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August 1, 2000




Margaret Mellon has, if I remember correctly, a PhD in virology (from the
University of Virginia) and a JD. Jane Rissler is a PhD in plant

I have known both for 15+ years, and though I profoundly disagree with
their thrust on ag biotechnology I think it would be a grave mistake to
attack them on the basis of their credentials or motivations. Again,
though I disagree with them profoundly, I have appeared on numerous
programs with them, debated them in numerous fora, and interacted with
them in numerous ways over the years (one might begin to suspect some
manifestations of the Stockholm Syndrome, but I do not think that is
relevant...). Among those who are opposed to ag biotechnology I have
found them to be highest in personal integrity. I cannot speak so highly
of the strength or grounding of their logic or the rigour of their

It is correct, I think, that much of Margaret Mellon's objection to ag
biotech has socioeconomic roots, but she and Rissler both have worked
harder than any of the other gadflies to ground their opposition and
arguments in sound science. I think much of their criticism of ag biotech
is rooted in their dislike for the way most large scale production
agriculture in industrial nations works, and their regulatory remedies
fail to recognize what I think is one of the most emphatic lessons of the
20th century, that command and control economies don't work. In their
critiques of ag biotech I think they have fallen short, but I do not think
it profitable to criticize them on other than substantive grounds, and I
think most of those wind up being more philosophical than scientific.

I would by all means, however, argue strenuously with NEB and other
philanthropists that they should cease supporting UCS.

Val Giddings

> AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com
> Subj: RE: UCS, Labeling, Indian Report,
> Date: Tue, 1 Aug 2000 1:12:41 PM Eastern Daylight Time
> From: "Gary Blumenthal"
> Margaret Mellon is a regular fixture in Washington amongst the
> anti-biotech crowd lobbying policy makers. I have never seen her give a
> credible biological reason for opposing the technology. Most of her
> arguments involve social objections, which is typical of the so-called
> UCS.
> Gary Blumenthal
> >
> > I read with interest the note from Andura Smetacek
> > which included the information that New
> > England Biolabs is supporting the Union of Concerned Scientists
> > which has an anti-GMO program. I noted from the UCS website
> > (http://www.ucsusa.org/agriculture/agr-home.html#staff) that it
> > two staffers in this program: Margaret Mellon and Jane Rissler.
> > bios from the UCS website follow. I note that neither of them is
> > in the membership of the American Society of Plant Physiologists.
> > Searches on Medline and Agricola (from 1981 on) did not identify any
> > research papers by either one of them to establish qualifications in
> > area of plant molecular biology, although the Mellon bio describes
> as
> > a molecular biologist and the Rissler bio describes her as a plant
> > pathologist. I did find some papers by Rissler from the
> era
> > concerned with behavior of plant pathogens. They both publish
> > papers.
> >
> > Does anyone know more about the actual scientific qualifications of
> these
> > two individuals? This will help me to prepare a more knowledgeable
> letter
> > to New England Biolabs.
> >
> > Thanks,
> >
> > John Cross
> >
> > ---------
> >
> > M. Mellon Bio from http://www.ucsusa.org/news/expmm.html
> >
> > Profile
> > Margaret Mellon is one of the nation's most respected
> > experts on biotechnology and food safety. She holds a
> > doctorate in molecular biology and a law degree from the
> > University of Virginia. She was formerly a research fellow
> > in molecular virology at Purdue University and program
> > director for the Environmental Law Institute.
> >
> > Mellon has published widely on the potential
> > environmental impacts of biotechnology applications.
> > She co-edits Foodweb (formerly Gene Exchange), a
> > public voice on food, farming, and the environment, and
> > is co-author of Ecological Risks of Engineered Crops
> > and co-editor of Now or Never: Serious New Plans to
> > Save a Natural Pest Control." She teaches a course in
> > biotechnology and the law at the Vermont Law School,
> > and in 1993 received a Distinguished Alumni Award from
> > Purdue University's School of Science.
> >
> > When Mellon first became aware of biotechnology in the
> > early '80s, her attitude toward the new technology was
> > like that of most scientists -- unreservedly enthusiastic.
> > But as she learned more, she grew skeptical of its
> > benefits and more concerned about its risks. She
> > became convinced that decisions about new
> > technologies shouldn't be left to companies and
> > scientists -- she believes the public must have a role. A
> > widely quoted expert on genetic engineering, Mellon
> > regularly appears on ABC World News Tonight, CNN,
> > and NPR, as well as in the New York Times,
> > Washington Post, and many other major media outlets.
> >
> > Rissler Bio from http://www.ucsusa.org/news/expjr.html
> >
> > Profile
> > Jane Rissler is one of the nation's leading authorities on
> > the environmental risks of genetic engineering. She
> > provides firm scientific grounding for UCS's policy
> > positions on agriculture, biotechnology and the
> > environment, and also works to ensure that the public
> > has opportunities to participate in regulatory decision
> > making on biotechnology applications.
> >
> > Rissler's passion for science meshes perfectly with her
> > deep love of the natural world, gained from a childhood in
> > rural West Virginia. She received her PhD in plant
> > pathology from Cornell's College of Agriculture and
> > taught in the Department of Botany at the University of
> > Maryland. But she always wanted to use science "in
> > ways that were more directly relevant to public policy."
> > She spent four years at the Environmental Protection
> > Agency helping to formulate biotechnology regulatory
> > policies before moving to the National Wildlife
> > Foundation, where she felt better able to protect the
> > public interest. In 1993, Rissler and her colleague at the
> > foundation, Margaret Mellon, were invited to join UCS to
> > establish our Agriculture and Biotechnology Program.
> >
> > Rissler has published major reports on the
> > environmental risks of transgenic crops and on
> > crop-management plans to delay insect resistance to the
> > Bt toxin, a valuable natural pesticide. She is a widely
> > cited authority on biotechnology and frequently appears
> > on NPR, CNN, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, ABC
> > World News Tonight, and many other media outlets.