* Great Expectations for Obama
* GM Soybeans for "health-conscious consumers"
* Earth Population 'Exceeds Limits'
* Training in AgBiotech and its Regulations for Developing Country Scientists
* Gates - NSF Workshop to Explore Ag Development in Nairobi
* EC Publishes Coexistence Report
* 68% of US Health Professionals Support Biotech's Use in Food
* Borlaug Expresses Pleasure for Monsanto Support of International Scholar
* Genetic Map for Cultivated Groundnut (Peanut)
* The Human Cost of Anti-Science Activism
Great Expectations for Obama
- Maria Gabriela Cruz,Forbes, April 2, 2009, http://www.forbes.com
'Europe's farming community has high hopes for our president'
Barack Obama promised to bring change to the United States. Will this son of a Kenyan who is a former resident of Indonesia also bring change outside of America's borders? Last summer, at his speech in Berlin, this self-proclaimed "citizen of the world" suggested that he would try.
As a Portuguese farmer, I'm hoping that he will--specifically with respect to Europe and genetically modified crops. He has the perfect opportunity to prove himself as he visits Europe for the first time as president.
Obama has the ear of Europeans. Pre-election polls in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia showed him trouncing his rival, John McCain, by huge margins if they had the opportunity to choose. What these supporters may not realize is that Obama is an advocate of agricultural biotechnology--a field of innovation that many in Europe have snubbed.
Obama has never farmed for a living, but his home state of Illinois is one of America's leading states in food production. As a senator, he became intimately familiar with the men and women who work the land. He has corresponded with Norman Borlaug, the geneticist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work in sparking the Green Revolution, which led to large increases in food production in developing countries.
Last year, a U.S. political Web site called Sciencedebate2008.com published this statement by Obama: "Advances in the genetic engineering of plants have provided enormous benefits to American farmers. I believe that we can continue to modify plants safely with new genetic methods, abetted by stringent tests for environmental and health effects and by stronger regulatory oversight guided by the best available scientific advice."
Europeans would do well to study these words. Since the commercial introduction of biotech seeds more than a decade ago, farmers in Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere have planted more than 2 billion acres of genetically improved soybeans, corn (maize), canola and cotton. As a result, they've enjoyed significant yield increases, which are essential if we hope to feed a global population of 7 billion people.
Genetically modified food is no longer the fruit of a cutting-edge technology. Instead, it's a proven form of agriculture. I've grown it on my farm for three years, though E.U. regulators place severe limits on my access to all of the opportunities that biotechnology has to offer.
Those who oppose genetically modified crops are motivated by unfounded fears lacking in scientific understanding. The truth is that genetically modified crops possess a greater ability to fight off pests and disease. They require fewer chemical sprays--a social and environmental benefit that is important to many, myself included.
Biotech crops produced for food and biofuel carry an added environmental benefit as we deal with climate change. They allow farmers to use conservation agriculture practices that leave crop residue on the surface to fight water and wind erosion. They also reduce pressure to convert wilderness into farmland and allow a significant carbon sink in the soil. All these benefits are very important to Europe, the U.S. and certainly to President Obama.
For small-resource farmers, particularly in developing countries, the benefits of biotech crops are obvious. Increased yields per acre as well as increased efficiency and lower input costs are all on the table. Any of them might mean increased income. In addition to more food, the extra money would support education and health spending and allow farmers to spend more time with their families.
Most important, genetically modified food poses absolutely no threat to human wellbeing, as stated by many scientists and very recently by the French Food Security Agency. Many Europeans haven't even heard these arguments. Others have simply doubted them, preferring to listen to professional protesters who have sworn undying hostility to biotechnology.
But what if Barack Obama were to make a high-profile case for genetically modified crops? Then Europeans would certainly pay attention. "We must extend the Green Revolution throughout the world to ensure greater food security," wrote Obama to Borlaug last June.
The way to extend the Green Revolution, as Obama well knows, is to transform it into the Gene Revolution--and to unleash the full potential of genetically modified crops. This task is especially urgent in Africa, where malnutrition and famine remain constant threats. Unfortunately, Africa has been slow to take up agricultural biotechnology because many of its governments look to Europe for guidance.
