested enhancement, their sentences could be longer and the conditions of their imprisonment more severe.
We should avoid building an unbreachable wall between criminal activists and their victims.
They are criminals, to be sure. Their arson cost millions of dollars and destroyed scientific work in progress. But although some of their more knuckleheaded actions could easily have accidentally hurt someone, their ethos was to damage property, never to hurt or kill.
Other extreme activists are also being labelled terrorists. Last November, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act was signed into law in the United States. It creates tough penalties for damaging property, making threats and conspiring against zoos, animal labs and the like. Leaving aside the merits of this act, its very name enshrines into law the idea that destructive activists are terrorists.
As one of the communities targeted by these activists, scientists may be tempted to embrace this rhetoric. Indeed, many people have personally felt terrified by the actions of the most extreme. But 'terrorist' is a word so debased and loaded by political use that, if it has any meaning at all, it is counterproductive. There is no such objective thing as a terrorist. A criminal is a person who has been convicted of a crime. We can examine a person's records and make an unemotional determination of whether or not they are a criminal. But a terrorist is, in practice, a person who fights for a cause we do not believe in using methods that we do not approve of. Calling someone a terrorist is a value judgement.
It is a value judgement that seems to be increasingly used in the United States since the attacks of 11 September 2001. Indeed, the nation is waging, in official parlance, a "global war on terror". The term is useful politically exactly because it expresses an absolute rejection of a person and their aims. The terrorist label definitively ends any possibility of dialogue. But if there is any hope of bringing closer together those at the extremes of scientific controversies such as animal research and genetic engineering, the various parties must be able to speak to one another.
Although most activists feel that the actions of the criminal few are unproductive and embarrassing, for every activist saboteur with a lighted match there are hundreds of people who are sympathetic to his or her cause. Label that saboteur a terrorist, and you risk alienating all of them. Efforts to bring together defenders and attackers of animal research, such as those by the UK-based Boyd Group, often do not admit those who espouse criminal acts, and that is appropriate. And it leaves open the possibility that an activist who has renounced criminal actions can come to the table. But who will be willing to publicly break bread with a terrorist, reformed or otherwise?
We should avoid building an unbreachable wall between criminal activists and their victims. The judge in this case should reject the call for 'terrorism enhancement'. We must all speak more objectively and calmly.
Chemical Composition of Glyphosate-Tolerant Soybean 40-3-2 Grown in Europe Remains Equivalent with That of Conventional Soybean (Glycine max L.)
- George G. Harrigan, et. al., J. Agric. Food Chem., ASAP Article 10.1021/jf0704920 S0021-8561(07)00492-X, web dated July 3, 2007
The composition of glyphosate-tolerant (Roundup Ready) soybean 40-3-2 was compared with that of conventional soybean grown in Romania in 2005 as part of a comparative safety assessment program. Samples were collected from replicated field trials, and compositional analyses were performed to measure proximates (moisture, fat, ash, protein, and carbohydrates by calculation), fiber, amino acids, fatty acids, isoflavones, raffinose, stachyose, phytic acid, trypsin inhibitor, and lectin in grain as well as proximates and fiber in forage. The mean values for all biochemical components assessed for Roundup Ready soybean 40-30-2 were similar to those of the conventional control and were within the published range observed for commercial soybean. The compositional profile of Roundup Ready soybean 40-3-2 was also compared to that of conventional soybean varieties grown in Romania by calculating a 99% tolerance interval to describe compositional variability in the population of traditional soybean varieties already on the marketplace. These comparisons, together with the history of the safe use of soybean as a common component of animal feed and human food, lead to the conclusion that Roundup Ready soybean 40-3-2 is compositionally equivalent to and as safe and nutritious as conventional soybean varieties grown commercially.
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net