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July 16, 2000


Benbrook, environmentalists, Shiva, Research


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

Date: Jul 14 2000 16:22:04 EDT
From: Alex Avery
Subject: Benbrook and the Seven Science Soc. Report

I see good ole Chuck Benbrook just can't help himself but comment about
the NAS biotech
report. Chuck wrote:

>"The report's section "Transgenic Plants and the Environment"
>(pages 19 to 22) presents a simple premise set up by a provocative
opening sentence.
>"Modern agriculture is intrinsically destructive to the environment."
>The premise follows a few paragraphs later:
>'It must be shown that the potential impact of a transgenic plant has
>been carefully analyzed and that if it is not neutral or innocuous, it is
>preferable to the impact of conventional agricultural technologies that
>it is designed to replace.'
>So, if a GM technology poses risks but appears less damaging than current
>technologies, then it should be approved by regulators and embraced by the
>public. Some people may beg to differ. Indeed, if the best GM technology
>can do is only marginally better than the worst of conventional
>technology, the biotechnology revolution may go down in history as one of
>the greatest technological duds of all time.
>"If GM technology fails, it won't be for lack of effort. In both
>the public and private sectors, enormous moral and financial support for
>agricultural biotechnology has been and still is predicated on the promise
>of a series of near-miraculous benefits this technology is supposed to be
>uniquely able to deliver. The section "Examples of GM Technology That
>Would Benefit World Agriculture" (pages 7 to 14) covers many often-cited
>examples. No space in the report is allotted to the well-known technical
>and economic constraints that stand in the way of GM technologies."
>"Nor does the report discuss why GM technologies are likely, in
>the end, to be the most cost-effective and sustainable solution to a given
>problem. This is a serious shortcoming, given that so many of
>agriculture's problems arise from the mismanagement of natural resources
>and plant-pest ecological interactions. Such problems are not largely
>genetic in origin and rarely will genetic manipulation, however achieved,
>prove the decisive system innovation."

Chuck, are you interested in making any wagers on what biotech wonders
will or will not appear in ten years? Twenty years? I'm willing to bet
that barring some drastic and unjustified regulations or bans on this
technology that within ten years we'll see aluminum-tolerant crops, crops
that can protect themselves from insects, crops that will provide critical
nutrients, crops that will vaccinate people from deadly viruses, and crops
that will be resistant to some of the most devastating viral crop diseases.

Oops, I'm sorry, all of those biotech wonders have already been
accomplished. Darn, I guess I'll just have to think of even more
wonderful things for biotech to accomplish.

Chuck, you focus all of your intellectual energy denigrating pesticides
and now biotechnology, but why? Your "report" on yield drag in
herbicide-resistant soybeans is demonstrative--who cares?
If it doesn't pay for itself, farmers won't plant it. They're pretty
smart people I've found. What's next from you, a report on the "yield
drag" in the biotech golden rice?

Yesterday I was sent an article from the "Environment News Service"
(http://ens.lycos.com/ens/jul2000/2000L-07-11-06.html) about the amazing
development of a GM potato that delivers vaccines against the Norwalk
virus and E. coli, two of the leading causes of food-borne illness around
the world. Diarrhea caused by these organisms kills millions of children
each year. In the report, titled "Edible Vaccines Carry Flavor of
Danger," Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Union,

"We certainly think its a very bad idea. You don't want biotech vaccines
out in the environment where exposure cannot be predicted. There's no way
to guard against people overdosing on these things, and there's no way to
keep these genes from spreading in the environment. These gene spliced
vaccines are going to make their way into non-genetically engineered
plants, or wildrelatives of these plants."

Aside from the fact that Ronnie doesn't understand the basic principles of
immunology, he's willing to bottle up a technology that could save
millions of children per year because he's afraid a wild
plant might get a gene for a harmless viral antigen? Maybe they should
have named it the "Doom-n-Gloom News Service"?

Folks, this is the "science" that actually reaches much of the public.
This is what we must overcome. It is tremendously heartening to see so
many honorable scientists step up to the plate in defense of agricultural
biotechnology by signing Prakash's Declaration because this is not simply
a battle over ag biotech, but a battle for the direction of society--will
we live in a world where science is applied to improve the lives of
humanity, or where unfounded fears and Luddite
negativism locks us into stagnation and a decay into mysticism, magic and
mayhem. This is an ideological war.

Chuck, Ronnie--we will defeat you.

Alex Avery
Hudson Institute
Center for Global Food Issues

Date: Jul 14 2000 18:20:06 EDT
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Re: Environmentalists, GE-free Zones, Seven Science Soc. Report

Mr. Ebert and all,

Of course environmentalists are not all bad, just the misguided,
ill-informed ones who form the most vocal contingent of the majority (yes,
the majority of the human race) who care about the environment.

The notion of "stale arguments" is suspect at best, portraying as it does
the notion of progress as pernicious, and advocacy of progress as "stale."
What Ebert prefers to forget (or may not know) is that newer technology
supplants older technology because in general its environmental impact is
more benign
and efficient than the old, and that economies always, always purchase as
much environmental quality as they can afford.