Every year, the United States passes out billions of dollars in foreign aid. Much of this support is put to good use helping poor people in impoverished countries. Yet an even greater gift is in offing, if Obama only will use his popularity in Europe to promote a serious debate between credible scientists, farmers and environmentalists about the importance of biotech crops. Science is on his side, and so is everyone who grapples with the serious problem of feeding a hungry planet.
The world has great expectations for the new American president, and he faces many daunting challenges. Food production is one of the most critical. His response in both word and deed--perhaps on this trip to Europe--will tell us much about what kind of leader he hopes to be.
Maria Gabriela Cruz manages a 500-hectare farm that has been in their family for over 100 years. Growing maize, wheat, barley and green peas, they use no-till or reduced-till methods on the full farm. She has grown biotech maize since 2006. Cruz is president of the Portuguese Association of Conservation Agriculture, a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network and a participant in the 2008 Global Farmer to Farmer Roundtable.
Coming to the market soon in the USA: Genetically modified soybeans for "health-conscious consumers"
A new type of genetically modified soybean should be on the market sometime this year in the USA. It has a higher oleic acid content than conventional soybeans, which means that when heated, it gives off fewer harmful substances. The new soybean will be launched first in a few small, regional test markets.
"This year we hope to bring to market the first product from a genetically engineered plant designed to deliver health benefits to consumers," said Jim Borel, DuPont group vice-president, at an agricultural convention in Chicago. "It is the first GM soybean created for health-conscious consumers and for food producers active in this market segment."
The soybean, developed by the DuPont company, has a different composition of fatty acids: it contains more oleic acid - a monounsaturated fatty acid - than conventional soybeans, while at the same time having a lower level of polyunsaturated fatty acids. At high temperatures, such as when frying or roasting, part of these are transformed into trans fatty acids. These can cause high levels of bad cholesterol considered harmful to health. In the USA the trans fatty acid content must be declared on food product labels. Trans fatty acids also result from the hydrogenation process, such as when a plant oil is transformed to a spreadable fat for the making of margarine.
Because of the new GM soybean's high oleic content, oils and fats derived from it can be used at high temperatures without turning into undesirable trans fatty acids. According to Borel, the oil from the new GM soybean is comparable to palm oil or other vegetable oils.
DuPont expects to receive regulatory approval for planting the new soybean (event 305423) in the USA sometime this year. Food and feed approval has already been granted. The new high-oleic soybean will be tested first in small, regional markets. Food industry companies are to develop applicable products and test their acceptibility. DuPont is working with the agricultural trade company Bunge on the commercial launch.
An application for the authorisation of the new high-oleic soybean in the food and feed chain has also been submitted in the EU.
Earth Population 'Exceeds Limits'
- Steven Duke, BBC, March 31, 2009 http://news.bbc.co.uk
There are already too many people living on Planet Earth, according to one of most influential science advisors in the US government. Nina Fedoroff told the BBC One Planet programme that humans had exceeded the Earth's "limits of sustainability".
Dr Fedoroff has been the science and technology advisor to the US secretary of state since 2007, initially working with Condoleezza Rice. Under the new Obama administration, she now advises Hillary Clinton.
"We need to continue to decrease the growth rate of the global population; the planet can't support many more people," Dr Fedoroff said, stressing the need for humans to become much better at managing "wild lands", and in particular water supplies. Pressed on whether she thought the world population was simply too high, Dr Fedoroff replied: "There are probably already too many people on the planet."
GM Foods 'needed'
A National Medal of Science laureate (America's highest science award), the professor of molecular biology believes part of that better land management must include the use of genetically modified foods. "We have six-and-a-half-billion people on the planet, going rapidly towards seven. "We're going to need a lot of inventiveness about how we use water and grow crops," she told the BBC.
"We accept exactly the same technology (as GM food) in medicine, and yet in producing food we want to go back to the 19th Century." Dr Fedoroff, who wrote a book about GM Foods in 2004, believes critics of genetically modified maize, corn and rice are living in bygone times.
"We wouldn't think of going to our doctor and saying 'Treat me the way doctors treated people in the 19th Century', and yet that's what we're demanding in food production." In a wide ranging interview, Dr Fedoroff was asked if the US accepted its responsibility to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the gas thought to be driving human-induced climate change. "Yes, and going forward, we just have to be more realistic about our contribution and decrease it - and I think you'll see that happening."
