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June 7, 2000




AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

In my experience as a science writer (genetics to
environmental and engineering topics), I have found that
most of the major environmental groups I've interviewed find
fault with the technologies that address their earlier
concerns. For example, windmills are a clean source of
energy yet are decried because some birds flew into the
blades or nested on the rotors and were considered an
eyesore. Nuclear vitrification, a proven method to bind the
waste to glass and thereby immobilize the waste won applauds
from individual environmentalists but was blasted by the
Sierra Club as "encouraging nuclear power." You've seen what
happens with GM food is discussed.

I think the issue is a general fear of technology and a
belief that Earth was pristine at some point in its history.
Their reactions seem to show a desire to halt the natural
evolution of the planet and of humans as a species.

Can the two sides negotiate? Yes. It's already happened in
the environmental arena. The state chemical societies --
notably in Pennsylvania and Texas -- have successfully and
repeatedly brought environmentalists, regulators and
corporations to the table to develop regulations that are
acceptable to all three parties. For example, Amoco in 1989
invited the EPA AND the National Resources Defense Council
into its Yorktown, VA refinery to develop a plan to reduce
pollution. Ciba and Monsanto also are involved with
coalitions of business, environmentalists and regulators to
provide input for government policy formation.

That proves it can be done in regards to hazardous waste.
It's logical to believe that it also can be done with food,
but getting environmentalists to the table to discuss the
issue rationally and scientifically won't be easy.

Gail Dutton
freelance science writer

AgBioView wrote:
> 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
> Gentle readers,
> 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
> suggestions?
> 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
> market?
> 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
> Professor Prakash
> 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
> be injected.
> 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
> earth.
> 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.
> Bob Manning