After all, humans live in the environment and for that reason have a
natural, practical tendency to put their needs in the environmental

By the way, what's wrong with profit, Mr. Ebert? Would you prefer to work
for free? This is a market economy. If the economy doesn't want your
skills, you won't find work. If the economy doesn't want a product, nobody
will buy it. If there is no profit in effort, no one will take the time to
get up in the
morning for work, nobody will work to find a cure for cancer, nothing. Is
this the dismal moonscape you would wish for Western culture?

People keep saying there's a "debate" about biotechnology. Actually, it
amounts to nothing more than trying to educate some people about the
basics of civilization.

> From: "Paul Ebert"
> Subject: Environmentalists are not all bad

> Why are many environmental groups concerned about biotechnology in
> and GM products specifically? Because the same stale arguments are
> trotted out by industry and those primarily concerned about their
> well being above all else. "It has not been proven unsafe yet", "It will
cost to much", Corporations: "We are not just in it for profit".

Date: Jul 16 2000 20:19:49 EDT
From: Malcolm Livingstone
Subject: Paul Ebert

Dear Paul,

I'm not sure who is trucking out the same old cliches here. I have been an
environmentalist all my life but I have never thought about it as much as
I have done in the last few months. I, like many of my colleagues, studied
and have undertaken scientific research because I love Nature. I study
life on Earth because it is beautiful and wonderful. I don't do my work to
hoodwink people or principally for money. There is no money in studying
for more than 10 years to be given the privilege of working on short term
contracts. I expect that my career in science won't go the distance (i.e.
to retirement) because it is extremely competitive.

You make the excellent point that we wouldn't have all the protection
against industrial excesses without the environmental movement. I would
put it to you that in fact it was the scientific movement that discovered
these problems and devised solutions. Not one of these laws would have
been enacted without scientific backing. For society to procede to ban
substances or methodologies without good evidence is foolish. Our world
would be full of ad hoc laws without any basis in reality. People would be
jailed for doing nothing wrong (eg witches).

You seem to equate technological and scientific innovation with
irresponsible management of the environment. From my point of view I am
helping to save the environment and provide food for the millions of souls
still to be born. Greenpeace has lost my respect not because they try to
protect the environment but because they no longer do so with logic and
reason. I find myself on what appears to be the opposite side of the
debate because I defend biotechnology as being a safe and useful addition
to the
armoury in the fight against poverty, disease and environmental
degradation. I stand by my position and as I have said many times let's
please debate this issue on scientific grounds. I have called for open,
transparent discussion of the principles involved (the empirical and
theoretical evidence) but Greenpeace have never replied to one of my
queries. From what I can gather they don't reply to anyone. They use
unscientific approaches in this fight. They fight much more like
politicians than scientists. They gather evidence from scientists who
support their position and reject evidence from scientists who don't.

Scientists are NOT anti-environment and never have been they are simply
Malcolm Livingstone

The views expressed above are my own and in no way reflect those of my
employer, CSIRO.


Malcolm Livingstone

Northern Grains Improvement Ph: (07) 3214 2___
CSIRO Tropical Agriculture Fax: (07) 3214 2288
306 Carmody Rd Int.Ph: +61 7 3214 2___
ST LUCIA QLD 4067 Int. Fax: +61 7 3214 2288


Date: Jul 17 2000 00:13:49 EDT
From: Rick Roush
Subject: Reply to Marcus Williamson

Marcus Williamson wrote:
>I know you won't like me saying so, but listen to Vandana Shiva on
>this issue. She lives and works in India which is one of the countries
>affected by the problem.


I have listened to and written to Vandana Shiva. I traveled to India last
year and asked people there (including representatives of famers) what
they thought of her views. They felt that she spends too much time in
Europe to really know what Indian farmers want. I have seen words from
numerous Indian writers who disagree with her views, such as the one
posted 13 July on the AgBioView server (below).

Why should we consider that the views of an Indian feminist physicist,
however popular she may be in Europe, should be seen as more credible than
other Indians who write and comment on GE?


Date: Jul 17 2000 05:12:38 EDT
From: Marcus Williamson
Subject: Re: Reply to Marcus Williamson


As well as being a "feminist physicist" Vandana Shiva is also an organic
farmer. That's a reason to listen to her...


Date: Jul 17 2000 05:33:32 EDT
From: Rick Roush
Subject: Re: Reply to Marcus Williamson


Both sets of my grandparents, and my mother and father, were all organic
farmers. That wouldn't make them qualified to address world food issues,
or about what's best for poor farmers in India. In contrast to Shiva, the
farmers who count haven't got the time or money to jet off the UK and
lecture to the rest of us.


Subj: what research needs doing?
Date: Mon, 17 Jul 2000 1:03:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Rick Roush

>The important question is not what research I think needs doing, its what
>research the public will see as reasonable before they eat GM foods.
>Lineback, below, seems to be asking if we should test foods specifically
>response to consumer fears - well what practical alternative is there if
>want to sell the products? As the decision-makers have already decided
>these foods are safe and therefore are confident that the results of
>research would be positive what is there to lose? Such research would
>to be sensible PR.


To try to design research on safety assessment based on "what the public
will see as reasonable" is hopelessly open-ended. This will simply come
down to a PR campaign as to what the critics try to persuade the public to
demand. It would be more sensible to attack the critics with a counter-PR