And asked if America would sign up to legally binding targets on carbon emissions - something the world's biggest economy has been reluctant to do in the past - the professor was equally clear. "I think we'll have to do that eventually - and the sooner the better."
The full interview with Dr Nina Federoff can be heard on this week's edition of the new One Planet programme on the BBC World Service
Training in AgBiotech and its Regulations
- Training Program for Developing Country Scientists, TERI University, India; August 4, 2009 to August 21, 2009. http://www.teriin.org Course coordinator - Dr Vibha Dhawan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The programme is essentially focusing on agriculture biotechnology, techniques and status of acceptance of new technologies. The course aims to provide a unique blend of theory and practice in biotechnology, environmental and bioethical concerns of new technologies and legal framework for biosafety regulations and risk assessment and management. It also looks at international frameworks to regulate transboundary movements of living modified organisms.
Forms at http://itec.nic.in/form.htm. Selected participants would be informed by the Indian embassies of the respective ITEC/SCAAP countries.
The Government of India will meet the costs of the course, travel and accommodation of the selected participants.
Workshop to Explore Collaborations for Agricultural Development
- Nairbodi, Kenya; June 18-23, 2009 (via Crop Biotech update, isaaa.org)
The Science and Technology program for Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) aims to explore ways in which the advanced sciences can be put to best use for the benefit of smallholder farming families in developing countries. In collaboration with the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, located at the International Livestock Research Institute campus in Nairobi, Kenya, this workshop aims to create an opportunity for scientists from the U.S. to get acquainted with scientists of similar interests in sub-Saharan Africa. The 5-day workshop will be held in Kenya from June 18-23, 2009.
In addition to learning about agriculture in Kenya, scientists will be given the opportunity to describe their own areas of expertise and to explore with other workshop participants possible ways in which collaborations might contribute to the advancement of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. The workshop is timed to coincide with the opening of a new program called BREAD (Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development) that is jointly funded by BMGF and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and which could provide one type of mechanism by which such collaborations might find support
For those interested to participate, email Jeanne Bridgman (Jeanne.Bridgman@gatesfoundation.org) for U.S.-based scientists, or Rachel Njunge ( email@example.com) for those based in Africa. Some travel support will be available. Applications are due by April 17, 2009 and selected applicants will be contacted by the 28th.
EC Publishes Coexistence Report
- David Hemming, http://www.agbiotechnet.com/, April 2,2009
The European Commission has published a new report on national strategies to ensure coexistence of genetically modified crops with conventional and organic farming.
The European Commission has published a new report on national strategies to ensure coexistence of genetically modified crops with conventional and organic farming. The report says that Member States have made significant progress in developing coexistence legislation during the last years. This development of the legislative framework has gone hand in hand with a moderate expansion of the cultivation of GM crops. At the present time there is no indication of the need to deviate from the subsidiarity-based approach on coexistence. The Commission will continue to develop recommendations for crop-specific technical segregation measures together with Member States and stakeholders.
15 Members States have adopted legislation on coexistence, 11 more than in 2006 when the first coexistence report was published. Another 3 Member States have notified draft legislation to the Commission.
The coexistence approaches applied in Member States differ with respect to administrative procedures and the technical specifications of segregation measures. These differences reflect the regional variation of agronomic, climatic and other factors determining the likelihood of GMO admixture to non-GM crops. In view of further enhancing the efficiency of national coexistence measures, the European Coexistence Bureau (ECoB), created by the Commission, is developing, in collaboration with the Member States, crop specific Best Practice Documents.
The Commission is convinced that the subsidiarity-based approach on coexistence has been the right choice and it sees no need to develop further harmonisation on this matter. The Commission is committed to strengthening its efforts to facilitate co-operation among Member States, to promote a science-based and practical approach on segregation measures. In 2011, the Commission will report on the progress made, including an update on the development and implementation of national coexistence measures.
Measures ensuring coexistence of genetically modified crops with conventional and organic agricultural production provide for choice of consumers and agricultural producers and, thus, reconcile individual preferences and economic opportunities. Whilst environmental and health aspects of GM crop cultivation are to be addressed beforehand during the authorisation procedure, coexistence measures have their focus on the economic impact.
The segregation measures applied under coexistence rules enable the cultivation of GM crops, while protecting farmers of non-GM crops from adverse economic consequences of accidental mixing of crops with GMOs. Following the Commission Recommendation of 2003, coexistence measures shall be science-based and proportionate and must not generally forbid the growing of GM crops.
EU experience with the cultivation of GM crops remains extremely limited in comparison with other regions of the world. The only GM crop currently cultivated in the EU is GM maize which is resistant to certain lepidorpteran pests. In 2008, GM maize was produced in the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Romania, and Slovakia on a cultivation surface of about 100 000 hectares equalling 1.2 percent or the EU's total maize area.
68% of US Health Professionals Support Biotechnology's Use in Food
- David Hemming, http://www.agbiotechnet.com, March 31, 2009
Recent research reveals that 82% of US healthcare professionals believe soya to be beneficial to the diet
Recent research reveals that 82% of US healthcare professionals believe soya to be beneficial to the diet. And, the majority believe agricultural biotechnology is a suitable method to improve soya products, according to the Healthcare Professional Biotechnology Awareness & Attitude Survey - sponsored by the United Soybean Board (USB) and conducted by an independent research firm in January 2009.
The study found that 68% of healthcare professionals report having an overall favourable view of agricultural biotechnology for use in food products. One in ten hold a negative view, while the remainder are neutral in opinion or unsure. When informed that biotechnology can be used to enhance soyabeans in precise ways, the majority of survey respondents found these developments impressive enough they would recommend increased soya-based food consumption to patients.
* The following examples were given of how soya might be improved through genetic modification:
Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that may help reduce blood pressure and prevent heart disease. An increased omega-3 soybean oil would provide an even richer, renewable source.
Saturated fat tends to raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and therefore increase the risk of heart disease, certain cancers and strokes. While soybean oil is relatively low in saturated fat, efforts are underway to reduce it further.
Isoflavones are natural compounds found in soya that, although different from the hormone estrogen, do exert a mild estrogen-like effect under certain conditions. A wide body of research indicates multiple health benefits of consuming soya - such as alleviating menopausal symptoms, reducing risk of heart disease and certain cancers, and improving bone density - and isoflavones may be responsible for many of these benefits.
More specifically, health professionals reported that knowing about the near-term advances in increased isoflavone, increased omega-3 and low-saturate soyabeans make them more likely to recommend soya -based foods at 62, 59 and 53%, respectively.
The self-administered survey analyzed a representative sample of 200 dietitians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. It has a margin of error of +/- 4.2 to 6.9%, with a confidence interval of 95%.
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) firmly supports the use of biotechnology in food production when used to enhance the quality, safety and nutritional value of food. In its position statement published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, ADA encourages the availability of these products in the marketplace.
Consumers have long identified soya-based foods as healthy, as well, according to survey data. USB's Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition study has tracked a 26% climb in awareness of soya as healthy from 1997 to 2008, reaching 85% last year. In fact, Mintel's December 2008 report on Soy Based Food and Drink cites "healthfulness" as the top reason consumers choose to eat soyfoods.
According to the International Food Information Council's 2008 Food Biotechnology Survey, Americans continue to be receptive to benefits of plant biotechnology, claiming concerns about use of biotechnology in food production are as low as 1%. They report 78% would purchase foods produced through biotechnology to provide more healthful fats like omega-3s, and 67% would buy foods with reduced saturated fat content.
The United Soybean Board is comprised of 68 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soyabean checkoff on behalf of all US soyabean farmers.
Dr. Borlaug Expresses Pleasure For Monsanto Support For International Scholars
- Ron Smith, Southwest Farm Press, March 31, 2009
Despite his 95 years, Dr. Norman Borlaug still keeps an audience spellbound, hanging on every word, amazed at the wisdom and humility of a man who has devoted his life to feeding hungry people around the world.
Those attending his recent birthday celebration in Dallas seemed awed, inspired and moved by the brief comments Dr. Borlaug made in response to an announcement by Monsanto that a new scholarship program will honor him and revered rice breeder Dr. Henry Beachell.
Monsanto is investing $10 million in the Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, which will identify and support young scientists interested in improving research and production in rice and wheat. The program, established for five years, will be administered by Texas A&M AgriLife Research.
Dr. Borlaug said agricultural scientists must emphasize “the importance of integrating animal science in the broadest context and integrating plant science in the broadest context to meet the (world’s) food requirements over the next 25 years. It will demand more integration across disciplines than ever before.
“We strive to improve the standard of living for the people of the world. That’s why the World Food Prize was established. We have the science and technology to solve the world’s food problems and I am pleased to receive this support from Monsanto to teach young people to solve these problems.”
He said agriculture must broaden its approach. “Monsanto, in recent years, has brought to the world’s attention the need to produce food for a large population and (population) grows by 84 million every year. It’s not a simple undertaking.”
The International Scholars Program is designed to meet that growing demand, said Ted Crosbie, vice president, Global Plant Breeding, Monsanto Co. “As the world celebrates the birthday of Dr. Borlaug, Monsanto is pleased to mark the accomplishments of two great men in agriculture by establishing this Scholars Program,” Crosbie said. “Drs. Beachell and Borlaug devoted their lives to ensuring farmers have access to the best rice and wheat varieties and to the advancement of science through education. This award seeks to continue their work to enable future generations of farmers to feed our growing population.”
“Young scientists who receive this scholarship will have the opportunity to come to us to further their training and work with world renowned rice experts on projects that make a real difference to people’s lives,” said Dr. Robert Zeigler, director general, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). “Public sector support for graduate education in agricultural science education in developing countries has plummeted over the last couple of decades. Support for private scholarships like this will help build the next generation of rice scientists to ensure we can solve the problems that face rice production now and in the future.”
Dr. Thomas A. Lumpkin, director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), concurs. “This is a welcome investment by the private sector, in an era of increasing food insecurity and decreasing numbers of graduate students in plant breeding,” he said. “We hope others will follow suit with additional funding and look forward to hosting scholars funded by the program at our center.”
“We’re looking for students interested in working on significant restraints to wheat and rice production,” Crosbie said.
One overall goal of the scholars program is to attract students interested in working in developing countries. Crosbie said Monsanto hopes the international scholars will work in both the United States and developing countries. “It’s remarkable that we are going to invest $10 million in people we will not hire,” he said. “We hope people selected will dedicate their careers to wheat and rice research in the public arena and not for commercial companies.”
He said he hopes to see students who strive to reach as high as Dr. Beachell and Dr. Borlaug. Their impact can be significant. Dr. Borlaug’s work in the 1960s and 1970s is credited with saving more than 1 billion lives. Beachell’s work may have saved more than a million.
Crosbie quoted Borlaug as saying once: “Hunger and poverty do more than plant the seeds of despair. They also plant the seeds of anarchy and terrorism.”
“Hunger and misery have been part of human existence for thousands of years,” Dr. Borlaug said. “There are references in both the Bible and the Koran. But all in this room today and thousands of others are dedicated to producing more food and doing it without destroying the environment.
He said predictions of disaster and food shortages from the past never materialized. “We have survived.” He attributed some success to the “generosity of affluent nations to put more and more support behind international programs.”
He said a commitment to improve all basic food crops and animal products will be necessary. “We have to fight, fight, fight,” he said. “You don’t win by being afraid of change and change we must have. We are going in the right direction.”
Crosbie said the first class of scholars will be announced in conjunction with the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, on Oct. 15, 2009. Students interested in applying to the program can find more information at http://www.monsanto.com/mbbischolars
Applications will be accepted until May 31.
Dr. Ed Runge, professor and Billie B. Turner Chair in Production Agronomy (emeritus) will chair the independent panel of international judges who will select the scholars. “We are honored to administer this program and work with students around the world to bring new ideas and research techniques to rice and wheat breeding,” Runge said. “Research in these two staple crops has fallen behind others, and it is my hope this program will help jump-start additional investment in two of the world’s most important grains.”
Yields of rice and wheat have grown on a compound annual growth rate of approximately 0.8 percent over the past decade while the population has grown on a compound annual growth rate of approximately 1.25 percent. Higher yields will improve the fight against hunger by producing more food on the same number of acres.
Dr. Borlaug was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1970. He also was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 2006. He also received the Medal of Freedom and is one of only five people to receive all three of these awards. Others are: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Elie Wiesel. Dr. Beachell received the World food Prize in 1996, along with Dr. Gurdev Singh Khush. The result of Dr. Borlaug and Dr. Beachell’s work is considered “The Green Revolution.”
Facts and Fiction of Genetically Engineered Food
- Batista R, Oliveira MM. Trends Biotechnol. 2009 Mar 24. For reprint contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
(National Institute of Health, Portugal)
The generation of genetically engineered (GE) foods has been raising several concerns and controversies that divide not only the general public but also the scientific community. The fear and importance of the new technology, as well as commercial interests, have supported many of the ongoing discussions.
The recent increase in the number of GE foods approved for import into the European Union and the increasingly global commercial food trades justify revisiting the facts and fiction surrounding this technology with the aim of increasing public awareness for well-informed decisions.
Techniques that have recently become available for assessing food quality and its impact on human health, as well as the wealth of scientific data previously generated, clearly support the safety of commercialized GE products.
First SSR Map for Cultivated Groundnut Published
- Crop Biotech update, isaaa.org
Cultivated peanut or groundnut (Arachis hypogaea L.) is the fourth most important oilseed crop in the world, grown mainly in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate climates. The crop production in marginal environment of Africa and Asia is seriously challenged by several biotic and abiotic stress constraints. Molecular markers and genetic maps are the prerequisites for undertaking molecular breeding to combat such abiotic/biotic stress constraints. In case of groundnut, though several hundred molecular markers (such as microsatellite or simple sequence repeat/SSR markers) have been developed and genetic maps have been developed based on mapping populations derived from diploid Arachis species or synthetic tetraploids, not a single genetic was available until recently for cultivated groundnut.
A team of scientists from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in collaboration with colleagues from EMBRAPA/ Catholic University in Brazil, University of Georgia and Tuskegee University in USA has developed the first SSR based genetic linkage map for cultivated groundnut. This map has a total of 135 SSR loci mapped onto 22 linkage groups. The team has demonstrated the utility of this genetic map for trait mapping in cultivated groundnut and comparative mapping in legumes.
Details about this map are available in the recent paper published as an Open Access in Theoretical and Applied Genetics at http://www.springerlink.com/content/10125wx862658886/fulltext.pdf or from Rajeev Varshney (email@example.com).
The Human Cost of Anti-Science Activism: A stranglehold on food and medicine
- Henry Miller, Policy Review, April/May 2009. Excerpt below:
Full commentary at http://www.hoover.org/publications/policyreview/41839562.html
Activism has long been part of the fabric of American life. It is often positive, as when it pushes for constraints on undue government intrusion into our lives.
Sometimes, however, activism can be destructive. For instance, activists from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the media, as well as some within the government, have targeted a panoply of products, technologies, and industries that they dislike pesticides, food additives, chemicals in general, pharmaceuticals, nuclear power, and biotechnology, among others for opprobrium, over-regulation, and even extinction. And it seems that no stratagem, no misrepresentation, no outright lie is too outrageous for them.
Biotechnology has been especially victimized by irresponsible activism. A prototypic example is professional activist Jeremy Rifkin's relentless, decades-old antagonism toward recombinant dna technology, or gene-splicing, applied to the production of innovative new drugs, gene therapy for life-threatening diseases, agriculture, or anything else. Thirty years ago, he and his followers disrupted a public meeting, chanting, "We shall not be cloned," and displaying signs proclaiming, "Don't Xerox Life." That was hardly radical by the standards of the 1970s, but Rifkin's statement that biotechnology threatens "a form of annihilation every bit as deadly as nuclear holocaust" is extreme and baseless, a manifestation of a Big Lie that biotech is untested, unsafe, unproven, unwanted, and unregulated which is a mainstay of radical activism.
A broad scientific consensus long has held that the newest techniques of biotechnology are no more than an extension, or refinement, of earlier ones applied for centuries, and that gene transfer or modification by gene splicing techniques does not, per se, confer risk. Rifkin's assertions about biotechnology ignore the seamless continuum that exists between old and new biotechnology and the monumental contributions that both have made to medicine, agriculture, and innumerable scientific disciplines. The late Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, by his own admission, tried to be sympathetic to Rifkin's views but was overwhelmed by his "extremism" and "lack of integrity," and by his showing "no understanding of the norms and procedures of science." Gould characterized Rifkin's anti-biotechnology book, Algeny, as "a cleverly constructed tract of anti-intellectual propaganda masquerading as scholarship"; he said he had not "ever read a shoddier work."
And then there is Greenpeace, which may have attained the nadir of anti-biotechnology activism when, in 1995, the organization announced that it had "intercepted a package containing rice seed genetically manipulated to produce a toxic insecticide, as it was being exported [and] swapped the genetically manipulated seed with normal rice." The rice seeds stolen by Greenpeace had been genetically improved for insect resistance and were en route to the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. The modified seeds were to be tested to confirm that they would grow and produce high yields of rice without requiring lots of chemical pesticide.
In the Philippines and many developing countries in Asia where rice is a staple, disease-resistant and insect-resistant rice are of course desperately needed, but this fact has not dissuaded Greenpeace from its opposition. The organization has actually told inhabitants of developing countries concocted tales of gene-spliced crops causing homosexuality, illness, and baldness. In Africa, it has promulgated the myth that improved crops cause impotence and increase the spread of HIV/AIDS. Doreen Stabinsky, a so-called "science advisor" to Greenpeace International, has claimed that cotton fiber, animal feed, and cotton-seed oil from Bt-cotton plants can lead to an increase in the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including those that cause tuberculosis and gonorrhea. There is absolutely no evidence for such claims.
The pew approach to polling described above is reminiscent of that used by the Idaho junior high school student Nathan Zohner, who found that 86 percent of survey respondents thought the substance "dihydrogen monoxide" should be banned when they were told that prolonged exposure to its solid form causes severe tissue damage, exposure to its gaseous form causes severe burns, and it has been found in excised tumors of terminal cancer patients. Only one in 50 of Nathan's survey respondents correctly identified dihydrogen monoxide as water, or H2O. As any pollster (and common sense) will tell you, it's not hard to design survey questions to elicit a desired response a trick that Pew mastered.
The "golden rice" saga is one of the vilest examples in the annals of cynical anti-technology activism. In 2000, a university research team based in Switzerland and Germany announced an extraordinary scientific achievement that resulted in the addition of beta-carotene, or provitamin A (the precursor of the vitamin), to rice grains. The creation of this "Golden Rice" (so called because of its yellow color) was widely hailed as an example of how gene-splicing can benefit society, especially the inhabitants of less-developed countries. Vitamin a supplementation of the diet prevents blindness and death, and could be life-saving to the millions of children who are vitamin a deficient.
Activists lost no time in attacking even this beneficent and humanitarian innovation. First, they claimed that the rice itself would be unhealthy, because too much vitamin A can be toxic. That claim was rapidly discredited by nutritionists, who explained that Golden Rice is enhanced for beta-carotene, the chemical precursor of vitamin A that is not toxic at any dose. (It is converted in the body to vitamin A only as long as there is a deficiency.) Then, torturing the data while executing a convenient flip-flop, Greenpeace declared that Golden Rice had too little beta-carotene and that an adult "would have to eat around 9 kg [19.8 pounds] of cooked rice daily to satisfy his/her daily need of vitamin a." Greenpeace's Benedikt Haerlin threatened "direct action" against test plants in the field, and its radical media allies, including the UK's Guardian, rushed to support its cause. The articulate yet know-nothing writer Michael Pollan took to the New York Times Magazine to dub Golden Rice "the great yellow hype." They all condemned the developers of Golden Rice for working with for-profit companies to make seed available to the poor.
These reactions are the most detestable sort of distortion and misrepresentation. Even small amounts of vitamin supplementation to treat deficiencies can have huge effects, and the second-generation varieties of Golden Rice contain abundant amounts of such supplementation. Golden Rice and other similar products can be life-enhancing, life-saving adjuncts to persons with vitamin a deficiency but only if their producers can overcome NGO opposition, media misreporting, and regulatory excesses, and get the new varieties to the farmers who wish to grow it. (It is unlikely to be widely available until at least 2011.)
Anti-technology, anti-business activists whether they are found in NGOs, government, or the media claim to fear a world in which exploitative, rapacious, multinational corporations conspire to strip away individual choice from the world's farmers and consumers. Yet it is they who are guilty of the mendacity and manipulation they imagine they see in others; they who are guilty of stripping away the freedom of researchers to research, farmers to farm, doctors to doctor, and consumers to consume vaccines, drugs, and foods that can be life-saving. If their actions are unopposed, regressive public policy will reduce significantly the pursuit of knowledge and production of wealth worldwide.
Henry I. Miller, M.D., is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. From 1977 to 1994, he was an official at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration. He is co-author (with Gregory Conko) of The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution (Praeger), chosen by Barron's as one of the 25 Best Books of 2004.